The real story begins during the Cold War in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the United States and the Soviet Union turned these three countries into an ideological battlefield. Cuban dictator Fidel Castro started funneling Soviet weaponry and money to not just prop up Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista regime, but also to use that country as a launching pad for a broader regional insurgency to topple the right-wing governments in its three neighbors, as University of Virginia’s John Norton Moore has written. President Ronald Reagan, eager for a showdown with the Evil Empire, responded in kind, funding the Contra insurgency against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and paramilitary operations to prop up the U.S.-friendly regimes of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
The upshot was civil war and a complete social breakdown from which these countries have never recovered.
As Princeton’s Doug Massey noted at a recent immigration conference (that I co-organized on behalf of Reason Foundation), in the 1960s, the GDP of these “frontline countries” was equivalent to those of “non-frontline states” such as Costa Rica, Belize, and Panama. Now the latter cohort’s GDP is almost three times greater. Likewise, while the homicide rate of non-frontline states is 19.7 per 100,000, it is 43.5 per 100,000 for the frontline states. San Pedro Sula, the Honduran city where the caravan started, has become the murder capital of the world.