Not surprisingly, sensible people might want to get their families out of such lethal environments. According to the United Nations, there were approximately 18,000 refugees from Central America seeking asylum in 2011. That number reached 294,000 in 2017—with 58% being new additions during that calendar year alone. All indications are that the flow has increased further in the first months of 2018, and that trend became one of the reasons for the Trump administration’s harsh reaction and the divisive political uproar it created in the United States
But options for Central American refugees are decidedly limited. Trying to relocate to immediate neighbors such as Venezuela and Colombia would not be much of an improvement, even if those governments did not expel interlopers. As noted, Venezuela is plagued by a comparable level of violence. Panama’s situation is only marginally better, while Colombia is just emerging from decades of civil war and trying to preserve a fragile peace settlement.
Mexico certainly does not welcome Central American arrivals. Indeed, refugees just trying to pass through that country on their way to the United States endure a gauntlet of violence and exploitation. Those who manage to avoid being raped or beaten are typically taxed by the ubiquitous drug cartels and human traffickers for safe passage. Many are pressed into service as drug mules to smuggle narcotics shipments into the United States.
Moreover, Mexico has daunting security problems of its own. The arrest of the leading drug trafficker, Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman, in 2015 led to the fragmenting of the dominant Sinaloa cartel and a spike in bloody turf fights, both within that organization and among resurgent competitors. Mexico had a record 29,168 homicides in 2017, surpassing the previous record in 2011 during former President Felipe Calderon’s ill‐starred drug war offensive by nearly 2,000 victims. The surge boosted the country’s homicide rate to 16.35 per 100,000 residents—now the twentieth in the world.
The drug cartels also seem to be targeting members of Mexico’s political elite to a much greater extent than before, fomenting even worse instability. Ninety‐one political figures have been murdered just in the current campaign leading up to nation‐wide elections on July 1. Various cartels warn office seekers that they do not control to “drop out or be killed.” Journalists also need to fear for their lives as a record number of them perished at the hands of the drug gangs in 2017.
It would be an exaggeration to say that Mexico is becoming a failed state. Such predictions have circulated before and proved erroneous. Mexico has significant societal strengths, including powerful stabilizing institutions such as the Catholic Church and a sizable (and growing) legitimate business community, that render that outcome a very remote possibility. Even so, the deteriorating security situation in Mexico is worrisome.
America has an emerging humanitarian and security crisis in its own neighborhood that must be addressed immediately.
Conditions in Central America are far worse. One of the early warning signs of potential failed states is a massive surge in refugees. That is now taking place as record numbers flee the growing violence and general dysfunction in several Central American countries. The Trump administration’s sterile policy of simply trying to exclude the increasing number of desperate people trying to find a haven in the United States does not even begin to identify the underlying problem. It is a situation that requires far more attention and sober thinking than it has received so far. America has an emerging humanitarian and security crisis in its neighborhood that must be addressed immediately.