Leaders throughout Central America, for example, have understood the potential of a Biden presidency. Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei congratulated Biden early on Nov. 7. El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele followed suit. “I hope that we can work together, like we’ve done in the past, to strengthen our countries’ alliance,” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández tweeted. These leaders clearly recognize that Biden’s presidency could be a turning point for Latin America, especially for Mexico and the three countries that make up Central America’s Northern Triangle.
For López Obrador in particular, Biden’s immigration agenda and his plans for regional development could accomplish the sort of partnership Mexico’s president has long pursued. For years, López Obrador has advocated a shift away from immigration enforcement and toward cooperation for the region’s economic growth. Last year, with the support of the U.N.’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the López Obrador administration unveiled an ambitious “Marshall Plan” for Central America and southern Mexico.
The plan, meant to address the root causes of immigration, would inject billions of dollars into the Northern Triangle’s embattled countries, besieged by crime, poverty and the devastating effects of climate change. “Now we just need to convince the United States,” López Obrador said. Under Trump, that has proved impossible. Not only has Trump shown a complete disinterest in the potential of the Mexican plan, he has actively undermined it, consistently cutting and freezing aid to the region.
A Biden presidency could be different. As a candidate, Biden published a comprehensive plan, specifically focused on Central America, that would assign $4 billion throughout the Northern Triangle over Biden’s four-year term. Biden’s proposal would “reprioritize money away from the Department of Homeland Security’s budget for detention” and would require local governments to allocate their own share of resources to reduce poverty, alleviate the effects of global warming and offer verifiable efforts in combating corruption.
This could be just a campaign promise. Still, when it comes to Central America, Biden has delivered before. In his memoir, Biden identified the region as opportune for development. As vice president, in 2014, he lobbied Congress to greenlight the Alliance for Prosperity Plan, a proposal that would eventually assign a historic $750 million aid package to address the root causes of emigration from Central America. Although its results are fiercely debated — as are its implementation (the plan assigned a large percentage of the fund to “security measures”) — Biden’s commitment to the region seems genuine.
For López Obrador, Biden’s presidency could also mean an end to a series of shameful concessions on immigration, including Mexico’s decision to collaborate on the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” plan, a policy that has stranded thousands of potential Central American refugees along Mexico’s northern border, many of them living in inhumane squalor. Trump’s diplomacy of coercion has turned López Obrador’s Mexico into a tool in America’s harshest immigration enforcement policies. The country’s southern border is now militarized, and immigrants are being deported in record numbers. An increasing number of Central American immigrants are now stranded in poverty in southern Mexico, where many are forced to sell their bodies to survive (the stories are truly horrific). Those who make it to the border with the United States face miserable living conditions (austerity measures in Mexico have cut aid to migrant shelters).
The contrast with a Biden White House could be noticeable and immediate. While Trump’s bullying has forced López Obrador to contradict his own humanitarian approach to immigration, Biden has vowed to end “Remain in Mexico” and “reassert” the United States commitments to a fair asylum process. Under Biden, Mexico’s president could finally return to one of the highlights of his campaign, when he promised to reimagine Mexico’s role as a perilous country of transit for Central American immigrants. It could become a real partnership.
The presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, who have also been intimidated and threatened by Trump, have found a way to turn the page and, whatever the costs for the duration of the Trump presidency, bet on Biden. The evident upside of a Biden presidency for him and for the country he governs makes López Obrador’s refusal to acknowledge the president-elect’s victory even more inexplicable.
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