Washington, D.C.—Today the administration of President Donald Trump released its FY2018 budget blueprint, which features deep cuts to essential foreign aid and diplomatic initiatives, while at the same time increasing spending on the military and an unnecessary border buildup, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas.
The 2018 proposal would cut worldwide diplomacy and foreign assistance to US$37.6 billion, a 29 percent drop from the 2016 enacted level of $52.8 billion. Some of the $15.2 billion cut would come from eliminating small but critical programs that do good work in Latin America, like the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance account, the Inter-American Foundation, the U.S. Institute for Peace, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
“This budget plan, if enacted, would have disastrous results. By increasing military spending by $54 billion while cutting spending on civilian diplomacy and assistance, the Trump administration is militarizing foreign aid,” said Adam Isacson, WOLA Senior Associate on Defense Oversight. “The risk is that our relations with Latin America and the world will be based on military priorities, on threats—not on shared values, human rights, economic ties, or other vital U.S. interests. Alongside an already militarized approach to border security, this plan will worsen U.S. relations with the rest of the hemisphere at a fragile moment for democracy,” said Isacson.
As WOLA will detail in a forthcoming report, the post-9/11 security climate has already fueled a dramatic shift in responsibilities, with more and more foreign aid programs being managed by the Department of Defense rather than Department of State. This shift has serious implications for transparency and democratic oversight. This proposal would further accelerate that trend.
This budget also comes at a pivotal moment for U.S. policy towards Central America. In recent years the U.S. strategy toward the region has shifted from a security-centric approach to a more balanced approach that includes violence prevention, combating corruption, strengthening democratic institutions, and investment in targeted economic growth. This is a comprehensive effort that tries to address the root causes of migration from the region; it will have far greater long-term impact than the Trump administration’s proposed plans to seal the U.S.-Mexico border with $4.1 billion in new funds to build a wall: $1.5 billion in 2017 and $2.6 billion in 2018. (The administration would seek to fund these plans by cutting the budgets of agencies like the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.)
“This is not the time to disengage from Central America. We need to make smart investments in long-term solutions in the region, rather than cutting and shifting money to more militarized approaches,” said Adriana Beltrán, WOLA Senior Associate on Citizen Security. “Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador can address the epidemic levels of insecurity and violence, poor governance, and lack of economic opportunities driving migration from the region, but need U.S. assistance and encouragement to make it happen,” said Beltrán.
In a new video, WOLA highlights the voices of those affected by the region’s problems, including children under threat who were driven to flee north, as well as victims of insecurity and police violence in El Salvador. Experts like Beltrán, and stakeholders like the anonymous Salvadoran police officer interviewed in the video, say that addressing these issues will require smart, sustainable investments to reduce violence and strengthen democratic institutions.
In addition to these concerns, the Trump administration’s plans to cut spending on diplomatic efforts could have an impact on important initiatives and U.S. relations across the hemisphere, such as U.S.-Mexico cooperation on a number of bilateral issues, and the development of a lasting peace in Colombia.
“The United States has built important relationships and made vital commitments to allies in Colombia, Mexico, and elsewhere, which should be honored,” said Geoff Thale, WOLA Program Director. “This is not only about supporting our partners, but also about supporting U.S. interests. A short-sighted ‘United States first’ approach to the budget ignores the fact that our national interest, and ultimately our fate, is intimately linked with the pressing issues of democracy and human rights faced by our neighbors in this hemisphere,” said Thale.