MCALLEN, RGV – Congressman Vicente Gonzalez says that in all the coverage given to the nation’s current immigration crisis, not enough attention is given to the root cause, lawlessness and poverty in Central America.
Thousands of undocumented immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have crossed into South Texas in recent months seeking asylum from violence in their homeland. Gonzalez recently visited El Salvador and Guatemala with Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
“We do not talk enough about how we got here. We have a failed foreign policy in three Central American states. Until we deal with that, we will continue to have problems,” Gonzalez told the Rio Grande Guardian, in an exclusive interview.
Gonzalez wants to see the U.S. federal government intervene to help Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala with security funding and economic aid.
“We should engage them in commerce. We should engage them in bringing security on the ground. El Salvador, Honduras and to some extent Guatemala, are gang-ridden countries with gangs that control the neighborhoods of major capitals, that engage political officials, that are talking to the administration in some of these countries. We should have put a stop to that through our American policy.”
Gonzalez listed some of the things he would do if he were in the government.
“We should have better trade agreements and proper security, to help their economy, which in turn would incentivize folks to stay at home. In that sense, we have failed. We have done much better in Mexico. If you look at the numbers, in Mexico they are going home at a higher rate than they are coming here.”
Asked how the trip to El Salvador and Guatemala went, Gonzalez said:
“I went with Sister Norma. We visited with the president of Guatemala, and the administration and some of the Cabinet officials. I did the same in El Salvador, where we met with the Vice President. I saw areas that have benefited from U.S. aid.”
Gonzalez said he tried to see the real situation in El Salvador and Guatemala, not just the sanitized version that the governments of the two countries would want him to see.
“There are a ways to go to bring security on the ground. I had to go out of my way to get the real version, not the sanitized version. I got to visit with some high level folks in the business community who were able to give me a very clear view of what they are dealing with,” Gonzalez said.
“While we were there, Walmart was having a very complex problem with the administration over the importation of certain items. Walmart was told, why would we help a company from a country whose president calls us a s***-hole country. We are seeing the real tangible effects of this administration’s comments and how they affect our businesses around the world.”
Asked what interactions he had with the gangs that, according to an Amnesty International report, have taken over large swathes of the urbanized areas in Central America, Gonzalez said:
“These gangs have become political operations. They get the vote put during the election season. It gets them a lot of influence with elected officials. It is such a mess. To clean that up, someone needs to have a very heavy hand with law and order.”
Asked if the State Department has allocated the $750 million to Central America that U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar and Kay Granger championed, Gonzalez said:
“They finally got it but it is trickling down very slowly. It has not reached the right people yet. People are concerned about corruption but there are ways to invest in companies that create more employment, invest in businesses that create higher paid wages. There are ways to do it. I do not think that ($750 million) is enough money for three countries but it is has not gotten there quickly enough.”
Gonzalez said he would like to see the U.S. government work more closely with chambers of commerce and quasi-governmental agencies in the three Central American countries.
“Go to areas where we have the most migration from. In El Salvador there is an area called La Union. Start there with security on the ground. I meet a lot of people from that province. Insecurity is one of the reasons people are coming. Invest in security, invest in jobs and you find people will stay there.”
Gonzalez said there are some bright spots.
“We visited a province on the western coast where the mayor has done an amazing job. He has created these small boys and girls clubs in the city, brought the crime rate way down. Kids from one neighborhood would not play with kids from another neighborhood. Now they are all together. That example needs to be replicated around the country. The thing is though, some of these mayors are linked in with some of these bad guys.”
In a news release about the visit to Central America, Gonzalez said he and Pimentel discussed ways the U.S. is partnering with El Salvador and Guatemala to “promote prosperity, bring security, and create additional educational, employment, and investment opportunities.”
In the press release, Gonzalez said: “Those of us from South Texas understand that Guatemala and El Salvador are not just neighbors, they are our friends and allies. We know that their challenges are our challenges, and their success is our success. The visit allowed me to connect with the very people that work tirelessly to make these countries thrive and left me with a better grasp of the issues our neighbors to the south face and how we can move forward together.”
Gonzalez said he will be spending time educating his colleagues in the U.S. House and Senate about “the necessity and the immense value of strong cultural, diplomatic, and trade relations in the Western Hemisphere.”
The delegation first visited Guatemala to meet with President of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales; U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala, Luis Arreaga; Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jairo Estrada; Guatemalan Ambassador to the U.S., Manuel Espina; in addition to other key government officials, the private sector, and civil society.
Then the group then visited El Salvador. There the congressman and delegation met with Vice President of El Salvador, Oscar Ortiz; U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Jean Manes; Acting Foreign Minister, Carlos Castaneda; Salvadoran Ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Claudia Canjura de Centeno; Members of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee; in addition to other key government officials, the private sector, and civil society.