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A message of hope for Central America as vice president Harris meets Lopez Obrador

On Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris will meet virtually with the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, as part of the Biden administration's effort to build a better relationship with Central America based on ‘common goals of prosperity, good governance and addressing the root causes of migration’.
Por:: Carlos A. Heredia,Eric L. OlsonyÚrsula Roldán,
7 May 2021 – 06:00 AM EDT
US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks before a virtual meeting with Guatemala's President Alejandro Giammattei about the migration crisis, April 26, 2021, in Washington, DC.. Crédito: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Today Vice President Kamala Harris will meet virtually with the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to discuss ‘common goals of prosperity, good governance and addressing the root causes of migration’.

The framework for dealing with these challenges is found in what the Vice President has already said on numerous occasions ‘We have to give people some sense of hope, that if they stay, help is on the way.’

Communities of faith; small agricultural producers; indigenous, afro-descendants, and women´s organization; social movements and civil society groups from the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have been working to bring hope and justice to the region for decades. They have joined together because it is time for our authorities to take a new approach to the challenges of our region.

There are reasons for hope, but it cannot be built on empty promises of more aid, while ignoring the corruption and injustice that surrounds us. Power dynamics must change. The voices of the poor and marginalized must be heard for once.

In this spirit, we call on the governments of the U.S. and Mexico to listen to the voices of Central Americans crying out for justice, opportunity, and respect. We call on all nations and political parties to understand the profound human tragedy, despair, and hopeless that permeates our societies. This is not a border crisis, but a human crisis that goes to the core of who we are as a people.

President Biden wants to build the US economy from the middle and bottom up, not top down. In the same fashion, building hope in Central America must be undertaken in partnership with the vast majority of people at the bottom of the power pyramid, rather than the few, the powerful and the privileged who can no longer be trusted with our futures.

There are reliable partners in Central America to address the deep causes of poverty, violence, and corruption that force people to flee their homes in the region.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the Eta and Iota hurricanes ravaged the territory and further impoverished hundreds of thousands of people. However, while natural phenomena are unavoidable, the disasters in the aftermath are the result of rampant corruption that paralyzed emergency response and crippled the vaccination campaigns. These problems are exacerbated by an inability by governments to acknowledge mistakes and rectify policies.

Sadly, the most profitable business in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras is exporting the poor, in order for them to send remittances back home, instead of generating economic, social and environmental value in their home communities. It is imperative to regulate labor mobility to promote the interests of employers and workers without criminalizing the latter.

It is about time we start a new development model as the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) has suggested in a thorough report.

We want to highlight a salient example of this new paradigm and new partnership: Fe y Alegría (Faith and Joy), the popular education school network that has transformed communities throughout Central America for almost a half century. It provides quality education to 78,244 people in rural villages and poor neighborhoods, including elementary and high school students, parents, as well as technical employment skills training for youth.

Fe y Alegría is much more than a school: in a context of extreme inequality and systemic violence, it strengthens the social fabric, as it builds up human security, prevention of violence, gender equity, environmental education and good governance. Its program ‘The light of girls’ creates violence-free spaces for girls and women. In a nutshell, it generates social cohesion, community leaderships, and it garners hope in this time of trial.

This is our neighborhood, our common home, as Pope Francis has reminded us time and again. The people of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras need a dose of hope – and our support to make their countries livable. We need to engage in people-to-people and public diplomacy to make their voices heard and listened to.

Let the Harris-López Obrador conversation and her upcoming visits to the region lead to a fresh beginning in regional cooperation, which means working together in shared responsibility. We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a common future, and that values like being good and decent are worth it. It is good policy, it is good for the economy, it is good for human security and dignity.

Carlos A. Heredia is a professor at CIDE, a public research center in Mexico City. Eric L. Olson is the director of policy and strategic initiatives at the Seattle International Foundation. Úrsula Roldán is the Director of IDGT, a research institute at Rafael Landívar University in Guatemala City.

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