Let me add my name to the chorus that believes the best way to end the massive displacement taking place in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador is to help not punish
This help though needs to be done differently more strategically and yes with conditions.
In my nearly 6 years as Secretary of Multidimensional Security, I spent a significant amount of time in these countries; on a commission to reform public security in Honduras, trying to develop a pacification process for the gangs in El Salvador and a Central American Security strategy launched with great fanfare in Guatemala.
What I learned during this time is that there is what I called a violence equation a continuum of risk factors that need to be addressed in their entirety if we hope to have any lasting impact.
Social and economic vulnerabilities plus weak corrupt institutions plus negative influencers like gangs, drugs, and cartels not surprisingly equal more violence, crime, and displacement.
In order to overcome these challenges, it is not time to think of a Marshall Plan for these countries a plan that comes with some tough love conditionality?
Conditions like developing a real country strategy that is negotiated across all political parties, donors and other stakeholders. Too often donors are more interested in planting their national flag and promoting their version of the right way and not in working collaboratively with each other and the host government. More importantly, though is the lack of merit-based institutions that can manage across one political mandate to another. Every four years or so there is a massive starting all over again when governments change.
Conditions like working with international financial institutions to create incentives and guarantees to spur private sector development, one of the foundation blocks of the Marshall Plan. I have seen the entrepreneurial spirit in these societies I believe with the right conditions they would thrive.
Conditions like accepting a CICIG like anti-corruption commission, how many ex-presidents of these countries are either in jail, exile or have dubious legitimacy? How can you build institutions like an education system when tax avoidance is rampant when the credibility and legitimacy of the rule of law institutions are in doubt? Many of my Central American friends will tell me that this is meddling in their internal affairs and would never be accepted. True, but what about their responsibility to respect the human rights of their citizens and the responsibility to respect the sovereignty of their neighbors?
Conditions like dealing with the gang problem humanely. I know only too well that this is a moral dilemma and that much of society might reject this type of a solution. Yet I have seen scores of successful gang mitigations strategies from Ecuador, Los Angeles, Glasgow that have worked to reduce levels of violence and to slowly rebuild the social fabric of society. The flip side of this is the very heavy hand of the law, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, massive incarceration, and systemic violence.
With a little bit of leadership and courage, none of this is insurmountable and far cheaper than building walls, moving the military to the border and other interventions.