Three decades ago, President Ronald Reagan convened a group of Republican and Democratic leaders — known as the Kissinger commission — and charged it to make recommendations on how the United States could best help the countries of Central America thwart Soviet- and Cuban-supported guerrilla movements by promoting democracy and economic development. Reagan faced fierce opposition from some quarters in Washington, but his policies — and the sacrifices of many U.S. friends in the region — helped bring about three decades of relative peace and economic growth in Central America.
Unfortunately, those gains are at risk. The region's challenges today are less about ideology than about criminality and corruption that threaten to undermine democratic institutions, the rule of law and public security.
The region's misfortune is to be caught between two countries, Colombia and Mexico, that have recently cracked down on drug-trafficking syndicates. This is wonderful — except that it has pushed those criminal organizations to move their operations to more hospitable environments. Central America has borne the brunt of this onslaught. Its countries have been overrun and overwhelmed by criminal forces that far surpass their small police forces in resources, weaponry and ruthlessness.