Mexico to help create 20,000 jobs in Honduras to curb migration; Sandra Torres leads Guatemala presidential race

Reuters, AP

Mexico’s government said on Saturday it would help Honduras create 20,000 jobs this year and support its coffee farmers as the two countries seek to curb migration to the United States that has created tensions with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez pledged to work together to lift prosperity in Central America, where poverty and violence have fueled an exodus of people north.

That migration has angered Trump, who has made border security a priority and issued economic threats against Mexico and Central America if more is not done to contain the flows.

Speaking after the Honduran and Mexican leaders met in the eastern state of Veracruz, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said Lopez Obrador had given instructions to help Honduras create 20,000 jobs between now and December.

He did not provide further details, but afterwards the two presidents offered more insights into their plans in speeches in the eastern city of Minatitlan.

Hernandez said he was hoping a “great international coalition for mass job creation” in Central America could be forged, while Lopez Obrador stressed that Mexico would support the region with funds and employment programs.

In particular, Lopez Obrador said, Mexico would assist Honduran coffee farmers, whose businesses have suffered this year from a drop in international prices.

“We’ll help improve coffee production in whatever is needed,” he said, “so you have no problem selling coffee.”

Lopez Obrador did not offer more details, but also said programs he has championed in Mexico to create jobs via youth apprenticeships and tree planting would come to Honduras too.

There has been a surge this year in migrant apprehensions on the U.S. southern border with Mexico. Most of the people caught trying to enter the United States illegally come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

On Friday, Trump said he had reached a deal with Guatemala to curb migration. U.S. officials described the deal as a “safe third-country” agreement, which would make Guatemala a buffer zone for migrants from its Central American neighbors.

The Guatemalan government did not characterize the accord as such.

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court had already ruled that a safe third-country agreement would need prior approval from the Guatemalan Congress, which is on a summer recess.

Hundreds of Guatemalans gathered Saturday to protest the agreement. Carrying the blue-and-white national flag, demonstrators rallied in front of the presidential palace in Guatemala City. They called on Morales to resign for having caved in to U.S. demands.

Human rights activist Brenda Hernandez, one of the organizers of the protest march, said the poor nation can barely take care of its own people, much less shelter vulnerable migrants.

“Guatemala doesn’t have the capacity to be a safe country for migrants that aren’t desired in the United States,” she said.

The same conditions driving Salvadorans and Hondurans to flee their country — gang violence, poverty, joblessness and a prolonged drought that has severely hit crop yields — are also present in Guatemala.

Guatemala’s state attorney for human rights, Jordan Rodas, also criticized the accord with the U.S., saying it violates the Vienna Convention because Guatemala signed under duress.

As talks toward an immigration agreement stumbled, Trump threatened to tax remittances sent home by Guatemalans working in the U.S., impose import tariffs on Guatemalan goods and restrict travel to the U.S. by Guatemalans.

The protesters also carried signs calling for Guatemala to maintain its sovereignty and expressing support for a United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission that Morales expelled from the country.

The two contenders to be elected Guatemala’s next president in August also questioned the validity of the deal, which Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart signed for Guatemala in Washington.

“There needs to be a thorough analysis of whether the minister had the power to sign an agreement with these international characteristics, and in any case the agreement has to go to Congress, whoever signed it,” said Sandra Torres, the center-left candidate who led the first round of voting in June. Morales’ four-year term ends in January.

Torres, who was speaking at a rally in Chichicastenango, north of the capital, ordered lawmakers from her National Unity of Hope (UNE) party to summon both Degenhart and Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel to give testimony before Congress on how the deal was brokered.

Her rival for the presidency, conservative Alejandro Giammattei, called the accord “bad news for Guatemala.”

“This has opened a rocky road for President Morales because according to the Constitutional Court ruling, that agreement has to pass through Congress,” Giammattei told CNN.