Honduras, Guatemala Inch Closer to Free-Trade Zone


EspañolWith the Honduran Caribbean as the background, the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras gathered on Thursday, February 26, for the First Meeting of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle (APP). The Central American heads of state discussed the implementation a US-designed plan to fight drug trafficking in the region.

Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and his Honduran counterpart, Juan Orlando Hernández, agreed on establishing a customs union as the first step towards the creation of a free-transit zone between the two countries.

Effective December 1, both people and goods will be allowed to move freely between Guatemala and Honduras, and El Salvador is expected to soon join the free-transit zone agreement. Pérez Molina called the initiative “historic for Central America.”

The agreement will formalize an agenda for 2015 that will lead to a fully implemented customs union by January 1, 2016. Once finalized, customs offices along the Honduran-Guatemalan border will disappear, clearing the way for greater commercial flows between the two countries.

“We hope that this initiative will boost the growth and diversification of the productive sectors, and allow for the creation of a single-customs territory, representing 23 percent of Central America and a big portion of its GDP,” said the Honduran minister of Economic Development, Alden Rivera.

“We are taking the leap we have waited 64 years for, the customs union between Honduras and Guatemala.”

The meeting also hosted representatives of the Inter-American Development Bank and the Latin-American Business Council (CEAL), who backed the initiative to form a regional bloc that will both confront drug trafficking and boost regional economies.

Proposals include the creation of nine logistics corridors aimed at speeding up trade between the nations. President Hernández also noted the importance of cooperating on security issues to ensure the proper conditions for trade and transportation, as well as improving roads and infrastructure.

Camilo Atala, head of the Honduran chapter of CEAL, said the region “is making an important step towards economic and social development,” and believes the agreement will “improve the lives of 30 million Central Americans.” Atala added that the initiative aims to promote “investment, the development of human capital, the strengthening of institutions, and safety of the public.”

“Bullets for Money”

However, not everyone is on board with the Alliance for Prosperity plan. Oscar Sagastume, of the Alliance to End Prohibition — the first anti-prohibition NGO in Honduras — believes the agreement is “just another plan for the same war.”

“Drug abuse is a health problem,” said Sagastume, “not a money problem.”

“There is far too much complicity between illegal-drug pushers and law enforcement,” he said. “The drug war does not work, plain and simple. The violence continues because it serves the interests of both sides fighting this war.”

Inefficacy of the Drug War

Julio César Mejía, general director of the Colombia Free Will Center, also believes the APP is doomed to fail and likens it to Plan Colombia, a US-led program initiated in 1999, during the Bill Clinton administration.

“In the best-case scenario, if the plan is successful in reining in cocaine production in Central America, nothing will happen. The problem will simply move elsewhere,” Mejía told the PanAm Post.

“It is unlikely that the public loses interest [in drugs], and there is a big market for cocaine,” he added. “Given the huge profit margins involved, it is going to be very difficult to control [the market].”

The Honduran chapter of Students for Liberty (SFL), an international student organization that opposes the war on drugs, has also raised concerned over the APP. “It is troubling to listen to world leaders that still believe this problem can be solved by wasting more money on it,” said SFL member Christian Betancourt.

“It’s possible investments could work in the Northern Triangle, if it is done intelligently, but it will only divert drug trafficking to other parts of the region,” he added. “Problems related to drug prohibition will remain, shifting to other countries, creating more violence and corruption.”

Translated by Adam Dubove. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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