Exclusive: U.S., Mexico, Slim charity to work on Central America crime, migration

June 20, 2017

June, 14 2017 (Reuters)

The United States, Mexico and three Central American nations will this week unveil plans to work with billionaire Carlos Slim’s charity to tackle crime in Central America and find new ways of slowing migration, according to a draft document.

Top U.S., Mexican and Central American officials meet in Miami on Thursday and Friday to discuss how to cut migration and improve conditions in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, a cluster of poor, violent countries known as the Northern Triangle that most U.S.-bound migrants set out from.

The document, seen in Mexico, contains an agenda for the two-day meeting in Miami and lists several specific objectives it refers to as “deliverables.” It is a draft document, and could be subject to change.

U.S. officials hope Mexico will step up efforts in Central America, especially since President Donald Trump’s proposed budget contains deep cuts in U.S. aid to the area.

Trump took office vowing to slash illegal immigration to the United States. He has created tensions with Mexico’s government with accusations that the country is sending criminals north and a pledge to build a wall along the U.S. southern border.

The Miami summit was the brainchild of U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly, who will be joined by Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump will be in Miami beginning Friday, although not at the same meeting. Instead, he is expected to address future U.S.-Cuba policy.

According to a draft document between the United States and Mexico after consultation with Northern Triangle countries, the first day of the meeting will focus on “prosperity”, and the second on security.

On the second day, the document mentions a memorandum of understanding between USAID and the Carlos Slim Foundation to “focus on training to support the professionalization of crime and violence prevention units throughout Central America and enhance economic opportunities for at-risk youth.”

Consulted on the matter, the charitable arm of Mexican tycoon Slim said it was in talks with USAID, but gave no further details.

Slim, one of the world’s richest men, is one of the main telecoms providers in Central America, with business interests across various industries throughout the region.

Kelly, who previously ran U.S. Southern Command, helped former President Barack Obama design his Alliance for Prosperity, a $750 million initiative that sought to curtail migration with development and gang-fighting projects.

Reuters has reported Kelly aims to retool the Obama-era alliance without a large increase in U.S. funding, by pressing Mexico to take more responsibility for governance and security in Central America, and with more private capital.

Trump’s 2018 budget proposal envisages slashing U.S. aid to Guatemala by almost 40 percent from 2016, while cutting aid for Honduras and El Salvador nearly a third.

Kelly’s DHS referred all questions on the document to the State Department, which did not immediately reply to requests for comment. Neither did Mexico’s foreign ministry.

The foreign ministries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The meeting envisages a commitment to develop a regional migration observatory to slow the flow of Central Americans heading north to the United States.

“Tracking and collection of data around migratory flows originating from Northern Triangle countries is critical to better develop and direct policy to mitigate illegal migration,” the document says.

The meeting will include efforts to deepen coordination and professionalize regional crime-fighting and law enforcement, while Washington would reaffirm its support for a free press and independent graft-tackling bodies like Guatemala’s CICIG.

The United States expects Northern Triangle nations to show “a will to pursue cases that reach political and economic elites,” said the document.

The “prosperity day” aims to come up with strategies to cut red tape, boost tax revenues in Central America and improve a regional power network, allowing Mexico to sell more electricity to the energy-poor region.

Still, a senior Mexico official, speaking on condition of anonymity, feared the Miami meeting would yield few concrete results other than “good intentions.”

(Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg, Nelson Renteria, Sofia Menchu and Gustavo Palencia)