Giant hydroelectric dams, luxury tourist enclaves and intercity transport links, often backed by foreign private investors, are among major drivers of displacement in Central America
By Matthew Ponsford
LONDON, June 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A core U.S. strategy to curtail migration from Central America will trample human rights in the region and force more people from their homes, according to academics and activists.
The Alliance for Prosperity, a U.S.-led initiative, aims to stem the flow of migrants fleeing poverty and violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador by funding development projects and security crackdowns on the region's criminal gangs.
The Alliance, launched in 2014 by the previous U.S. administration, committed $750 million of U.S. funding over five years to create jobs and cut murder rates and corruption.
It is being re-tooled under President Donald Trump to boost policing and private sector investment.
Speaking at a conference in Miami to re-launch the alliance last week, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said he hopes the deal will give citizens of the region the security and economic opportunity to remain in their home countries.
But scholars and activists said the Alliance's aims to cut regulation and encourage investment in infrastructure megaprojects threatens to worsen often violent displacement.
Giant hydroelectric dams, luxury tourist enclaves and intercity transport links, often backed by foreign private investors, are among the major drivers of displacement in Central America, according to migrant charities.
Billy Kyte, a campaign leader for rights charity Global Witness, said the Alliance's silence on the property rights of regular people means more could be driven from ancestral homes.
"At the moment the plan is a recipe for increased poverty and insecurity, and will likely cause further forced displacement," Kyte told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Rights organisations Amnesty International and Oxfam said the strategy sticks to a model based on private investment that has failed to stem migration for four decades, and voiced concern that human rights abuses might follow.
The U.S. State Department did not respond to written questions or telephone calls on its Central American policy.
The three countries, collectively known as the Northern Triangle, and the Inter-American Development Bank announced $2.5 billion of funding for infrastructure projects on June 14, ahead of the meeting with U.S. leaders in Miami.
The Bank said in a statement that planned infrastructure development would create jobs and make countries in the region more competitive.
Civil society groups will be included in panels that monitor projects and policies will safeguard environmental and indigenous rights, said spokesman John Ferriter.
DANGER FOR RIGHTS DEFENDERS
Alexander Main, Senior Associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research think tank, said emerging details of the new alliance point to a weakening of basic labour and land rights.
He expects an intensification of the kind of mining, hydroelectric and industrial farming projects that jeopardise the livelihoods of indigenous communities and small-scale farmers, and have led to violence against activists.
"We can anticipate that U.S.-backed security forces will continue to prioritise the protection of investor 'rights' over the rights of communities and their leaders, as we have seen... most notoriously (in) the killing of environmental leader Berta Caceres in Honduras," Main told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Caceres was killed in March 2016 for leading opposition to the $50 million Agua Zarca dam that threatened to displace hundreds of indigenous people.
Caceres' nephew Silvio Carrillo, a film producer who is campaigning for her killers to be brought to justice, said the alliance stands to benefit business and political elites whose interests are opposed to regular people, who stand to lose land.
Civil society organisations in Honduras fear the new deal will perpetuate long-standing U.S. policies which they say exploit the region's bountiful natural resources at the expense of long-term prosperity for the majority.
Yolanda Gonzalez Cerdeira, coordinator of the Jesuit Migrant Service for Central America, a network of Christian migrant charities, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that projects which the United States and Bank count as successes are often ruinous on the ground.
Cerdeira cited the much-lauded Indura tourist resort, a hotel and golf resort on Honduras' east coast, which displaced the indigenous Garifuna Barra Vieja community.
The indigenous people, who have called the site home for more than 200 years, lost their title to the land, had homes ransacked, were displaced by military police, and had false charges levied against them, said Cerdeira. (Reporting by Matthew Ponsford, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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