High-level visits between the Obama administration and Latin American governments

Below is a timeline including the travels of the President, Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and the various US Secretaries of Defense to Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as visits by regional leaders to the United States during Obama’s time in office. It was compiled using resources from the US Department of State Office of the Historian and other US government websites.

Last Updated: November 20, 2016

January 13, 2009: Mexican President Felipe Calderon meets with US President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama in the United States. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe also visits the United States to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

March 14, 2009: Brazilian President Lula da Silva visits the United States for a “working visit.”

March 25, 2009: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels to Mexico to meet with Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa and to discuss the Merida Initiative.

April 16, 2009: President Barack Obama travels to Mexico for a meeting with President Felipe Calderon.

April 16-19, 2009: Clinton meets with President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis in Haiti, and also travels to the neighboring Dominican Republic to meet with President Leonel Fernandez. Obama and Clinton also attend the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

May 31-June 1, 2009: Clinton attends the inauguration of President Mauricio Funes and a “ministerial meeting of Pathways to Prosperity in America” in El Salvador.

June 2, 2009: Clinton travels to Honduras for an OAS General Assembly meeting.

June 23, 2009: Chilean President Michele Bachelet travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

June 29, 2009: Colombian President Alvaro Uribe travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

August 9-10, 2009: Obama attends the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico.

September 24-25 2009: Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, Brazilian President Lula da Silva, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon attend the G-20 Economic Summit in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

January 16, 2010: Clinton travels to Haiti to meet “with Haitian officials and [assess] disaster relief efforts.”

March 1-5, 2010: Clinton attends the inauguration of President José Mujica in Uruguay. She also travels to Argentina for a meeting with President Cristina Kirchner, and to Chile for a meeting with President Michele Bachelet and President-elect Sebastian Pinera, where she discussed “disaster relief.” Clinton also travels to Brazil to meet with President Lula da Silva and Foreign Minister Celso Amorim. She then travels to Costa Rica, where she addresses the “Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas Ministerial Meeting” and meets with President Oscar Arias and President-elect Laura Chinchilla. And on March 5, Clinton visited Guatemala to meet with President Alvaro Colom and “leaders of the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic.”

March 8, 2010: El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

March 9-10, 2010: Haitian President Rene Preval travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

March 23, 2010: Clinton travels to Mexico for a “U.S.-Mexico High Level Consultative Group meeting” and a meeting with President Calderon and Foreign Secretary Espinosa. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen also travel to Mexico.

April 11-13, 2010: Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, Brazilian President Lula da Silva, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon attend the Nuclear Security Summit held in the United States.

April 14-16, 2010: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates travels to Peru, Colombia and Barbados.

May 19-20. 2010: Mexican President Felipe Calderon travels to the United States for a state visit during which he addresses a joint session of Congress.

June 1, 2010: Peruvian President Alan Garcia travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

June 6-10, 2010: Clinton travels to Peru for a meeting of the OAS General Assembly, to Ecuador to meet with President Rafael Correa, and then to Colombia to meet with President Alvaro Uribe. She also travels to Barbados for a meeting of the CARICOM Foreign Ministers and the announcement of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.

July 12, 2010: Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

September 24, 2010: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos meets with President Obama at the UN General Assembly in New York City.

November 18-22, 2010: US Defense Secretary Gates travels to Chile and Bolivia.

January 1, 2011: Clinton attends the inauguration of President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.

January 24, 2011: Clinton travels to Mexico for a meeting with Foreign Secretary Espinosa.

January 30, 2011: Clinton travels to Haiti for a meting with President Preval and “political and civic leaders.”

March 3, 2011: Mexican President Calderon travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

March 19-23, 2011: Obama travels to Brazil for a meeting with President Rousseff, to Chile to meet with President Pinera, and to El Salvador to meet with President Mauricio Funes.

April 7, 2011: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

April 28, 2011: Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

June 22, 2011: Clinton attends the Conference of Support for the Central American Security Strategy in Guatemala. She also travels to Jamaica for “the High-Level U.S.-Caribbean Conference.”

July 6, 2011: Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

September 20, 2011: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff meets with President Obama at the UN General Assembly in New York City.

October 5, 2011: Honduran President Porfirio Lobo travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

November 10-13, 2011: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala attends the Asia-Pacific Economic and Cooperation Summit at Honolulu and Kapolei, Hawaii.

February 19, 2012: Clinton attends a G-20 Ministerial Meeting in Mexico and signs the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Agreement.

April 2, 2012: Mexican President Felipe Calderon attends the North American Leaders’ Summit in the United States.

April 9, 2012: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

April 13-19, 2012: Obama and Clinton attend the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Colombia. Clinton then travels to Brazil for the Third U.S.-Brazil Global Partnership Dialogue, also addressing the First Annual Meeting of the Open Government Partnership there.

April 23, 2012: US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta travels to Colombia, Brazil and Chile.

June 18-22, 2012: Obama and Clinton attend the G-20 economic summit in Mexico, and Clinton travels to Brazil for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

October 5, 2012: US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta travels to Peru and Uruguay.

October 15-16, 2012: Clinton meets with Peruvian president Ollanta Humala and addresses the Conference on Power: Women as Drivers of Growth and Social Inclusion.

October 22, 2012: Clinton travels to Haiti to attend the opening of Caracol Industrial Park, and to meet with President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe.

November 27, 2012: Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

May 2-4, 2013: Obama meets with President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico and also travels to Costa Rica to meet with President Laura Chinchilla and leaders of the Central American Integration System.

June 2-4, 2013: Chilean President Sebastian Pinera travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

June 4-5, 2013: Kerry attends OAS General Assembly meeting in Guatemala.

June 10-12, 2013: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

August 12-13, 2013: Kerry meets in Colombia with President Juan Manuel Santos, Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon, and “Colombian Peace Negotiators.” He then travels to Brazil to meet with President Rousseff, Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, and Education Minister Aloizio Mercadante.

December 2-4, 2013: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos travels to the United States for a “working visit.”

February 19, 2014: President Obama meet in Mexico with President Enrique Pena Nieto for the North American Leaders Summit.

April 23-26, 2014: US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visits Mexico and Guatemala.

May 21-22, 2014: Kerry travels to Mexico “to discuss a range of bilateral issues, including expanding trade and economic growth, increasing higher education collaboration, and our continuing security cooperation.”

July 1, 2014: Kerry travels to Panama for the inauguration of President Juan Carlos Varela.

October 2014: US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel travels to Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago.

December 11-12, 2014: Kerry travels to Peru and Colombia to meet with Presidents Humala and Santos.

April 9-11, 2015: Obama travels to Jamaica. He and Kerry then travel to Panama for the Seventh Summit of the Americas.

August 14, 2015: Kerry travels to Cuba to “formally re-designate the U.S. Interests Section to U.S. Embassy Havana. While in Havana, he met with senior Cuban government officials.”

October 5, 2015: Kerry travels to Chile for the second “Our Ocean” conference. He also personally delivers to Chilean President Michele Bachelet documents related to the 1976 assassination of Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier.

October 6, 2015: Kerry travels to Haiti and meets with Haitian President Michel Martelly and other senior Haitian officials.

January 14, 2016: Vice President Joe Biden travels to Guatemala to attend the inauguration of President Jimmy Morales.

February 3-4, 2016: Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos visits Washington, DC to discuss the ongoing peace process in his country.

February 24, 2016: Biden receives the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in Washington, DC to talk about the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity.

February 25, 2016: Biden travels to Mexico for an economic summit.

March 20-22, 2016: Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years. Kerry also travels to Cuba and meets with Colombian peace negotiators.

March 23-24, 2016: Obama travels to Argentina on the 40th anniversary of the 1976 coup there, after promising to declassify U.S. records related to the “dirty war” that followed.

May 3, 2016: Biden meets with the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in Washington, DC to talk about the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity. Obama also stops by for part of the meeting.

August 3-6, 2016: Kerry travels to Argentina for bilateral meetings, then to Brazil as part of the U.S. delegation for the Olympic Games.

September 23, 2016: Biden meets with the presidents of Guatemala, Hondruas and El Salvador at the Inter-American Development Bank for a forum entitled “The Northern Triangle – Constructing together a more prosperous future for the region.”

September 26, 2016: Kerry travels to Colombia for the signing of a peace accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Kerry also reportedly met with Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro on the sidelines of the event.

October 19, 2016: Biden meets with representatives from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras regarding the “Alliance for Prosperity.”

November 18-21, 2016: In his final foreign trip as president, Obama attends and economic summit in Lima, Peru.

U.S. Names Special Envoy to Peace Process with Colombia’s FARC Rebels

Cross-posted with Public Diplomacy Musings

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama named Bernie Aronson as a special envoy to the ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group. The move is perhaps the United States’ strongest signal of its support for the process since it began in 2012.

In a statement announcing Aronson’s appointment, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “After careful consideration, President Obama has come to the conclusion – which I share, needless to say – that first, while significant obstacles remain, a negotiated peace in Colombia is absolutely worth pursuing and absolutely worth assisting if we are able to; and second, as Colombia’s close friend and ally, the United States has a responsibility to do what it can in order to help Colombia to achieve that peace.”

For his part, Arnson said, “Peace can only be made by Colombians themselves. We have no blueprint made in Washington to offer. We will not take a place at the negotiating table, but we can push, prod, cajole, and clarify and help wherever we can. The parties have made substantial progress, but the hard, knotty issues have been left to the end as they usually are. Now the parties must resolve them, because windows for peace, as all of us know, can close without warning, and sometimes they never reopen.”

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed Aronson’s appointment, saying “We are grateful to President Obama and his government for this new gesture.” The FARC also welcomed Aronson’s appointment and reiterated its commitment to ending the conflict, in addition to thanking the U.S. for its moves toward fulfilling Santos’ December 2014 request for the country to take a “more direct role in the peace process.”

Secretary Kerry praised Aronson for “his well-recognized hard work in helping to resolve the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua.” However, as Mother Jones reported in October 1987, Aronson was among the so-called “Gang of Four” Democratic operatives who “sought to rally the party behind the Nicaraguan rebels” known as the Contras, who were fighting the ruling Sandinista government at the time.

As author Michael Massing wrote, “The four testified in Congress, lobbied the administration, wrote articles, and drafted speeches. They also worked with the contras themselves, seeking almost single-handedly to mold the rebel army.”

Aronson, who went on to become Latin America advisor at Goldman Sachs before starting his own Latin America-focused private equity firm, also served as assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs during the George H.W. Bush administration from 1989 to 1993. While Secretary Kerry praised Arnson for his work in El Salvador, the latter has his critics among foreign policy observers for the role he played in that conflict as well.

Aronson’s new appointment will test his public diplomacy skills. During the ceremony for his appointment Aronson also said, “Now it is time, long past time, for the FARC and hopefully the ELN to demonstrate their courage by renouncing violence forever so Colombians can heal the wounds of war and live in peace with justice under the law.” This was a curious and slightly concerning statement considering the Colombian government itself has confirmed that the indefinite and unilateral ceasefire declared by the FARC has held despite continued offensives by the Colombian military.

The U.S. government has labeled the FARC a “foreign terrorist organization” since 1997. For this reason, the Obama administration’s efforts to support the peace talks will likely face similar attacks as they have in Colombia.  Foreign Policy magazine once described the mantra “the United States doesn’t negotiate with terrorists” as a “constant refrain,” though it is one to which there is not much truth.

The U.S. (and Aronson) must walk the same “fine line” as the Colombian government. What I wrote previously about the Santos administration applies equally to Obama’s; “It must [engage in] the process with the FARC in good faith and frame both concessions and acquisitions in the negotiations in a positive light for the general public, while simultaneously countering alternative narratives about the talks from the FARC and the right-wing opposition.”

In another sign of support for the peace process, U.S. ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker, suggested in a recent media interview that the Obama administration could request an increase in aid funding for Colombia to support post-conflict initiatives in the event of a final peace accord.

Despite the efforts of some right-wing elements to derail or discredit the peace process, it seems to be on fairly firm footing – in both the U.S. and Colombia. While some observers have reservations about Aronson, his appointment nonetheless signals the Obama administration’s firm commitment to helping Santos achieve the “bilateral and indefinite” ceasefire with the rebels that he has called for repeatedly and urgently.

Former Obama adviser and CAP dude blames Central America for refugee spike

In an interview with Fox News Latino, Dan Restrepo, President Barack Obama’s principal adviser on the Americas region from 2008 to 2012, made some pretty ignorant comments.

Responding to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s accusation that the United States’ large-scale consumption of the drugs that flow through his country has fueled crime and violence in the region, and thus contributed to the increase in refugees heading northwards, Restrepo seemed to blamed the victim.

“It’s convenient when the president of Honduras blames the United States and our drug culture,” Restrepo said. “The Honduran economic and political elite have systematically and historically failed the people of Honduras.”

First, a little background on Hernandez. The current Honduran president was one of the generals who led the 2009 coup against the elected President José Manuel Zelaya, who was elected as a liberal but began to turn further left once in office.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, “the United States became the single loudest voice legitimating a [post-coup] election that was held in a context so problematic and laden with violence that respected election observers from the United Nations, Organization of American States, the European Union, and the Carter Center refused to monitor or support the elections.”

That election brought right-wing nationalist Porfirio “Pepe Lobo” Sosa to power. Lobo’s administration presided over cuts to social spending, declining economic growth rates and increasing poverty and unemployment. The country also maintained one of the world’s highest murder rates during that time.

In November 2013, another election was held, this time between Lobo’s man Hernandez and Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the wife of the deposed president. The election was marred by allegations of vote-buying, intimidation and criminalization of Xiomara’s supporters.

The 2009 coup didn’t stop the flow of US security dollars, despite the US law that bars military and police assistance to governments established by coups, and the Obama administration was quick to congratulate Hernandez’s “victory” in 2013, despite the widespread concern over the legitimacy of the results.

Restrepo had left the Obama administration by the time Hernandez was elected, but he is currently a senior fellow at the Obama-friendly Center for American Progress, which basically defended the 2009 Honduran election and had nothing to say one way or the other about Hernandez’s questionable 2013 “victory” (neither did its blog, ThinkProgress).

In the interview with Fox, Restrepo continued: “The wealthy families, a small number of economic classes, have enjoyed success, and have significant political influence. But they haven’t gone about the hard work of working toward a state that functions.”

Restrepo pointed to “[t]he Colombian elite, the political and economic elite” as an example of good leaders who had “realized that for the long-term survival of their country, they needed to invest in the state, and create an environment where people wanted to invest.”

He did not mention the fact that after years of US assistance, Colombia still has the 10th-highest murder rate in the world, as well as persistently high poverty and inequality. Restrepo also failed to mention the numerous scandals that have swirled around the “Colombian elite,” from high-ranking officials ordering the extrajudicial killings of civilians by security forces to mining companies accused of funding paramilitary groups responsible for human rights violations.

There is an element of truth to Restrepo’s statement that the “Honduran economic and political elite have systematically and historically failed the people” of their country, but he ignores the United States’ role in supporting the very elites he criticizes. In fact, those elites have largely carried out US-dictated policies (or else they wouldn’t get billions of dollars per year in US funding).

This is not to say that Hernandez is entirely correct either, but at the end of the day, the blame game is unproductive and childish. It would be nice to see powerful folks like Hernandez and Restrepo eschew it for serious discussion.

I won’t hold my breath.

Central American migration: “push” vs. “pull” factors

At the 27 June 2014 Central American Integration System (SICA) meeting, Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera described the flight of emigrants and refugees (especially unaccompanied children) from the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as “one of the greatest tragedies of our region…”

Read this piece in its entirety at Southern Pulse.

Meet the refugees from the War on Drugs

Over the past few weeks, the sudden explosion of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America entering the United States has received a lot of press. On June 2, President Obama announced that his administration was seeking congressional approval for an extra $1.4 billion in federal funding to help alleviate what he described as an “urgent humanitarian situation.”

According to figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the number of “unaccompanied alien children” CBP “encountered” rose from 3,304 in fiscal year 2009 to over 46,000 so far in FY2014. Vox.com put together a helpful graphic to visualize the data:

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 7.49.45 PM

In recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson, who oversees CBP’s parent agency, pushed back against Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn’s suggestion that the desire for citizenship or reuniting with family members might be the driving force behind the recent surge. “I think it is primarily the conditions in the countries that they are leaving from,” Johnson said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) also recently implied that these immigrants are seeking to somehow take advantage of being in the US. “Word has gotten out around the world about President Obama’s lax immigration enforcement policies and it has encouraged more individuals to come to the United States illegally, many of whom are children from Central America,” he said

This explanation seems highly suspect in light of the fact that total net migration from Latin America to the US has been in decline while deportations have been on the rise in recent years. Furthermore, the government’s treatment of immigrants can hardly be characterized as “lax.” The Obama administration’s harsh immigration, detention and deportation policies have sparked widespread criticism and even civil disobedience in the United States.

In attempting to reach the United States via Mexico, migrants from Central America of all ages undertake risks that include being abandoned, extorted, robbed, kidnapped, raped, enslaved and even accidentally dismembered along the way. In April of this year, hundreds of undocumented migrants from Central America marched on Mexico’s presidential residence to voice their demand that the country “ensure [their] right to free passage…without humiliation or violence, on [their] way to the northern border.”

After enduring harrowing journeys of hundreds or even thousands of miles and after paying hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars to smugglers and criminals, many of these migrants – including an increasingly large number of children – reach the United States only to be apprehended, detained and eventually shipped back across the border.

Being detained after entering the United States, especially for children, can be just as traumatic as any other part of the trip. The infrastructure to deal with the recent influx of juvenile migrants simply doesn’t exist. Between 2008 and 2012, at least 1,366 children were illegally held in adult facilities for more than 72 hours. Conditions at overcrowded youth facilities sometimes border on inhumane. A number of migrants’ rights groups recently filed a joint complaint with DHS alleging extremely disturbing physical, psychological and sexual abuses suffered by unaccompanied migrant children at the hands of Border Patrol authorities.

Considering the extreme burdens and risks involved in attempting to unlawfully immigrate to the United States from Central America, one must ask why one would undertake such a treacherous passage. (Many try more than once.) Is the allure of life in the United States simply too much to resist, or is it “primarily the conditions in the countries that [migrants] are leaving from” that are behind the recent spike?

Let’s take closer look at three of the countries Vox and CBP highlighted – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. On top is the raw number of child migrants “encountered” by CPB from each country and below are the per capita rates:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 2.26.13 AM

In 2009, Honduras underwent a coup supported by the United States, which installed a government whose economic policies have resulted in increased poverty and unemployment in addition to decreased economic growth and social spending. According to the CIA, Honduras has the eighth-worst wealth inequality in the world and more than half of the nation’s population lives in poverty.

According to the same agency, Guatemala sits only three places away from its neighbor as the eleventh most-unequal country on earth (also with a majority of its citizens in poverty.) El Salvador ranks thirtieth in inequality, with more than one-third of its population living in poverty. Unemployment in both El Salvador and Guatemala also remain relatively high.

But economic factors alone do not offer a complete explanation for the increase in child migration. Mexico too is highly unequal and has major problems with underemployment and poverty, but immigration by Mexican nationals has basically flatlined during the last few years.

Let’s look at some more data. Here’s the homicide rate in each country per 100,000 people, including Mexico:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 12.17.40 AM

Mexico certainly isn’t bragging about its homicide rate of 15 or 20 per 100,000, but it’s fairly clear that the three countries that comprise the “Northern Triangle” are facing much higher levels of violence. In 2013, the Americas superseded Africa as the world’s most violent region, in large part due to crime-related killings in Central America. Last year San Pedro Sula, Honduras was named the “deadliest city in the world” for its murder rate of 169 per 100,000.

In fact, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has linked the rising number of asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle to the growth of crime-related violence in those countries, noting that “while the United States is receiving the majority of the new asylum claims, combined, Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize, documented a 712% increase in the number of asylum applications from citizens of these three countries.”

Considering this, something seems off about these charts:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 12.21.18 AM

Despite markedly higher rates of violence in the Northern Triangle, those countries have received US security aid less than or proportional to what Mexico receives in recent years. Also, the State Department’s own estimates suggest that a large and increasing percentage of drugs and other illicit goods trafficked to the United States flow through the Northern Triangle. Yet anti-narcotics funding for those countries is once again less than or proportional to what Mexico has received:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 12.22.58 AM

While the trend seems to be shifting toward providing more assistance to the Northern Triangle, the US government’s own estimates suggest that trafficking in the region is not declining and may even be increasing.

The US-led War on Drugs has not worked anywhere it has been tried in Latin America. It has only increased the profits of criminal groups, which allowed them to corrupt governments and security forces in order to more easily diversify into other nefarious sectors of the underground economy.

US-supported “free trade” pacts like NAFTA and CAFTA-DR have had devastating effects on some of the region’s most vulnerable groups of people. For those seeking to provide food and shelter for themselves and their families, legitimate economic opportunities can be rare. Joining the informal economy is often less a choice than a necessity.

Ironically, many refugees of these US-led efforts are fleeing to the very country that bears significant responsibility for their home nations’ plight. President Obama acknowledged that the influx of unaccompanied minors is a “humanitarian crisis” and Secretary Johnson recognized that these children were primarily being “pushed” from their home countries, not “pulled” to the US by “lax enforcement.” But there has been little attention paid to the root causes of the situation.

Spending more money on top of the tens of billions spent on militarizing the border and the War on Drugs without changing these fundamentally failed policies would be a mistake. The US should recognize that as the main belligerent in the War on Drugs, it bears responsibility for the refugees that war has created. Not only should we treat those refugees as such, but we should afford them the support and respect they deserve, especially in the case of unaccompanied minors.

For now, perhaps we have to accept that the behemoth prison-military-industrial complex won’t be felled by a wave of lone children from Central America pouring over the border. But every such moment of heightened attention is an opportunity to point to the broader issues behind the crisis of the moment and to offer criticisms and suggestions for improving the system.

What we cannot accept is locking them in cages and telling them, as one CBP officer allegedly said to a 17-year-old girl who fled Guatemala after being impregnated by a rapist and having her family subsequently threatened by gangsters, “Welcome to hell…We’re going to put you on a plane [back home], and I hope it explodes. That would be the happiest day of my life.”


* Data compiled from:





1. http://www.securityassistance.org/latin-america-and-caribbean/data/country/military/country/2001/2015/is_all/Latin%20America%20and%20the%20Caribbean

2. http://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/southwest-border-unaccompanied-children