said in a Twitter post after the visit, adding, “This cruelty is not who we are.”

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U.S. Aid to Central America Hasn’t Slowed Migration. Can Kamala Harris?

SAN ANTONIO HUISTA, Guatemala — An American contractor went to a small town in the Guatemalan mountains with an ambitious goal: to ignite the local economy, and hopefully even persuade people not to migrate north to the United States.

Half an hour into his meeting with coffee growers, the contractor excitedly revealed the tool he had brought to change their lives: a pamphlet inviting the farmers to download an app to check coffee prices and “be a part of modern agriculture.”

Pedro Aguilar, a coffee farmer who hadn’t asked for the training and didn’t see how it would keep anyone from heading for the border, looked confused. Eyeing the U.S. government logo on the pamphlet, he began waving it around, asking if anyone had a phone number to call the Americans “and tell them what our needs really are.”

soared in 2019 and is on the upswing once more.

have risen, malnutrition has become a national crisis, corruption is unbridled and the country is sending more unaccompanied children to the United States than anywhere else in the world.

That is the stark reality facing Ms. Harris as she assumes responsibility for expanding the same kind of aid programs that have struggled to stem migration in the past. It is a challenge that initially frustrated her top political aides, some of whom viewed the assignment from Mr. Biden as one that would inevitably set her up for failure in the first months of her tenure.

Her allies worried that she would be expected to solve the entire immigration crisis, irked that the early reports of her new duties appeared to hold her responsible for juggling the recent surge of children crossing the border without adults.

linked to drug traffickers and accused of embezzling American aid money, the leader of El Salvador has been denounced for trampling democratic norms and the government of Guatemala has been criticized for persecuting officials fighting corruption.

Even so, Ms. Harris and her advisers have warmed to the task, according to several people familiar with her thinking in the White House. They say it will give her a chance to dive squarely into foreign policy and prove that she can pass the commander-in-chief test, negotiating with world leaders on a global stage to confront one of America’s most intractable issues.

critics denounced as unlawful and inhumane. Moreover, members of the current administration contend that Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze a portion of the aid to the region in 2019 ended up blunting the impact of the work being done to improve conditions there.

But experts say the reasons that years of aid have not curbed migration run far deeper than that. In particular, they note that much of the money is handed over to American companies, which swallow a lot of it for salaries, expenses and profits, often before any services are delivered.

Record numbers of Central American children and families were crossing, fleeing gang violence and widespread hunger.

independent studies have found.

“All activities funded with U.S.A.I.D.’s foreign assistance benefit countries and people overseas, even if managed through agreements with U.S.-based organizations,” said Mileydi Guilarte, a deputy assistant administrator at U.S.A.I.D. working on Latin America funding.

But the government’s own assessments don’t always agree. After evaluating five years of aid spending in Central America, the Government Accountability Office rendered a blunt assessment in 2019: “Limited information is available about how U.S. assistance improved prosperity, governance, and security.”

One U.S.A.I.D. evaluation of programs intended to help Guatemalan farmers found that from 2006 to 2011, incomes rose less in the places that benefited from U.S. aid than in similar areas where there was no intervention.

Mexico has pushed for a more radical approach, urging the United States to give cash directly to Central Americans affected by two brutal hurricanes last year. But there’s also a clear possibility — that some may simply use the money to pay a smuggler for the trip across the border.

The farmers of San Antonio Huista say they know quite well what will keep their children from migrating. Right now, the vast majority of people here make their money by selling green, unprocessed coffee beans to a few giant Guatemalan companies. This is a fine way to put food on the table — assuming the weather cooperates — but it doesn’t offer much more than subsistence living.

Farmers here have long dreamed of escaping that cycle by roasting their own coffee and selling brown beans in bags to American businesses and consumers, which brings in more money.

“Instead of sending my brother, my father, my son to the United States, why not send my coffee there, and get paid in dollars?” said Esteban Lara, the leader of a local coffee cooperative.

But when they begged a U.S. government program for funding to help develop such a business, Ms. Monzón said, they were told “the money is not designed to be invested in projects like that.”

These days, groups of her neighbors are leaving for the United States every month or two. So many workers have abandoned this town that farmers are scrambling to find laborers to harvest their coffee.

One of Ms. Monzón’s oldest employees, Javier López Pérez, left with his 14-year-old son in 2019, during the last big wave of Central American migration to the United States. Mr. López said he was scaling the border wall with his son when he fell and broke his ankle.

“My son screamed, ‘Papi, no!’ and I said to him, ‘Keep going, my son,’” Mr. López said. He said his son made it to the United States, while he returned to San Antonio Huista alone.

His family was then kicked out of their home, which Mr. López had given as collateral to the person who smuggled him to the border. The house they moved into was destroyed by the two hurricanes that hit Guatemala late last year.

Ms. Monzón put Mr. López in one of her relatives’ houses, then got the community to cobble together money to pay for enough cinder blocks to build the family a place to live.

While mixing cement to bind the blocks together, one of Mr. López’s sons, Vidal, 19, confessed that he had been talking to a smuggler about making the same journey that felled his father, who was realistic at the prospect.

“I told him, ‘Son, we suffered hunger and thirst along the way, and then look at what happened to me, look at what I lost,’” Mr. López said, touching his still-mangled ankle. “But I can’t tell him what to do with his life — he’s a man now.”

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For One Young Migrant, a Family Separation Nightmare

For the past three years, David and his son, Adelso, have communicated only by phone. Adelso is just one of about 5,500 children who was taken from a parent, as a result of the Trump administration’s family separation policy. They’re among more than 1,000 families who have been waiting for the Biden administration to follow through on a promise to reunify them. Now there is a new sense of hope as the Biden government starts to reunite a handful of families. But David and Adelso’s story — split between Guatemala and Florida — offers a firsthand look at the continuing psychological effects of separation … … and how the delay in reuniting families has in some cases encouraged people to make a desperate trek back to the U.S. David and his son spoke with us on condition that we not use their full names and conceal their identities. Since he was jailed and deported, David has kept a low profile in the countryside, evading the gangs he says extorted the trucking business he worked for and threatened his family before they fled to the U.S. David was deported to Guatemala after serving 30 days in U.S. prison for the crime of illegal reentry. Neither David, his wife or their other children have seen Adelso since. “We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world.” Days after he took office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to reunify families separated under the Trump administration. “The re-establishment of the interagency task force and the reunification of families.” This week, as migrant apprehensions approached the highest level in 20 years, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would bring four mothers to the U.S. to reunite with their children. The U.S. will reunify another 35 or so families in the coming weeks as part of a pilot project, which David and Adelso might be a part of. But this is just a start, and the process for reunifying all families could take months, and even years. In David’s town of several thousand people, I found three other parents who were forcibly separated from their children under “zero tolerance.” Melvin Jacinto and his 14-year-old son tried to enter the U.S. to look for work that would pay for, among other things, his daughter’s hip surgery. Melvin and his wife, Marta’s son Rosendo, now lives with a relative in Minneapolis. They, too, rely on video calls to stay connected. The reality is that work is really scarce here. Melvin takes what jobs he can find, but the family relies on money sent from Rosendo, their teenage son, who’s now working in the U.S. We visited the homes of two other fathers who were separated from their kids at the border and were told they’d already made the return trip to reunite with them. She allowed me to speak with her husband on her phone. He said he reunited with his son in Fort Lauderdale, and was staying in a house with other migrants. We heard of other parents as well, deported to Guatemala and Honduras, who’d already made the perilous journey to reunite with their children. According to immigration lawyers, about 1,000 separated kids have yet to see their parents again. They’ve had to grow up fast, placed in the care of foster families or relatives. For the last three years, Adelso has been living with his aunt, Teresa Quiñónez, in Boca Raton, Fla. He’s been attending school, and plays soccer in his spare time, but he still struggles with the trauma of what happened in Guatemala and at the border. Unlike some of the separated kids, Adelso does have support. “Yes, definitely, I would go there in the morning, too Yeah —” His aunt Teresa came to the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor, and later became a legal resident. She stepped in to give Adelso the care she didn’t have when she came to the U.S. as a teenager. “I can say that I understand his pain, not being with mom and dad. Living with someone familiar, somehow — still, it’s not the same.” Once a month, Adelso talks with a child psychologist at Florida State University’s Center for Child Stress and Health. The service is paid through a government settlement for families separated under the “zero tolerance” policy. Adelso is one of several children affected by “zero tolerance” that Natalia Falcon now works with in South Florida. “I’ve been working with Adelso and his family for a little bit over six months. We see a lot of sleeping issues. You know, they can’t sleep, they can’t fall asleep or the nightmares, right. We have to look at nightmares very delicately, Those recurring memories, flashbacks of that traumatic event as one of the main symptoms of P.T.S.D. Studies show that childhood trauma, left unaddressed, can negatively affect health and relationships long into adulthood. “I don’t want him to get depressed, taking him to that place, like, ‘Oh, I just want to be alone.’ That’s why I try to bring him out and do things with him.” After being separated from his dad, Adelso spent two months in a New York shelter with other separated kids before Teresa finally won his release. “I still remember seeing him coming out of the airport. His little face, like — it’s heartbreaking, and sometimes I see him now, he has grown so much in this, in this time that he came here, he has become so mature and that’s hard to see too because it’s like life pushing you to be that mature. You are not enjoying your being a child.” For now, Adelso and David continue to work with their lawyers and hope to be part of the first wave of reunions. As for David, he told us that he can only wait so long, and that he has also considered paying a smuggler to cross back into the U.S. and claim asylum again.

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Many Families Torn Apart at the Southern Border Face a Long and Uncertain Wait

HUEHUETENANGO, Guatemala — In a small village in the Guatemalan highlands, a father smiled into the tiny screen of a cellphone and held up a soccer jersey for the camera, pointing to the name emblazoned on the back: Adelso.

In Boca Raton, Fla., on the other end of the video chat, his son — Adelso — started to cry.

“I’ll send it to you,” the father, David, said during the call in March. “You need to be strong. We’re going to hug and talk together again. Everything’s going to be fine.”

migrant children who are in the United States but separated from their parents, according to lawyers working on the issue. There are at least another 445 who were taken from parents who have not been located.

The separated families received a jolt of hope in early February when President Biden signed an executive order to reunify the migrant families by bringing the deported parents into the United States.

This week, as migrant apprehensions at the southwest border approach a near 20-year high, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would bring a handful of separated parents to the U.S. in the coming days. The process of reunifying them all could take months or years, and questions remain about what benefits will be offered to each of those families.

Adelso has lived the last three years with his aunt, Teresa Quiñónez, in Boca Raton, Fla., where she works as a real estate agent. She had come to the United States herself at 17, without her parents.

a 2020 investigation by Physicians for Human Rights, many children separated from a parent at the border exhibited symptoms and behavior consistent with trauma: post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. In some cases, the trauma stemmed partly from experiences in the child’s home country, but researchers found it was likely linked to the separation itself.

Dr. Falcón-Banchs currently treats eight children between the ages of 6 and 16 who were separated from a parent in 2017 and 2018. Five of those children received a diagnosis of PTSD, anxiety and-or depression. Adelso is faring better and has shown resilience and coping skills, she said.

In one case, a boy from Honduras who is now 13 suffered severe anxiety and PTSD after being separated from his mother for several months and placed in foster care. Being reunited with her didn’t improve his condition right away, Falcón-Banchs said.

“When his mom first took him to school in the U.S., his brain responded in such a way that he began screaming and panicking and wanted to leave,” she said. “When he was separated, he was told that he was ‘lost in the system’ and wouldn’t be able to be reunited with his mom. So he was just crying, perhaps because of that association.”

the Trump administration did not track after separation.

And many families whose whereabouts were known have since moved or changed phone numbers, compounding the challenge of possible reunification.

Further complicating the task is that most migrants come from Central America, and three countries there — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — have experienced lockdowns during the pandemic, as well as widespread internal displacement from two hurricanes, Eta and Iota.

“We must find every last family and will not stop until we do,” said Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney for immigrant rights at the A.C.L.U.

But the process has been “extremely difficult and slow,” he said, adding that “many of the parents can only be found through on-the-ground searches.”

During a visit to a small Guatemalan town, a Times reporter learned of three parents who said they were forcibly separated from their children by U.S. border officials in 2018 and then deported. Two had already made the perilous return trip to the U.S., spending $15,000 on a journey to reunite with their children in Florida.

“They returned for the kids, because they were left alone there,” said Eusevia Quiñónez, whose husband, Juan Bernardo, left with his older brother for Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Jan. 8. “Thank God, they arrived OK.”

Another father, Melvin Jacinto, was contacted by KIND, a children’s defense group, more than a year ago, but he doubts they will be able to help him. He again wants to try to enter the United States to reunite with his son, Rosendo, in Minneapolis and to find work to support his family. He said talking on the phone with his son, who turned 18 last month and from whom he has been separated for three years, is emotionally difficult for him. He can’t help but cry.

“It’s like I’m traumatized or something,” Mr. Jacinto said. “I’m not good. I don’t sleep, not at all.”

Psychologists working with separated families say that family reunification is just one step in the healing process, and that the parents have as much need for mental health counseling as the children. Many parents blame themselves for the separation, and after reunification the children, too, often blame the parents.

David, who has suffered from stress-induced gastritis and other health complications since the separation, said he had also considered hiring a smuggler to get back to the U.S. to reunite with Adelso.

“I need to see my son,” he said. “And he needs me.”

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U.N. Reports Surge of Migrant Children Entering Mexico, Destined for U.S.

MEXICO CITY — The number of migrant children arriving in Mexico and hoping to enter the United States has increased ninefold from January to March this year, the U.N. Children’s Fund said Monday, with an average of 275 minors entering the country every day.

The number of migrant children reported in Mexico rose to 3,500 at the end of March from 380 at the start of the year, according to the Children’s Fund, or UNICEF. The number includes data from Mexico’s National Migration Institute and other official sources, and provides a detailed look into the crisis.

“I was heartbroken to see the suffering of so many young children, including babies, at the Mexican border with the U.S.,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, after wrapping up a five-day visit to Mexico, where he toured the northern border with the United States.

The flow of minors is part of a larger migrant crisis that has left American officials struggling to control the border, with the Biden administration expecting more apprehensions at the frontier this year than at any point in the last two decades.

two powerful back-to-back hurricanes that devastated parts of Honduras and Guatemala last fall.

The estimated 275 migrant children arriving to Mexico each day include both those coming from Central America and those who are being expelled from the United States into Mexico, according to UNICEF.

The U.N. agency found that children represented at least 30 percent of the migrant population in many Mexican shelters. Half of all children at the shelters traveled without their parents, one of the highest proportions ever recorded in Mexico, according to UNICEF.

“Most of the shelter facilities I visited in Mexico are already overcrowded and cannot accommodate the increasing number of children and families migrating northward,” Mr. Gough said.

has warned migrants not to make the journey because the border is closed, the message has not reached the average citizen in Central America. Human smugglers across Central America are preying on those desperate enough to make the trek, offering their services and saying that the migrants will be welcomed into the United States.

federal order known as Title 42, introduced by Donald J. Trump’s administration but kept in place by Mr. Biden. The order justifies rapid expulsions as a health measure amid the pandemic, allowing the United States to skirt its obligations to asylum seekers.

The trek from Central America through Mexico is arduous. Families and unaccompanied minors often travel hundreds of miles on foot only to reach Mexico and be robbed, kidnapped for ransom or sexually abused by human smugglers and criminal networks that stalk migrant corridors.

In its statement, UNICEF called for the international community to increase its support to Mexico, to help it expand its shelter network and assistance to migrants.

The U.N. agency also called for member organizations to increase aid to Central America, to improve the living conditions for citizens there so they feel they do not have to migrate. That strategy is also being pursued by Mr. Biden’s administration, which plans to spend $4 billion over the next four years on development programs in the region.

“Central American families aren’t migrating — they are fleeing,” said Mr. Gough.

“The best way to give migrant families a good reason to stay in their communities is to invest in their children’s future at the local level,” he added. “The real child crisis is not at the U.S. border, it’s in the poorest communities of northern Central America and Mexico.”

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With the U.S. Asylum System Closed to Many, Some Find Sanctuary in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — Record numbers of asylum seekers are applying for sanctuary in Mexico — some after arriving at the southwest border of the United States hoping to find a safe haven under President Biden, but hitting a closed door.

In March, the Mexican government received asylum petitions from more than 9,000 people, the highest monthly tally ever, officials said. And they predicted that the surging demand, evident in recent month, would continue, possibly reaching a total of 90,000 asylum requests by the end of the year, which would also be an all-time high.

The soaring numbers of asylum petitions in Mexico are in part a reflection of the turmoil at the American border, where the Biden administration is struggling to deal with a surge in undocumented migration and has prevented many asylum seekers from presenting their cases to immigration officials.

Mexico has also become an increasingly attractive destination in its own right for refugees, who have generally found asylum easier to achieve in Mexico than in the United States. Some have also been drawn by the opportunity to reunite with family and friends, and by possibilities of work and a degree of safety that they lacked at home.

has become a more attractive destination for migrants.

Mr. Trump accelerated this process with aggressive efforts to restrict both legal and illegal immigration, including strategies to discourage asylum seekers by making it more difficult for them to secure sanctuary. Among those efforts was a widely criticized policy called Migration Protection Protocols, or M.P.P., that forced those seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico while their cases were processed in American courts.

slowdown in global migration, the number of asylum petitioners dropped to about 41,200 last year. But in the past several months, the volume has risen sharply once again.

This spike has dovetailed with a surge of migrants to the southwest border of the United States driven in part by economic misery that has deepened during the pandemic, two devastating hurricanes that wrecked swaths of Central America and an abiding hope, sometimes fostered by smugglers, that the new administration in Washington would loosen restrictions at the border.

But many migrants and refugees have arrived in Mexico only to find that access to the United States is not as easy as they were led to believe.

are being detained, processed and released into the U.S.

But American officials have continued to use an emergency rule, implemented by the Trump administration, to rapidly expel single adults, who have made up the majority of those caught at the border. Migrants’ advocates say the use of the rule has blocked many asylum seekers from applying for sanctuary.

Once again a tent encampment has cropped up near an official crossing in Tijuana, sheltering migrants hoping for a chance to present their cases to the American authorities.

Fray Matías Human Rights Center, a migrants’ advocacy group in the southern city of Tapachula. “It’s not a second option.”

Some refugees inclined to stay in Mexico are seeking to reunify with relatives and friends who arrived earlier and put down roots, said Mr. Ramírez, director of the Mexican asylum agency, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance, or Comar.

Some are also drawn by Mexico’s enormous demand for low-income labor, a need that the government has advertised.

“If they compare the type of life they have in their own countries, at the end of the day they have it better here,” in Mexico, Mr. Ramírez said.

And the country’s approval rate for asylum is high: During the first three months of this year it reached 73 percent, with another 7 percent receiving other sorts of humanitarian protection.

Hondurans — fleeing a toxic mixture of economic distress, government corruption and ineptitude, violence and natural disasters — have been far and away the single largest population of asylum seekers in Mexico since 2019. Approval rates for Honduran petitions concluded during the first three months of this year hit 86 percent.

“We don’t know if it’s their first or their second intention” to remain in Mexico, Mr. Ramírez said of asylum petitioners. “What we can tell you is that more and more people are coming to us.”

The historic number of people filing new asylum petitions in March came despite a decision by the Mexican government last month to close the nation’s southern border to nonessential traffic. The continuing flows of refugees arriving from the south has further exposed the extreme porousness of that border and, migration experts say, the weakness of Mexico’s immigration enforcement efforts.

“These are people who clearly don’t want to go back home,” said Cris Ramón, an immigration consultant based in Washington. “And they’re going to find a mechanism to stay in Mexico or in the United States.”

Oscar Lopez and Natalie Kitroeff contributed reporting

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Sharon Matola, Who Opened a Zoo in the Jungle of Belize, Dies at 66

Sharon Matola’s life changed in the summer of 1981, when she got a call from a British filmmaker named Richard Foster. She had recently quit her job as a lion tamer in a Mexican circus and was back home in Florida, where she was poking her way through a master’s degree in mycology, or the study of mushrooms.

Mr. Foster had heard of her skills with wild animals, and he wanted her to work with him on a nature documentary in Belize, the small, newly independent country on the Caribbean side of Central America, where he lived on a compound about 30 miles inland.

She arrived in the fall of 1981, but the money for Mr. Foster’s film soon ran out. He moved on to another project, in Borneo, leaving Ms. Matola in charge of a jaguar, two macaws, a 10-foot boa constrictor and 17 other half-tamed animals.

“I was at a crossroads,” she told The Washington Post in 1995. “I either had to shoot the animals or take care of them, because they couldn’t take care of themselves in the wild.”

campaign against a hydropower dam planned in western Belize, which she said would destroy animal habitats in the jungle and drive up energy costs.

The case ended up in British court and drew international support from groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council. Government officials denounced Ms. Matola as an interloper and, as one put it, an “enemy of the state.”

The dam’s developer won the case, but Ms. Matola was right: Today, energy costs in Belize are higher, and the area around the dam remains polluted. The case earned her awards and invitations to lecture across the United States, particularly after the journalist Bruce Barcott wrote about her in his book “The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird” (2008).

Ms. Matola announced in 2017 that she was stepping back from her daily roles at the zoo, handing off responsibility to her all-Belizean staff. By then her arms were tattooed with scars from countless bites and scratches, her body worn down by bouts of malaria and screw worms. Not long afterward she developed sepsis in a cut on her leg, which left her hospitalized for long stretches.

None of that seemed to matter. She did not want to be anywhere else, she often said, and she would insist until her death that she was “one of the happiest people on earth.”

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How Debt and Climate Change Pose a ‘Systemic Risk to the Global Economy’

How does a country deal with climate disasters when it’s drowning in debt? Not very well, it turns out. Especially not when a global pandemic clobbers its economy.

Take Belize, Fiji and Mozambique. Vastly different countries, they are among dozens of nations at the crossroads of two mounting global crises that are drawing the attention of international financial institutions: climate change and debt.

They owe staggering amounts of money to various foreign lenders. They face staggering climate risks, too. And now, with the coronavirus pandemic pummeling their economies, there is a growing recognition that their debt obligations stand in the way of meeting the immediate needs of their people — not to mention the investments required to protect them from climate disasters.

The combination of debt, climate change and environmental degradation “represents a systemic risk to the global economy that may trigger a cycle that depresses revenues, increases spending and exacerbates climate and nature vulnerabilities,” according to a new assessment by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and others, which was seen by The Times. It comes after months of pressure from academics and advocates for lenders to address this problem.

downgraded its creditworthiness, making it tougher to get loans on the private market. The International Monetary Fund calls its debt levels “unsustainable.”

nearly $600 billion in debt service payments over the next five years. Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are important lenders, but so are rich countries, as well as private banks and bondholders. The global financial system would face a huge problem if countries faced with shrinking economies defaulted on their debts.s

“We cannot walk head on, eyes wide open, into a debt crisis that is foreseeable and preventable,” the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, said last week as he called for debt relief for a broad range of countries. “Many developing countries face financing constraints that mean they cannot invest in recovery and resilience.”

The Biden administration, in an executive order on climate change, said it would use its voice in international financial institutions, like the World Bank, to align debt relief with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, though it hasn’t yet detailed what that means.

flurry of proposals from economists, advocates and others to address the problem. The details vary. But they all call, in one way or another, for rich countries and private creditors to offer debt relief, so countries can use those funds to transition away from fossil fuels, adapt to the effects of climate change, or obtain financial reward for the natural assets they already protect, like forests and wetlands. One widely circulated proposal calls on the Group of 20 (the world’s 20 biggest economies) to require lenders to offer relief “in exchange for a commitment to use some of the newfound fiscal space for a green and inclusive recovery.”

debts soared, including to China, and the country, whose very existence is threatened by sea level rise, pared back planned climate projects, according to research by the World Resources Institute.

The authors proposed what they called a climate-health-debt swap, where bilateral creditors, namely China, would forgive some of the debt in exchange for climate and health care investments. (China has said nothing publicly about the idea of debt swaps.)

sinking under huge debts, including secret loans that the government had not disclosed, when, in 2019, came back-to-back cyclones. They killed 1,000 people and left physical damages costing more than $870 million. Mozambique took on more loans to cope. Then came the pandemic. The I.M.F. says the country is in debt distress.

Six countries on the continent are in debt distress, and many more have seen their credit ratings downgraded by private ratings agencies. In March, finance ministers from across Africa said that many of their countries had spent a sizable chunk of their budgets already to deal with extreme weather events like droughts and floods, and some countries were spending a tenth of their budgets on climate adaptation efforts. “Our fiscal buffers are now truly depleted,” they wrote.

In developing countries, the share of government revenues that go into paying foreign debts nearly tripled to 17.4 percent between 2011 and 2020, an analysis by Eurodad, a debt relief advocacy group found.

Research suggests that climate risks have already made it more expensive for developing countries to borrow money. The problem is projected to get worse. A recent paper found climate change will raise the cost of borrowing for many more countries as early as 2030 unless efforts are made to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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‘We Are Doomed:’ Devastation from Storms Fuels Migration

Honduras has barely begun to recover from two hurricanes that hit late last year. With relatively little disaster relief from the U.S., many are heading for the border.


SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Children pry at the dirt with sticks, trying to dig out parts of homes that have sunk below ground. Their parents, unable to feed them, scavenge the rubble for remnants of roofs to sell for scrap metal. They live on top of the mud that swallowed fridges, stoves, beds — their entire lives buried beneath them.

“We are doomed here,” said Magdalena Flores, a mother of seven, standing on a mattress that peeked out from the dirt where her house used to be. “The desperation, the sadness, that’s what makes you migrate.”

People have long left Honduras for the United States, fleeing gang violence, economic misery and the indifference of a government run by a president accused of ties to drug traffickers.

hit a 15-year high, part of a sharp uptick since Mr. Biden took office.

welcoming policies on immigration have drawn people at a time when they are especially desperate to leave.

recently tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to work with Central American leaders to better conditions in those countries.

Still, Mr. Biden has sent a clear message to anyone considering crossing the border in the meantime: “Don’t come over,” Mr. Biden said in a recent interview.

The warning barely registers in parts of Honduras like Chamelecón, a sector of San Pedro Sula that is overrun by gangs and was pounded by both storms. Survivors of the disaster say they have no choice at all.

Months after the hurricanes, houses remain underwater. Gaping holes have replaced bridges. Thousands of people are still displaced, living in shelters or on the street. Hunger is stalking them.

pushed through nearly a billion dollars for the region in the late 1990s in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, which killed more people but wrought a comparable level of damage as the recent storms, aid workers say.

Immediate humanitarian aid could certainly help alleviate hunger, homelessness and other crises spurred by the storms, as it seems to have done after Hurricane Mitch.

undermined efforts to change their economies enough to give the poor a reason to stay at home.

embezzled American aid money through sham nonprofits. Mr. Hernández, the nation’s leader since 2014, has denied the allegations and has not been charged. A spokesman did not provide comment.

“We need to be aggressively addressing the levels of despair that the folks hit by these storms are facing,” said Dan Restrepo, a former top adviser to President Obama. “We need to go big now and we need to be loud about it, because that starts actually factoring into the calculus that people face today, which is, ‘Can I survive here or not?’”

People smugglers are already taking advantage of Mr. Biden’s presence in the White House to win new customers. Moving swiftly and loudly, Mr. Biden undid many of the harsh immigration policies pioneered by his predecessor.

Human traffickers in Honduras are enticing clients by promising a much easier journey north, touting Mr. Biden’s refusal to immediately expel children at the border and making grand promises about how friendly the new administration will be, according to interviews with smugglers.

One trafficker outlined his latest pitch to Honduran families thinking about leaving: “They opened everything back up, now you can get in again,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the illegal nature of his work. “If they catch you, they send you to Mexico. It’s not like before, where they sent you back to your country.”

He added that since Mr. Biden’s inauguration, he had sneaked 75 people across the American border illegally.

“Because of the new president, they are opening more doors,” he said. “It’s a free market. That’s how we see it.”

But rather than point to Mr. Biden, many Hondurans first blurt out their own president’s name as a reason to leave home.

Mr. Hernández’s brother was recently sentenced to life in prison by an American court for trafficking cocaine into the United States. Prosecutors said the president provided protection to his brother and other traffickers in exchange for cash.

For many Hondurans, the past few months in particular have provided a searing case study in how little they seem to matter to their government.

Jesus Membreño’s house was sheared off the side of a mountain in the storms, but with nowhere else to go, he built a shelter over a piece of the cement floor that was left behind.

“We received nothing from the government, not even a sheet of metal to replace our roof,” Mr. Membreño said.

He said he would head north alone in the coming weeks.

Residents in Canaan, a section of the Chamelecón suburb that was flattened in the hurricanes, say the government never even sent any tractors to clear the mud. So Ms. Flores and her neighbors are trying to feed their children by carving off pieces of their ruined homes and selling them as scrap metal.

“It’s enough to buy some beans or rice,” she said, traipsing through mud punctuated by the tips of children’s bicycles and other rubble. “No one, not one politician or government, has helped us.”

The first time Ms. Flores tried to get to the United States was after her ex-husband broke into her house and slashed her face and arms with a machete, in 2016, she said. She never made it.

The second time was this January, she said, after living with her children under an improvised tent after the storms damaged her home. The few possessions she had spent years accumulating — her stove, her fridge, her beds, her television — were swallowed by mud.

“It’s the sadness, the disappointment that hits you,” Ms. Flores said, “It’s very hard to see your home buried. I had nothing left.”

With six of her children, she joined the first migrant caravan of this year, in January, she said. They walked for miles, but turned back after barely eating for days and then getting tear-gassed and beaten by the Guatemalan police. That’s when she stopped believing Mr. Biden was going to welcome anyone with open arms.

“If that were the case, why would they have sent me home?” she asked.

So Ms. Flores used parts of her old wooden house to build a shelter on top of the earth that devoured everything she had.

Now she’s waiting for the next caravan to leave, driven not by hope but by despair.

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Kamala Harris to Head Effort to Stanch Migrant Surge

President Biden has asked Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the administration’s diplomatic efforts with Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to stem the surge of migrants at the southern border.

“I can think of nobody who is better qualified,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday, citing Ms. Harris’s experience as California’s attorney general.

Ms. Harris, who didn’t yet have a formal policy portfolio, will be taking on a role similar to the one Mr. Biden played when he was vice president and led the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts as it faced an increase in migrants and unaccompanied minors at the border.

“There’s no question that this is a challenging situation,” Ms. Harris said Wednesday.

“I look forward to engaging in diplomacy with government, with [the] private sector, with civil society and the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to strengthen democracy and the rule of law and ensure shared prosperity in the region,” she said.

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