SEATTLE, Washington — Due to unstable political and economic climates, the U.S. federal government sought to provide foreign assistance in Central America to combat the effects of COVID-19. However, statistics are not promising. With all the proposed pandemic assistance, one must wonder: what is not working?
Federal aid in Central America has recently been high. However, a shift in focus from immigration to self-sustainability can be the driving force in keeping Central America afloat. The Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center drafted a proposal that can turn aid into foreign investment by financially motivating local businesses and creating more job opportunities.
Funds Sent to Central America
In June, the U.S. Department of State proposed sending $22 million in assistance to Central America. A majority of these funds helped improve health preservation. This aid budget was directed at three Central American countries known as the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) and Mexico. About $850,000 were reserved for Migrant and Refugee Assistance (MRA) in the Northern Triangle and another $1.8 million were reserved for Mexico. Only $19.3 million remained for disease prevention efforts in the Central American countries.
As free-trade partners, the Northern Triangle countries of Central America are in a novel position. That is because their economic stability can directly affect the United States as well as other markets. Additionally, these countries’ growing urban workforces make them assets in a larger global market chain.
According to the June Fact Sheet on the U.S. Department of State’s website, the Latin American countries saw a fraction of the funds through the International Disaster Assistance (IDA). The IDA budget helped to uphold public sanitation, hygiene and water accessibility as well as “risk communication”. For each country, over $2 million was left for COVID-19-specific assistance for health facilities, treatments, research and etc. In El Salvador, an extra $2 million was allocated for job and credit increases for citizens.
A report by WHO states that the American continent makes up 50% of the total reported COVID-19 cases and about 55% of global fatalities due to the disease. More than half of these countries are reporting infection transmissions through communities instead of scattered contamination.
In September, the combined COVID-19 reports of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were at an alarming 183,191 cases, while the death toll was at 6,059. At the beginning of October, those reports went up to 221,451 and the total deaths increased to 6,705. The swift influx within a month raises concerns when it comes to foreign assistance in Central America.
Rest for the Restless
Along with the financial problems in the years leading up to the pandemic, rapid climate change has also been devastating communities. Climate change displacement created an inflow of immigrants who either settled in areas within their countries with higher crime rates or it forced them to make the dangerous journey to the Northern borders for protection.
To ensure the safety and stability of citizens within these nations, policymakers must focus on the basic needs of Central American communities. Additionally, treating immigration as a matter of national security can incite more violence within all participating nations.
In the economic reactivation proposal, firsthand experts detail the achievement of Central American countries with the help of international funding. However, with the risk of a second wave, the report also calls for the impartial stimulation of Central America’s economy. Through organizations such as IDA and the World Bank, these countries can see a resurgence of businesses, low government corruption and, most importantly, nearshore trade to elevate surrounding countries.
Constituents in the United States should urge their congressional leaders to no longer accept any budget cuts to foreign assistance in Central America. Instead, political leaders should reallocate any proposed MRA funds to NGOs that tackle COVID-19-specific issues in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, as the numbers prove that these nations are far from being in the clear.
– Lizt Garcia