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A Radical New Migration Strategy from Four Latin American Partners

El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala are gearing up for a radically different migration strategy together with the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). On December 1, 2018, the presidents of these four countries asked ECLAC for assistance in making a new plan to curb forced migration, making it safer and generally deterring migrants from leaving their homes by providing them a better incentive to stay. The strategy is a result of the Global Compact for Migration drafted in July 2018 and signed on December 19, 2018.

The plan was put together by ECLAC’s specialists with the help of an international team of experts. The team toured Central America in 2019 to present the plan: Mexico received ECLAC’s team on May 20, the government of Honduras did so on July 25, Guatemala received them on September 12 and El Salvador’s government read the document the day after. On September 27, there was a meeting of high-level representatives in New York to discuss the plan as a whole and to declare their undivided commitment to implementing it.

The Comprehensive Development Plan

The executive summary of the 334-page document includes thirteen recommendations for the four mentioned countries. These include a wide arrange of macroeconomic measures and investment recommendations to maximize each country’s economic output and growth. ECLAC recommended implementing a macroeconomic policy that achieves higher, sustained economic growth rates, that generates decent jobs and that propitiates income distribution utilizing fiscal policy tools like minimum wage and a higher investment rate.

Another pending project is adopting a taxation policy that is effective at curbing tax evasion, that increases government income and that is geared towards promoting public spending progressiveness while limiting regressiveness.

Implementing a common trade policy to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers

Among the investments that ECLAC identified as turning points for the regional economy is a “Central-American States Electric Interconnection System,” a gas-based “clean energy corridor” between the four countries, logistics systems integration and a transition towards a sustainable regional economy.

An important effort that can curb migration and that becomes more pressing each day is the generation of policies to adapt and prepare for climate change, reducing vulnerability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This, together with a system of interregional cooperation for disaster relief would go a long way in building up Central America’s resilience.

The majority of migrants are forced to leave their home countries due to either violence or a lack of opportunities, while the average income in Central America is ten times less than the average income in the United States. This is why building robust social security systems that guarantee universal coverage, creating decent jobs to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality and implementing policies to achieve substantive equality between women and men can be decisive in allowing migrants to stay in their countries, the report shows.

From a human rights perspective, ECLAC also recommended achieving the adhesion of all states to international law and adopting data and fact-based migratory policies aimed at protecting human rights and dignity. The report indicates that states should try to develop specific actions to address each stage of the migratory process ─ origin, transit, destiny, and return ─ to achieve safe, orderly and regular migration and the due respect for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

Finally, ECLAC’s recommendations include guaranteeing that all people in need of international protection can get access to territory and procedures to determine their refugee condition and to include asylum seekers and refugees in public services and social policies. Making sure asylum seekers and refugees can satisfy their basic needs to comply with the Comprehensive Regional Framework on Protection and Solutions (MIRPS is the official acronym, in Spanish) is not only economically rational but a responsibility of all signatory states.

Key points from ECLAC’s executive summary for the Mexican government

Some of the specific measures that are promoted with special enthusiasm are the reduction of tax exemptions and deductions ─ which results in a government income loss of 3.8% for El Salvador, 2.3% for Guatemala, 5.5% for Honduras and 3.9% for Mexico, increasing investment to 25% of each country’s gross domestic product, 6% is the average required increase of investment, and establishing a “new economic space” by creating regional value chains and by adopting standardized logistics integration techniques, like early transport documentation submission systems, unified migratory controls, digital phytosanitary and zoosanitary certification controls, RFID systems for transport vehicles and border security systems.

Some specific projects suggested as regional investments that could be internationally managed are (1) the natural gas terminal at Cortés dock in Honduras and the adjunct 300 megawatts power plant; (2) an integration of the Mexican electricity system to Central America’s electricity network; (3) a general upgrade of the infrastructure connecting Mexico and Guatemala, which encompasses 950 kilometers of roads; (4) a regional railway system which would necessitate 935 kilometers of railway to connect all four countries; and, (5) new natural gas duct between Mexico and Central America.

Regarding fiscal policy and government spending on things besides infrastructure, the plan suggests a couple of measures to exploit the region’s strengths: (1) channeling remittances towards investment instead of consumption by reducing transaction costs, creating special investment projects and leveraging them as entry-level funds for financial systems; (2) achieving universal basic education and intermediate (primary and secondary) education through scholarships, increased retention, and equal access in indigenous or violent regions; (3) creating dignified employment through minimum wages, labor mobility, income equality and childcare; (4) guaranteeing healthcare social security; and, (5) reinforcing social security network by increasing government spending by 2%.

It is important to remember the essential purpose of the plan: curbing migration. As such, this is, in fact, a very intricate strategy towards ending the migratory problem in Latin America by eroding its most productive demographic. The proposal at the heart of ECLAC’s work is that by developing Central America, migration can be managed by giving economic refugees and asylum seekers much better alternatives at home.