Mexico launches C.America development plan to slow migration

Tapachula (Mexico) (AFP) –


Mexico launched its plan Thursday to slow the surge of migrants fleeing poverty and violence in Central America by backing economic development projects in the region, kicking off with $30 million for El Salvador.

It is the first drop in what Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador hopes will be a $100 billion flood of development funding for Central America, coming not only from Mexico but also the international community -- notably the United States.

Lopez Obrador is trying to sell US President Donald Trump on the idea that development is the key to stopping the exodus from Central America.

Trump, however, appears more interested in pressuring Mexico to tighten its borders and host more migrants on its own territory.

Lopez Obrador traveled to Mexico's southern border to sign a deal with his Salvadoran counterpart, Nayib Bukele, to invest in a reforestation program meant to create jobs and protect the environment.

"People don't leave their communities, their hometowns, because they want to. They leave because they have to," Lopez Obrador said at the event, held in the border town of Tapachula, across from Guatemala.

Mexico plans to invest a total of $100 million in El Salvador under the plan. Lopez Obrador said it would help reforest 50,000 hectares (nearly 200 square miles) and create 20,000 jobs.

"This project is going to be an economic catalyst," said Bukele, after the pair planted trees as part of the program, which is also being rolled out in southern Mexico.

Last month, Lopez Obrador presented a decade-long, $10-billion-a-year infrastructure and investment package that some have dubbed a "Marshall Plan" for Mexico and Central America.

It aims to address the chronic poverty and gruesome gang violence driving tens of thousands of Central Americans to leave the region in search of a better life in the United States.

US officials detained 144,000 migrants at the country's southern border in May, up 32 percent from April and 278 percent from May 2018. The total included a record 89,000 families.

In response, Trump threatened to impose tariffs on Mexican goods -- extracting a pledge from Mexico to take "unprecedented" steps to slow migration, including by deploying 6,000 National Guardsmen to its southern border.