The ongoing surge of migration from Central America is the product of rampant corruption on the part of the ruling oligarchs, that is enabled by feeble U.S. policies that Congress refuses to change, and by activist judges who make up laws to suit their personal political views.
Decades of corruption at the highest levels of Central American society has doomed most of the population to grinding poverty, and left an economic vacuum that has been filled by violent criminal gangs. The inevitable result has been large-scale migration, which has now reached crisis proportions. As is often the case, the people who are responsible for the crisis have found a way to capitalize on it. The people who looted and mismanaged those countries are reaping the benefits of billions of dollars in remittances that are sent back each year by the people whose lives they made so miserable that they headed north.
But now, reports Jonathan Blitzer in The New Yorker, the oligarchs have found a new way to cash in on the misery their neglect and corruption has created. It costs money to get from Central America to the U.S. border – lots of it, and far more than impoverished Central Americans are likely to be able to scrape together on their own. So, to raise the cash to pay the smugglers to get them to the U.S., they are taking large loans from local banks and putting up the one asset that they and their families are likely to have as collateral: their family homes and whatever small plots of land their families have eked out a living on for generations.
For the migrants it’s a high stakes gamble. Interest on the loans begins accruing the minute the bank hands them the cash. If they do make to the U.S. and begin working, there is a chance that they can make payments on the loans without losing their collateral. If the criminals they hire to smuggle them north abandon them mid-journey (as often happens), or they get turned back at the border, or even if they are merely delayed reaching the United States, it often means defaulting on the loan. As a result, family members left behind are displaced from their homes and land, adding to their desperation, while the people and institutions that control nearly all of the countries’ wealth gain control of even more of it.
Last month, President Trump took a small step toward holding the ruling oligarchs accountable by announcing a cessation of $500 million a year in foreign aid to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala – money which clearly is not improving life for the vast majority of people in those countries. More punitive measures against the people who have created this humanitarian crisis should be considered. But so too do we need to change laws and policies that encourage an ever-increasing number of people to risk their lives and meager assets to reach the United States. In the long run, all we are doing is enabling the corruption of the oligarchs and helping them further enrich themselves.