A month ago Vice-President Joe Biden wrote a New York Times op-ed on the needs of Central America. He reminded us of the 40,000 children who deluged our borders last summer, not sneaking but turning themselves in to the first agent they saw. Everyone agreed that the children were fleeing violence and desperate poverty. We would let them stay if they could prove they were at risk of further violence if they went back home. We made them go back home if we concluded they were trying to escape hunger and homelessness. Alas, we’ve sent back plenty to face more violence and trafficking, as well as hunger and homelessness.
President Obama’s budget includes a billion dollars to assist Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador’s interlocking, security, governance and economic challenges. Now, I’m all for throwing money at problems. It certainly beats turning our backs on the problems. But I do not favor throwing guns and tanks and tear gas into a teeming cauldron of trouble. And the risk is that we, the U.S., will throw weapons at the problem. Biden names security, after all, as the number one issue.
I’d say to provide better security for the people, we need to remove some of the armaments we’ve provided for the war on drugs. Those weapons and the soldiers we have trained to use them quickly fall under the control of the drug cartels. After all, there are reasons why Nicaraguan children, poor as they are, have not come knocking at our borders. One reason is that the Nicaraguan government has not let our military inside their borders.
Biden is certainly right that “the cost of investing now in a secure and prosperous Central America is modest compared with the costs of letting violence and poverty fester.” Community policing, for example, would be a welcome change from the military checkpoints that have sprung up. But there are not quick fixes. That’s the real reason throwing money at problems generally fails; we want immediate solutions. But we’ve ignored the real needs of these Central American countries for a long time -- food security, anti-corruption measures and trade. We’ve turned a blind eye to practices like mining abuses and human trafficking. I’d say the first step is to call off the war on drugs.