Who’s funding the militarization of Mexico’s Guatemalan border?

by Melanie Calderon
Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR)

In recent months, a spotlight has been shone on the U.S.-Mexico border as caravans of thousands of Central Americans travel north seeking asylum in the U.S. Critics who rightly denounce the militarization of the border may be surprised to learn that similar methods being employed at the border between Mexico and Guatemala–a fortification also funded by U.S. taxpayers.

In 2017, while addressing the Wilson Center, Vice President Mike Pence called the purported impermeability of the Mexico-Guatemala border a “great credit to Mexico.” In light of the extensive U.S. funding of the security of that border, his comment says less about Mexico and more about  what he considers a successful U.S. investment. And the data tell a similar story of that “success,” with Mexico now apprehending 20,000 more undocumented immigrants than the U.S., according to Business Insider.

Under both the Obama and Trump administrations, U.S. government agencies have been funneling money into the fortification of the Mexico-Guatemala border in an attempt to curb the number of migrants and asylum seekers from precarious situations in Central America.  In addition to managing the arrival and deportation of migrants fleeing poverty and violence in Central America each year, the U.S. has extended operations aimed at training Mexican police and military, funded the expansion of deportations in Mexico, and fortified Mexico’s southern border technology.

The amount of U.S. monetary aid being funneled into Mexico is significant, making up roughly 2 percent of Mexico’s $10 billion defense budget. Since 2008, the Mérida Initiative has given Mexico at least $2.8 billion to create a “21st century border” that includes advanced technology for inspections, biometry, and surveillance. The Mérida Initiative remained the foremost financial aid throughout the years in which Mexican migration to the United States stagnated and then became negative in the years following the 2007 recession.

However, in 2014 when droves of unaccompanied minors–mostly from Central America–made their way to U.S. ports of entry, the U.S. again ramped up the amount of money distributed to Mexico through the Programa Frontera Sur and Alliance for Prosperity. Programa Frontera Sur provided Mexico another $100 million to improve its southern border infrastructure by establishing three mandatory checkpoints in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state, while the Alliance for Prosperity allocated $750 million for similar objectives. The 2014 child migrant crisis also fueled U.S.-funded deportations in Mexico that cost $200 million — a bill footed by the U.S.

Although President Trump’s campaign branded him as an “America-first” isolationist, his administration has maintained these lucrative foreign aid programs. The Alliance for Prosperity has earmarked $460 million to the program and plan on emphasizing the use of the private sector to expand security features in the plan. Private industries  already have benefitted from $88 million in contracts for biometrics, $75 million for communications towers along the Guatemalan border and policies that criminalize immigrants and jail them at a $124-per-day profit to corrections corporations.

Despite this massive financial assistance, the Mexico-Guatemala border remains porous–so much so that multiple caravans with thousands of immigrants each have managed to make it through the checkpoints, security, and fences largely intact even as they journey through Mexico, only mildly dissipating. In addition, according to the Washington Office on Latin America, Grupos Beta —Mexican humanitarian units stationed at the border in charge of assisting migrants on their paths northward–funded by the U.S. government through the $100 million Programa Frontera Sur have even been accused of extorting cash from migrants and threatening to reveal the migrants’ location and have them deported.

The millions being pumped into the Mexico-Guatemala border is part of a larger U.S. military strategy of containment and control in the region.

For example, in addition to southern border militarization, the U.S. Department of Defense continues to fund the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation — a military school in El Salvador formerly called the School of the Americas, notorious for training human rights abusers.

As financial assistance for military equipment and training continue to flow into Mexico and its neighboring countries for border control, it is imperative that we look beyond the news cycle to denounce  not only the callous shows of military strength on U.S. soil, but also the larger regional strategy aimed at controlling the movement of the impoverished of Central America.

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