Across Central America, dangerous levels of violence, corruption, poverty, and extreme weather driven by climate change have been among the root causes driving a broader regional challenge that has led families and unaccompanied children to leave their homes in Central America.
These factors pre-date COVID-19, but the health and economic impacts of the pandemic have only exacerbated the challenge. For example:
In 2014, the United States launched the “Alliance for Prosperity” – a regional initiative grounded in tough U.S. diplomatic engagement and sustained, targeted development investments. An initial U.S. commitment of $750 million catalyzed more than $5.4 billion in funding from the Northern Triangle countries – more than seven times the initial American commitment– to help their own people. By 2017, American assistance helped improve conditions throughout the region, and border-crossing apprehensions fell to their lowest point since 1971.
Yet this commitment was not sustained, and U.S. foreign assistance to Central America was suspended and decreased by nearly 30% from 2016 to 2019, when assistance to the Northern Triangle was just 0.035% of the current federal budget.
When U.S. foreign assistance is integrated into a comprehensive approach to the challenge, these investments improve safety and stability across the region.
A bipartisan initiative launched in 1999, Plan Colombia was a major success in helping transform the once narco-terrorist state into key U.S. ally and economic partner. combating violence and insecurity by helping to train Colombian law enforcement and rebuild the economy. The United States made a $10 billion investment over the course of a decade, and Colombia now exports $15 billion each year to the United States, up 400% since 2000. Colombia has also become a key security partner, using lessons from its own experience to help Central American countries tackle similar challenges.
As of January 2021, approximately 1% of all U.S. foreign assistance goes to Central America, the vast majority of which supports effective and accountable partnerships with vetted non-profit and civil society organizations.
These groups run programs promoting economic and agricultural development, combating violence and empower youth, and fighting corruption.
Only about 2% of American assistance is provided as direct budget support to foreign governments around the world, according to the Congressional Research Service. Programs that support the efforts of Central American governments largely focus on strengthening law enforcement and security.
The following is a high-level summary of U.S. foreign assistance to countries in Central America where sustained investments have delivered results: