Why Cutting Central American Aid is Contradictory to Trump’s Agenda

MADDI LARMORE: On Friday, March 29th, President Trump announced that the United States would suspend all foreign aid going to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—three countries known collectively as the Northern Triangle. Trump cited the heavy flow of immigrants from these countries as evidence that current U.S. aid is not furthering American interests as it was intended and accused these Central American governments of using these resources to organize migrant caravans to the U.S.

For many State Department officials and regional scholars, the general consensus is that this aid is imperative to fostering economic, social and political stability in the Northern Triangle. Traditionally, it was believed that having more economic opportunity and less violence in the region would compel fewer Central Americans to attempt the dangerous journey through Mexico to the United States. However, for others, the argument in favor of lending aid to the Northern Triangle runs further back to the 1980s. During this time, the U.S. led efforts to contain the spread of leftist ideologies and communism and intervened in ongoing civil wars in Central America. The U.S. provided conservative leaders with weapons and financial support, and in turn, these leaders ended up brutally killing and displacing tens of thousands of Central Americans.

On one hand, doling out large sums of taxpayer dollars to other countries while many Americans still live in poverty may seem negligent. However, foreign aid only makes up 1.4% of the national budget, and such aid serves as a powerful stabilizing tool in line with American interests. A secure world means less spending on American military and defense. An economically prosperous world means more trading partners and outlets for American goods. A peaceful world means more opportunity for international travel and the exchange of ideas and information. Achieving all that for just over 1% of the national budget is not a bad deal at all.

From a humanitarian perspective, the Northern Triangle is in dire need of American assistance. In 2015, El Salvador was the most violent country in the world that was not at war, with 103 homicides per 100,000 residents. Honduras and Guatemala are not far behind, and suffer from debilitating violence as result of the strong presence of gangs in every aspect of society. Fearing for their lives, many Central Americans see no other option besides leaving behind their families, friends and communities in order to find safety in the United States.

Suspending aid to the Northern Triangle will not only undermine years of progress in suppressing gang violence and stimulating economic growth, but also create a resource vacuum in local governments that no one but gangs like MS-13 and Barrio 18 will be able to fill. Consequently, more and more Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans will be forced to make the difficult decision of leaving their families to travel to the United States, which will result in even greater pressure at the border, the exact opposite objective that Trump wanted to achieve in the first place.

Marie Swain