Sunday, November 23, 2014

Obama and the death of Honduras' beauty queen



US President Barak Obama's immigration plan announced Thursday is to be commended for allowing undocumented yet otherwise law-abiding immigrants to "come out of the shadows and get right with the law."

However, it overlooks one important aspect – the reason why Latinos risk their lives to illegally enter the US in the first place. If their living situation back home were decent enough, they would have little reason to want to leave.

But the situation back home for many Latinos is hardly worth sticking around for. Take, for example, the most recent case of the 19-year old Honduran beauty queen María José Alvarado, murdered alongside her 23-year old sister Sofía just days before she was due to compete in the Miss World pageant in London.

The case has helped to shed light on Honduras' plight as the country with the highest homicide rate in the world. The killings highlight the fragility of the security situation and expose the weak institutions in the Central American country.

Homicide rateHomicide rate per 100,000 population2012HondurasVenezuelaEl SalvadorColombiaMexico20120100255075Source: with data from UN Office on Drugs and Crime

Sadly, this is not the first time the death of a beauty queen has brought attention to violence in some Latin American countries. The region rang in the new year with the untimely demise of former Miss Venezuela, Mónica Spear, and her British ex-husband, murdered by roadside burglars.

Not to mention the nationwide protests gripping Mexico over the apprehension, disappearance and suspected murder of 43 students from Iguala, which has spun into public outcry over the entrenched collusion between state and organized crime, which gives way to human rights violations.

Regarding crime, Obama's policy proposes to deport "felons, not families" and "criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who's working hard to provide for her kids."

While this would seem to make sense for those living in the US, the policy could actually be 'exporting' the gang culture cultivated within US borders to its southern neighbors, who are much weaker and unprepared to confront the influx of violent criminals, thereby exacerbating the problem in Latin America.

So what can the US do to make the situation better south of the border? Given the geophysical proximity, one would think that boosting trade, and thereby increasing business and making more money go around, would behoove both sides.

However, as we previously noted, Obama showed scant interest in Latin America during his first term in office, with a foreign policy focus on Asia and the Middle East. That has largely continued to this day, with the likes of the Islamic State and related issues getting the lion's share of his attention.

In LatAm, according to the World Bank's Doing Business report, countries such as Colombia and Mexico shot up in the 2015 ranking while other more solid economies like Chile and Peru remained relatively stable. The pieces are starting to fall into place, and Obama ought to jump at the opportunity to strengthen the relationship with Latin America as a way to preemptively address the immigration puzzle.

November 21, 2014

BN Americas