Mexico calls for regional development to address immigration

FILE - In this April 29, 2019 file photo, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador attends a ceremony at the Military Airbase Number 1 in Santa Lucia, on the outskirts of Mexico City. López Obrador said on Monday, May 20, 2019 that the government is ending tax forgiveness, which for years had been a gift to the country’s biggest taxpayers. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says United States support for economic development in Mexico and Central America is that county's best option for addressing the flow of immigrants

MEXICO CITY — A U.N. commission on Monday presented a roadmap to boost economic development in three Central American nations whose poverty and violence now pushes desperate migrants to travel across Mexico to the United States.

The plan calls for hefty increases in social spending, tackling corruption and improving security — as well as a hefty dose of financial support and investment, possibly from the United States.

Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the plan laid out by the United Nations' Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) was the United States' best option for stemming the flow of immigrants.

"It goes to the root of the problem," López Obrador said. "People migrate out of necessity, for a lack of job opportunities or because of violence."

The U.N.'s regional economic arm developed the plan after López Obrador announced the idea of developing southern Mexico together with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador upon taking office in December.

The diagnosis was that a lack of economic growth, staggering inequality, swollen cities and ignored rural areas, combined with droughts, floods, oppressive violence and the possibility of much higher pay in the U.S., propel hundreds of thousands of people north.

"We're not going to stop it at the end of the day, but we can certainly change the nature," said Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of ECLAC.

To do so, Mexico and the Northern Triangle governments need to up their social spending, create an environment for economic development, invest in the energy sector and improve logistics, Bárcena said. They need to provide security for their people, better address natural disasters amplified by climate change and integrate their economies.

Mexico foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard estimated the plan would require $10 billion in annual investment over a decade.

There are many obstacles, and many of the goals echo previous proposals to develop the region. Creating an environment to attract international investment requires tackling corruption. While López Obrador has made that a priority of his young government, Guatemalan officials are expelling a U.N. anti-corruption mission that has successfully helped prosecute some of the country's most powerful figures.

El Salvador is waiting for its new president to take office in July and Guatemala has presidential elections scheduled for June. Many Honduran migrants travelling in caravans in recent months cite that country's corruption among their motivations for leaving.

Asked where the money would come from, Bárcena said governments and international organizations have been waiting for a plan and now that there is one, they can work on getting financial commitments.

The U.S. and Mexico have been discussing an arrangement under which the U.S. government would guarantee some $10 billion in development investments for Mexico and Central America.

The Mexican president repeated his desire to shift U.S. aid from security to economic development.

"This is also an option for them (United States), an alternative, the best," López Obrador said.

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This story has been corrected to show that the family name of the ECLAC executive secretary is Bárcena.

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