Systemic corruption hobbles the ability of governments in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to establish democracies that are truly representative and inclusive, and that work to serve the interests of citizens, rather than a small circle of elites (that are, in some cases, tied to drug trafficking and organized crime).
Additionally, there is little understanding of whether U.S. assistance to the region—intended to address migration’s push factors—is strategically targeted, wisely invested, and properly implemented, and whether the governments of Central America are doing their part to meet key progress indicators for accountability and reform.
There is a rights-respecting way forward, to ensure orderly, safe migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The United States can help address the root causes of migration by implementing critical aid to important development priorities in the region and prioritizing support for strengthening anti-impunity, rule of law, and governance reforms.
The United States should restore aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to fund programs that directly address the drivers of migration, including corruption, poverty, and violence. Specifically, the U.S. government should:
1.) Target assistance to expand evidence-based, community-level programs to reduce youth crime and violence, reintegrate youth seeking to leave the influence of street gangs and criminal groups, and protect women, young people, and children who have suffered violence.
2.) Support evidence-based employment creation and job training programs that focus on at-risk youth in targeted communities.
3.) Focus security-related funding on strengthening civilian law enforcement and justice institutions and making them more accountable and transparent. Aid should be directed toward bolstering policing capacity overall (such as police investigation techniques, vetting, recruitment and training, etc.) and community policing, as well as to enhancing the independence and capabilities of prosecutors and judges by supporting merit-based evaluation and disciplinary systems and ensuring adequate protection for judges, prosecutors and other justice officials.
4.) Help strengthen civil society organizations and their efforts to hold governments accountable.
5.) Condition aid on demonstrable progress to much-needed strengthening of public institutions in Central America.
Corruption is one of the main drivers of migration from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. The failure of governments in Central America to provide basic security in homes and communities is one of the key reasons people feel they need to flee for their safety.
Addressing government officials’ embezzlement of public funds designated for healthcare, education and other programs, as well as tackling the collusion of corrupt government officials and individuals with criminal organizations should be at the heart of U.S. policy in Central America.
This means supporting reformers and anti-corruption fighters both within and outside of government. It requires exerting pressure on Central American governments to uphold the rule of law and undertake essential institutional reforms. It calls for close collaboration with civil society organizations that specialize in anti-impunity, transparency, and governance.