For well over a month, Americans have read headlines capturing the humanitarian crisis of approximately 52,000 Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran unaccompanied minors being detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. Yet, judging by the actions of the government officials in countries where these refugees originated -- Central America's Northern Triangle -- one would think there are real issues to be addressed.
Just last month, Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez flew out to Brazil to root on his soccer team and missed a key meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. The meeting was convened by Vice President Biden with his Central American counterparts to announce an aid package and review joint efforts to address the crisis.
Honduras happens to be the country with the highest number of detained children at the border.
A couple of weeks after Hernandez' trip, the Vice President of El Salvador, Oscar Ortiz, and a couple other cabinet members reportedly visited Brazil coinciding with the final match of the 2014 World Cup. This week, the president of the Salvadoran national Congress, Sigfrido Reyes, announced a trip to Gaza to "express solidarity with the people of Palestine." A day before Reyes' announcement 14 families in the suburban town of Mejicanos were forced by gangs to leave their apartments.
El Salvador is the Central American country with the third highest number of unaccompanied minors at the border.
The presidents' first reaction to the crisis was to have the first ladies hold bilateral meetings to deal with the surge of unaccompanied minors. A nice thought, but generally speaking, first ladies in Latin America -- like much of the world -- play a mostly ceremonial role. To delegate this critical issue to the this caucus of first ladies is to demonstrate that lack of seriousness with which these leaders have approached the crisis and its underlying causes.
There is a profound lack of political will to change the conditions that brought about the crisis in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Joaquin Villalobos, a Salvadoran former guerrilla commander who now works as an international conflict mediator, wrote a scathing column in El País detailing how the aloofness of the elites in Central America's Northern Triangle contrasts with the structural inequality and subsequent exodus: "The rich of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have become totally insensitive to the reality around them. They hired their own private security, pay starvation wages, do not invest in their countries and are reluctant to pay taxes [...] There are 125,000 private security guards in Guatemala while there are only 22,000 police officers."
The presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in their comments about the crisis have yet to make a statement about the need to reform their economic and legal systems. On the contrary, when President Obama announced the $3.7 billion supplemental package to address the situation in the U.S., the Honduran president didn't hesitate to ask that at least $2 billion of the package should be destined to help his country and neighbors to deal with the migration.
For there to be real progress, there must be a real focus on the issues that matter. It's time for the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to assume responsibility, look introspectively, clean up and strengthen their institutions to stop the exodus. Otherwise we can expect those dreaded headlines to become permanent fixtures before our eyes.