Belize and Regional Nations Urge Consistent U.S. Migration Policy
Updated: Oct 29
“If we work together, and we coordinate our efforts and bring all our resources . . . together, then we are able to take on any problem in the region,” Belizean Deputy Prime Minister Cordel Hyde said at the migration summit in Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico. (Photo from Amandala)
Without explicitly naming the United States, the leaders of many Caribbean and Latin American countries, including Deputy Prime Minister Cordel Hyde, of Belize, urged migration destination countries to end “inconsistent and selective policies” such as granting entry to some nationalities but not others, reported France 24 (October 23).
Belize’s relationship with migration is a unique one. Nearly as many people come to the country as leave it for a different life.
Regional leaders also called on destination countries to broaden above-board, legal and safe paths by which migrants can travel to such wealthier countries – a nod to enhancing mobility for workers seeking a better life as they flee countries with gang violence, corruption and poverty.
“This is a humanitarian issue that we have to work on together,” Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador said on social media.
The Belizean newspaper, Amandala (October 25), reported that at the concluding press conference, Belizean Deputy Prime Minister Cordel Hyde said:
“Oftentimes, we grapple with issue on our own, and that’s when we fall woefully short of our goals. But if we work together, and we coordinate our efforts and bring all our resources, all our talents, all our mental capacity, all our energies, together, then we are able to take on any problem in the region.”
Mexican Foreign Minister Alicia Bárcena read a statement on October 22 after the Meeting in Palenque, for a Fraternal and Well-Being Neighborhood, in Chiapas, the southernmost Mexican state. Chiapas has become the entry point for the United States for thousands of people coming from Central America, South America, the Caribbean and elsewhere.
The meeting comes nearly a year and a half after the Biden administration hosted the Ninth Summit of the Americas, in which Mexico, Belize, the United States and other countries signed the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection.
The region is grappling with an escalating migration dilemma that the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a United Nations agency, described as “unprecedented”, reported Breaking Belize News (October 22). President Andres Manuel López Obrador noted that as many as 16,000 migrants arrive at Mexican borders each day.
President López Obrador plans to present a unified proposal to U.S. President Joe Biden in November, reported Breaking Belize News. The U.S. administration is planning on hosting another Americas summit then, focused on regional economic development as well as immigration, reported the Miami Herald (October 21).
Colombian President Gustavo Petro said that there will be a follow-up conference in Colombia in February of leaders of the wider Latin America and the Caribbean in order to deepen the discussion, reported Amandala (October 25).
Accompanying his social media message, López Obrador posted a photograph of himself alongside President Miguel Díaz-Canel of Cuba, President Xiomara Castro of Honduras, President Gustavo Petro of Colombia and President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela.
Other migration summit attendees included Prime Minister Ariel Henry of Haiti; Minister of Foreign Affairs Janaina Tewaney of Panama; Vice President Felix Ulloa of El Salvador, and
Second Vice-President Mary Munive of Costa Rica, reported Mundo ao Minuto (October 22). Mexico also expected the presence of ministers from Guatemala and Ecuador.
The International Organization for Migration has said that, last year, 686 people died or went missing making the journey to the U.S.-Mexican border, for which travelers pay a small fortune to traffickers. This year alone, 1.7 million migrants arrived at the border.
In September, 60,000 migrants arrived in Mexico from Venezuela, along with 35,000 Guatemalans and 27,000 Hondurans, according to the Mexican government, reported France 24.
Proposed U.S.-Cuba Talks
In what has become standard at such Latin American summits, the leaders called for an end to “unilateral, coercive measures” imposed on countries – a reference to communist Cuba and the complete U.S. trade embargo in effect against it for 61 years, reported France 24 (October 23).
Every year since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution demanding the end of the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, with the U.S. and Israel being the only nations to vote consistently against the resolutions, reported UN News (June 23, 2021).
The summit highlighted that privileged treatment is offered to Cuban migrants once they reach the United States border, reported Amandala. Once in the country, Cuban migrants can regularize their status within a year, which is not the same for migrants from elsewhere.
Ironically, the economic blockade is a stimulus to migration.
“In this regard, the countries represented at the summit proposed that the governments of Cuba and the United States hold, as soon as possible, a comprehensive dialogue on their bilateral relations,” according to Amandala.
Belize: A Complex Migration Story
Belize is located on the north-eastern coast of Central America on the Yucatán Peninsula. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and Guatemala to the west and south. It also shares a water boundary with Honduras to the southeast.
The country has an area of 22,970 square kilometers (8,867 square miles), about the size of Wales or Vermont.
Guatemala claims 4,250 square miles, or about half, of Belize’s territory. reported Reuters (May 9, 2019). In 2019, the International Court of Justice began to deliberate Guatemala’s claim, a dispute that took root four centuries ago and has a checkered history.
“Belize has a complex migration situation,” according to International Migration in the Caribbean, Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Development: The Belize Case (June 2), Belize Ministry of Human Development, Families & Indigenous People’s Affairs.
“It is attractive to immigrants from the region due to a stable (political) situation, higher living standards and job availability. On the other hand, deteriorating economic conditions, such as high levels of poverty and unemployment are factors stimulating migratory movements towards the USA and Canada.”
Belize has a population of 441,471, of which 60,000 are immigrants. Emigrants number 68,100.
Migrants are primarily from Guatemala (about 26,000); Honduras (about 9,500); United States (about 5,500), and Mexico (about 4,000), according to International Migration in the Caribbean, Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Development: The Belize Case.
According to the most recent country census, primary reasons for people migrating to Belize were employment or family reunification; personal safety or because of high crime rates in their countries of origin, and coming to the country as dependents of other migrants.
The 2022/early 2023 Amnesty Program sought to address the issue of migrants who are residing in Belize irregularly, or recommended asylum seekers. Those who qualified for the amnesty would be offered Permanent Residence status with a path to citizenship.
As of January 31, a total of 11,352 individuals, including 900 asylum-seekers, filed their applications to obtain permanent residence in Belize, according to International Migration in the Caribbean, Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Development: The Belize Case.
“Belizeans from end to end of our country swelled with pride when the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), spoke of our generosity as we began the process of regularizing the status of 40,000 or more persons residing in our country,” reported Amandala (May 21, 2022).
“Speaking to Belizeans on his visit to or country on Saturday last, AMLO said the amnesty was a ‘humanitarian decision of the highest order’, that we were ‘setting an example to the world’.
“PM Briceño said he believes AMLO was moved by our tremendous humanitarian act, and that is why he decided to remove all tariffs from agricultural commodities from Belize.”
Six years ago, on May 31, 2017, The Guardian wrote:
“This is not the first time this tiny country has harbored victims of neighboring conflicts. In the 1980s and 1990s, Belize was an oasis of peace amid Central America’s interlocking civil wars between U.S.-supported despots and leftwing guerrillas. It was widely praised for welcoming about 30,000 Spanish-speaking refugees – a 10% increase in the population, which changed the country’s ethnic mix.”
The Statistical Institute of Belize reported the 2010 Population and Housing Census of Belize:
“Respondents were allowed to indicate membership in up to two ethnic groups.
“And just over a half (52.9 percent or 170,446) of all Belizeans see themselves as belonging, at
least in part, to the Mestizo/Spanish/Latino ethnic group. The second largest ethnic group is the Creole, at 26 percent (83,460) of the population, followed by the Maya at 11.3 percent, who
along with the Garifuna (6.1 percent) form the two indigenous groups in Belize.
“East Indian is 3.9 percent; Mennonite is 3.6 percent; Caucasian/White is 1.2 percent, and Asian
(Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese) is 1.0 percent.
Until the 1990s, the country’s main ethnic group consisted of Creoles, the descendants of African slaves.
“Creoles still dominate politics and the media, but after waves of migration to the U.S., they now account for a quarter of the population,“ reported The Guardian (May 31, 2017).
Belize’s government is based on the parliamentary system of Britain, which ruled the country as a colony until 1981 when it gained independence. It is a stable – and peaceful – democratic enclave in a region plagued by instability and foreign intervention.
Just days ahead of Guatemala’s general election in June in which four opposition candidates had been disqualified, a court sentenced leading journalist José Zamora to six years in prison for money laundering in a case condemned by human rights groups. However, a Guatemalan court struck down the sentence on October 13 and ordered a new trial, reported Reuters.. Zamora, 66, founded the newspaper, El Periódico, nearly 30 years ago. The paper was shut down in May.
Politically Unstable Guatemala
Guatemala, for example, the country from which Belize has attracted the most immigrants, is no stranger to political instability.
From the mid- to late-19th century, Guatemala suffered deep civil strife. In the early 20th century, it was ruled by a series of dictators backed by the United Fruit Company and the United States government. In 1944, the authoritarian leader, Jorge Ubico, was overthrown by a pro-democratic military coup, initiating a decade-long revolution that led to sweeping social and economic reforms.
Then, in 1954, a U.S.-backed military coup ended the revolution and installed a dictatorship, according to State Terrorism and Neoliberalism: The North in the South (2009).
From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala endured a civil war fought between the U.S.-backed government and leftist rebels, a war that included genocidal massacres of the Maya population perpetuated by the military, reported The New York Times (February 26, 1999). The United Nations negotiated a peace accord.
In September of this year, tension surrounding Guatemala’s presidential transition reached a new high, reported Americas Quarterly (September 13). President-elect Bernardo Arévalo and his Movimiento Semilla party demanded the removal or resignation of Attorney General María Consuelo Porras.
Arévalo and Semilla also filed a criminal case, accusing Porras and two of her allies of violating the constitution and several laws.
President-elect Arévalo has said that “a coup d’état . . . (is) being undertaken step by step” to overturn the decision made by Guatemalans weeks ago. As the August 20 vote continues to be disputed, Semilla remains under criminal investigation. Arévalo has said to Americas Quarterly that the “coup” was being carried out, not by security forces but by compromised judges and prosecutors to prevent him from taking office and implementing his anti-corruption agenda.
“The tumultuous presidential transition in the aftermath of Arévalo’s stunning 61-39 runoff victory shows what’s ahead (after the January 14 inauguration). To take office and then govern, he will have to face off not simply against a rival political project, but something much broader: deeply rooted networks of corruption and privilege. His great challenge will be to begin to dismantle the networks of politicians and economic elites who have co-opted high courts and prosecutors’ offices and formed pragmatic power-sharing partnerships with drug trafficking and other organized crime groups.”
U.S. President Biden signed an agreement at the beginning of his administration to address the root causes of migration in Central America with Vice President Kamala Harris at the helm, reported the Miami Herald (October 21).
“He committed $4 billion to the cause. But so far, Congress has not fully funded the plan, according to the Congressional Research Service. Harris has said she’s garnered over $4.2 billion commitments from the private sector for economic development in the region.”
Political instability in Guatemala, as in some neighboring countries, is historical and complicated. It will take more than money to change the status quo.