9 U.S. Programs Making a Difference in Central America

May 30, 2019 By Zach Wehrli

Driven by dangerous levels of violence, political instability, and lack of economic opportunity, families from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are fleeing their homes each day to make the risky journey to the United States. However, U.S. assistance to Central and Latin America – from Plan Colombia to the Alliance for Prosperity – has long focused on addressing the root causes of instability and migration through strategic investments that combat violence, provide safe spaces for youth, promote economic development, and fight corruption.

Here are just 9 U.S. foreign assistance programs in Central America that are making a difference:

Combatting Gang Violence and Strengthening the Rule of Law

  • Addressing Gang Violence through Youth Engagement in Honduras: Creative Associates International and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) partnered to establish community outreach centers as an alternative to gangs. These centers provide job training, tutoring, and a safe space. More than 70,000 young people have benefitted from 200 USAID-funded outreach centers in Central America, and the Proponte Más program in Honduras has engaged more than 440 at-risk youth in five of the country’s most violent cities. 72 percent of the program’s participants are now below the “at risk” threshold altogether.
  • New Legislation to Combat Gender-based Violence in Guatemala: In 2008, only 12,000 cases of gender-based violence were reported in Guatemala, but by 2017 gender-based violence was the most reported crime in the country, with more than 66,000 cases reported. To help increase reporting, USAID worked with the Guatemalan government to pass new legislation criminalizing gender-based violence and implemented 12 specialized courts – composed of judges and support staff trained and sensitized to the crime – to address the issue specifically.
  • Community Level Prevention Reduces Homicide Rates in El Salvador: As part of El Salvador’s national security plan, USAID and State Department security programs targeted 50 municipalities with programming that integrated law enforcement and community-level prevention. On average, these efforts contributed to a 45 percent decline in homicides from 2015 to 2017. The municipalities with the largest integrated USAID and State Department programming, however, saw even higher declines. In one neighborhood, homicides decreased by over 66 percent from 2015 to 2017.

Promoting Economic Opportunity and Fighting Poverty

  • USAID Programming Spurs Job Growth in Guatemala: Using data from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, USAID has geographically targeted areas known for high-levels of out-migration and lack of economic opportunity, including the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Agriculture and natural resources management programming in the region have helped create more than 78,000 jobs and generate $160 million in sales from 2013 to 2017.
  • Agriculture Investments Lift Honduran Families Out of Poverty: USAID is working to improve incomes, increase sales, and create jobs through agriculture investments across Honduras. In total, USAID’s agriculture investments have lifted nearly 18,000 families – or 90,000 people – out of extreme poverty since 2011. This success has also catalyzed $56 million in financing from the Honduran government, enabling the expansion of these programs. In FY17 alone, these investments generated more than 4,300 jobs, nearly 2000 of which were filled by women.
  • OPIC Financing helps Power El Salvador: Thanks to $350 million in financing from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), private sector partners are constructing a 378 MW liquefied natural gas power generation facility in Acajutla, El Salvador. In a country with growing demand for power, this new plant – the largest in El Salvador – will increase the country’s power generating capacity by 23 percent and reduce persistent dependency on diesel and other fossil fuels.

Strengthening Governance and Fighting Corruption

  • Empowering Government through Tax Reform in El Salvador: To address low tax revenues, the Salvadoran government partnered with USAID and DAI to carry out a comprehensive reform of its public finance and taxation system. Between 2005 and 2010, these measures reaped more than $1.5 billion in returns and helped increase the government’s net revenue as a percentage of GDP from 13.5 percent to 15.5 percent. Overall, mechanisms supported by DAI added nearly $230 million in tax revenue from 2001 to 2016, enabling the country to increase spending on social programs.
  • Legal Support Helps Guatemala Crack Down on Crime: In Guatemala, annual losses due to criminal extortion have been valued between $60 and $400 million. Thanks to USAID support of the Guatemalan Office of the Attorney General, the number of final verdicts in extortion cases skyrocketed from 26 to 512 between 2015 and 2017. In the first six months of 2018 alone, 482 final verdicts were reached. In addition, USAID-supported improvements to the criminal prosecution of extortion helped dismantle 15 criminal structures and resolve 1,000 cases in 2017.
  • Salvadoran Information Institute Increases Government Transparency: In 2012, USAID helped establish a Freedom of Information Institute, providing the public with access to official documents that have spurred investigations into three former presidents and issues including nepotism and waste of public funds. This support, coupled with USAID assistance to the Attorney General’s Office, has enabled the prosecution of more than 20 high-level public officials, including former President Antonio Saca, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for embezzlement in 2018.