A better way to view the migrant caravan

Missing in the dire depictions of Central American migrants is the steady progress in their countries to deal with a root cause for the exodus.

Demonstrators gather in support of the fight against corruption in Guatemala City, Sept. 20.

 Victims? Or predators?

Those seem to be the only types of terms that the media and President Trump can use to depict the thousands of Central American migrants trekking in caravans toward the United States.

Viewing them as predators, Mr. Trump seeks stronger border security and aggressive immigration restrictions, perhaps with an eye on the November elections for Congress.

Those who see them as victims point to a harsh life in the Northern Triangle of Central America, composed of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. They cite a need for the US to hear out any claims for asylum.

Yet there is a third way to see many of the migrants as well as those who remain in Central America. Based on recent evidence, more people in those countries may be viewing themselves as capable agents of progress.

Of all the “push factors” driving the exodus, such as poverty and violence, one root cause is corruption. It enables poor governance and lawless gangs. But in Guatemala, the people have shown since 2006 – through protests, elections, and other activism – that curbing corruption can improve daily living conditions and perhaps deter emigration.

New data from the International Crisis Group (ICG) finds that justice reforms in that country have contributed to a 5 percent average annual decrease in murder rates from 2007 to 2017. The number of “avoided homicides” was more than 4,500 in that period, attributed to reforms aimed largely at corruption.

Among similar countries in Latin America, Guatemala has “bucked the trend toward worsening violence and rising homicide,” concludes an Oct. 25 report by ICG.

Much of the credit goes to Guatemalans demanding the creation of a special United Nations body, the Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, in 2006. The unusual body has helped bring about legal and institutional reforms as well as assist prosecutors in investigating corrupt officials.

An estimated 80 criminal groups have been disbanded. A president was forced to resign in 2015. And thousands of police have been fired or arrested. The agency’s anti-corruption efforts have damaged the ruling elite’s grip on power and, notably, allowed a new political freedom “for burgeoning social movements among indigenous and campesino communities,” the ICG states.

In Honduras, too, a similar body was set up in 2015. Known as the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, it began work in 2017 in helping the investigation and adjudication of corruption. In July, a judge jailed three members of Congress, a deputy government minister, and more than a dozen others while they await trial on charges of corruption.

A number of reforms in the country have led to a sharp decline in murder rates since 2011. “Honduras is addressing the underlying conditions driving migration,” says Francisco Palmieri, a career US diplomat nominated to be ambassador to the country.

The US contributes millions of dollars a year for such reforms. At the least, when others judge these countries and their migrants, the people have earned a better description than victim or predator.

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