By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate editor
WASHINGTON, USA — In an attempt to curb migration and keep Central American citizens at home, billions of aid and development dollars are set to make its way to the Central American region through Mexico, US officials said on Tuesday.
Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has been seeking to persuade his US counterpart Donald Trump to work with Mexico to develop Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as Mexico’s impoverished south, to stem the flow of people.
Already being dubbed a modern day “Marshall Plan” by Obrador, this new arrangement is slated to target specifically the root causes of Central American migration: a $30 billion initiative to invest in the region and welcome migrants into Mexico with visas, health care and employment.
The new plan will also earmark a specific amount to go towards private investment initiatives, after Trump signalled his support for the plan. With the US signalling support, the Trump administration also revealed that they were committing $5.8 billion in private and public investments in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for “commercially viable projects.”
Over the past two years, the United States has provided about $1.3 billion in aid to Central America, particularly to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, Foreign Policy Magazine reported.
The money was part of a US push, announced in 2014, to double the aid to the region under a plan known as the Alliance for Prosperity.
But during this period, the money has not made a decisive difference in any of the countries, according to experts, with officials claiming that, while $1.3 billion is a lot of money, it’s still a relatively small sum for countries in need.
Even despite failed efforts in the past, in addition to Trump deciding to cut off foreign aid to all countries in a more significant manner, the Trump administration working with the new Mexican president, a leftist by many standards, seems to have stunned onlookers at the willingness for this partnership to take place in the current circumstances.
More importantly, as tensions and violent clashes between US/Mexican forces at the Mexican border with the United States with the thousands of migrants fleeing their Central American countries for political asylum and economic opportunities, assistance for people looking for a better life seems to be trumping the overall agenda and anti-migrant sentiment that has encapsulated most American and Mexican attitudes on the matter.
While the overall plan by Obrador targets over $30 billion over time, regardless of the amount, US policy towards two core areas are likely to remain unchanged with regard to how the money is spent and targeted. Specifically, areas that strengthen government accountability and security forces are key; in addition to money that goes towards private sector and economic development as a co-equal pillar or targeted development aid to the region.
No timetable on when the plan will begin or when will the first set of agreed upon targets will be finalized and rolled out.
Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said on Wednesday,
“Since President Trump took office, Congress has rejected his misguided effort to slash foreign assistance to Central America, a region that continues to be plagued by violence and poverty. Most recently, President Trump took to Twitter to announce that he would cut off aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. This comes after referring to El Salvador as a ‘s***hole’ country, ripping Central American children away from their parents, cutting off Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans and Hondurans living in the United States, and boasting about progress on a border wall that doesn’t exist.
“So it should come as no surprise that Democrats in Congress are skeptical about the Trump administration’s rhetorical commitment to new funding for Central America and southern Mexico to address the root causes of child migration. Budgets set priorities, and when President Trump releases his international affairs budget proposal next year, he should include additional funding for the region rather than recklessly gutting it. In the next Congress, I will make it a top priority to maintain strong investments in Central America and to separate fact from fiction on any proposal presented by the administration.”