Why Guatemala Isn’t a “Safe 3rd Country”

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The news regarding the relationship between Guatemala and the US has been impossible to ignore in recent weeks.

The Constitutional Court blocked Guatemala’s President to sign a “Safe 3rd Country” agreement with the US on July 15th.

Shortly after, Trump threatened Guatemala with sanctions on remittances, imports and travel bans as punishment for not cooperating.  The threats worked and a few days later, an agreement was signed.

The “Safe 3rd Country” Agreement
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

It is painfully ironic to call Guatemala a “Safe Country” when the largest proportion of immigrants (over 1/3) at the US southern border come from Guatemala in the first place.

What is a “Safe 3rd Country”?

According to Susan Fratzke, who worked in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, these Safe Country agreements

“…require migrants and refugees to seek asylum in the first safe country they reach”

Susan Fratzke

However, in agreement with Anita Isaacs, ex- consultant at the State Department on corruption and organized crime in Central America “Guatemala is not a safe country for Guatemalans, let alone for anyone else.

To compound the above ,the police force are distrusted and feared by the public. They are inefficient, corrupt and abusive – as much as the criminals. They are underfunded, poorly trained and..frequently incapable or unwilling to confront criminals and gain the public trust needed to build a state based on rule of law.”

To add more insult to injury, even if the US were to considerably support Guatemala’s efforts to set itself up as a “Safe 3rd Country” with funding the necessary infrastructure needed, no-one should be under any illusions that such funding will go wholly where it is needed. One only needs to look at Guatemala’s recent track record of politicians who effectively steal from the public and private purse. To name just one example, the current president, elected under the “Not corrupt, not a thief” slogan, conveniently and without warning expelled the independent, UN backed anti-corruption commission after they found evidence rather too close to home of illicit campaign funding. 

Despite the signing of peace accords in 1996, reforms failed to purge corrupt officials who reigned in wartime. Furthermore, 25% of donations to Guatemala’s political parties come from organized crime networks. The other 25% from the elite. This means that Guatemala operates in the interests of a small number of people rather than for the general population.

Going Forward

We’ll be keeping a close eye on the developments however many of Pionero’s member nonprofits are understandably concerned.  Guatemala’s resources are already stretched and services are subpar, even for its own population. For example, Guatemala’s hospitals cover 17% of the population  and poverty rates increased from 55% in 2000 to 60%in 2014. This is in sharp contrast to the significant reduction in poverty in Latin and Central America.

Jimmy Morales was voted in with his “Not corrupt or a thief” tagline. It was dramatically put into question upon his expulsion of the CICIG following their investigations into his background.

We are keeping our fingers crossed and hope that similar agreements aren’t reached in neighboring Northern Triangle countries.