No. Cutting of aid could actually make circumstances worse for families who are fleeing violence and conflict. American aid partnerships on the ground are working to address the root causes of violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. This is a moment when these countries could use additional investment and partnership from the United States to promote economic opportunity and security for their citizens, not less.
Gang violence, hunger, poverty, and political instability are all key factors driving families to make the risky journey from Central America without any guarantee of safety. El Salvador and Honduras have among the highest murder rates in the world, and studies have found a striking correlation: for every 10 additional murders in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, 6 additional children sought safety in the United States.
Another factor driving recent migration has been economic conditions and food security, especially in certain regions of Guatemala. Following the devastating El Niño drought in 2014, many were forced to flee with people declaring “no food” as the top reason they left their homes.
The United States is working with Central American countries and Mexico to help them address issues such as governance and rule of law, democracy, and food security. Funded through the International Affairs Budget, these programs recognize that success will depend on the countries being committed to their own security to address the root causes of migration. In Fiscal Year 2017, the U.S. provided approximately $838 million in foreign assistance to Central America and Mexico for such programs.
Country specific sectoral data is taken from foreignassistance.gov, using “spent” levels for 2017.
Despite these efforts, only 2% of the entire Fiscal Year 2017 International Affairs Budget was specifically allocated for Central American countries and Mexico. This is the last year for which detailed data is available.
From time to time, temporary increases have come in response to natural disasters, such as the 1976 earthquake in Guatemala and Hurricane Mitch that struck Honduras and Nicaragua in 1998. The most significant upswing in American assistance came in the 1980s during the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua. In response to the surge in unaccompanied minors in 2014, Congress significantly increased funding for countries in Central America – in Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 – as a complement the Alliance for Prosperity initiative. But the House and Senate cut funding for the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America compared to FY18 levels—by $20 million and $100 million respectively – and overall, Central America and Mexico remain small recipients of U.S. foreign assistance.
Despite ongoing challenges, U.S. support has not only worked, but also delivered a return on our investment for the American taxpayer. In the Northern Triangle, while the current crisis shows that more must be done to meet the scale of the challenge, studies have found a striking correlation: in neighborhoods where USAID operates in El Salvador and Honduras, homicide rates have plummeted by up to 78%.
Corruption is a challenge in many countries and Central America is no exception. A number of U.S. investments specifically focus on strengthening the capacity of government institutions to counter fraud and corruption within their ministries and in their broader societies. Nevertheless, it is a mixed picture. In the MCC’s Fiscal Year 2018 scorecard, El Salvador scored roughly at the median on the corruption indicator, while performing well on regulatory quality (93%), political rights (83%), civil liberties (63%), and government effectiveness (60%). While Honduras and Guatemala both scored below the median for control of corruption in the most recent MCC scorecard, they both had strong scores for political rights, civil liberties, trade policy, and fiscal policy.
As a safeguard, the U.S. maintains increasingly strong transparent oversight and evaluation capabilities to constantly monitor aid resources in order to ensure they are used for their intended purposes. For example, in response to multiple coup attempts and an ongoing corruption scandal in Honduras, the MCC did not sign a large second compact with the nation and instead created a $15 million “threshold” compact that required the Honduran government to lead on policy reforms if they wished to benefit from further assistance.