A call to action, a call for persistence
A call to action, a call for persistence
On May 27, Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States, launched a “call to action” to deepen private investment in what her government calls the “Northern Triangle” of Central America.
The White House fact sheet states that 12 entities —companies, NGOs and academia— responded and will invest in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, adding to the funds of the United States government the “unique resources and expertise [of the private sector] to make commitments to ...
The White House fact sheet states that 12 entities —companies, NGOs and academia— responded and will invest in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, adding to the funds of the United States government the “unique resources and expertise [of the private sector] to make commitments to support inclusive economic growth” in the region. Thanks to the strategy, it says, “near-term private sector commitments will be mutually reinforced by sustained US government efforts to foster a business-enabling environment, increased private sector investment and sustainable economic growth and opportunity.”
Together they will seek to support vulnerable populations, including women and youth, and will focus on six areas: business environment reforms (licensing, permitting, procurement, regulation and taxation), digital and financial inclusion, food security and climate-smart agriculture, climate adaptation and clean energy, education and workforce development, and public health access.
Behind the initiative, explains the Vice President, there is the assumption that “most people don’t want to leave home” but rather do so because “they are fleeing some harm” or because “they cannot satisfy the basic necessities of life.” The intervention seeks to give people “some sense of hope: that if they stay, [...] help is on the way." 
Factually, she is right: most people do not migrate. But there is always and everywhere a substantial minority of humans who choose or are forced to migrate. The US Census Bureau reports that, in 2018, 10.1% of Americans migrated within their own territory, and between 3 and 10% did so to other countries. That same year, notes the Pew Research Center, 13.7% of its population were immigrants, 23% of them with “unauthorized” status, most of whom choose naturalization if given the opportunity. The problem is never migration in itself, but rather the dangers faced by migrants.
The vice president’s theory of change falters when she enters the territory of hope: “If they stay, help is on the way.” Harris's own parents, both professionals, migrated to the United States: one from India and the other from Jamaica. Was it flight, a lack of basic resources or a lack of hope? The compact between the US government and its private sector will have to tread very carefully if it is not to do more harm than good. The fact sheet speaks of “sustained government efforts”, but the last eight years’ roller coaster shows that, in fact, it is precisely the other way around: politicians have difficulty seeing beyond the next election, which for the US Legislature means less than two years. Sooner rather than later, Central America may no longer be fashionable.
And it speaks of “near-term private sector commitments”, but experience suggests this is also precisely the other way around, if only because the private sector’s logic is simple: a company must forever sell. Sell even if, in doing so, it ends the world as we know it. And the most vulnerable people in the so-called Northern Triangle understand this better than anyone, as they face the practically ineradicable presence of international companies in areas of high environmental and social impact, such as mining and energy: disempowerment kills hope much faster than hunger.
So, congratulations to the Partnership for Central America! May its persistence last much longer than the deep despair of the poorest Central Americans. Armed with the almost infinite power of abundant money, may they learn from the medical profession: primum non nocere (first, do no harm). Before telling others what to do, ask what people are already doing. Rather than acting, support those who are already doing things. Acknowledge that absolutely nothing you change in the short term will be irreversible. Above all, bear in mind that hope is born of power. Giving hope to the poorest in Central America (which in Guatemala means mainly indigenous peoples) requires empowering them to rule and change their own circumstances. And success in creating hope in Guatemala is dependent on two things, only distantly related to gangs, migration and technology, but deeply woven into the skein of perverse power of its national economy and politics: do not trust the intentions of the national government and do not feed the local oligarchy.
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Read it also in Spanish.
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