Why Aren’t We Debating Doing More for Central America?

by Michael R. Strain

My latest column, on the debate surrounding the Central American children, was inspired by a recent trip to Guatemala. I ask why we aren’t even discussing whether to do more to address the root causes of the problem.

GUATEMALA CITY — Exhaust fumes from the old, poorly maintained cars traveling beside us infuse our cab. We pass shanty towns — settlements of poorly constructed, one-room houses; often nothing more than crumbling, lopsided walls with tin roofs. There are guns everywhere: Soldiers on the sidewalks, civilians guarding storefronts, young men in the backs of old pickup trucks. Everything is behind walls, protected, isolated.

We are driving through this town on our way to the tourist hub of Antigua. Our hosts know this particular cab company and assure us that we’ll arrive safely at our destination — not a given in Guatemala.

After decades of civil war, Guatemala is still in bad shape. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala reports “the widespread killing of women and children.” Only 2 percent of homicides in Guatemala ever go to trial. A 2013 essay in Esquire calls Guatemala City “one of the most dangerous places on earth,” and describes the “savage means” used by narco-traffickers to maintain control of their territory. The solid majority of the cocaine in the United States is smuggled through Guatemala. The CIA World Factbook reports that 54 percent of Guatemalans are below the national poverty line, with 13 percent in extreme poverty. Close to half of Guatemalan children under the age of 5 are chronically malnourished, “one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world.”

You can read the column here.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar in economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at twitter.com/MichaelRStrain.