GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemala is the most populated country in Central America, and 51 percent of its population lives in poverty. Furthermore, half of all children under the age of five in Guatemala are malnourished. Poverty, malnutrition, violence and insecurity are all primary motivating factors for migration to the U.S. from Guatemala.
USAID provides $257 million in foreign assistance programs to Guatemala, the vast majority of which goes to specific projects that address the root causes of migration drivers. U.S. foreign assistance to Guatemala not only helps impoverished Guatemalans, but it also is aids in domestic national security efforts.
In April 2019, The Trump administration proposed cutting foreign aid to Guatemala. Food, security and education are are the building blocks to alleviating poverty. Addressing these human needs enables the impoverished to break the cycle.
Feed the Future
Access to sufficient food and nutrition is a fundamental human right. In Guatemala, this right has been challenged by prolonged drought causing significant harm to harvests. Feed the Future is a U.S. government funded project that aims to help small farmers by increasing their income and nutrition. It accomplishes this through improving market access and providing training on productive agricultural and climate-smart practices.
Recognizing the potential for improved agricultural production in Guatemala, Feed the Future aids impoverished Guatemalans in these ways:
- Helping small farmers earn $24 million in new income in 2016
- Aiding 230,000 more children under the age of five meet sufficient nutrition needs
- Achieving 15 percent reduction in poverty rates where Feed the Future programs have been prevalent
Security in Guatemala
Surveys have shown that more than 60 percent of Guatemalans see insecurity as the most pressing issue in the country. The homicide rates in Guatemala remain high at 34 deaths per 100,000 citizens, and one-third of all households are victims of crime each year. USAID has worked with projects like Tetra Tech’s Guatemala Urban Municipal Governance Project which aims to reduce levels of violence in at-risk communities. These efforts work in cooperation with communities to get citizens actively involved in the decision-making processes within their municipality as well as improving financial budgeting and living conditions. Efforts by USAID and collaborating programs have reduced violence in Guatemala:
- Robberies declined by 18 percent
- Illegal drug sales decreased by 50 percent
- Extortion and blackmail rates declined by 50 percent
Education is a key factor in reducing global poverty. School enrollment and completion rates in Guatemala, while on the rise, are low. Only 40 percent of children are enrolled in middle school (7 – 9th grade). Federally funded programs like the Puentes Project aim to create educational opportunities for Guatemalan youth that identify local needs and promote sustainable jobs. With the focus of improving reading skills across the board, USAID efforts via the Puentes Project include working with families, teachers and the Guatemalan government. Current educational efforts by USAID have resulted in:
- Access to the expanded reading program for 80 percent of kids in government schools
- Girls’ access to school increased from 67 percent in 1993 to to 86 percent in 2013
- Developing digital strategies for helping teachers address students’ educational needs
Overall, this is a small sample of the programs funded by U.S. foreign assistance to Guatemala. The Trump administration’s concerns about national security and illegal immigration does not align with the proposed budget cut providing assistance to Guatemala. Federal aid to impoverished countries improves domestic national security as individuals trapped in the cycle of poverty may be motivated to join violent radical groups. Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge is quoted saying, “The programs supported by the International Affairs Budget are as essential to our national security as defense programs. Development and diplomacy protect our nation by addressing the root causes of terrorism and conflict.”
Projects made possible by U.S. foreign assistance to Guatemala enable positive change to be made to eradicate poverty and improve national security in the process.
How to Help
The Borgen Project is fighting to oppose the proposed cuts to U.S. foreign assistance to Guatemala. The programs discussed above are crucial for both creating stability in Guatemala and addressing the root causes of migration to the U.S. In order to protect these programs, please call or email your congressional leaders.