FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Population Growth, “Free Trade,” and Inequality Produced a Calamity on the Border

by

“When the luncheon is over, could I get a ride with you back to the capital?” That was my question to the Guatemalan businessman seated next to me at a 2004 event designed to showcase the proposed Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) to Congressional aides. He graciously agreed, and, to my surprise, we made the thirty-mile trip from Antigua to Guatemala City not in an automobile, but in a brand new helicopter imported from France. I was delighted. The ensuing views of surrounding volcanoes and lush, sub-tropical vegetation below were gorgeous, and we made great time.

Indeed, Guatemala City is home to more privately-owned helicopters per capita than any other city in the world. So my experience really was not uncommon. At the same time, Guatemala is a country where half of all children are malnourished. We should not be shocked that this nation of grotesque socioeconomic contrasts is on the sending end of the crisis-provoking torrent of unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the USA. According to Customs and Border Protection, 52,193 such children have arrived so far in the current fiscal year (October 1, 2013 to June 15, 2014), double the number of the previous year. For the full fiscal year, the federal government expects 90,000 kids.

While the Obama administration responds in knee-jerk fashion to this “urgent humanitarian situation” by proposing an extra $4 billion to beef up border security, and its foes try to make political hay out of it through xenophobic posturing, what should we make of its substantive causes?

The first thing to note is that in Central America, the population grows too damn fast. When I first visited Guatemala (half the size of Minnesota) in 1989, the population there was under 9 million; now it is almost 16 million. Likewise, the population of Honduras in a quarter century has grown from 4.7 million to over 8 million. El Salvador has grown less rapidly – from 5.2 million inhabitants to about 6.4 million – but it remains one of the most densely populated countries in the hemisphere. This tremendous demographic growth puts awful pressure on economies, environments and societies, bringing them all to the point of collapse, and causing even kids to flee for their lives.

A second important observation is that the crisis of unaccompanied immigrant minors comes right in the wake of the implementation of DR-CAFTA, which passed Congress by a mere two votes. Governments on all sides of such an agreement typically sell it to skeptical electorates with the promise of a surge in job creation, but somehow this never materializes. Just as the passage of NAFTA saw an unprecedented explosion of illegal immigration from Mexico, now DR-CAFTA is witness to a massive and previously unimaginable wave of child immigration.

Indeed, it is time that the American public re-examine the ongoing and bipartisan pursuit of these “free trade agreements” by the federal government. Bill Clinton signed NAFTA; George W. Bush signed DR-CAFTA, as well as agreements with Chile and Peru; and Barack Obama signed the trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea that had been negotiated by Bush. It is time to ask whether any of these agreements have made the signatory countries better places for their broad societies.

A third major issue involves Central America’s private helicopter set. What are these countries’ economic elites doing to foment sustainable domestic economies that generate opportunities — not at this point to thrive, but just to survive? Guatemala, for instance, typically collects taxes at one of the lowest rates as a percentage of GDP in the hemisphere. There simply is not ever enough public money invested in health, housing, infrastructure and schools, a paucity that persists generation after generation. The current calamity is what results.

In summary, while Americans are momentarily stupefied by the spectacle of thousands upon thousands of mere kids desperately trying to cross our southern border, what needs to be done in the longer term is clear. Sending countries need to get their populations under control through widely available birth control and education about its benefits; these countries need to take stock of their current parlous demographic trends and take concerted action to change course. Rather than opening up new opportunities for corporations to profit via vehicles like DR-CAFTA, local countries need to figure out how to foment massive, labor-intensive economic activities that can keep the population employed and fed. Consumer imports should have huge tariffs levied on them, and local industry and production should be nourished. And local elites need to take more responsibility for constructing countries that are decent places for all their compatriots to live in. Hiring ever-more body guards is not a coherent. long-range economic policy. Increased numbers of security firms is not the wave of the economic future.

Finally, President Obama, instead of seeking to spend $4 billion on additional border security measures, should figure out how that same money can be used to develop and bolster the economies where the migrant kids actually are born. In Central America, a few billion dollars is real money and wisely spend it could actually transform these nations in tangibly beneficial ways. Flourishing economies and reliable sources of employment would reduce local rates of crime and despair and keep families rooted and together. Rather than gawk and squawk over a border crisis, we should all be working to ensure that every child in the hemisphere has a place right at home.

Christopher C. Schons lives in Arlington, Va.

 

Christopher C. Schons holds an A.B. degree, received magna cum laude, from Dartmouth College. He can be reached at christopher_schons@yahoo.com.

February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Kristin Kolb
The Greatest Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail