Via Twitter last week, President Trump announced his intention of rolling back aid for Central American nations that fail to halt the passage of the current migrant caravan, which mostly consists of Honduran citizens.
Writing for Bloomberg, Shannon K. O’Neil explains how exactly this policy may backfire, should it become a reality.
“This exodus of groups is likely less a convoluted plot by nefarious political forces than the conclusion by millions of citizens that matters in their countries have reached a tipping point. Afflicted by crime, violence, drought, and poverty, inspired by the examples of others bold enough to leave home, and swayed by misinformation peddled by human smugglers eager to make a buck, they have convoyed together for safety and headed north.
Central America’s long-standing challenges have been the focus of much U.S. foreign assistance. A decade ago, U.S. support for Central America’s woes grew as part of the Merida Initiative, a counterdrug and security assistance program the George W. Bush administration developed with Mexico. In 2010 President Obama spun out the Central America portion into the separate Central America Regional Security Initiative, or CARSI. These programs provided on average just shy of $200 million a year for helicopters, intelligence-gathering equipment, police training, healthcare, youth programs, job training, small business support, and a host of other programs to strengthen security, rule of law, and economic growth.
In 2014 when nearly 300,000 Central Americans flooded the southern U.S. border, many of them children and women, the powerful images dominating the news led Congress to step in with the bipartisan Alliance for Prosperity, more than tripling earlier outlays.
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.“