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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

U.S. foreign assistance to Central AmericaRecently, there has been an ongoing debate regarding U.S. foreign assistance to Central America with an emphasis on the countries in the Northern Triangle. The countries include Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. This topic has gained recent attention due to the ongoing border crisis at the U.S.-Mexico Border. Some government officials believe cutting aid will improve the crisis while others believe it will enhance the problem.

Foreign Aid

President Donald Trump announced in April 2019 that he would cut aid to countries in the Northern Triangle. President Trump believed that this decision was an appropriate response to limit the number of refugees from these countries who seek asylum in the U.S. He used this tactic as a punishment directed at Central American governments for allowing record levels of displaced persons to migrate to the U.S. border.

On the other side of the debate, U.S. foreign assistance to Central America may actually be what is necessary to curb this problem. In Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador there are multiple factors that contribute to why people are leaving their homelands. People are seeking asylum in the U.S to escape crime, poverty, corruption and violence.

What Does U.S. Assistance Do in Central America?

The U.S. funds in the Northern Triangle assist a variety of programs. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supports increasing security and economic development, ensuring human rights and working towards a more self-reliant population among other projects.

  • El Salvador: In El Salvador, the State Department and USAID projects aided 50 towns by integrating the police force with a community-level crime prevention plan. In these areas, homicide rates shrunk by an average of 61 percent from 2015 to 2017. The El Salvadorian government expanded its yearly revenue by $350 million with the help of a $5 million investment from the U.S. that helped to reform El Salvador’s tax system.
  • Guatemala: In Guatemala, USAID leveraged more than $7 million in private investment, which in turn, helped more than 230,000 children with nutritional support. In the agricultural sector, USAID helped promote the advancement of sales for rural farmers by 51 percent. This aid also helped to create 20,000 new agricultural jobs.
  • Honduras: USAID, in collaboration with Feed the Future, helped lift 89,000 people out of extreme poverty. They also convinced the Honduran government to invest $56 million into the program. USAID and the State Department also helped to drastically reduce homicide rates in dangerous neighborhoods. Through community policing and youth programs backed by the U.S., murder rates dropped by 78 percent between 2013 and 2016 in at-risk communities.

U.S. Strategy for Central America

The U.S. plan for Central America is a bipartisan, multi-year plan that promotes institutional improvements and sparks conversation about developmental challenges. There are three different facets to this strategy.

  1. Promoting prosperity: In the Northern Triangle, USAID projects helped to create nearly 30,000 jobs in 2017 and more than 18,000 in 2018. Furthermore, the U.S. helped facilitate more than $73 million in exports and domestic sales. U.S.-led projects also fostered comradery and interconnectivity between different countries, which led to the formation of new organizations. In May 2016, the Mexico and Central America Interconnection Commission was established. This organization will help to advance power market integration, which will decrease power costs in the territory and increase economic activity.
  2. Enhancing security: U.S. backing makes it easier for regional governments to stop illegal narcotics from reaching the U.S. In 2018, Honduras seized almost 45,000 kilograms of illegal narcotics. U.S. foreign assistance to Central America also helps countries outside of the Northern Triangle. With the help of the U.S., Costa Rica seized more than 35,000 kilograms of illegal narcotics. The enhanced security also got dangerous gang members off the streets. In September 2017, U.S. support helped coordinate an operation that led to the arrests of nearly 4,000 gang members in the U.S. and Northern Triangle countries.
  3. Improving Governance: The U.S. projects help support the improvement of tax collection and fiscal transparency in the countries in the Northern Triangle. This leads to improved effectiveness of public spending and helps professionalize the civil service. In Guatemala, this service limited the number of steps needed to submit a customs and tax complaint, which made it easier to prompt an investigation.

Many politicians believe that it would be a bad idea to cut funding to Central America. “We will work with our colleagues in Congress to do everything in our power to push back on the President’s misguided approach to Central America,” said House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY). Across the aisle, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted, “Reducing support to CentAm and closing the border with Mexico would be counterproductive.”

U.S. foreign assistance to Central America currently remains a controversial issue in the U.S. But, the statistics don’t lie. Foreign aid has helped the countries in the Northern Triangle. Cutting that aid will not slow the stream of immigrants trying to enter the U.S., but making improvements to the countries through continued aid might.

Nicholas Bartlett
Photo: Flickr

Northern Triangle
On June 14, 2017, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) arranged $2.5 billion in infrastructure projects for the nations of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. IDB invested $750 million, plus additional funding for another $1.75 billion from public and private sectors within the Northern Triangle. One year later, with levels of violence and regional emigration still growing, it begs the question, what is the U.S. doing to help?

U.S. Aid To The Northern Triangle

This funding was proposed to compliment the Plan of the Alliance for the Prosperity of the Northern Triangle, which has made progress in addressing security issues and strengthening local institutions.

The initiative intends to improve the region’s infrastructure and, above all else, to slow the path of northern migration by providing economic opportunities in the region. However, it is estimated that the Alliance For Prosperity, in place since 2014, directs 60 percent of the budget towards security measures.

With the additional $2.5 billion in regional and IDB backing, far more development progress should be achieved. IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno stated in 2017 that “the key over the next five years will be to tap the private sector to help build critical infrastructure that will generate jobs, improve competitiveness, and create the conditions that encourage people to build prosperous lives in their homelands.” Only one year into a five year plan, numerous of the project’s goals need time to produce results.

Northern Triangle Migration

In 2017, 54 percent of migrants detained at the border arrived from the Northern Triangle, in comparison to only 13 percent back in 2010. The Brookings institute reports that migration to countries like the U.S. has much to do with unprecedented levels of violence, including kidnapping, sex crimes and extortion in home countries.

Former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, suggested that United States’ demand for drugs is what drives “violence” and “lawlessness” in the Northern Triangle nations. The majority of those arriving in the U.S. are not a part of the violent gang crime themselves, but rather are fleeing this crime seeking asylum and safety.

Regional Efforts

Surges of gang violence coupled by weak institutional support, corruption and a general lack of economic opportunity have undermined regional efforts to address the crisis. With 95 percent of crimes going unpunished, refugees have little choice but to flee. Eric Olsen at the Wilson Center argues, “There has been so much penetration of the state and so much criminal involvement in security forces, it makes it difficult to think about how they would [reform] without some outside intervention.”

It’s understandable that so much funding is needed to address organized crime, but this allocation leaves the Northern Triangle to struggle with a multitude of other concerns. IDB’s development pledge in coordination with the existing Alliance for Prosperity projects addressing security is a great step towards addressing the larger institutional infrastructure problems of the Northern Triangle.

U.S. Response and the Alliance for Prosperity

In recent years, the U.S. has responded in various ways to help El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. allocated hundreds of millions to the Northern Triangle and focused on increasing growth, trade and stability. President Barack Obama established the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) that provided over $1 billion to help law enforcement, counternarcotics and justice systems in the region.

This initiative was designed to coincide with the Alliance for Prosperity to promote commerce and security. Under President Donald J. Trump, Alliance for Prosperity has continued, but his administration has established a much harsher line on immigration policies affecting Northern Triangle refugees.

After one year, the anticipated effects of IDB’s pledge have yet to be realized. Recent media coverage of separated migrant families has raised more awareness of the realities faced in the Northern Triangle, and presents a new opportunity to direct new projects to restore the prosperity of these three nations.

With Central Americans still dealing with forced emigration, it is clear additional measures must be taken by the U.S. government to prevent atrocities in the Northern Triangle and that the congressional IDB pledge is just one step of many needed in the right direction.

– Joseph Ventura
Photo: Flickr