While conferences in Washington are a dime a dozen, there’s a unique momentum in a one being hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank this month with Central American heads of state in attendance, as well as U.S. dignitaries, all in light of the unaccompanied migrant minors crisis.
The conference that will address the present and likely future of Central America on Friday, November 14. The goal is to not simply discuss Central America’s problems, such as immigration and poverty, but also how the international community can help local governments to overcome these challenges.
Meetings withe Central Americans heads of state
The IADB’s conference, entitled “Investing in Central America: Opening Up Opportunities for Growth,” will have VIP guests such as presidents Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, and Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador, Vice President Joe Biden and IADB President Luis Alberto Moreno. Also in attendance will be policymakers and entrepreneurs from the U.S., Central America and Europe.
Washington has a particular interest inCentral Americadue to ongoing migration from that region. Hence, it came as no surprise that Thomas Shannon, a career ambassador and current counselor to Secretary of State John Kerry, travelled to Central America to meet with the presidents who will arrive to Washington next week.
Additionally, Central American policymakers will visit Washington prior to the conference in order to maintain the momentum. Most notably, on November 13, the ministers of foreign affairs of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras will participate in a conference at theAtlantic Council.
Moreover, during the IADB event the Central American presidents will unveil the“Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle”(Prosperity Plan for short). This is an ambitious plan meant to promote development and enhance security in the region. The plan both acknowledges the region’s violence and other shortcomings but also provides concrete suggestions on how to improve the economic and security situation there.
A milestone event?
This upcoming event can be analyzed from two points of view. First, at the domestic level, this will be an important test to see how the Obama White House will work with a Republican-controlled Congress after the recent Midterm elections.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate’s likely next majority leader, has stated that whilePresident Obamais mistaken by taking unilateral action on immigration (the U.S. president supports immigration reform), the Senate, nonetheless, wants to take action on this issue. With that said, the Republicans are in no-great hurry to promote immigration reform, particularly if this serves to increase President Obama’s popularity.
Given the adverse situation on Capitol Hill, it will be interesting to see how much Vice President Biden will promise when he meets the visiting Central American leaders, all of whom would like to see some type ofimmigration reformin the U.S. in the (very) near future. During his recent trip to Central America, the aforementioned Shannon declared that Washington wants to begin “a new type of relationship” with these countries, but that remains to be seen in the post-Midterm era.
Economic challenges in Central America
The second way to view the IADB conference is by addressing the current situation in Central America. The Prosperity Plan is important because it calls for greater integration between these three violence and poverty-afflicted states. Any follower of Latin American political history has read innumerable speeches that call for regional integration, but few initiatives have been successful in the long-term. The Prosperity Plan outlines projects that would deeply unite El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, with the additional effect of supporting the three nations overcome their collective problems.
One aspect of development of the plan worth highlighting is the focus on improving transportation to promote the movement of people, goods and services. The goal is to not only increase trade between the three countries, but also with the greater Central American region.
For example, the Prosperity Plan mentions the need to improve the corridor that connects Puerto Quetzal, a Guatemalan port in the Pacific, with Guatemala City and then with San Pedro Sula in Honduras. While none of these countries are in a position to construct a trans-Oceanic canala laPanama or Nicaragua, cooperation amongst themselves can help them become a competitive option for the movement of goods.
Moreover, when discussing how to improve the training of local workers, the plan also states that it will “prioritize providing attention to migrant citizens who return [to their country]” so that these people can receive proper job-related training and benefit from health and educational services. The goal is for them to quickly rejoin the local workforce. This is a particularly important objective which highlights how these governments are attempting to address the effects that departing citizens have on their countries, particularly regarding the flight of qualified labor force.
Ultimately, the IADB’s upcoming conference promises a new U.S.-Central American relationship, and the launching of a new plan to integrate these three Central American states. We will have to see how many of these promises and plans become a reality.