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Rampant poverty, corrupt governance and high threat of violence are the three major factors affecting the Northern Triangle. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are the top three countries contributing to the U.S.’s migrant flow, with Guatemala sitting at first.

Last Thursday, March 5, the Montana World Affairs Council invited former Ambassador Lisa Kubiske to speak at the Museum of the Rockies as part of their Distinguished Speakers Program. Kubiske served in Honduras for three years during the Obama administration. Drawing from her experience in the region, Kubiske spoke to the crowd about the many hardships the citizens of the Northern Triangle face every day and why economic relief is vital.

The Northern Triangle is one of the poorest regions of the Western Hemisphere with all three countries ranking in the bottom 25% in GDP among other Latin American states. For many of these people, working in the U.S. is the only way they can feed their families. These remittances make up a little less than 20% of these countries’ economic production. A lot of these people “didn't think they had a future,” said Kubiske, expressing a dark truth that potential migrants had to face. 

Little aid can be found in these countries’ governments. In a report to Congress, the U.S. State Department accused “50 current or former senior officials… engaging or facilitating corruption in the Northern Triangle Countries.” Without a proper government in place, people must go without effective social programs, proper healthcare and economic support. However, the scariest part of a corrupt government is its inability to protect citizens from criminal threats. If anyone needed that protection, it is the people living in the Northern Triangle.

Kubiske highlighted the two criminal elements facing the Northern Triangle: gangs and cartels. While the gangs are a significant threat, the real danger lies in the power, resources and organization of the cartels. High demand for cocaine in the U.S. has funded and cleared a spot at the table for the cartels. When risks to their lucrative “business” arise, the cartels handle the matter with violent, brutal effectiveness. Homicide rates in the Northern Triangle have been among the highest in the world for decades.

The government has, for the most part, been massively unsuccessful in stomping out crime. In fact, the cartels have “more money than the government,” according to Kubiske, which is a gigantic problem. Kubiske highlighted the various efforts made by organizations including the U.S. government to bring aid to the region.

The Distinguished Speakers Program continues as Nicholas Kralev, Executive Director to Washington International Diplomatic Academy, gives a talk at the Baxter Hotel on Thursday, March 12 at 6 p.m. 

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