Kamala Harris and the Challenge of Listening to and Working with Central America, which the US Has Ignored

Historically, U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America has not been democratic.

Part of the challenge of working with the Central American region involves recognizing the failure of the dogma of democratization, because up until now, it has been unsuccessful. The democratic transition of the 1980s, and the peace treaty signings in El Salvador in 1992 and Guatemala in 1996, are just pieces of paper. The failure occurred in part because those who were leading the transition were the ones who were committing the crimes against humanity, including genocide against the Mayan peoples. Just one example is the case of Guatemalan general Efraín Ríos Montt, who was a significant force in the political life of the country from 1982 to 2011.

It is not possible to build democracy when the perpetrators continue to be in charge of the government, while they murder anyone who fights for the rule of law. In this context, it is easy for governments to cop out and offload the responsibility for the fulfillment of the peace agreements onto civil society and the international community.

Because of that, this stage, which is ongoing, has opened the door to neoliberal extraction processes, in which on the one hand the extraction of resources has increased at the expense of people’s lives, and on the other, the traditional powers, like the security forces and the elites, have dedicated themselves to constructing a system of justice based on impunity.

In most Central American countries, the dogma of democratization, which has been legitimized through elections, has created criminal mafias or clandestine groups and not political parties, which have been unable to compete for power. A problem, then, is that the international community is legitimizing those political parties by legitimizing elections in which the votes have been haggled over and literally bought, by exploiting the poverty that the same mafias have created. This is why it has been easy for organized crime to co-opt governments.

Faced with this, if the goal of U.S. foreign policy is real change, on the grounds of diplomacy it should not negotiate with the same parties who are involved in organized crime, who are governing, and who are responsible for the corruption, cooptation and inequality.

Moreover, as long as the U.S. assumes that the traditional elites are its best ally and that financing the security forces is a solution, little or nothing will change with respect to the migration that it is seeking to stop.

Historically, U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America has not been democratic. Perhaps this is the moment for the U.S. to think again about another way to promote its policies, in which it assumes that the countries and peoples among which they live have equal standing; in which, in addition, the demands of the sectors that have been excluded are seen as valid; and in which the negotiation of policies on trade, migration and the fight against crime will not continue to be discussed in elitist bubbles.

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