Central America: ‘The regression of democracy has been immense’

July 22.– Ana María Méndez-Dardón, Central America Director at WOLA, says the region’s Ana María Méndez-Dardóndemocracies are facing one of the most fragile moments in recent decades. She finds common traits among the authoritarian governments that are taking hold in several Central American countries with the assault on the separation of powers and the attacks against representatives of civil society, including justice advocates and independent journalists. She also warns that the risk to the region is growing even greater at a time when democracy is in crisis on a global level, including in the United States.

In this conversation, Méndez-Dardón highlights key elements to understand the current dynamics and challenges in the region. She emphasizes issues such as failed justice systems, lack of judicial independence, endemic corruption and the capture of the state by illicit networks and organized crime.

Migration is one of the main issues on the U.S. agenda for Central America. Despite having a strategy to address the root causes of migration and another for collaborative migration management, the Biden administration still faces many challenges in the region. What is your reading of this?

Ana María Méndez-Dardón (AMD): It has been a step forward that the Biden administration changed its strategy and focused on the structural causes of migration: unemployment and economic inequality, violence, including gender-based violence, climate change and corruption. However, this agenda is viable in the long term only if it is accompanied by other measures that address the immediate migration crisis, and has the political will of the Central American countries. The challenge is to achieve real political commitments with governments that do not seem interested in strengthening the rule of law and democracy, as in the cases of Guatemala and El Salvador.

As long as governments fail to commit themselves to conditions and mechanisms to promote democratic institutions and governance, there will be no solutions. The current context demands rescuing democracies that have had such a hard time laying foundations in the region. They were never perfect democracies, but even with their fragility, they provided a level of protection to the citizenry ...

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