direct aid in El Salvador
On May 1, 2021, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador removed the nation’s attorney general and all members of its Supreme Court. This sudden action sparked concern regarding the separation of powers in El Salvador’s government, with human rights organizations viewing it as a power grab by the country’s president, Nayib Bukele. USAID acted on the concerns by pulling all foreign aid funding previously dispersed through the Salvadoran government. The funding is now promised as direct aid to El Salvador’s civil society groups. Direct aid in El Salvador will ensure the most vulnerable El Salvadorans receive the help needed.

USAID Projects in El Salvador

USAID’s most recent foreign aid projects in El Salvador are designed to address the root causes of migration from Latin America to the United States. In January 2021, President Biden issued an executive order that set aside $4 billion to address immigration from the Northern Triangle countries: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The order states that improving livelihoods in these countries eliminates the need for migrants to flee to the United States. In May 2021, USAID launched an official Northern Triangle Task Force. The task force laid out a strategy for improving livelihoods by targeting three areas:

  1. Prosperity – USAID will fund economic development to prevent poverty in El Salvador. This strategy includes improving infrastructure, investing in higher-value industries to create job opportunities and fostering entrepreneurship. The Salvadoran organizations receiving aid to implement these programs are primarily private sector actors.
  2. Security – USAID will target crime and corruption as another root cause of migration. This strategy includes increasing government transparency and making justice systems more responsive to citizens’ needs. Originally, the governmental National Civil Police and Institute for Access to Public Information were involved with the implementation of USAID projects related to this target. However, the shift to direct aid requires non-governmental organizations in El Salvador to replace government actors.
  3. Governance – USAID aims to make governments in the Northern Triangle more effective at responding to citizens needs. This strategy includes increasing accountability for government spending, improving government delivery of services and promoting citizen engagement with democracy. Civil society is the main recipient of direct aid for this purpose.

Civil Society in El Salvador

Direct aid in El Salvador builds upon a preexisting robust civil society landscape. Civil society in El Salvador first rose to prominence in the 1960s by providing humanitarian services. The Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s saw the organizations taking on economic and social welfare work to replace overextended governments. The constitution of El Salvador protects the right of assembly and the Ministry of Interior and Territorial Development registers civil society organizations under that protection. Previous administrations promoted the creation and smooth functioning of civil society organizations. However, President Bukele mistrusts civil society organizations and his government stigmatizes them.

Civil society organizations previously received direct aid in El Salvador from USAID. In 2020, $7.5 million out of $60 million in USAID funding for El Salvador targeted improving governance and involving civil society. Experts had been lobbying for civil society organizations’ increased involvement with the distribution of aid long before President Bukele incited USAID’s action and many activists in Latin America praised USAID’s adjustment. Activists expressed hope that civil society organizations from other countries in the Northern Triangle would also secure larger roles in upcoming projects.

Strategy for El Salvador

While foreign aid from the United States circumvents the Salvadoran government, foreign policy officials continue to pressure the Bukele administration to restore the separation of powers. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Costa Rica in June 2021 for an annual meeting with the member states of the Central American Integration System. During the gathering, Blinken met privately with the Salvadoran foreign minister to discuss the issue of aid. The Biden administration also decided to bypass the lengthy appointment process for an ambassador to El Salvador and instead sent former U.S. ambassador Jean Manes to El Salvador as charge d’affaires to handle diplomatic relations with El Salvador immediately.

While the programs in El Salvador that will receive direct aid are currently unspecified, the United States has successfully committed domestic private actors to invest in El Salvador. For example, Vice President Kamala Harris announced that Microsoft will give internet access to three million citizens in the Northern Triangle countries, including El Salvador. This demonstrates how private actors fulfill roles that governments traditionally perform, such as infrastructure expansion, when governments fail to provide services. USAID hopes to utilize civil society organizations to run similar programs for democratic reform in El Salvador.

Moving Forward

The Salvadoran government’s decision to remove its top judiciaries led USAID to retract its trust in the country’s government with regard to aid funding. USAID chose civil society organizations to receive aid instead and also set aside direct aid to further democratic reforms. Official plans for redirected aid funding have yet to be released, but U.S. government officials have historically seen success in engaging private actors in tasks that governments usually complete. As the United States continues to pressure the Salvadoran government to increase accountability, foreign aid to El Salvador fosters more civil society engagement.

Viola Chow
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Reduce Poverty in Central AmericaIn an effort to stem migration, the Biden administration has unveiled a plan to reduce poverty in Central America. The administration hopes that improving the quality of life in places where people are likely to emigrate from will cause fewer people to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. border. In May 2021, Vice President Harris called on the private sector to increase investment in the Northern Triangle to bolster the United States’ efforts to develop the region and address the root causes of migration to the U.S.

Plans to Improve the Economy

In a public statement, the White House referred to the economic development initiative for the Northern Triangle as a call to action. The U.S. government hopes to bolster economic growth in the Northern Triangle region of Central America. Northern Triangle countries consist of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The aim of this directive is to implement sustainable action that will stem the mass migration of asylum seekers and ease the ensuing border crises between the U.S. and Mexico. The call to action involves six key areas.

6 Focal Areas of Development in the Northern Triangle

  1. Reform: Increased transparency and predictability by implementing “international best practices in licensing, permitting, procurement, regulation and taxation.”
  2. Digital and Financial Inclusivity: Ensuring affordable internet is more accessible to support digital inclusion and prioritizing financial inclusion of marginalized populations.
  3. Food Security and Agriculture: Developing initiatives to reduce food insecurity by improving agricultural outcomes and prioritizing resilient crops.
  4. Renewable Energy and Climate Change: Taking actions to achieve climate resilience and transitioning to renewable, clean energy.
  5. Education and Employment: “Expand job-training programs, support greater access to technical and secondary education and create higher-paying formal sector jobs,” with females and rural people as priorities.
  6. Healthcare: Develop strategies to strengthen healthcare systems in order to be better prepared for future health crises and to “ensure inclusive access to healthcare.”

Companies Aiding Poverty Reduction Efforts

The aim of the initiative is to reduce the need to emigrate by equalizing living standards between neighboring nations of varying economic status. This supports the broader goal of creating international stability with efforts to reduce poverty in Central America. The U.S. government believes partnering with the private sector will make the plan of action a reality. So far, 12 companies and organizations have committed to the goal of developing the Northern Triangle.

Technology companies such as Microsoft will provide broader internet and digital communication systems to the Northern Triangle and teach people the digital skills needed to thrive in a digital world. Furthermore, the language learning app, Duolingo, hopes to bolster literacy rates, help people learn English and provide wider access to quality education. Beyond this, international financial institutions such as Mastercard will allow for financial inclusion by giving people the financial and digital skills and services needed to reduce the digital divide and combat poverty.

The Focus on Security

A major obstacle to the plan is how to allocate such loans and funds. Part of this wider initiative of economic recovery includes cracking down on political corruption and increasing transparency and international regulation. Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Mexico and Guatemala in early June 2021 as a gesture of the beginning of a diplomatic response to the migration crisis. Her discussions mainly focused on issues regarding food security, border security and economic security. Harris emphasizes that women and the youth are priorities in the action plan as they are most vulnerable.

Along with economic rejuvenation efforts, the U.S. hopes to bring its own border security expertise to other nations. This will create an extended security buffer between migrants and the U.S. border. Additionally, the Biden administration wishes to broaden legal pathways toward migration and asylum to offer alternative options to illegal migration.

The Allocation of Funds

In April 2021, the U.S. pledged more than $300 million worth of aid to Central America in order to stem the migration crisis. Almost half of the funds have been allocated toward food security and COVID-19 recovery efforts. The rest of the financial assistance will help in the areas of “health, education and disaster relief services” and aid refugees and asylum seekers.

The division of funds reflects the priorities of the strategy in order to reduce poverty and increase security in the Northern Triangle. According to the World Food Programme, the number of people facing food insecurity in the Northern Triangle increased to 7.8 million in 2021. The cause of this increase correlates directly to hurricanes and the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Therefore, the development of Northern Triangle economies will reduce poverty in Central America and decrease migration to the U.S.

Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

Impacted by HurricanesOn November 2, 2020, Hurricane Eta made landfall in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. As a Category 4 hurricane, it was the strongest hurricane to hit the Central American region in many years. Shortly after, Hurricane Iota hit. Thousands have died and many have experienced displacement. Since Central America is one of the poorest areas of Latin America, the U.S. is in a position to help alleviate the crisis by providing foreign aid to those impacted by hurricanes.

Poverty in Central America

Nicaragua is the second-poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Moreover, Nicaragua’s poverty rate sits around 15.1%. Geographically, the poorest area of Nicaragua is the Atlantic Coast of the country. Similarly, Honduras is an impoverished nation located north of Nicaragua. Honduras is also one of the poorest countries in Central America. Furthermore, Honduras’ geographical location leaves it exposed to extreme weather such as heavy rainfall and droughts. The most vulnerable, oftentimes rural and coastal populations, are susceptible to these intense weather changes. Neighboring countries of El Salvador and Guatemala are also impoverished nations with vulnerable populations. The increased climate disasters leave these populations at risk of death, poverty and becoming climate refugees.

Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota

On the eve of Hurricane Eta’s landfall, the Nicaraguan government evacuated around 3,000 families living in the coastal area. According to UNICEF, more than a million Nicaraguans, which also includes half a million children, were endangered by the hurricane. El Salvador evacuated people as a precaution and many of Guatemala’s departments declared a state of emergency.

Hurricane Eta made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm destroyed houses, hospitals and businesses. Widespread flooding and mudslides were responsible for the casualties across the region. Unfortunately, Hurricane Eta was not the only storm blasting through Central America.

Weather forecasters predicted another strong storm, Hurricane Iota. Also a Category 4 hurricane, Iota made landfall 15 miles south of where Hurricane Eta did just days prior. The hurricane further stalled the rescue efforts of the region. In Honduras, the hurricanes impacted around 4 million people with more than 2 million losing access to health care. Moreover, Guatemala had more than 200,000 people seeking shelter after the two hurricanes.

Foreign Aid to Central America

The Central American region is impoverished and vulnerable to natural disasters. Furthermore, many Central American nations depend on foreign aid from the United States. The countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (the Northern Triangle) rely on foreign aid from the U.S. to manage rural poverty, violence, food insecurity and natural disasters. Moreover, that aid has been reduced under the Trump administration. Since Donald Trump took office, the aid for these countries has reduced from $750 million to $530 million. In April 2019, Trump froze $450 million of foreign aid to the Northern Triangle, further diminishing the lives of many. Foreign aid keeps Central Americans from plummeting to extreme poverty and also curtails migration to the United States.

Congress Pleads for Foreign Aid

As Hurricane Eta ravaged through Central America, Rep. Norma Torres (CA-35) wrote a letter urging Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to increase foreign aid to Central America. Torres (CA-35) wrote, “Hurricane Eta was an unavoidable natural disaster, but its aftermath is a preventable humanitarian crisis in the making.” In addition, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), Eliot Engel (NY-16), also showed his support for increased aid to those Hurricane Eta impacted. Engel wrote, “a large-scale U.S. effort is needed to provide much-needed relief to those affected by Eta so that they are not forced to leave their countries and make the perilous journey north.”

USAID Provides Disaster Relief

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has agreed to increase aid by $17 million to the countries impacted by Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota. Studies have shown that foreign aid is a successful policy to reduce global poverty. Any aid given to these countries benefits the lives of those impacted by hurricanes in several significant ways.

– Andy Calderon
Photo: Flickr

Why are More People Trying to Cross the Border?
With America’s current politicians, U.S. border security is tighter than it has been in decades. In the spring of 2018, the Trump Administration introduced the zero-tolerance immigration policy to discourage migration into the U.S. The policy required detention of all individuals who crossed the border illegally, with or without children.  This resulted in the separation of children from their parents and their placement in shelters around the country. The U.S., however, halted the policy on June 20, 2018, due to widespread backlash.  The government has been letting thousands of held migrants go free because it lacks enough beds to hold them in detention facilities. However, these implementations have not been successful in deterring people from attempting to illegally enter the country. With the heightened security, why are more people trying to cross the border?

The Decrease in Mexican Immigration

The important thing to note with the changing migration patterns is the demographics of the people. Undocumented immigrants are no longer mainly coming out of Mexico, which is how it has been in the past. In fact, the number of people fleeing Mexico is on the decline.  Since 2007, the number of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. declined by 2 million. They now make up less than half of illegal immigrants in the U.S. This is due partially to the increasing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the increase in price for human smugglers, but there are other factors too.

  • The economy in Mexico has improved and Mexican employment opportunities are rising.
  • Fertility rates in Mexico have dropped significantly in the last 60 years, from seven births in 1960 to only 2.1 in 2019.
  • Not only are there fewer immigrants, but the Mexican immigrants that are crossing the border have higher education and are more fluent in English than the U.S. has seen in the past.  Mexico is undergoing a demographic shift and a technological transformation that is making it more habitable for its population.

With the decrease in Mexican immigration due to an increase in Mexico’s living conditions, why are more people trying to cross the border? As Mexico increases opportunities, immigration statistics are shifting to the impoverished Central Americans.

Increase in Central American Immigration

In Central American countries, over half of the population lives below the poverty line. The Northern Triangle of Central America, or NTCA, which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, has one of the highest homicide rates on earth and many consider this area to have some of the most dangerous countries. America is not the only country seeing a huge influx of these immigrants as well. Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica have seen a 432 percent increase in asylum applications, the majority coming from the NTCA.

Over 90 percent of the new illegal immigrants entering the U.S. is coming out of Guatemala specifically. Why are more people trying to cross the border? It is because of the challenges of poverty and violence in Guatemala.

  • About two-thirds of Guatemalan children live in poverty.
  • Over two-thirds of the indigenous population live in poverty.
  • The wealth distribution in the country is one of the most uneven distributions in the world. In fact, the top 1 percent control 65 percent of the wealth, and the top 5 percent control 85 percent. The economic elite is not indigenous either as most members have European heritage.
  • Guatemalans are itching to flee areas ridden with conflicts over land rights, environmental issues, official forced labor policies, gang violence, prostitution and human trafficking, and depressing crop prices that destroy farmers’ ability to make profits.

What the US is Doing to Help Guatemala

Fortunately, the U.S. is working to help improve conditions in Guatemala.  Traditionally, Guatemala and the U.S. have had a good relationship with a few disagreements over human rights and military issues. Guatemala has a strong trade system in place and the U.S. benefits by working to improve conditions there regarding security, governance, food security, civil rights, education, crime reduction and health service access for the people.

The U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America put in multiple initiatives including the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Central American Regional Security Initiative and Food for Peace. The U.S.’s goal is to spur development in Guatemala and reduce the desire for illegal immigration into the U.S. The Trump Administration proposed to substantially cut funds for the country and to completely eliminate food aid. Congress shot down much of these cuts in the Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2018 and 2019. However, in March 2019, the Trump Administration did suspend all U.S. military aid in the country when the Guatemalan government misused armored vehicles that the Department of Defense provided to combat drug trafficking. The Trump Administration is still actively trying to cut or eliminate all U.S. aid to Guatemala and the NTCA, but Congress remains actively invested in the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America.

– Gentry Hale
Photo: Flickr

Stop the Migrant Crisis
Circulating the United States news cycle as of late is the migrant crisis at the border. From the conditions in which authorities hold migrants to the bills Congress is pushing, such as the Keeping Families Together Act and the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, migrants from Central America have captivated the news as well as the minds of most Americans. One might wonder why so many Central Americans are making their way to the border. This article will explore how increasing foreign aid may stop the migrant crisis.

The Migrant Crisis

The majority of migrants at the border are coming from Central America, specifically El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, or the Northern Triangle of Central America. These are some of the most dangerous countries, with each of them being on the top 10 list of most homicides in the world. People in these regions face violence, such as gender-based violence and gang violence, political instability and extreme poverty, which makes the perilous journey to the United States seem like the most optimistic of options.

These countries face factors that can help explain why people are fleeing their home countries at such a rate. Studies have found that for every 10 homicides in these all three countries, six children wish to enter the United States. In 2018, there were 51 homicides per 100,000, with around 3,340 homicides in El Salvador. Police attributed these murders to the two prominent gangs in El Salvador called MS13 and the Barrio 18. Guatemala had a homicide rate of 22.4 per 100,000 and Honduras had a homicide rate of 40 per 100,000, both being extremely high compared to the homicide rate of other Central and South American countries.

What Caused the Crisis?

One can possibly attribute the recent influx of migrants from these countries to the foreign aid cuts that the current administration has made. According to the State Department, the 2019 fiscal year cut nearly $700 million in funding to these countries. Some believe that these cuts would force people to stay in their countries while others believe that keeping the cuts would allow people to save their money and use it to immigrate to the United States.

The money the United States gave to Central America funds social programs in order to build these countries up and tackle the root causes of their problems. Some of these root causes are violence, lack of education, food insecurity and poverty. The money mainly funds social programs or government reform that would improve living conditions, incentivizing citizens to stay. These programs include after-school programs, programs to create jobs and programs that help strengthen police forces and the court systems.

How Foreign Aid Helps

In these cases, the foreign aid funding these programs and helping different social agencies and NGOs does in fact work. For example, in El Salvador, a United States funded program trains children for employment. The area that implemented this program saw that homicide rates lowered by 78 percent. The United States Global Leadership Commission also breaks down what the funding in each country does and the different programs it funds. In El Salvador, the commission focuses on improving the rule of law and citizen security. However, in Guatemala, funding focuses on fighting poverty, and in Honduras, funding goes towards fighting corruption. In all of these different endeavors, funding has made a positive difference and helped improve living conditions for citizens. This further shows that to stop the migrant crisis, the United States must increase foreign aid.

Conclusion

Using funding for these social programs allows Central Americans and their countries to grow, thrive and prosper. When a country succeeds and gives its citizens ample opportunities to be successful and live their life to the fullest, those citizens may want to stay in said country. Therefore, it seems that the only way to stop the migrant crisis would be an increase in foreign aid to give the Northern Triangle people a reason to stay in their homes and enjoy a better life in their own countries.

– Sydney Toy
Photo: Flickr