SEATTLE, Washington — For years, countries in the Northern Triangle have struggled with eliminating violence, drug trafficking and weak governance. In 2017, the United States designed the Strategy for Central America to assist countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in combating these issues. It is important to understand what U.S. assistance does in Central America.
The three main goals listed in the United States’ Strategy for Central America are promoting prosperity, enhancing security and improving governance. The U.S. invested more than $2.6 billion in Central America to allow the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to implement new programs in the region.
Growth in Guatemala
To promote prosperity, the U.S. focused on assisting with economic growth, creating better education opportunities, establishing a stronger workforce and reducing poverty. Although programs centered around these goals were introduced in each country, Guatemala saw major results. Many Guatemalans live in rural areas of the region and rely on the agricultural industry to provide for their families. Knowing this, USAID created programs centered around showing farmers newer techniques and providing equipment to grow this sector.
Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation is an example of one of these programs. It helped give access to agricultural technology to assist sustainable farming efforts and create jobs for people in the region. From 2015 to 2018, Guatemalans were given training on how to use these new technologies and educated on pest management practices. This program, in combination with others, assisted sanitation efforts, improved storage methods of crops and increased access to potable water. Overall, this allowed for a 51 percent increase in rural farm sales and created roughly 20,000 jobs.
Reducing Violence in El Salvador
To enhance security in Central America, the U.S. planned to strengthen borders, deter human and drug trafficking and reduce the strength of crime organizations and gangs. Northern Triangle countries have some of the highest murder rates in the world, and the United States wanted to create safer environments for the citizens with this goal.
El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in the world. Many USAID programs are centered around finding ways to protect people living in high crime areas. The Place-based Strategy (PBS) for Violence Prevention and the Youth Gang Prevention program integrated law enforcement into community events to help people resist pressure to join gangs. It also helped provide safety in these areas and establish bonds between law enforcement and the people.
The Crime and Violence Prevention Program helped to increase safety for citizens by creating crime prevention centers in high violence areas. It supported community youth centers to give children a safe place to learn skills and study outside of the home as well. After a few years, there was a 42 percent decrease in homicides in El Salvador. In the high-risk communities with these programs, there was a 61 percent decrease.
Fighting Corruption in Honduras
The improving governance goal revolved around implementing anti-corruption laws and strengthening institutions. These new strategies assisted the development of stronger governmental capabilities in multiple countries. The Honduras-Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity (MACCIH) was designed to strengthen and reform the justice system in the country. Similarly, the Honduras Local Governance Activity gave more power to the municipal governments in western Honduras to provide better services to those communities.
The U.S. believed that governmental reforms that create changes on local levels have the power to get people more involved locally to “provide oversight of service delivery and increase demand for improvements in quality and accessibility of the services provided by local governments.” As a result of the programs, the Judicial branch now has the ability to prosecute high-profile corruption cases. In addition, the U.S. and MACCIH were able to investigate members of the government for crimes such as fraud, embezzlement and abuse of power.
Foreign Aid Cuts to Central America
These three examples help to show what U.S. assistance does in Central America. Each nation in the region received its own set of programs tailored to what that country needed, and the aid was designed to make the environments better for the citizens living there.
However, this year the United States government shifted away from providing heavy investments and assistance to Central America. President Trump called to cut $450 million in aid for those countries and stated that the programs were not helping strengthen borders and lessen the flow of immigrants into the U.S.
Although the future of U.S. assistance in Central America is uncertain, members of Congress are speaking out against cutting aid. A paper by the Foreign Affairs Committee highlights the positive results of the strategy in the region. It sites the creation of “78,000 jobs in Guatemala alone” since the start of the programs and the various security programs have “contributed to the indictment of hundreds of MS-13 gang members.” It highlights the number of transnational criminal organizations that have been prosecuted and the important data that has been collected on terrorism, violent crime and trafficking.
The data shows what U.S. assistance does in Central America. In a short period of time, these programs have assisted many people once living in poverty and fear to better their living conditions. By protecting the foreign aid designated to this region, the United States can continue the progress already being made in these countries.
– Sydney Blakeney