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Ten Things to Ponder in The Trump-Biden Race and What About Africa?

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One of my primary and secondary school classmates now a facebook friend ,said I was bold to say anything about the  U.S.Presidential race at this time.Afterall in key states it  has  and will take some long    days and   nights since polls closed in America this past Tuesday  before mail and absentee ballots are fully  counted. Every ballot hopefully in this unprecedented American turnout.  I hope mine will be among that critical number in Atlanta, Georgia. For Biden-Harris need I say or add?

What we have been hearing about mostly are the results of walk in poll voters and mail and absentee votes counts in progress. What the issue is happens to be the largeness of the swing states for the most part in the Midwest,and one each in the Northeast and Southeast as routes to Electoral College victory , the magic number 270 votes, which matters in American Presidential elections,  not the popular vote like in so many other democracies. 

Things have been tense to say the least with Trump trying to stop the legitimate vote counting and both Democrats and Republicans especially the later gearing up or actually filing recount law suits and counter suits. This was expected to happen given Trump’s sowing false seeds about election fraud and the Democrat Party’s Biden not making the year 2000 Gore and to a lesser extent, 2016 Clinton premature concession mistakes. More possible delays? Be patient,  who knows in this not as problematic election process as predicted though so replete with election reform needs which more than likely continue well beyond the old age of children just now being born.

Even in the midst of this Presidential election uncertainty there are 10 firm observations we can make at this time; including future implications for the continent of Africa depending who wins the White House.

Joe Biden- Kamala Harris were in mainstream media and pollster terms trending ahead of Trump-Pence for weeks if not months. So, my first solid  observation is the failure of the media and pollsters let alone academic experts in Presidential electoral politics, an  increasinly deepeening problem since the year 2000 election year getting worse by the  Presidential election year.

Both media and polling corporations while claiming impartiality and even scientific basis are increasingly the instruments of partisan big money interests disconnected from ordinary citizens values, attitudes, preferences, and real life conditions. There is this benign ignorance if not more than a bit elitist and ethnocentric presumption  among pollsters like survey methodologists in the  basic social and policy sciences that what people share with you, especially when you are a stranger is the truth.This is a deepening problem when there are cultural differences even in voice accents between interviewers and interviewees over the phone or particularly in  person when interviewer- interviewee voice tone differences are exacerbated with visible skin tone and gender differences. As well, there are always the problem of who consents to be interviewed and who does not and how who says yes may skew population representation. In our overzealousness to make poll results into our secularized sacred texts we forget all of these and other issues which contaminate poll data collection and analysis resulting in, to say the least, inaccurate statistical data presentations and predictions.

Trump actually improved his performance from 2016 in terms of the popular vote and among African American and Latino  especially male voters and white women.He ironically slightly underperformed with White men.He held onto dominating the rural and most of the  southern vote and lost as predicted mostly in the suburbs and big cities.Biden outperformed 2016 Clinton in  white middle and wealthy class suburbs in Wisconsin and Michigan and ate into Trump’s 2016 victories in those places. In both of those Midwestern States and in Pennsylvania and in Georgia, it is Biden team’s turning out big city  African American  voters which would be key to Biden being competive against Trump in those States if not eventually defeating him.Southern rural African American voters is a different story.

The economic and socioemotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic did not  outweigh  the improvement of the economy and stock market performance for middle and wealthy classes and the  White working class in the Midwest. It is beyond amazement that despite being able to make more money during the past four years, the anti-scientific clowning of Trump regarding Corona which infected him and his followers,  tragically killing more than a few or their loved ones did not faze  a significant  number of his true believers enough to turn against him.But that is precisely how cults operate, though still amazing with no amusement to behold.

The Biden-Harris moderate ticket strategically errored in snubbing the left and youthful Latino leaders, especially Alexandria Ortiz Cortez and not knowing how to  strategically address the concerns of Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd protest in  creating  a coherent public  message about racial and class justice aligned with other quality of life issues in a deeply hurting society such as universal healthcare, guaranteed income, guest worker immigration policies, national moratorium on evictions,and law enforcement reform not only in regards to the police but to rehabilitation of the ex-incarcerated. It was inexcusable in how they allowed  Bernie Sanders and his followers to be demonized by the mainstream media and by  Trump and his Republican cronies and not push back agressively  against  them  in Miami Cuban, Haiti, and Venezuelan immigrant  communities regarding Socialism fears. It is a puzzle as to why the Democratic Party establishment has yet to get it in effectively recruiting and   mobilizing Latino voters in their various local and regional cultural identities and histories given their propensity to vote ,in fact ,moreso than African Americans . And even thinking they really can do without the Latino vote. This also points to the possible marginalization if not exclusion of Kamala Harris,  an African American Californian quite experienced with the powerful statewide Chicano leadership and electorate in the deliberations of  her Party’s and Biden’s strategizing in this case about the vital importance in mobilizing the Latino vote in its national diverse complexities.

While Republicans are into organizing and mobilizing their constituencies  and feeding their constituencies well  once in office as seen in the behavior of Trump and the Republican Senators who won or won again, Democrats are not so good about doing that. President  Obama was in most  respects a sporadic constituencies mobilizer and pleaser  ; nothing like mass rally obsessed Trump.During Obama’s  two terms, he was largely disconnected from two major constituencies which would be repeated by Hilary Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020 in being overly paternalistic and presumptive rather than engaging : young people and African Americans especially those in both constituencies who are  rural, poor, and undereducated.Ignoring their Latino constituency in its various ethnic regional dynamics cost Biden more than Clinton in the Midwest as well as in Florida.With this said, Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate indicates how out of touch he  is with his Black constituency base especially where it was most important, in the rural  deep south and poor urban north and west. Harris had little value addedness in rural areas where Democrats need to get with it in all over the country especially the South and Midwest, turned off African American and Latino men and had no common message with the African American poor especially in the deep south and in urban areas. Her California prosecutor background and tendency not to be transparent and even remorseful for her perceived bias against African  American men in criminal justice situations made her less than appealing among Black  men in and out of California.

African American Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama with ten years federal electoral experience would have been a much better choice to pull in the Georgia and Alabama and even Mississippi African American vote not only for Biden but for the Senate races in those States.  The 2020 African American nonvote in the rural deep south and southeast was higher than in 2016 and in the 2008 and 2012 Obama-Biden election years. It is the reason why Biden has  struggled in North Carolina like in other rural African southern areas where Black folks did not go to the polls. In general, it speaks to the bourgeois  African American politician problem which is a Democratic Party taboo topic which Trump did exploit from time to time during the past four year such as  his boasts of doing much more for African Americans  than Barak Obama and criticisms of the impoverished urban constituencies of late Congressmen Elijah Cummings and John Lewis.Trump’s criticism could have been extended to the class difference problems bourgeois African American politicians  running for statewide offices like  twice Senator aspirant Mike Epsy in Mississippi and Governor aspirant Stacy Abrams in Georgia had relating to nonaffluent rural as well as urban potential voters and their communities. 

The United States of America is a conservative to the right of center country which Republicans represent and understand quite well while Democrat leadership may understand but refuses to engage through developing a big tent multiple ideology approach to party composition.  The pro-life, anti-abortion, heterosexual marriage and family, and evangelical religiousity moral views of the Republican Party is broadly appealing to millions of Nonwhite, especially African Americans  and Latino Americans as well as White Americans in ways which the Democratic Party neoliberal leadership refuses to acknowledge let alone respect. This has made it difficult for different thinking more moderate and conservative nonwhites to leave the Democratic party and become independent or vote Republican.Or be nonvoters.

Through our night to morning in Mauritius 9 to 12 hours ahead of the United States, there are changes as  mailed and absentee ballots are counted mostly leaning towards Biden in swing states such as Nevada  and Georgia which if won would give him the  6 electoral votes to win. If Biden does win, he will be faced with a Republican dominated Senate which means having to do much through Executive Orders and through his Cabinet Ministries .He will though  be able to use his powers to appoint more progressive federal judges and restore more positive international affairs like rejoining the Paris Climate Control Agreement and  sending out more collaborative Ambassadors and hopefully rebuilding the State Department. But House of Representatives vote results tell us that Biden will face an even more left of center House ,which will also be more challenging to the House aging moderate establishment ,  which he will be unable to snub.If Biden and Harris don’t find ways to share power with the left wing of the House and Democratic Party and if the Republican Party remains under the thumb of Trump white nationalism in defeat, we will probably see in 2024 third party emerge stemming from disgruntled persons from both dominant parties and independents feeding off the incredible unprecedented 2020  electoral energy with 102 million early voters. Remember Congresswoman Alexandria Ortiz Cortez turns 35 before election day in 2024, the minimal age to run for President in the United States. Just saying.

The bewildering question on the minds of many in the United States and around the world is how could this Presidential race be so close in the first place?There was no blue wave landslide morally repudiating four years of a Presidential administration renowned for its lying, fanning  racist divisiveness,  promotion of violence, and federal law bending and breaking let alone being just concerned about the wealthy and indifferent if not hostile to science in the midst of a virus which has infected  millions of us and killed tens of thousands of us while they have been more concerned with the politics of remaining in office.   Just being mean, nasty, and hateful as a crystallizing diffusive norm if not value being  transmitted by an amoral narcisstic indeed sadistic sick White House and being picked up and internalized by  our children and adults of all ancestries  and walks of life and those in the world who gulp down anything American. Though the guy is close to winning again, now remotely  but still possible.Why?

New York Times  columnist Thomas Freidman reminds us in his sobering essay on no matter who wins America loses about something mainstream elite media and public intellectuals let alone public policy makers have pointed out with too much reluctance but needs more transparency and effective problem solving.That is, the 2016 election of Donald Trump, his White nationalist base, and how close this election is with mostly  Whites supporting him regardless of their political ideologies and economic standing speaks of the massive White fear of the changing demographics of power and privilege from White to Nonwhite domestically and globally. The predictions of America becoming majority Nonwhite by 2060 is already here  already in so many significant ways and places as seen in the demographics of many major cities in America and in major higher education sectors such as elite private and public universities and community colleges and in public health and legal sectors as well as in consumer retail and other service areas. In the area of racial prejudice studies, the closeness of this Presidential race tells us volumes about the deep multigenerational roots in the character of how most of we Americans tend to be sociaized which will take much more than protest movements to eradicate authentically.It will be interesting to see what whoever wins does about systemic restorative justice transformation–Biden-Harris breaking out of the useless  patronizing neoliberal moderate approach to needed authentic restorative justice intercultural inclusive power sharing or Trump-Pence, lame ducks no longer needing White nationalists who swing more to the left as populists of expanding economic advantages to the White and Nonwhite poor as Trump has promised to do if re-elected. Otherwise we will continue to decline as a nation with paradoxical false smiles with prejudiced attitudes and covert prejudicial practices so well documented in notions such as the Brady affect and in this case being being politically correct liberals of all ancestries  and hues as well as White nationalists  spooked   with deep fears of  Racial Others  over running the country. 

About Africa, at first glance,  it makes little difference who wins, be it Trump-Pence or Biden-Harris, the continent will on one hand continue to be ignored and on the other hand approached in  obsolete patronizing Cold War ways. Biden’s neoliberal moderate campaign foreign policy statements read like Trump’s Making America Great Again but as a Cold War global interventionist wishing to reassert impositional American super power and should add White Supremacy hegemony rather than White Supremacy isolationism. Biden’s well meaning plans to reconvene such neoliberal colonialism will be met with a realignment of the world order now tilting East with China and India in the middle with emerging new global savvy African generational elites. Not the same world Obama and he did little to engage empathetically and negotiate in their emerging terms. While the Trump administration will do its level best to continue to ignore Africans, fight the Chinese like John Wayne would, and embrace  Prime Minister Modi of India and other nationalist leaders in the world, Biden will at least be willing to listen and learn. 

Our saving grace in all this is that as was shown though ignored in the Obama-Biden first term, the positive White elite response to the racial injustice messaging of the Black Lives Matter movement and the George Floyd protests is that there are powerful priviledged Whites ready and willing to join Nonwhite citizens in transforming America into an authentic rather than neoliberal cosmetic interculturally opening demorcracy. This is seen in the millions if not billions such inclusive justice White and NonWhite philanthropists are donating to racial justice causes though with needed guidance in how to construct national master  restorative justice dialogues and problem solving American government and civil society institutions of all levels must learn how to effectively design, implement, and monitor/ evaluate in ways never done before.

Either way no matter who becomes President, there is an opportunity for Mauritiusians and other Africans to strategically advocate their interests in American foreign policy circles. This will take more sophisticated understanding of how America works and does not work in public and private sectors in all levels of government and civil society; something which by the way the Chinese as a superpower is very poor at doing.This requires building in Mauritius and in other  African countries,  more savvy partnerships with American public and private institutions and movements which can help them better negotiate their interests be it education, climate control, health, etc. Rather than sitting back and waiting for Americans and other westerners to toss them any bones from the master’s table they want, Africans must boldly rise,  and write and deliver to the  helms of western powers like the next USA President what they want to do to promote their own interests as  vocal front seat drivers rather as  silent backseat passengers.In doing so, Africans in this day and age of the 21st Century in which Africans and Asians are globally centerfold, the response to our own empowering vision of ourselves as essiential sitters at global tables of power just may be the liberation we deserve to have to embrace to  liberate ourselves..finally.

Director Institute for Advanced Study of African Renaissance Policies Ideas ( ASARPI) SSR Chair of African Studies University of Mauritius

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Americas

Biden Revises US Sanctions Policy

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

In the United States, a revision of the sanctions policy is in full swing. Joe Biden’s administration strives to make sanctions instruments more effective in achieving his political goals and, at the same time, reducing political and economic costs. The coordination of restrictive measures with allies is also seen as an important task. Biden is cautiously but consistently abandoning the sanctions paradigm that emerged during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The US sanctions policy under Trump was characterised by several elements. First, Washington applied them quite harshly. In all key areas (China, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, etc.), the United States used economic and financial restrictions without hesitation, and sometimes in unprecedented volumes. Of course, the Trump administration acted rationally and rigidity was not an end in itself. In a number of episodes, the American authorities acted prudently (for example, regarding sanctions on Russian sovereign debt in 2019). The Trump-led executives stifled excess Congressional enthusiasm for “draconian sanctions” against Russia and even some initiatives against China. However, the harshness of other measures sometimes shocked allies and opponents alike. These include the 6 April 2014 sanctions against a group of Russian businessmen and their assets, or bans on some Chinese telecommunications services in the United States, or sanctions blocking the International Criminal Court.

Second, Trump clearly ignored the views of US allies. The unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 forced European businesses to leave Iran, resulting in losses. Even some of the nation’s closest allies were annoyed. Another irritant was the tenacity with which Trump (with Congressional backing) threw a wrench in the wheels of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. Despite the complicated relations between Moscow and the European Union, the latter defended the right to independently determine what was in its interests and what was not.

Third, concerns about sanctions have emerged among American business as well. Fears have grown in financial circles that the excessive use of sanctions will provoke the unnecessary politicisation of the global financial system. In the short term, a radical decline in the global role of the dollar is hardly possible. But political risks are forcing many governments to seriously consider it. Both rivals (Moscow and Beijing) and allies (Brussels) have begun to implement corresponding plans. Trade sanctions against China have affected a number of US companies in the telecommunications and high-tech sectors.

Finally, on some issues, the Trump administration has been inconsistent or simply made mistakes. For example, Trump enthusiastically criticised China for human rights violations, supporting relevant legislative initiatives. But at the same time, it almost closed its eyes to the events in Belarus in 2020. Congress was also extremely unhappy with the delay in the reaction on the “Navalny case” in Russia. As for mistakes, the past administration missed the moment for humanitarian exemptions for sanctions regimes in connection with the COVID-19 epidemic. Even cosmetic indulgences could have won points for US “soft power”. Instead, the US Treasury has published a list of pre-existing exceptions.

The preconditions for a revision of the sanctions policy arose even before Joe Biden came to power. First of all, a lot of analytical work was done by American think tanks—nongovernmental research centers. They provided a completely sober and unbiased analysis of bothха! achievements and mistakes. In addition, the US Government Accountability Office has done serious work; in 2019 it prepared two reports for Congress on the institutions of the American sanctions policy. However, Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election significantly accelerated the revision of the sanctions instruments. Both the ideological preferences of the Democrats (for example, the emphasis on human rights) and the political experience of Biden himself played a role.

The new guidelines for the US sanctions policy can be summarised as follows. First, the development of targeted sanctions and a more serious analysis of their economic costs for American business, as well as business from allied and partner countries. Second, closer coordination with allies. Here, Biden has already sent a number of encouraging signals by introducing temporary sanctions exemptions on Nord Stream 2. Although a number of Russian organisations and ships were included in the US sanctions lists, Nord Stream 2 itself and its leadership were not affected. Third, we are talking about closer attention to the subject of human rights. Biden has already reacted with sanctions both to the “Navalny case” and to the situation in Belarus. Human rights will be an irritant in relations with China. Fourth, the administration is working towards overturning Trump’s most controversial decisions. The 2020 decrees on Chinese telecoms were cancelled, the decree on sanctions against the International Criminal Court was cancelled, the decree on Chinese military-industrial companies was modified; negotiations are also underway with Iran.

The US Treasury, one of the key US sanctions agencies, will also undergo personnel updates. Elisabeth Rosenberg, a prominent sanctions expert who previously worked at the Center for a New American Security, may take the post of Assistant Treasury Secretary. She will oversee the subject of sanctions. Thus, the principle of “revolving doors”, which is familiar to Americans, is being implemented, when the civil service is replenished with personnel from the expert community and business, and then “returns” them back.

At the same time, the revision of the sanctions policy by the new administration cannot be called a revolution. The institutional arrangement will remain unchanged. It is a combination of the functions of various departments—the Treasury, the Department of Trade, the Department of Justice, the State Department, etc. The experience of their interagency coordination has accumulated over the years. The system worked flawlessly both under Trump and under his predecessors. Rather, it will be about changing the political directives.

For Russia, the revision is unlikely to bring radical changes. A withdrawal from the carpet bombing of Russian business, such as the incident on 6 April 2018 hint that good news can be considered a possibility. However, the legal mechanisms of sanctions against Russia will continue to operate. The emphasis on human rights will lead to an increase in sanctions against government structures. Against this background, regular political crises are possible in relations between the two countries.

From our partner RIAC

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Sea Breeze 2021: U.S. is worryingly heading closer to conflict with Russia in the Black Sea

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On July 10th, the 2021 iteration of the joint military exercise, Sea Breeze, concluded in the Black Sea. This exercise, which began on June 28th was co-hosted by the Ukrainian Navy and the United States Navy’s Sixth Fleet. According to the U.S. Navy, the annual Exercise Sea Breeze consists of joint naval, land, and air trainings and operations centered around building increased shared capabilities in the Black Sea.

This year’s Sea Breeze included participation from 32 countries, including NATO members and other countries that border the Black Sea, making it the largest Sea Breeze exercise since its inception in 1997. All other countries bordering the Black Sea were included in participating in the joint drills, except Russia.

Russia’s exclusion from these exercises is not unsurprising, due to its current tensions with Ukraine and its historical relationship with NATO. However, it signals to Moscow and the rest of the world that the NATO views Russia as an opponent in a future conflict. At the opening ceremony of Sea Breeze 2021 in Odessa, it was made clear that the intention of the exercise was to prepare for future conflict in the region when the Defense Minister of Ukraine, reported that the drills “contain a powerful message – support of stability and peace in our region.”

These exercises and provocations do anything but bring peace and stability to the region. In fact, they draw the United States and NATO dangerously close to the brink of conflict with Russia.

Even though Sea Breeze 2021 has only recently concluded, it has already had a marked impact on tensions between NATO countries and Moscow. U.S. Navy Commander Daniel Marzluff recently explained that the Sea Breeze drills in the Black Sea are essential deterrents to Russian assertions in region. However, these drills have consisted of increasingly provocative maneuvers that ultimately provoke conflict in the region.

These drills have done anything but act as a deterrent for conflict in the Black Sea. In response to the Sea Breeze drills, Russia conducted its own drills in the Black Sea, including the simulation of firing advanced missile systems against enemy aircraft. As the Black Sea is of utmost importance to Russia’s trade and military stature, it follows that Russia would signal its displacement if it perceives its claims are being threatened.   

Sea Breeze followed another rise in tensions in the Black Sea, when just a week prior to the beginning of the exercise, a clash occurred between Russia and Britain. In response to the British destroyer ship, the HMS Defender, patrolling inside Crimean territorial waters, Russia claimed it fired warning shots and ordered two bombers to drop bombs in the path of the ship. When asked about the HMS Defender, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the ship’s actions as a “provocation” that was a “blatant violation” of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Putin also went on to claim that Moscow believes U.S. reconnaissance aircraft were a part of the operation as well. Despite this, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded with a denial of any wrongdoing.

Russia’s actions to provocations by the United States-led Sea Breeze and interaction with the HMS Defender in the Black Sea signal its resolve to retaliate if it feels as its sovereignty and its territorial claim on Crimea is being impeded on. Despite Russia signaling its commitment to defending its territorial claims in the Black Sea, the United States still willingly took actions during Sea Breeze that would bring the United States closer to a clash with Russia.  

Provoking conflict in the Black Sea does not align with the national security interests of the United States. In fact, it only puts the United States in the position to be involved in a costly clash that only would harm its diplomatic relationships.  

As Russia has signaled its commitment to its resolve and scope of its military response in a possible conflict, any potential conflict in the Black Sea would be costly for the United States. Over the past few years, Russia has increased the size and capabilities of its fleet in the Black Sea. Two of these improvements would especially pose a challenging threat to the U.S. and NATO – Russia’s drastically improved anti-access/area-denial capabilities and its new Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile. This would mean any conflict in the Black Sea would not be a quick and decisive victory for U.S. and NATO forces, and would instead likely become costly and extensive.  

A conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only be costly for the U.S. and its allies in the region, but could irreparably damage its fragile, but strategically valuable relationship with Russia. If the United States continues to escalate tensions in the Black Sea, it risks closing the limited window for bilateral cooperation with Russia that was opened through increased willingness to collaborate on areas of common interests, as evidenced by the recent summit that took place in Geneva. After a period of the highest levels of tension between the U.S. and Russia since the Cold War, this progress made towards improving bilateral relations must not be taken for granted. Even if the U.S. and NATO’s maneuvers in the Black Sea do not ultimately materialize into a full-scale conflict with Russia, they will most likely damage not just recent diplomatic momentum, but future opportunities for a relationship between the two powers.

In such a critical time for the relationship between the United States and Russia, it is counterproductive for the United States to take actions that it can predict will drive Russia even further away. Entering into a conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only engage the U.S. in a costly conflict but would damage its security and diplomatic interests.  

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Maximizing Biden’s Plan to Combat Corruption and Promote Good Governance in Central America

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Authors: Lauren Mooney and Eguiar Lizundia*

To tackle enduring political, economic and security challenges in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the Biden administration is attempting to revitalize its commitment to the region, including through a four-year, $4 billion plan submitted in a bill to Congress.

In its plan, the White House has rightly identified the root causes of migration, including limited economic opportunity, climate change, inequality, and violence. Systemic corruption resulting from the weak rule of law connects and entrenches the root causes of migration, while the increased devastation brought about by climate change exacerbates economic hardship and citizen insecurity. 

The renewed investment holds promise: previous foreign assistance in the Northern Triangle has shown results, including by contributing to a reduction in the expected level of violence. As the Biden Administration finalizes and begins implementing its Central America strategy, it should include three pillars—rooted in lessons learned from within and outside the region—to maximize the probability that the proposed spending in U.S. taxpayer funds has its intended impact. 

First, the Biden administration should deliver on its promise to make the fight against corruption its number one priority in Central America by supporting local anti-graft actors. The sanctions against officials which the United States is considering  are a step in the right direction, but lasting reform is best accomplished through a partnership involving regional or multilateral organizations. Guatemala’s international commission against impunity (CICIG) model was relatively successful until internal pushback and dwindling U.S. advocacy resulted in its dismantlement in 2019. Though Honduras’ equivalent was largely ineffective, and El Salvador’s recently launched version is marred by President Bukele’s campaign against judicial independence, there is room for learning from past mistakes and propose a more robust and mutually beneficial arrangement. The experience of Ukraine shows that while external engagement is no silver bullet in eliminating corruption, the role of foreign actors can lead to tangible improvements in the anti-corruption ecosystem, including more transparent public procurement and increased accountability for corrupt politicians.

In tandem with direct diplomatic pressure and helping stand up CICIG-like structures, the U.S. can harness lessons from prior anticorruption efforts to fund programs that address other aspects of graft in each country. This should involve empowering civil society in each country to monitor government compliance with anti-corruption laws and putting pressure on elected officials to uphold their commitments. While reducing impunity and improving transparency might not automatically persuade Central Americans to stay, better democratic governance will allow the three Northern Triangle nations to pursue policies that will end up expanding economic opportunities for residents. As Vice President Harris recently noted, any progress on addressing violence or food insecurity would be undermined if the environment for enabling corruption remains unchanged.

Second, the United States should support local initiatives to help reverse the deterioration of the social fabric in the region by expanding access to community decision-making. Given the high levels of mistrust of government institutions, any efforts to support reform-minded actors and stamp out corruption at the national level must be paired with efforts to promote social cohesion and revitalize confidence in subnational leaders and opportunities. In the Northern Triangle countries, violence and economic deprivation erode social cohesion and undermine trust in democratic institutions. The U.S. government and practitioners should support civic efforts to build trust among community members and open opportunities for collective action, particularly in marginalized areas. A key component of this is expanding sociopolitical reintegration opportunities for returning migrants. In so doing, it is possible to help improve perceptions of quality of life, sense of belonging, and vision for the future. While evidence should underpin all elements of a U.S. Strategy for Central America, it is particularly important to ensure social cohesion initiatives are locally-owned, respond to the most salient issues, and are systematically evaluated in order to understand their effects on migration.

Lastly, the U.S. should take a human-rights based approach to managing migration and learn from the pitfalls associated with hardline approaches to stem migration. Policies rooted in a securitized vision have a demonstrable bad record. For example, since 2015, the European Union undertook significant measures to prevent irregular migration from Niger, including by criminalizing many previously legitimate businesses associated with migration and enforced the imposition of legal restrictions to dissuade open and legal migration. Not only did this violate freedom of movement and create adverse economic consequences, but it also pushed migration underground, with individuals still making the journey and encountering significant threats to their lives, security and human rights.

A welcome realignment

Acknowledging the role of push factors is key to responding to migration effectively. Most importantly, putting political inclusion and responsive governance at the center is critical for ensuring vulnerable populations feel rooted in their community. A more secure, prosperous, and democratic Central America will pay dividends to the United States not only in terms of border security, but also in the form of improved cooperation to tackle global challenges, from climate change to the rise of China. 

*Eguiar Lizundia is the Deputy Director for Technical Advancement and Governance Advisor at IRI

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