In his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump said the United States needs “to create an immigration system that is safe, lawful, modern and secure and to pursue a foreign policy that puts America’s interests first.”
To resolve the immigration crisis, Mr. Trump must confront radical socialists in Latin America who oppose him and all that America stands for. They have brought the region to its knees and catalyzed waves of caravans marching north.
Vice President Mike Pence, also aware of destruction south of the border, went to Florida recently and rebuked strongman Nicolas Maduro: “When the dictator came to power six long years ago, he promised to deliver an agenda of socialism Sadly for the Venezuelan people, Maduro did just that.”
The vice president correctly called out a leader whose predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez, was aided into power by Fidel Castro.
Mr. Pence noted that socialism has shrunk Venezuela’s economy by nearly half. More than nine out of 10 people live in poverty, and the average Venezuelan has lost 20 pounds through deprivation and malnutrition. As Mr. Pence said, “those who stay behind are subject to lawlessness and crime, as well as deprivation.”
The same virus of Cuban origins is causing massive migration from and through Central America to the United States. The damage done by Castro is still felt terribly in Venezuela and wherever his allies remain active.
In the early 1970s, Castro created Cuba’s America Department to initiate Marxist-Leninist violence throughout Latin America. Many rural areas in the region remain in chaos to this day as a result. In Guatemala, remnants of the old Castro-supported rebels maintain lawlessness and keep the population in submission.
The three Northern Triangle countries are in the top six with the world’s highest homicide rates: Honduras is first (90.4 per 100,000); El Salvador is fifth (41.2 per 100,000); and Guatemala is sixth (39.9 per 100,000). Worldwide, the homicide rate is 6.2 per 100,000, and Venezuela is second with 53.7 per 100,000.
The “Worldwide Threat Assessment” recently presented to Congress predicts even more immigration from the region. Guatemala is already the origin of an estimated 723,000 illegal immigrants in the United States, second only to Mexico (6.1 million). El Salvador is third (465,000), and Honduras is fourth (337,000).
I am an American businessman who has lived in Guatemala for more than 40 years. I am a 2,000-mile flight away from my hometown of New York City, but I appreciate the people and culture here.
Guatemala is the key country in the Northern Triangle for United States interests, given its 595-mile porous border with Mexico. Since Mexico cannot stop the flow of illegals, narcotics and weapons, Guatemala is an unlocked backdoor into the United States. Last week, a caravan of 12,000 people en route to the United States passed within an hour’s drive of my home.
I have written extensively on the issues confronting Guatemala, and I have interviewed coyotes who smuggle people into the United States. Migrants have shared their stories and why they flee their beloved countries. Principally, they fear for their safety.
Cuba’s America Department funded and trained guerrillas during Guatemala’s 36-year conflict. At Castro’s insistence, in 1982 the URNG (Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity) became the umbrella group of four terrorist organizations attempting to overthrow the government. The four groups disbanded with the 1996 peace accords, and the URNG became a political party with the same socialist ideology.
While President Obama was embracing the Castro regime in Cuba, his State Department headed by Hillary Clinton was embracing Castro radicals in Guatemala. We have seen the result of Mr. Obama and his allies’ policy in Guatemala: Increased violence and decreased opportunity, a potent combination for the flow of illegal migrants and drugs.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently noted how the hangover from Mr. Obama’s Middle East policies still plagues us there. The same can be said for Latin America. In particular, communities along the Mexican border areas are hungry for opportunity. They support legitimate authority and want to be rescued from their guerrilla-successor oppressors.
On Jan. 23, Mr. Trump warned the Northern Triangle it needs order: “Honduras is doing nothing for us. Guatemala is doing nothing for us. El Salvador is doing nothing for us. And we pay them hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but we’re going to be stopping pretty soon.”
The United States is fortunate President Jimmy Morales was able to defeat former guerrilla and Socialist International Vice President Sandra Torres for the Guatemalan presidency. The victory put in place a potential partner for Mr. Trump.
As an American in Guatemala, I encourage the Trump administration to work with Mr. Morales. Mr. Morales could use his U.S.-trained elite security forces to enforce the law against illegal armed gangs. A grateful rural population would cooperate to identify suspicious activity in their communities.
The combination of proper law enforcement and community engagement would undo Castro’s efforts and impede illegal traffic. Success in Guatemala would add another layer of security to Mr. Trump’s border wall.
• Steve Hecht is a businessman, writer and film producer. He has lived and worked in Guatemala since 1972.
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