Security and Foreign Policy

The Central American Caravan of Migrants, A Climate Change Exodus

Beginning on October 12th , thousands of people left Honduras in order to reach the US borders on foot. One of the main catalysts and the most important hidden cause of the phenomena can be found in climate change. Mario Ghioldi explains the correlation between the climate imbalance, the violence in Central America and the migrant caravan.  


When the first 160 Hondurans gathered at the Pedro de Sula bus station, this past October, to emigrate to the US, they never imagined they would be in the middle of international debates by experts and heads of state. Day by day, the caravan became significantly larger, reaching 7000 people (hailing from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador) by the time it got to the Mexican borders at the beginning of November.

“Our heads are set at getting to the United States, to fulfil the American dream” said Mauricio Mancilla, who is travelling from Honduras with his six-year-old son. The expectation of a good life is pushing the migrants to leave cities marked by organised crime and systemic corruption, the roots of which can be traced back to the region’s Cold War conflicts. Nevertheless, this violence and instability, which are particularly relevant in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro de Sula and San Salvador, are only the superficial causes of a more complex problem.

The path of the caravan is longer than 2000 kilometres and involves four countries: Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and the US, where the debates among politicians and experts flared in attempts to find the causes of the problem and the possible solutions. Beyond the US discussions linked to the midterm elections and the actions at the border, the Honduran government is being criticized for being unable  to stop the Caravan despite Washington’s threats to cut funding to Central America. The Honduran President diverted the critics, pointing to Bartolo Fuentes, journalist and spokesman of the caravan, as the organizer of the movement, an act taken to jeopardize the stability of the country.

In addition, Guatemala and especially Mexico, despite the efforts at their borders, could not halt the Caravan but only slowed down the mass of migrants moving towards the US border.  Currently the Mexican authorities are issuing temporary residence permits in order to facilitate  the migrant movements but the authorities of D.F are facing various logistical troubles due to the large number of people crossing the country.

In the face of this situation, which is affecting the internal politics and the external relations of the Central and North America countries, the looming question remains why are Central Americans  fleeing their homelands to the US,

According to media accounts, the main cause of this migration is linked with the urban violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Nevertheless, considering some data, climate change can be seen as the real exacerbating factor of the phenomenon. Although migrants don’t mention climate change as a cause for leaving due to the complexity of the concept, many of them come from regions characterized by small farms. They, themselves, have admitted how the new weather conditions have ruined the crops and consequently have reduced their incomes. The correlation between climate change and migration can be confirmed by data provided the US Border Patrol on the increase in migrants coming from western Honduras, a region famous for coffee production. Essentially, this activity is becoming increasingly unprofitable for agricultural workers, thus farmers and their family are moving to the US and changing their lives. A dearth in income and employability can also be seen as a reason for the increase in gang related violence and organized crimes, which have become the means of survival in many areas ridden by climate change.

According to the World Food Program (WFP), nearly half of Central American migrants considered themselves to be food insecure. The study conducted by the Rome Agency, published in 2017, confirms how climate change, through the later start of the summer rainfalls and the presence of flooding rains, is forcing young people to move due to the lack of work and widespread poverty. In particular,  the crops of maize and coffee are suffering from the changes in rainfalls. Furthermore, these crops take a long time to recover, thus the farmers prefer focusing on other activities.  Considering the background in various Central American towns, after a short period of occasional extortion by local gangs the farmers, have decided to move to the US. Taking into account that a third of all employers in the region are connected with agriculture, the scenario could become more worrisome for Central and North America.

The larger question concerns what is going to happen when the Caravan gets the US borders. The debate on migrants in Washington fuelled the campaign for the midterm elections; this factor has to be considered in order to understand the statements and the measures of Trump’s administration. With the more recent tear gassing of migrants at the border, it seems that the Trump administration is determined to take a strong stance on climate migrants and refugees.

The U.S. President, beyond declaring the borders as “sacred” and threatening measures against Mexico for its soft policy, has deployed more than 5000 troops in Texas, Arizona and California which are going to support the 2000 soldiers already present in the area. The operation, previously called “Faithful Patriot”, has the immediate goal of deterring a potential situation similar to that in Guatemala and Mexico, where migrants took advantage of their numbers to pass the checkpoints at the borders.

Although those measures could temporarily slow down the migrant flows and could be a short-term deterrence, the problem persists if the governments of North and Central America don’t consider the correlation among Climate Change, urban criminality and the consequent migration.

Mario Ghioldi has an International Relations background through his studies at the University of Siena. In the last year, he worked with the Italian government’s Mission to the United Nations (3rd Committee) and in Nicaragua. He also joined the Salvadoran diplomatic team at the Rome agencies twice.  

Photo Credit: Oliver de Ros—AP/Shutterstock

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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