Rodrigo Soto

In March 2019 our government announced that it was ending financial assistance to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, collectively known as the Northern Triangle Region. $615 million in assistance from the FY2018 budget was frozen instantly leading to sudden chaos in over 700 on-going projects. Of that amount, $432 million were formally restored in late June 2019, specifically for projects and grants that have been previously approved for health, education, economic growth, security, and poverty alleviation. The effects of the announced policy has been terribly disruptive to on-going activities and projects are unsure which ones will benefit from the restored funds.

In addition to losing $183 million in funds from the current budget, $370 million allocated for the region for the FY2019 budget was also moved elsewhere and the remaining funds placed in escrow until further notice.

As the new and wholly unexpected reality sinks in, I feel we must make a stand to maintain a strategic and constructive engagement to mitigate the underlying causes that encourage mass migration from that region. Without it, this move will drastically affect programs on education, violence-reduction, economic development, and job creation targeting the vulnerable populations most likely to migrate in the first place. This is particularly taking into consideration that targeted groups and the strong successes achieved by US assistance to the region.  

·     Approximately 29% of Salvadorans, 49% of Guatemalans, and 53% of Hondurans live on less than $5.50 per day, according to the World Bank.  

·     How effective has U.S. aid been to these countries? In targeted communities where USAID and the State Department focused their assistance, murder rates dropped by 66% in El Salvador and 78% in Honduras during the 2015 to 2017 period.  

Taking the brunt of the new US policy is Honduras, by far the most vulnerable and volatile of the targeted countries. At this moment Honduras is suffering from continued social and political unrest caused by bad local policy decisions, but also the widespread perception that the U.S. no longer supports the elected government. As the economy slows and political uncertainty increases, migration becomes a better alternative to many. Meanwhile, the U.S. Administration insist in its demand that Honduras, as well as the other Northern Triangle countries, restrict the movement of its own citizens, something that it can’t legally do and, if applied, could lead to a full systemic breakdown of governance and the rule of law; thus increasing and spreading migratory pressures.

·     This policy is akin to setting fire to the haystacks and then closing the barn doors.  

·     We must spread the message among Congressional decision makers that can't bully small, politically fragile, aid-dependent countries to achieve a domestic political goal and expect to be shielded from the long-term consequences.