Comptroller Tom DiNapoli shares details of his trip to the Northern Triangle

May 11, 2019 03:03 PM

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli visited the "Northern Triangle" Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala on April 22-April 26 with a small team from Catholic Charities in New York City.   

"It was really a fact-finding mission to put a human face on everything we're hearing. Every day, there's an article about migrants, migration impacting the U.S. the debate about the wall and border security," Comptroller DiNapoli told NewsChannel 13. 


"We wanted to see up close what is driving and fueling this increase in migration and what are some of the causes and consequences to all that for us to be better informed as we come back," DiNapoli added.

The trip was a follow up after visiting Bangladesh in recent years, following a collapse at a garment workers factory that claimed the lives of 1,000 employees.  "We had a similar delegation, and myself as an investor with some of those companies and the brand names that contracted with the factories some of which were involved," DiNapoli reminded.

Their mission was to bring back what they learned abroad. DiNapoli joined Monsignor Kevin Sullivan who is the Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the NY Archdiocese and Stuart Abbelbaum, the President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

"Are there some ways which we can help influence policy being corporate or governmental to improve conditions, so that was really the back drop for the trip and we chose to go to the Northern Triangle."

DiNapoli explained the visit was eye-opening and intense, talking about the violence.

"A lack of economic opportunity was certainly a key driver, but related to that as important was the issue of personal security violence. The gang issue is a big issue there and we certainly heard that very directly from people who have suffered at the hands of gangs. Threats extortion. There are vast territories where the gangs are really the ones that control the neighborhoods. The governments either are powerless or incapable because of corruption and are just not able to get all of that under control. They're faced with or physical threat, but loss of life kidnapping, people knocking on your door saying we want your house," DiNapoli told NewsChannel 13.

He said people would prefer to stay in their countries, but often feel compelled they don't have many options other than trying to escape to a better situation.

"The risk of going on the migration trail and to spend money with a smuggler/coyote to try to get across the border. In some cases that risk is less than staying behind, so and there's obviously a correlation between the lack of economic opportunity and the gang situation because even if you have a job there are many small business people trying to get up and running.  And if you're having to pay extortion it really delineates, the values of the hard work that you are putting in. And climate change, you may not think of that as a contributor to the migration problem, but they've had hotter weather droughts that have made it more difficult to raise their traditional crops because of the change in climate some of the pests that can destroy crops have become more prevalent, so we met with some who are trying to come up with more sustainable strategies in agriculture," DiNapoli explained.

There were so many topics to conquer, in meetings with all kinds of people, government officials, laborers, every day people. 

"There are a number of corporations we are invested in, the state pension fund, so there were some labor issues in terms of how workers are treated to allow for organized and fair treatment with contracts.  And to have the workers be better represented and able to leverage better wages and benefits, it is a positive in terms of the evolution of wanting to have a middle class, stable economy. You want to have as many people in the more formal economic relationships rather than informal that what happens in the neighborhoods where they're more susceptible to exploitation to extortion from the gangs," DiNapoli added. 
"We visited a youth program that was really effective in teaching life skills, career preparedness they have articulation with larger corporations to try and provide a path for young people to show they don't have to join a gang. It was a program specifically supported by USAID, which is American dollars."

So when the national administration talks about cutting aid, we asked the question what will this do to your program and it was very clear. The programs might not be sustainable, and what that would do would just exacerbate this already bad situation and make it worse, so that's part of what we've been saying, what we will convey directly to those who can influence those kinds of decisions."


Jill Konopka

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