Washington, D.C. – On Monday, the Obama Administration will release its FY2016 budget request, including a $1 billion fund for Central America. According to the Administration, the aid is intended to assist the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in addressing the epidemic levels of insecurity and violence, poor governance, and lack of economic opportunities driving migration from the region. This is almost a three-fold increase above the Administration’s usual request for the region.
The substantial increase in financial support to Central America and recognition of the need for a more comprehensive agenda to address the violence and economic challenges facing the region is a step in the right direction. The large number of Central American children and families who crossed the U.S. southern border this past summer made clear that unless the factors that originally drove these children to flee are addressed, many will continue to seek refuge in the United States. While U.S. budget constraints are real, it is in the interest of the United States to ensure that citizen security and shared economic growth take root in Central America.
“Addressing the violence, poverty, and desperation in the region is not merely a question of resources but one of smart investments,” said Adriana Beltrán, WOLA Senior Associate for Citizen Security. “As the administration unveils the details of the new U.S. strategy toward Central America, significant attention needs to address the deep-seated corruption and lack of accountability and transparency that has hindered citizens’ access to basic services and weakened state institutions.”
The ability of criminal groups and the wealthy and well-connected to avoid arrest and prosecution remains one of the main obstacles to improving citizen security and the rule of law in the northern triangle, as it facilitates the spread of organized crime and violence.
“Aid for citizen security and rule of law needs to be paired with a sustained focus on improving governance and public spending in ways that generate economic opportunities for young people and others who do not currently see a future for themselves in their home countries,” said WOLA Senior Associate Marc Hanson. "It’s in U.S. national interest to provide generous assistance to Central America that addresses the violence and lack of opportunity that drives migration."
As Congress considers the specifics of the administration’s request, it ought to ensure that the assistance package to Central America includes clear metrics to evaluate whether U.S. assistance is achieving the desired results, and ensure that support is given to those governments and agencies committed to strengthening the rule of law and tackling high levels of poverty and inequality.