With a visit this week to Washington by Guatemalan Foreign Minsiter Harold Caballeros, and an impending first-time visit to Guatemala City by U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Guatemala appears to have momentarily captured the attention of the United States. For Guatemala, the bilateral relationship is a top foreign policy priority. In addition, the over 1.2 million Guatemalans living in the U.S. are an economic lifeline to their native country, representing 10 percent of Guatemala’s GDP .
Guatemala’s fate is invariably tied to its Northern Triangle neighbors; each face an uphill battle in increasing the protections for migrants, reducing rampant organized crime and strengthening incomplete security apparatuses. For the U.S., relations with Guatemala are largely viewed within a larger Central American context, particularly through the Sistema de Integración Centroamericana (Central American Integration System—SICA). Guatemala also is the beneficiary of USAID projects and the U.S. as well supports Guatemala’s UN-mandated Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG). Still, funding increases for the Central American Regional Security Initiative is one area in which Guatemalans are lobbying for more support.
With democratic consolidation solidifying in Guatemala, the U.S. has the opportunity to address other Guatemala-specific issues that lie near the forefront of the bilateral relationship. One would be granting Temporary Protection Status for undocumented Guatemalans living in the U.S., the economic lifelines of Guatemala. Another would be for the U.S. to further boost investments in security and development to the levels that other regional and global partners receive from the United States. Lifting the current military cooperation embargo against Guatemala would further provide the country with the technology, know-how and equipment to fight organized crime within its territory, a problem that is severely crippling the central government. Considering that Guatemala shares a border with Mexico and is used as a “bridge” for most narcotics trafficked to the United States, Guatemala should be part of the solution to the violence plaguing the isthmus.
As some countries in Latin America feel estranged from the U.S., regional dynamics are continuing to change as unorthodox ideas are beginning to emerge—including legalizing the use and transport of drugs in transit and consumption countries. As indicated by President Otto Pérez Molina, this is a decision that cannot be taken unilaterally, but must be debated at a regional and global level, which is what he hopes to do beginning at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, this April. This has naturally caused mixed reactions across the globe; the Obama administration is firmly opposed to this stance and Secretary Napolitano will likely reinforce this point of view during her upcoming visit to Guatemala.
It is difficult to predict what will come about from ongoing discussions on how best to address these cross-border challenges, but one thing is certain: Guatemala, a newly minted member of the UN Security Council that is raising issues of global security and conflict resolution on the world stage, has not only stirred up cross-border debate but has also opened a diplomatic window for the United States to collaborate and reengage its regional neighbors to the South that have in recent years felt ignored.
Joshua Ryan Rosales works at a major global law firm in Houston, Texas, having previously worked as one of its lead analysts for the Americas as well as under an Ambassador of Guatemala. His writings on inter-American affairs focus primarily on foreign policy, economic development and politics.