What It Says about U.S. Assistance to El Salvador and the Region
Politico on Saturday published a report on the signing of a long-stalled Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact between the United States and El Salvador. The signing, which will take place formally by the end of September, will permit the release of some US$270 million for job training, regulatory reform, and other measures in El Salvador, essentially in support of a development plan along the country’s Pacific Coast.
Critics of the development plan are concerned that the plan’s focus on increasing the country’s export capacity would negatively affect the local communities and are skeptical that the export-oriented model will generate backward linkages in the economy and stimulate domestic development and shared growth.
Still, the political signal that the approval of the agreement sends is an important one. The Compact was approved by the MCC board more than a year ago; the signing was held up by concerns raised by several U.S. agencies, and perhaps by more general concerns about what kind of relationship the United States should have with left-leaning administrations in El Salvador. The approval of the Compact makes clear that the Obama Administration is prepared to work with the newly installed, left-of-center administration of FMLN President Salvador Sanchez Cerén.
As the Politico story notes, this approval is especially significant right now, in the aftermath of this summer’s surge in unaccompanied minors and families arriving from Central America at the U.S. border. That surge caused political problems for the White House, which had then been considering executive action on immigration reform. It also focused attention on the violence and lack of opportunity in the so called Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and on what the United States is doing to cooperate with those countries in tackling those problems. U.S. foreign policy has paid little attention to the region in recent years, and U.S. assistance to Central America has been modest.
The signing of the Compact could be seen as a down payment in a more concerted and longer-term effort to work with the Northern Triangle countries on the problems of lack of opportunity, and violence, and insecurity.