Aid to the Northern Triangle


The Hill US cutting aid to Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala (2019)

The United States will no longer provide foreign assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

A State Department spokesperson told The Hill in a statement Saturday that the agency was directed by President Trump to halt aid to the so-called Northern Triangle countries.

“At the Secretary’s instruction, we are carrying out the President’s direction and ending FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle,” the statement said. “We will be engaging Congress as part of this process.

KFF (2019)

Devex: Central America aid will be conditional, Mike Pompeo says
“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that the Trump administration will provide a set of requirements to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras before the U.S. would consider resuming the foreign assistance it announced at the end of last month would be cut off. ‘We have not yet been able to convince El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to take seriously this need to control their own borders and to keep their people from moving into Mexico and ultimately across our southern border, that we should stop, take a time out,’ Pompeo told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. ‘We have ceased allocating new funds inside of those three countries.’ … The resumption of U.S. assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — which includes the largest portion of USAID dollars going toward activities that improve governance — will be conditional, Pompeo said…” (Welsh, 4/10).

Council on Foreign Relations. Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle (2019)

Tens of thousands of Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans, many of them unaccompanied minors, have arrived in the United States in recent years, seeking asylum from the region’s skyrocketing violence. Their countries, which form a region known as the Northern Triangle, were rocked by civil wars in the 1980s, leaving a legacy of violence and fragile institutions.

The region remains menaced by corruption, drug trafficking, and gang violence despite tough police and judicial reforms. While the United States has provided the three governments billions of dollars in aid over the past decade, some analysts believe U.S. immigration policies have exacerbated threats to regional security….

President Donald J. Trump has adopted some of his predecessor’s approach to the region—continuing A4P, for instance—but has taken a much harder line on immigration policies, including those that affect Central Americans. Within the next few years, nearly 350,000 immigrants from Northern Triangle countries will lose the legal right to live and work in the United States as a result of Trump revoking their temporary protected status (TPS), a designation granted to immigrants from countries that have suffered severe hardships. Trump is also expanding construction of the wall along the U.S. southwestern border, and his administration has implemented many policies intended to deter migrants from seeking asylum or illegally crossing the border, including criminally prosecuting all undocumented entrants and separating migrant parents from their minor children. The Trump administration separated some two thousand children from their parents before ending the practice in June, following international outcry. Analysts say that anti-immigration rhetoric and increased border security contributed to a 26 percent decrease [PDF] in attempted border crossings in fiscal year 2017; 54 percent of apprehended migrants originated from the Northern Triangle.

US Global Leadership Coalition  Central America and US Assistance (2019)

U.S. assistance programs in the Northern Triangle promote security and economic development by combating violence, strengthening community programs for youth, promoting economic and agricultural development, and fighting corruption.

The vast majority of U.S. assistance goes directly to non-profit and civil society organizations that run programs that promote economic development and capacity building. Programs that support the efforts of Central American governments largely focus on strengthening law enforcement and security.

El Salvador: Strengthening Citizen Security and the Rule of Law

  • As part of El Salvador’s national security plan, USAID and State Department security programs targeted 50 municipalities by integrating law enforcement with community-level prevention. In neighborhoods where USAID worked in El Salvador, homicides declined by an average of 45% from 2015 to 2017.

  • Through a $5 million USAID investment to reform El Salvador’s tax system, the El Salvadorian government increased its annual revenue by $350 million and its annual social spending by $160 million between 2005 and 2013.
  • El Salvador successfully completed a five-year $461 million compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) focused on education, energy, agriculture, rural business development, and infrastructure that is expected to benefit more than 700,000 people over 20 years – including more than 33,000 households gaining access to electricity.
  • A second MCC compact of $277 million entered into force in 2015 and seeks to improve the competitiveness of the country’s labor force, strengthen regulatory policies, and improve transportation infrastructure, with the El Salvadorian government contributing $88 million to the five-year compact.

Guatemala: Promoting Economic Development and Fighting Poverty

  • USAID agricultural programming helped increase rural farmers’ sales by 51% and created 20,000 jobs in the agriculture sector.
  • U.S. assistance in Guatemala also leveraged more than $7 million in private investment while reaching 230,000 children under the age of 5 with nutritional support. Guatemala is a partner in a $28 million threshold program with the MCC that seeks to improve tax administration, stimulate private funding for infrastructure, and train Guatemalan youth in valuable vocational skills.
  • American assistance is also helping to transform Guatemala into an economic partner with U.S. agricultural exports to Guatemala increasing by 60% over the last decade.

Honduras: Promoting Security and Fighting Corruption

  • USAID and State Department community policing and youth programs helped reduce homicide rates in at risk communities up to 73% between 2013 and 2016.
  • Through Feed the Future, USAID investments in agriculture have helped lift 89,000 people out of extreme poverty while also encouraging a $56 million co-investment by the Honduran government in the program.
  • Honduras is a partner in a threshold program with the MCC that seeks to develop the capacity of small-holder farmers and is expected to benefit more than 350,000 people. In addition, the partnership aims to help rehabilitate key transportation systems.

Resumption of aid will be conditional (2019)


New York Times. Some of the dozens of US programs (2019)

President Trump, in his most recent rebuke of Central American nations for what he says is their failure to address the issue of migration, announced plans to cut off aid to three nations — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — known as the Northern Triangle.

Critics of the cuts say they will target programs aimed at preventing violence, curbing extreme poverty and hunger, and strengthening the justice system — the very problems residents of those countries give for leaving home and pursuing a more stable future elsewhere.

Though the administration has offered little in the way of details about what precisely could be cut, the State Department notified Congress on Friday night that it would divert about $450 million in aid from the region. President Trump also threatened to seal off the southern border of the United States with Mexico if that country “doesn’t get with it.”

So what’s really at stake, and what types of programs could these cuts affect in each nation? The United States Agency for International Development describes the multiyear Strategy for Central America, which is responsible for dispersing much of this aid, as focused on institutional reforms and developmental challenges that drive migration. The programs it supports enhance security, improve governance and promote prosperity.

The article continues to discuss the programs in great detail and explains why they are valuable.

One of the main drivers of illegal migration has been the collapse of criminal-justice systems in Central America. And it reflects a global problem. Gary Haugen, the founder of IJM, speaks of a three-tiered global system. Roughly a third of people in the world live in relatively just and stable criminal-justice systems. Another third live under the protection of private security forces — a system that turns security into a luxury good. (In Guatemala, for example, there are seven times more people involved in providing private security than public security.) And a third of people live without the effective protection of the law, experiencing what Haugen calls “everyday violence” from corrupt and exploitative officials.

If U.S. policy does not address the functional collapse of criminal-justice systems in places such as the Northern Triangle, it is not seriously addressing the problem of illegal migration. Yet the IJM program in Guatemala and similar efforts are the kind of spending now being threatened by the president’s announcement. This means that U.S. policy has become self-destructive to U.S. interests.

Aid focused on strengthening police forces got a bad name during the Cold War, when such training was sometimes employed by authoritarian regimes for their own purposes. The United States’ lead aid agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was generally forbidden from promoting this type of training. But now, the lack of justice leading to everyday violence has become a global problem, with consequences that spill up on many shores, including our own. It is a matter deserving policy creativity rather than Trump’s public threats.

It would make far more sense to double assistance for these programs — designed to support local reformers, not to impose American solutions — than to end them. But an absence of vision is one cost of ignorance.

Bloomberg. Aid cuts lead to more caravans (2019)

As the number of dollars rose the focus of aid also shifted — away from military hardware and toward governance and economic development. USAID and other agencies launched dozens and dozens of smaller initiatives to attack the complicated root causes that pushed so many to leave. As Celina de Sola, one of the founders of USAID partner Glasswing International, told me, “We have seen significant shifts in the funding strategy, toward more evidence-based and targeted interventions aimed at not only preventing crime and violence, but also improving access to education, job readiness, and vocational training for those most at risk in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.” Her organization has worked with tens of thousands of kids in and out of schools to give them professional skills and basic coping tools for life.

This decade-plus of support hasn’t transformed Central America. Drugs continue to traverse these nations and violence plagues daily life. Governance remains weak, as does the professionalization of police forces. Homicides have declined, though it is hard to know if this shift is more permanent than temporary. Corruption scandals and accusations of other bad behavior continue to dog Central America’s governments.

Yet at the local and family level, U.S.-funded programs have made a difference. There are hundreds of stories of kids who stayed in school, businesses begun, criminal cases investigated, domestic violence cases adjudicated, and lives that became better, leading more people to stay than would otherwise have done so.

And dollar for dollar, individual by individual, programs designed to give Central Americans a better future at home are arguably much more cost-effective than the thousands of dollars it can cost per capita to detain, prosecute and then deport them.

For an administration that wants to stop immigration, cutting aid to improve, however modestly, day-to-day conditions in Central America is nonsensical. By undermining hard-fought and fragile pockets of stability in Central America’s northern triangle nations, reducing present or future aid will just send more Central Americans north. This is not policy, but politics aimed at riling up the 25 percent of Republicans who identify immigration as their No. 1 voting issue.

Even more cynically, Trump’s tweets are largely empty threats. Congress has already funded these plans, so the administration needs to spend the money. Following through on his tweet to end foreign assistance is illegalunder the Impoundment Act of 1974, though Trump can redirect parts of the already appropriated budget.

Whether this caravan’s members make it to the U.S. southern border or not, others already have, and more will follow. That’s why U.S. aid to these nations must continue. And why the U.S. needs to fix its immigration system, so that would be migrants don’t have to caravan to find a path to safety and opportunity. Bluster as he may, Trump’s threats to take his aid and go home just aren’t an option.

Christianity Today Aid cuts threaten central America (2019)

There are innovative, effective programs—many funded by the US government—that are addressing this violence and instability. The win-win of such programs is that they not only serve vulnerable people often forced to run for their lives, but they also make staying home a real possibility for many people who, violence aside, have no desire to migrate.

The irony is that these successful State Department-funded aid programs have been abruptly and completely stopped as a means of punishing Central American nations whose citizens are fleeing for their lives.

At International Justice Mission (IJM), that aid made it possible to expand our existing program combatting sexual violence against children to four provinces in Guatemala. We’ve trained police and prosecutors to combat this crime and have developed national standards for investigation and prosecution of sexual assault. We’ve created trauma-informed processes, now observed across the country, for working with survivors.

In short, IJM’s work has measurably improved the Guatemalan justice system and protected nearly 2.8 million people. Over a four-year period from 2013-2017, arrests and convictions of perpetrators of child sexual assault more than tripled. Now, the aid cut-off has effectively ended US government support for the program and has left our team scrambling to keep it afloat. At a time when the government should be investing in programs that allow people to live safely in their own communities, it has pulled the plug.

Center For Global Development What will the aid halt mean for Central America (2019)

There is substantial evidence between foreign aid and a reduction in the tendency for low-grade violence to explode into civil war—across all countries. Foreign aid investments, particularly made in the wake of economic shocks, can moderate government spending and provide resources for the government to respond to the needs of different aggrieved groups, bolstering against a slide into greater violence.

Global Americas. Trump opens a window for Beijing (2019)

The Trump administration’s ending of U.S. assistance to the Northern Triangle countries, one of the main carrots available to the Washington, gives Central American countries more reason to look elsewhere for aid. With aid reductions last year, Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez acknowledged the growing role of China in the region and suggested others would follow Panama and El Salvador in switching recognition to Beijing for the economic benefits. These additional cuts may make switching even easier for Taiwan’s remaining Central American diplomatic partners and provide China a greater presence in what Washington once viewed as its backyard. With its announcement this weekend, the State Department may have just given the Chinese a housewarming present to the neighborhood.

Global Citizen. Here’s why the aid stop matters (2019)

Experts who spoke with Global Citizen said that if Trump wanted to reduce migration to the US, he would continue to authorize funding for programs that improve living conditions in the Northern Triangle, making it safer for them to stay in their own countries. Ending aid could potentially worsen the region’s humanitarian crisis, which would fuel even more migration, they said.

“We need a very well-designed policy that does put pressure on corrupt and abusive governments, while assisting people and encouraging governments to be more accountable,” said Haugaard. “This policy just fails on every count,” she added.

NBC News Slashing aid to Central American could drive migrants (2019)

“By cutting $700 million, you are not punishing the governments, you are punishing the people who are beneficiaries of these programs, a large chunk of whom don’t want to come to the U.S.,” he said.

Fernando Cutz, former acting senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council under the Trump administration, said he and other advisers had told President Donald Trump early on that “it would be counterproductive to cut all aid to Central America, and will not in any way better the situation of migrants who are fleeing their countries because of violence, because of corruption.”

Why Foreign aid is critical to US national security (2017)

Congress can, and should, make America safer with a robust and strategic Phase Zero initiative that engages the U.S. government, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector to synergistically prevent conflict and promote security, development, and governance rooted in the rule of law. Such an initiative — accompanied by other targeted reforms to our foreign assistance programs — would fill a dangerous vacuum that military intervention alone simply cannot address. Proactive conflict-prevention strategies are far less expensive in terms of resources and lives expended than reactive use of our Armed Forces.

Don’t cut foreign aid (2017)

Just a decade ago, most of our aid was given in response to natural disasters. Today, 80 percent of our assistance provides relief and promotes stability in conflict zones and states on the verge of collapse. There are U.S. Agency for International Development programs in many of the countries most plagued by terrorism, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mali, Yemen and Somalia. We’re saving lives and creating partners to help address the instability that produces the threats our military risks life and limb to fight.

Cutting Northern Triangle assistance, a shot in the foot (2019)

Amazingly, the majority of many people in the United States vastly overestimate how much of goes to foreign assistance, thinking that over 20 percent of the entire federal budget is earmarked for those programs.

In fact, the U.S. foreign assistance budget is less than 1 percent of the budget and actually ranks low among industrialized countries as a percentage of GDP.

We can and must do better, and the logical starting point is restoring and reinforcing our Northern Triangle assistance. We must work together to improve people’s lives at home before they start the perilous journey north.


Center for Immigration Studies. Why cutting aid to the Northern Triangle is Right and Good (2019)

Similarly, a Brookings Institution analysis by Avi Dicter and Daniel Byman points out that leaders of donor nations have always essentially purchased foreign policy achievement by corrupting developing country leaders with foreign aid. For instance, Dicter and Byman point to Israel’s experience giving and taking away foreign aid to achieve Palestine Liberation Organization cooperation with counterterrorism. Israel poured billions of supposedly humanitarian assistance aid into the coffers of Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat as the only means to leverage his help busting terrorists in the Palestinian Authority territories. Arafat often enough complied while diverting the billions to himself and enough cronies to maintain personal power, they write. It’s a story repeated everywhere, almost all the time. And if American leaders are able to navigate the realities of a rough world to achieve that which is in America’s interest, then doing so is not only right; it is good, too.