SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – Honduras is rolling out a plan to halve child migration to the U.S. and overall poverty over the next five years, President Juan Orlando Hernandez said in an interview with Fox News Latino.
Dubbed “Honduras 2020,” it seeks to generate 600,000 jobs and sharply boost exports by expanding and adding value to the key textiles, manufacturing, tourism, and business services sectors.
The development plan was partly drafted by global consultant McKinsey.
Roughly 100,000 children and teenagers arrived to the U.S. from Central America's impoverished "Northern Triangle" – comprising Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – between 2013 and 2015, Hernandez said.
But he said his administration is succeeding in tackling the problem, with the number of Honduran children traveling to the U.S. via Mexico falling in the past two years.
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He did not, however, provide precise statistics.
"While we have lowered [child immigration] the most in Central America in the past two years, our goal is to reduce the 2014 numbers by 90 percent, Hernandez told FNL on the sidelines of an event to inaugurate a new renewable electricity plant by Honduras Green Power Group.
[“Since 2014] more children have arrived from El Salvador and Guatemala," he said.
Honduras is cooperating with the U.S.' Northern Triangle Alliance for Prosperity Plan to cut Central American migration by generating jobs, improving security and developing the Honduran, El Salvador and Guatemalan economies.
Apart from the U.S.'s commitment to invest $750 million annually, Honduras will commit $950 million annually to the program, Hernandez said.
Under the $14 billion development scheme, Tegucigalpa will subsidize the construction of 10,000 houses annually for textile and manufacturing workers, something President Hernandez noted will help pare migration.
"One of the things I like the most about the 2020 plan is the job generation component because that is the main reason why people go to the U.S.," he said. "On top of that, we are going to give people a home and that will give them financial heritage and root them."
Yet Casa Alianza, a non-governmental organization that aids the youngsters in their journey to the United States, is skeptical about what the new plan will actually achieve.
"I don't think migration will fall 50 percent," said Guadalupe Ruelas, executive director of Casa Alianza. "The job creation numbers could be for part-time positions that won't last and investor remain wary about investing in Honduras. We still have the same problems that feed migration: no jobs, extreme poverty, no opportunities and huge insecurity and crime."
He also said Hernandez's views on migration "don't match the statistics," since children and adult migration are not falling.
According to Ruelas, 18,000 children are expected to travel to the U.S. this year, up from 17,000 last year and 16,500 in 2013.
He also noted that the ratio of Honduran children arriving with adults has increased to 20 per family — from 5 in 2010.
Ruelas said 25 percent travel alone and are usually ages 12 to 18 while 25 percent journey with their parents. Another 50 percent are smuggled through coyotes.
He said overall, 60,000 Hondurans emigrate to the U.S. each year, with roughly 50 percent deported.
But Hernandez insisted the “Honduras 2020” plan will work. He said the number of indigent people in the nation will fall by 50 percent as 600,000 people join the formal workforce in a country where 70 percent hold informal jobs.
"All these people will be new consumers," Fernandez said, adding an expected increase in value-added (VAT) tax proceeds will help fund new social programs. "We are going to take 3 percent of the 12 percent to 15 percent VAT."
Those funds will then be used to enlarge the country's two main social programs (which invest roughly $280 million a year) Better Life and Better Families and Bono Vida Mejor, which helps families improve living conditions and people start small businesses respectively, Hernandez noted.
Tegucigalpa also plans to double the number of people receiving social security benefits by in five years, which Hernandez said has not seen a significant boost in five decades.
"In five years, we are going to do what wasn't done in 50," Hernandez claimed.
Iván Castaño is a freelance writer based in Mexico City.