The roots of Central American migration crisis

Illustration of migrants with a crumbling US Flag
Karissa Ho/File

Related Posts

In recent months, the United States government has begun attempting to resolve the current migration issues with Mexico and Central American countries.

Thousands of Central American migrants cross the north of Mexico heading to the United States on a daily basis. This is a problem that, in recent years, has grown to become part of the central agenda of the current U.S. government. Although this situation opened a wide debate about possible solutions to this trouble, little has been said about the root causes of one of the largest migratory crises today.

To begin, it is important to understand that the migration problem has a direct relationship with lack of opportunity, security, justice and equality. People who flee their countries generally live in political instability with weak institutions and little development.

Arguably, North America is divided in two. On one hand, the United States is a world power that has managed to develop economically. On the other, Latin America regularly experiences growth deficits and great economic problems as a society submerged in poverty. But how did this area develop such problems? 

While it is impossible to determine an exact moment where the problems began to develop, it must be remembered that all of these nations were colonies that achieved independence and the twentieth century was the key moment for these new countries to achieve progress. 

Unfortunately, however, in the middle of the last century, dictatorships and civil wars began to form part of the political landscape of this region instead.

Many will say that these were simple internal confrontations. Nevertheless, there is an essential element that makes a great difference: the intervention of foreign nations, specifically the United States.

In the case of Central America, which is where the majority of migrants who try to cross the southern border of the United States currently come from, different confrontations began to break out. 

Some examples include the coup in Guatemala in 1954, the civil war in Guatemala of the years 1960-1996, the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, the Civil War in El Salvador from 1979 to 1992, the United States invasion of Panama in 1989 and the different coups that Honduras has suffered, most recently in 2009. 

All of these internal confrontations have American involvement in common. 

The first crisis mentioned is the coup in Guatemala in 1954. This coup is considered the first Latin American overthrow that was maneuvered by the United States government, and this was the first of many interventions that the U.S. government had in the region.

It is also important to mention that, depending on the political conditions of the country, such as the political ideology of the government, the United States supported either the government or the revolutionary movements. In the Salvadoran civil war, for example, the United States helped the Salvadoran armed forces. On the other hand, in the Sandinista revolution, the U.S. government aided the group opposing the government in Nicaragua, the “contras.”

As we can see, many of these confrontations had American participation in different areas, such as military or economic support. The U.S. government attempts to ​​maintain a certain political control in the center of the continent by trying to squander communist and socialist movements.

From these conflicts, economic, political and social instability was created. 

For decades, there were no well-established governments, and there are countries that still have a very weak political system today. The wounds remain unhealed, insecurity and poverty are still present and as a consequence, many individuals decide to migrate in search of a better life. They head to the most powerful nation on the continent — the United States — creating an alarming migratory crisis. 

In a certain way, the United States encouraged this problem by trying to maintain control of this area, when the only thing they achieved, instead, was instability. 

While I’m not suggesting that the United States is fully responsible for this crisis, our government did take advantage of the internal unrest of nearby countries by assuming a leading role and, thereby influencing the political futures of those nations.

Despite the complexity of the situation at this time, there is a window of opportunity that could be the beginning of a new era in Central America. By this, I’m referring to the current discussions occurring between the United States and the Central American countries. 

This could be the watershed of a new collaboration between the countries of the region. 

The United States still may be the great driving force behind the reconstruction and development of the area, but only time will tell us if superficial solutions, such as the use of military forces to prevent the advance of migrants, were sought or if economic growth and political stability of the Central American countries were promoted.

We, as citizens, have the responsibility to raise awareness of this problem so that it does not go unnoticed. The people of those countries need our help. We must demand the government to take measures to help the Central American countries in the development of a new social and economic policy. 

Manuel Villa is a Mexican photographer and writer.