Central America

The countries of Central America have experienced a number of political, economic and social transitions from traditional authoritarian and military rule to democratic change.

However, in the 21st century, current events taking place in the region have created a complex deterioration of conditions in these countries.  These problems are shaped by the interplay of the past and its legacy (such as colonial, dictatorial rule and foreign intervention), the control of authority by a narrow circle of power ran by aging elites, and a wide range of challenges in the global context, of which organized crime, access to trade and financing, and outbound migration are a few. 


Despite the fragility in which the region emerged after its civil wars in the 1980s, Central America has not gained sufficient policy attention. However, the continuity of under development which puts Central America at the bottom of global productivity, and violence (where homicides rates are higher than those of the 1980s) have largely influenced a large wave of outmigration which may currently constitute the second largest migration crisis in the world.

The increase of migration has been particularly notorious among unaccompanied child migrants attempting to enter the United States. Although the ‘surge’ garnered international media attention in the summer of 2014, FY2016 numbers remain as high. Further, the rise in apprehensions of children at the U.S.-Mexico border has been consistent for almost a decade, which points to a continued and enduring phenomenon.

Apprehensions of Unaccompanied Children from Central America at the U.S.-Mexico Border (FY2009 - FY2016)

Overall, while more than 60,000 unauthorized entries are taking place, the number of people leaving their country and apprehended at the U.S. and Mexican border is far larger, exceeding 300,000.

Migration from Central America (Selected Indicators)

The magnitude of the crisis is perhaps proportional to the complexity of the factors that drive it.

Growth and development continue to be first and foremost key determinants. 

However, in and of themselves they do not offer sufficient explanations. There are particular dynamics that propel migration, many of which have a strong local component, that are also associated with

  • migratory networks and/or,
  • the disruption of ordinary life by state fragility and violent events, and
  • a strong demand for low skilled foreign labor.  

We have compiled some of the most relevant analyses made by the Inter-American Dialogue about Central America since the post-2009 recession. The reports, presentations, and articles here presented lay out the factors that drive migration, as well as the type of approach needed to promote development in the region. The content is divided as follows:

Issues Shaping...

Central America


El Salvador



Costa Rica


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