MIAMI — In a display of multinational unity, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly, members of the Mexican government and officials from neighboring Central American countries met for the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America. The much-anticipated event took place in Miami Florida on June 15 and 16. The conference, sponsored by the U.S. and Mexican governments, discussed strategies to increase development in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The three countries make up Central America’s “Northern Triangle.”
El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras face corruption and instability at staggering rates. In 2015, El Salvador was named the world’s most violent country not engaged in war. Civilians in all three countries also face a great deal of extortion, forced gang recruitment and other organized crime. Corrupt and underfunded institutions often make a reversal of such trends impossible. As a result, almost 10 percent of the 30 million residents of the Northern Triangle fled in recent years to countries such as Mexico and the U.S. for refuge.
The Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America sought to combat the unstable conditions with its plans to augment the economic opportunities and protection available to individuals in each nation. The first day of the conference focused on fostering economic development, and the attending representatives proposed plans to incentivize the private sector, enhance infrastructure and education, promote trade and improve the energy sector.
The second day produced solutions for increased safety in the region, which included creating more political transparency to reduce government corruption and rooting out crime to cut back on violence.
The conference also highlighted the economic and security benefits the U.S. and Mexico will see with improved prosperity and security in the Northern Triangle. “A convulsing Central America, faced with a lack of opportunities and with violence, is a tremendous risk for the United States, Mexico and the region,” according to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. “On the contrary, a prosperous and peaceful Central America is America’s best investment in support of its people and, of course, a great investment for us.
Tillerson addressed a similar sentiment in his remarks, stressing the importance of U.S. involvement in the region. “What happens in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala directly affects the security and economic interests of the United States and other countries in the region,” Tillerson said. “A more prosperous, safer Central America will do much to halt illegal and dangerous migration, defeat transnational drug cartels and gangs and end corruption in their economies.”
Hernández and Tillerson’s statements testify to the link between improving economic prosperity in other countries and the success of the U.S.’s own economy. Historically, helping countries in need has opened new markets for the U.S. to sell its goods, creating better economic opportunities and jobs for Americans as well as people in the countries receiving aid.
Additionally, encouraging economic growth and national security in other countries improves U.S. national security. It will most likely lower illegal immigration rates, as fewer individuals will seek asylum from deplorable living conditions.
The alliance between the U.S. and Mexico is surprising considering plans to cut back on USAID and State Department funding next year. The administration asked for $460 million for the region, which is a 39 percent reduction in funding. If approved by Congress, this will be a deep cut to development programs the U.S. puts forth in the region.
Nevertheless, the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America demonstrates that the U.S. is interested in continuing some involvement with the development of neighboring Central American countries. The conference additionally builds on the Obama-era five-year Alliance for Prosperity, which began in 2014 in a move to curb migration from Central America through increased security and economic progress. At the conference, each country expressed its support for the alliance.
Representatives acknowledge that the conference and Alliance for Prosperity are merely stepping stones on the long path of achieving prosperity and security in the Northern Triangle.
“We know this will be a multi-year effort,” said a U.S. Senior State Department official. “The conference is not a one-off event. It has to be seen as a process.”
With increased international contributions to foster development in the region and additional foreign aid, participants of the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America hope to see positive economic results and progress to achieve greater security. America and Mexico hope that they too will benefit from their efforts.
– Sabine Poux