When US President Donald Trump demands that Mexico “fix” its immigration problem, he should really look to the spiraling collapse of Central America. The limitless flow of people towards the US-Mexico border begins with the tortured descent of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador into the abyss.
And it is this very place that the Trump administration has announced it will cut aid to, rather than boosting it.
For many in the region, getting out has understandably become a matter of survival. The nations of the Northern Triangle jostle for the ugly position as the world’s murder capital, both because of the gang violence spawned by the drug trade and because of a lack of solid government.
The Northern Triangle is also one of the foremost and earliest victims of the climate crisis. At least 1.4 million people in Central America and Mexico could be on the move by 2050, the World Bank has estimated, in a place where a third of jobs are dependent on agriculture. Studies have suggested rainfall may get sparser in Honduras, yet it will see flooding increase in some places by 60%, the Guardian reported. El Salvador could lose up to 28% of its coastline by the end of the century. Drought could spread in Guatemala, and this has damaged the coffee crops in the past. Temperatures have risen 0.5C since 1950 and could rise up to 2C by 2050. Communities will see the life that they know now change immeasurably.
Climate change is the underlying malaise, but the present-day curse is the drug trade. It can feel like nearly every part of Central American life is caught some way or another in feeding drugs north to US markets. The sums of money involved, one official told CNN, are so utterly ridiculous that few other forms of economic activity make sense. And until the main market, the United States, stops taking in so much cocaine, the money will always be there.
News emerged last month that the DEA opened an investigation into the President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, in 2013 … for “large-scale drug-trafficking and money laundering activities relating to the importation of cocaine into the United States.” His brother, Antonio Hernandez Alvarado, was arrested in November 2018 by US investigators in Miami, accused of being a “large-scale drug trafficker.”
In Guatemala, a candidate for the presidential election, Mario Amilcar Estrada Orellana, was recently indicted by the DEA for allegedly conspiring with the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. He was arrested in Miami in April.
Meanwhile, in El Salvador, 37-year-old President Nayib Bukele took office nearly a fortnight ago, facing a murder rate of about 50 per 100,000 — around 10 times that of the United States.
The threat of tariffs might have persuaded Mexico to try to stem the flow in the short term, but it won’t address the foundations of the tide of people.