President Trump recently instructed the State Department to halt foreign assistance to three Central American countries, known as the Northern Triangle: El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. The president’s directive will not end migration to the United States. Rather, it will worsen the region’s humanitarian crisis, prompting more families to risk their lives to flee to America. If the administration wants to solve the migration crisis, it must not only reinstate this vital aid, but recommit to investing in the security and stability of our Central American neighbors.
Women, children, and families arriving on our border are fleeing unspeakable violence. The Northern Triangle consistently has some of the highest murder rates in the world—over 11 times higher than the U.S. rate. Gang violence, government corruption, severe poverty, and repression are forcing tens of thousands to seek refuge in America.
Ending foreign aid should never be used as punishment against those who are hurting most. Our interests and our values call on us to promote a more effective, more humane policy alternative. The United States should provide targeted foreign aid to the Northern Triangle countries, increase diplomatic engagement, and encourage economic cooperation that will lift incomes and provide opportunity. These solutions will contribute to their security and ours—and restalish America’s role as a global leader.
Targeted foreign aid will secure a better future for families in the Northern Triangle. The United States only allots 0.035 percent of its entire federal budget to foreign assistance in these three countries, but its impact is vital. In El Salvador, the United States spent $113 million in aid 2017 to support democracy, human rights, and governance. In Honduras, $27 million supported education and social services. Finally, in Guatemala, $52 million encouraged economic development initiatives in the country. USAID has already helped reduce homicides in El Salvador by an average of 45 percent in two years in neighborhoods in which projects were implemented. These assistance programs help to establish the foundations of democracy, stimulate investments in the economy, and encourage the government to provide services that will lift their citizens out of poverty and improve their daily lives.
These projects will help to achieve what USAID Administrator Mark Green calls the “journey to self-reliance.” They will, over time, move the Northern Triangle from dependence to partnership. The stability and prosperity of these countries will contribute to America’s security and provide future opportunities for cooperation, trade, and investment.
U.S. diplomatic engagement fosters relationships that provide for increased security in the entire Western Hemisphere. In 2017, the United States provided $420 million for the Alliance for Prosperity initiative in the Northern Triangle. The governments of these three countries provided an additional $5.4 billion of their own funds to invest in the security and economic prosperity of their citizens. A similar bi-lateral program, Plan Colombia, has helped bring another neighbor from a country devastated by violent drug cartels, to a key ally for security in the region and a major U.S. trading partner. Partnerships in cooperation with the Northern Triangle governments can help their countries to build the domestic capacity to protect their citizens and provide them with opportunities for the future. It also helps to secure the region, thereby reducing U.S. security concerns in its neighborhood.
Economic investment in the Northern Triangle can not only help boost citizens’ livelihoods, but it can help grow American businesses and increase jobs back home. In 2018, the U.S. Congress passed the BUILD Act, a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation that created a new U.S. Development Finance Corporation. Once launched, the USDFC will help American business to investment in emerging markets in ways that will facilitate economic development in local countries and provide return on investment for Americans. These are precisely the innovative solutions that will provide for stable, prosperous communities in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
We should not punish those who suffer hardship, but seek to work with them to build better, more secure futures together. Targeted foreign aid, diplomatic cooperation, and economic investment are tangible solutions to solve the humanitarian crisis in the Northern Triangle. These measures will provide for our own security, increase our prosperity, and maintain America’s role as a leader.
Madison Handy is a second-year Masters student in International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs. She is concentrating on U.S. foreign policy and has held internships in federal government and non-profits around Washington. Madison received her Bachelor’s in International Studies and Political Science from the University of Denver.