The Houston Chronicle devotes quite a bit of space regularly in bashing President Trump on just about everything, particularly his border security policy, but in a recent editorial, the Chronicle made a few suggestions buried in more Trump criticism that I can actually agree with. The editorial board references favorably Bush Institute fellows Matthew Rooney and Laura Collins for their Foreign Policy article suggesting that finding a better way to incentivize economic reform in Central America would be much preferable to calling out the military to halt the march of the caravan. They and the Chronicle recommend that the President look at the example of Mexico in terms of what sound trade policy can accomplish.
For example, they note that between 2005 and 2014 more than 140,000 Mexicans returned to their homeland than migrated to the U. S, and that much of the credit for this reversal can be attributed to the North American Free Trade Agreement. And they are largely correct that the treaty’s rules forced Mexico to deregulate and open its financial, telecommunications and broadcast markets, leading to significantly higher foreign investment which greatly expanded the middle class (and I might add that relaxing the prohibition of foreign investment in Pemex, the national oil company, contributed significantly to this factor).
Can this success serve as a model for El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala under the Central American Free Trade Agreement and reverse the massive flow of asylum seekers as Rooney and Collins suggest? Maybe so, but there is an absolutely critical missing piece—political leadership committed to radical reform in these countries. Mexico had it; there is sparse evidence at best that these countries do. And let’s face it, more foreign aid without accountability does more harm than good by simply feeding the corrupt regimes and the extortion of the gangs. The Bush Institute is working with leaders in the area on this problem and I wish them well; meanwhile, more foreign aid without accountability and incentives should stop and our current policy posture on the caravan should continue.