In an effort to stem the flow of refugees into the Rio Grande Valley and other parts of our border with Mexico, Julian Castro began calling over two years ago for a “Marshall Plan for Central America.”

With the recent surge in refugees, some other Democrats in Congress also have begun advocate for a “Marshall Plan for Central America.” 

The Marshall Plan was originated by President Truman in the aftermath of World War II to rebuild Europe and European economies after the devastation of the war. The belief was allowing Europe to languish in that devastation would result in a radicalization of the population, making countries ripe for either Communist governments or a resurgence of fascism. The Marshall Plan was devised to prevent that.

The multifaceted plan was immensely successful and certainly could be a model for a plan to mitigate if not correct over a century of U.S. imperialism in Central America that forms the bedrock of the flow of refugees to the U.S. today.  

The first step in this process must be for the United States to take responsibility for the massive deaths and destitution resulting from U.S. military interventions in Latin America, to include financing and training Central American militaries whose role overwhelmingly has been to oppress the people of their respective countries. This was done to enable U.S. corporations to exploit these nations.  

A Marshall Plan for Central America will be more challenging in some ways than that for Europe. It will not be a matter of rebuilding economies that existed prior to the devastation of war, but reimagining socio-economic development, and reimagining it in ways that protect the environment while also protecting indigenous citizens of Central American countries..  

While all of Central America should be included, the primary focus would be on El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua because they are the poorest and most unstable countries in Central America. For different reasons, Panama, Costa Rica and Belize are more stable politically and more prosperous. Therein is a key: Economic prosperity is conducive to political and social stability.

Unlike the relatively short duration of the European Marshall Plan, a Central American Marshall Plan probably will require several years, if not decades to complete. The problems were not created in a year, or a decade; but in over a century. They will not be solved in five or six years even though tremendous progress can be made in that time. It will be expensive, but that expense essentially is a repayment of the billions looted from these countries, primarily by U.S. multinational corporations.

Part of the cost can be offset by the U.S. ceasing all U.S. funding of Central American militaries, and encouraging these countries to abolish their militaries. For the past century, the only purpose of these militaries, as demonstrated by the many coups, including the 2019 coup in Honduras, is to protect and serve the political and economic interests of the United States.  

The militaries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua are not used to defending borders against aggression from their neighbors, but to oppress and slaughter the populations of their own nations. One of the reasons Costa Rica is relatively prosperous and has a stable government today is because Costa Rican leaders in 1948 abolished the military. In well over 70 years without a military, Costa Rica has not been gobbled up by some invading army.

The monies the U.S. and these Central American countries dump down the military rat hole could be significant in addressing the problems in these countries of systemic poverty, corruption, violence, and the flow of refugees to the U.S.

That money could/should be channeled into infrastructure writ large, such as health care, education and housing in addition to water, sewage, sanitation, and environmental cleanup and reclamation.  

Two major infrastructure projects should be energy and transportation.

In many respects, Costa Rica leads the way in Central America; and offers keys to what the U.S. might help other Central American nations accomplish through a Central American Marshall Plan. One of these areas is energy.

For several years, Costa Rica has produced virtually all (99%) of its electricity through renewable energy. It actually produces a significant surplus of electricity from renewable resources, and sells that electricity to other Central American nations. 

Costa Rica actually could do much more with an aggressive solar energy program designed to put solar panels on the roofs of homes and businesses as well as create solar farms. There are important purposes to which that “surplus” electricity could be utilized. A comprehensive renewable energy program in Central America (that excludes damming rivers) not only would be environmentally beneficial, but would create tens of thousands of jobs in every country, creating its own economic stimulus.

Transportation generally is of poor quality throughout Central America, including Panama and Costa Rica. Roads need to be improved, along with massive improvements in public transportation to reduce reliance on cars as a means of transportation.

Something that would be an economic boom for the entire hemisphere would be a hemispheric electric rapid rail system from northern-most Alaska and Quebec to the southern tips of Chile and Argentina. Such a system is fraught with challenges, particularly environmental; but the potential benefits both environmentally and economically are astronomical.

Think about moving freight 3,000 miles across the U.S. in tractor trailer trucks. How many trucks would be required to carry the load of, say, 20 freight cars? How long would it take to drive a truck from the east coast to the west coast? How much would all that diesel fuel cost? How long would it take an electric freight train to cover that distance at 200 mph, and at what cost in electricity?

Now, think about how hemispheric trade could be advanced and the economic prosperity that would bring to nations throughout the hemisphere if we had a hemispheric high speed rail system such as the one China is developing or the high speed rail system in Europe. Transportation costs would be reduced. Transit time would be reduced. That would lower prices on everything that is shipped. Plus, highway congestion would be reduced by taking long haul trucks off the road. More jobs would be created than lost. Win. Win. Win. Win for the hemisphere economically and environmentally.

Because of their geographic location connecting North and South America, Central America would be a transnational transport hub creating jobs and stimulating economies.

This is a long range proposal. It took about 25 years to complete the Interstate Highway System. A hemispheric high speed electric rail system probably would take closer to 50. Consequently, it is not part of any short term cure for the current refugee problem; but it would contribute greatly to the long term cure.

The problem of refugees streaming into the U.S., particularly into the Valley, from Central America can and should be resolved. Closing the border or imposing more restrictions at the border are not the solution. The solution will require a commitment from the U.S. like nothing seen since the Marshall Plan. Can we afford it? Yes, of course. It is not a question of cost or feasibility. It is a question of will and whether the U.S., once and forever, will turn away from its 100 year plus history of imperialism in and economic exploitation of Latin America.

Editors’ Note: The above guest column was penned by writer and educator Samuel Freeman. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Freeman can be reached by email via: [email protected]

Editor’s Note: The above guest column is the second in a two-part series on the migration of Central Americans to the United States by writer Samuel Freeman. Click here to read Part One.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows George C. Marshall, Secretary of State during the Truman Administration.

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