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.

More articles by:
July 26, 2016
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail