Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director
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Daniella Burgi-Palomino, Senior Associate
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February 1, 2018
Secretary Tillerson’s Vintage Latin America Tour
Washington, D.C.—After a year of ignoring Latin America as more than a source of illegal immigrants, drugs, and MS-13 gangs, the Trump Administration is sending Secretary of State Tillerson to Texas, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Jamaica, and Argentina from February 1 to 7th. But the agenda appears to be much the same: drugs, gangs, and illegal immigrants—and Venezuela.
“The nations of Latin America are our neighbors, and we should be forging common cause with them on issues like migration and the environment,” noted Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the Latin America Working Group. At the same time, “The United States should raise tough questions for governments of left and right, urging actions to protect human rights, strengthen the rule of law and democratic governance, and fight corruption. Instead, it seems to be a return to the past: Latin America as a threat, a rerun of the failed war on drugs, pressure for democratic change directed largely to left-wing governments, and turning back the clock on U.S. policy towards Cuba. This is accompanied by ever escalating demands to block migrants and refugees from crossing the U.S. border. We’ve seen this movie before.”
This narrow approach would ignore opportunities for progress in the region, including in partnership with vibrant civil societies throughout the region.
Colombia: Secretary Tillerson should lend his support to Colombia’s efforts to end 50 years of war in which more than 260,000 people have died and more than 7 million have been internally displaced. The FARC guerrillas have laid down their weapons, assisted in removing landmines, and committed themselves to peace—and even to join forces to eradicate illicit drug production. “We welcome Secretary Tillerson’s words of support for the peace process and commitment to continue U.S. support. But if an excessive focus on drug eradication with a return to the same harsh, failed methods prevails, this would not only undercut this remarkable opportunity to end the region’s longest-running war, it will fail miserably as drug policy,” said Lisa Haugaard. “Colombia must invest in its war-torn areas abandoned by the state and work with farmers to develop legal, sustainable livelihoods. The United States should support this—and should support efforts to implement the peace accords, protect human rights defenders, and address the needs of the war’s many victims.”
Mexico: Mexico is undergoing a human rights crisis that requires addressing the drivers of the violence, including arms trafficking from the United States, a failed security strategy, and corruption and collusion between the government and organized crime. The United States should encourage the Mexican government to make progress in addressing enforced disappearances and torture, investigating and prosecuting grave human rights violations including those committed by the armed forces, and protecting human rights defenders. “We already know the results of the failed drug war in Mexico—the tens of thousands of disappeared and their families who seek justice and truth. Supporting the abusive Mexican military and promoting drug crop eradication in rural communities without offering small farmers alternatives will not result in improvements, rather more deaths. Increasing the role of the military in public security operations ignores previous failed results without addressing systemic abuses,” said Daniella Burgi-Palomino, senior associate for Mexico, Migration, and Border Policy.
Immigration: The harsh anti-immigrant and anti-refugee measures that we’ve seen from the Administration have already had an impact on migrants and refugees from Mexico and Central America and will continue to do so. Meanwhile the conditions of human rights violations, violence, corruption and impunity forcing families, children and individuals to seek refuge in the United States and elsewhere have not ended. An approach that continues to criminalize them as gang members and not as children, individuals and families fleeing from gangs and organized crime; denials of valid asylum claims, and return of TPS beneficiaries, Dreamers and others back to harm will only further destabilize the region and could lead to more out-migration and forced displacement. “The United States should not be pressuring governments in the region to step up their own border enforcement at the cost of denying asylum seekers and refugees protection. Pressuring Mexico to step up its own border enforcement at its southern border resulted in an increase in migrants’ rights violations throughout Mexico and more Central Americans deported back to danger from Mexico than the United States. Instead governments should be cooperating to assist their undocumented citizens at risk in the United States and be upholding their responsibility to provide those seeking safety a chance to access international protection,” said Daniella Burgi-Palomino.
Energy: Secretary Tillerson’s speech at the University of Texas in Austin suggests a focus on energy production in Latin America, not a surprise given his background. What was absent was a focus on environmental protection—and a recognition that Latin America’s environmental rights defenders are the most endangered in the world, often killed for defending their lands and communities and their right to be consulted and informed before projects are implemented.
Corruption: A positive note in Secretary Tillerson’s speech is the attention to advancing efforts against corruption in countries such as Guatemala. Corruption not only affects the region’s economies, it is closely linked to human rights violations and problems of democratic governance.