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Special Report: Prospects for Democracy in the Northern Triangle (ISSN 17414474)

Problem Number 5: Emigration

Emigration is both a symptom of the Northern Triangle’s deeply embedded socio-economic problems, and a causal factor. The combination of a lack of economic opportunity together with threats of criminal violence has forced nearly 10% of the roughly 30m-plus inhabitants of the three republics to emigrate in recent years, with the vast majority of them making their way up to the United States. The departure of such a large proportion of the population has to be seen as fundamentally negative for the long-term future of all three economies. Yet at the same time it has become to some extent self-sustaining. With or without legal status, significant expatriate communities in the US send money home to friends and family. These flows of remittances have become of critical importance to the three economies. In 2017 remittances received in El Salvador were US$5.1bn or the equivalent of 20.4% of GDP; in Guatemala they were US$8.45bn or 11.2% of GDP; and in Honduras they were US$4.32bn or 18.8% of GDP. The Northern Triangle economies have become highly dependent on these financial flows. Even the criminal organisations that in the first place force people to flee in fear of their lives have found a way to profit from emigration. The street gangs, or maras, are deeply involved in extortion, people smuggling and trafficking. They frequently charge a ‘tax’ to allow emigrants to pass through key points in the land journey across Mexico and into the US.

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