By Lionel Vigil
News Americas, WASHINGTON, D.C., Mon. Feb. 13, 2023: US Vice President Harris recently announced the commitment of billions of dollars of US private investment in Central America. This accords with what many have known for some time: The only real solution to Central American migration is to address poverty, inequality, violence, climate change and other “push” factors. That means helping people build better lives and more inclusive and just societies so they can remain and thrive in their communities with family and friends.
This can be done. In fact, it’s been taking place for some years now. Take the long-term development projects I direct in Guatemala.
I and a handful of staff have been working in Guatemala’s coffee growing Chiquimula, Huehuetenango and Atitlan regions for years. Our organization’s programs seek to improve the lives of coffee growing and other families through the development of alternative income sources. It is a holistic approach, encompassing health, nutrition, clean water and savings and credit projects to build capital that can be invested in small businesses.
In Chiquimula, nearly 20,000 people working in coffee and other agriculture have participated in programs we coordinate with local partners and, where appropriate, government agencies. Farmers have started nearly 600 small businesses, using capital amassed through savings and credit groups managed they manage. The overwhelming majority of those businesses—494—were started by women.
The story is similar in Atitlan, where nearly 21,000 people have participated in economic and social development programs. Farmers and their families have started nearly 800 small businesses with capital amassed through savings and lent at very low interest rates. Again, women dominate here, having started 590 of these businesses
In addition to small businesses, farm families have added and increased production of fruits, vegetables and livestock. Surplus agricultural output is sold in local markets. In many cases, the profit is used to start small businesses, pay for children’s education and experience life above the poverty line.
The proof is in the pudding: Virtually no one who has participated in our programs in Atitlan and Chiquimula has moved to the US or out of Guatemala.
The success of these programs in rural Guatemala, which have been underway for nearly 10 years, convinced a private foundation to fund similar projects in Peru’s Ayacucho region. In a country suffering political instability and violence, the income and other gains already achieved by coffee growing communities in Ayacucho are proof Peru can remain on the path to sustainable development.
There are alternatives to harsh US immigration policies. They will not work overnight. Nor will they solve all the problems in Central America or other countries in Latin America. But innovative and patient development projects can—and do–help communities lift themselves from poverty and provide a reason to remain in one’s home.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Lionel Vigil is Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at World Neighbors.