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Can We Improve Central America Together?

Yolanda Mayora shares her thoughts on how the United States and Northern Triangle governments can work together to generate hope and opportunities for Central American citizens.

Article by Yolanda Mayora June 3, 2019 //   4 minute read
A view of a typical plaza scene in San Salvador, El Salvador in March 2018.

In mid-May, I and 25 other leaders from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—the Northern Triangle— had the honor of visiting Washington D.C. as part of the George W. Bush Institute’s Central America Prosperity Project (CAPP). We are a diverse group of professionals from academia, private companies, media, and think tanks who have dedicated our professional and personal careers to improving quality-of-life in our countries.

Individually, we work toward solutions for our economic, political, and social problems. As part of CAPP, we have also committed to advancing the Northern Triangle by shrinking the digital divide that increasingly separates us from developed and emerging countries.

Just 35 percent of the Northern Triangle population has 4G coverage. This number is far behind the 98 percent of Americans who had 4G coverage in 2015. So how does this impact the Northern Triangle?

It greatly limits economic opportunity. Access to high-speed internet is not common; payment systems are still done primarily in cash; and connecting small businesses with services such as legal, accounting and marketing are very difficult. Moreover, opportunities for corruption are widespread. By increasing access to digital services in the region we are strengthening transparency, competitiveness, human capital, and security, while improving access to social services, employment opportunities, education, and healthcare.

On our trip to D.C., we had the opportunity to share our own views of what is happening in Central America, and present a digital strategy as an actionable way to empower citizens, promote efficiencies in government services, and allow sustained economic growth. Our voices were heard in front of the State Department, congressmen, think tanks, and government agencies.

We were not asking for the United States to prop up our governments, but rather for the United States to give us the guidance needed to transform our region. We are looking to the United States, businesses, and organizations to help us enable a sustained, private-sector-led economic growth. This guidance and aid is not dissimilar to that of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which I advocated for in D.C. a few years ago as a Minister of Economy.  With a digital strategy we would be positioning Central America to be part of the global economy, much like CAFTA initially did.

The headlines lately have been focused on El Salvador’s new president taking office in June, the electoral process in Guatemala, and the many friends and family who have left Central America in search of a brighter future. It’s time to change that rhetoric to focus on how we can better our homes.

I imagine that seeing a "caravan" of Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans arrive with an innovative proposal was refreshing. Let’s work together to generate hope and opportunities for Central American citizens.

Yolanda Mayora is a Bush Institute Central America Prosperity Project participant.