To Secure Our Border, Secure Central America’s Forests First – National Geographic Society (blogs)

The Rio Coco runs through the heart of Central America’s second largest forest – the Moskitia – forming the border between Nicaragua and Honduras. Photo: John Polisar/WCS.

By Jeremy Radachowsky and Victor Hugo Ramos

Vice President Pence and US cabinet officials met last week in Miami with the presidents of Northern Central America in a high-level “Conference on Prosperity and Security” focused on improving economic development, rule of law, and security in Central America.

For the Trump administration, the primary interest is to reduce drug trafficking and curb illegal immigration to the United States. As Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly puts it, “The securing of our Southwest border, in my view, begins 1,500 miles south. If we can improve the conditions—the lot of life of Hondurans, Guatemalans, Central Americans—we can do an awful lot to protect the southwest border.”

“Tres Banderas” or “Three Flags” marks the point of convergence between Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize, at the very core of the Maya Forest. Photo: Victor Hugo Ramos/WCS.

This philosophy builds upon the Obama administration’s “Plan for Prosperity,” as well as a new strategy from the Atlantic Council’s Northern Triangle Security and Economic Opportunity Task Force. The strategy calls not only for US investment, but for co-responsibility between US and Central America’s “Northern Triangle” countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The strategy largely focuses on urban areas – fomenting business and reducing crime, gang activity, and corruption.

Not taken into account, however, is the key role of Central America’s vast cross-border forests in ensuring regional security and prosperity. Here is why that’s a problem.

Central America’s largest remaining forests all fall along international borders. When the countries first gained independence in the early 19th century, their major cities were located near their centers. As they…

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