All posts by Mike Allison

The push factors of Guatemalan migration

Nick Miroff and Kevin Sieff dig into the recent report that most Guatemalans are leaving their country because of economic conditions rather than factors related to violence.
Asked about the CBP assessment of food insecurity, several migration experts in Guatemala said they do not believe this year’s surge is the result of an acute crisis. Rather, they say, it’s the product of years of grinding poverty, crime and increasingly well-developed smuggling networks seeking out new customers.
According to Julia Gonzales Deras, the executive director of the National Roundtable on Guatemalan Migration, the causes in the country’s western highlands remain the same as they have for years: poverty, unemployment and insecurity tied to criminal groups.
“We haven’t observed any change in the trend of migrants going to the United States. People continue to leave because the conditions of their lives here are not improving,” Deras said.
Migration from Central America has never been about a single factor. Most of us writing about Central America's Northern Triangle typically write about a combination of push and pull factors causing people to flee, even if some of us emphasize one or two factors over others.

In El Salvador and Honduras, people often flee because of gang violence. Sometimes they flee because of targeted violence while at other times their decision might come after two decades of surviving perilous conditions.

Guatemalans, on the other hand, have more often left for economic reasons. The lack of jobs, food insecurity, roya, drought, flooding, etc. Some people flee because of gang violence, particularly from areas of the capital, while others flee organized crime and drug traffickers, particularly those from areas outside of the capital. There is also the increasing repression of social movement activists, broadly defined, causing outward migration.

The United States has the capacity and the need to accept more immigrants. We can implement policies that would make it easier for people to move from Central America to the United States and vice versa. It is in our self interest to help cultivate conditions in Central America in order to reduce people's need to flee. It's not clear how dedicated the Trump administration is to this effort. And I've been in favor of dedicating more resources to the asylum process so that we can fairly and justly resolve cases. The Trump administration wants more resources to process asylum cases but it has given no indication that it wants to process them in the spirit of the law. They just want to close as many as quickly as possible.

Will Guatemala’s Stalemate Over CICIG Continue?

I have some comments on recent developments in Guatemala for the Inter-American Dialogue’s daily Latin America Advisor in Will Guatemala's Stalemate Over CICIG Continue?
CICIG has established itself as an indispensable instrument in the fight against corruption and impunity in Guatemala. Hundreds of individuals, including several members of the political and economic elite, are awaiting trial or have already been convicted on various corruption charges. Those currently under investigation include President Jimmy Morales and members of his family and political party.
As a result, Morales and his allies have launched an all-out assault on CICIG. There is no reason to believe that Morales’ actions have been made in the best interests of the Guatemalan people.
You can read the rest of my answer and those of Mario Polanco, director of Grupo de Apoyo Mútuo in Guatemala City, Donald J. Planty, senior advisor to Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington and former U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, Adriana Beltrán, director for citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America, and Helen Mack, founder and executive director of the Myrna Mack Foundation here.

Guatemala on the brink…again

Jacob Lesniewski explains how limited democratic progress in Guatemala that has coincided with CICIG's growing successes is threatened by President Morales' recent attacks against the independent body in From Anti-Corruption to Democracy in Guatemala.
The Morales administration’s seemingly (for now) successful campaign against CICIG is troubling for several reasons, not the least of which is that it threatens to turn back the clock on the past five years of expanding democratization in Guatemala that culminated in the 2015 protests and similar protests in 2017. A slow-rolling self-coup that retrenches the same corrupt elite and re-militarizes the Guatemalan government has all the potential to demobilize and demoralize the newly politicized young urban middle class “hijos de la plaza” (children of the central square) and the reinvigorated public university student union that has retaken its traditional position at the center of left politics in recent years.
These young people have been at the forefront of massive mobilization at the University of San Carlos, the public university in Guatemala that was a traditional site of left politics until the repression of the 1980s, a new political party that the most procedurally democratic and transparent one in recent memory, and the emergence of a broad progressive, democratic culture of political groups and debate in Guatemala City, the nation’s capital, and Quetaltenango (Xela), the largest city in the indigenous Western Highlands.
The current crisis reveals the limits of anti-corruption as a tool for social, political, and economic reform or liberation. Anti-corruption is not effective on its own in ensuring democratic control of politics, society, and economics. In a country like Guatemala, where the state and organized crime are co-opted and managed by a long-entrenched oligarchy that operates Guatemala as its own personal finca (plantation), CICIG’s anti-corruption efforts are valuable in that they open spaces for social movements to operate more freely. Its efforts to break the oligarchy’s grip on power by striking at illicit campaign financing has opened spaces for burgeoning social movements among indigenous and campesino communities.
These movements, which emerged from the (oftentimes literal) ashes of the violence of the civil war have coalesced around a radically democratic platform of constitutional reform that would move Guatemala away from a centralized republic to a pluri-national democracy, renationalization of privatized public goods like the electricity grid, and a ban on megaprojects like mines or hydroelectric dams without previous consultation with affected indigenous communities.
CICIG has not worked alone in Guatemala for the last ten years. They have had terrific partners in the Public Ministry and, at times, some other national institutions. The people of Guatemala have consistently demonstrated their approval of CICIG through public opinion polls and occupying public spaces when it has come under attack. The United States, Sweden, the European Union, and the international community more broadly have stood beside them. They have really been outspoken and threatening when they've had to be.

In recent weeks and months, the coalition that has worked with CICIG has shown serious signs of decay. Although she is now scheduled to speak later today, Attorney General Porras has been absent during this time of crisis. The United States has been diplomatic in its response to CICIG, which has been read by all as a sign of weakness. And while the Guatemalan people have mobilized once again in support of CICIG, it might not have done so in a way to raise the costs for the Morales administration.

Fortunately, the Constitutional Court has once again stood up to the unconstitutional orders of President Morales. They unanimously rejected Morales' effort to prevent Commissioner Velasquez from re-entering the country to complete his work as unconstitutional. However, that has not stopped Morales. AG Porras' speech to the nation today is critical to the future of democracy and CICIG in Guatemala.

CICIG mandate will not be renewed

On Friday, President Jimmy Morales announced that CICIG's mandate would not be renewed when it expires one year from now (September 2019). Even though CICIG has been instrumental in the fight against corruption and impunity in Guatemala, the decision not to renew its mandate was not unexpected. CICIG has been investigating President Morales and his family and allies for some time.

Various political and economic elites have found themselves in CICIG's cross-hairs and the Attorney General's Office. Morales spoke for them on Friday through his criticism of CICIG.
Morales accused the commission Friday of "violating our laws, inducing people and institutions to participate in acts of corruption and impunity," and "selective criminal prosecution with an ideological bias."
"Selective justice has been used to intimidate and terrorize the citizenry," he charged. "Judicial independence has been violated, with the intention of manipulating justice, actions that attack the presumption of innocence and due process."
Morales wanted to escape the situation that trapped his predecessor. Otto Perez Molina had no intention of renewing CICIG's mandate but was pressured into doing so by the people of Guatemala and international community. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested on corruption charges.

With one year to go in its mandate, Morales announced CICIG was over and that it should begin to transfer its resources and such to local authorities. However, he did so surrounded by dozens of police and military officials. He did so minutes after military jeeps took up positions outside CICIG's offices. He did so while telling local authorities that they must not obey "illegal orders," presumably those that involve investigations that touch Morales and his people.

Morales made it clear that from his perspective CICIG's work is done even if it remains physically present in the country for one more year.