On March 29th, 2019, President Donald Trump ordered the State Department to inform Congress of his intention to end foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, frequently referred to as “the Northern Triangle.”[i] While the President has previously threatened to cut aid to the Northern Triangle, the recent threat is paired with confirmation.[ii] The State Department confirmed the intention to revoke the funds, stating “At the secretary’s instruction, we are carrying out the president’s direction and ending FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle. We will be engaging Congress as part of this process.”[iii]
Since 2014, the United States sent $600 million annually to the three countries in an effort to support economic development, alleviate the effects of poverty, and stifle gang development in the Northern Triangle.[iv] Historically, the United States has provided aid to the Northern Triangle following political and economic crises that the United States’ interventionist policies contributed to, either directly or indirectly.[v]
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is responsible for dispersing the aid in the receiving countries.[vi] USAID distributes a majority of the aid to non-profit organizations within the Alliance for Prosperity Plan in the receiving countries, allowing for the non-profits to determine where the aid is most needed.[vii] While the Alliance for Prosperity Plan allows for grass-roots organizers to in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to fund programs that will stimulate development with more discretion, such a structure makes it more difficult to “follow the money” and quantify the results of the aid.[viii]
However, while tracking development is difficult, it is not impossible.[ix] USAID reported success stories in all three of the countries in which the President proposed cutting aid.[x] Successes include a decrease in homicides in certain El Salvador providences, increased extortion prosecution in Guatemala, and lifting thousands of families out of poverty in Honduras.[xi]
The funding supports programs in Guatemala such as Feed the Future Guatemala, the Youth and Gender Justice Project, and the Community Roots Project.[xii] Meanwhile, in Honduras, organization have used the money for Alliance for the Dry Corridor, Avanzando con Libros, and Alianza de Café.[xiii] Finally, in El Salvador, the funding supports projects like the Crime and Violence Prevention program, Bridges for Employment, and Government Integrity.[xiv] As evidenced by the wide variety of organizations benefitting from the funding, the countries have unique needs and strategies to address those needs.[xv]
Following an abrupt end to the aid, the tangible progress could be eliminated – exacerbating the issues that the aid aimed to alleviate.[xvi] Meanwhile, President Donald Trump threatens to close the United States southern border with Mexico, which could result in the escalation of a humanitarian crisis.[xvii] Critics argue that cutting off aid is akin to “shooting yourself in the foot.”[xviii] While said shots have already been fired, it’s unclear if they will hit their target, as Congress has the ability to block the drastic decision.[xix]
[i] See Katie Rogers, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, and Michael Shears, Trump Directs State Dept. to End Aid to 3 Central American Countries, N.Y. Times, (Mar. 29, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/29/us/politics/trump-mexico-illegal-immigration.html.
[ii] See id.
[iii] See id.
[iv] See Trump’s aid cuts to Central American countries could total $700 million, PRI (Apr. 1, 2019), https://www.pri.org/stories/2019-04-01/trump-s-aid-cuts-central-american-countries-could-total-700-million.
[v] See Nubia Batista Willman, Reaping Whirlwind: How U.S. Interventionist Foreign Policies Created Our Immigration Crisis, 23 Pub. Int. L. Rep. 36, 40-1 (2017).
[vi] See W. J. Hennigan, Trump’s Cuts to Central American Aid Won’t Slow Migration, Time, http://time.com/5564653/donald-trump-central-american-aid/ (last visited Apr. 5, 2019).
[vii] See id.
[viii] See id.
[ix] See id.
[x] See id.
[xi] See id.
[xii] See Megan Specia, Trump Wants to Cut Aid to Central America. Here Are Some of the Dozens of U.S.-Funded Programs, N.Y. Times, (Apr. 2, 2019) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/02/world/americas/trump-funding-central-america.html.
[xiii] See id.
[xiv] See id.
[xv] See id.
[xvi] See id.
[xvii] See id.
[xviii] See Elisabeth Malkin, Trump Turns U.S. Policy in Central America on Its Head, N.Y. Times, (Mar. 30, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/30/world/americas/trump-turns-us-policy-in-central-america-on-its-head.html?module=inline.
[xix] See id.