In 2017, speaking to a group of leaders from Central America, Vice President Pence declared, “To further stem the flow of illegal immigration and illegal drugs into the United States, President Trump knows, as do all of you, that we must confront these problems at their source. We must meet them – and we must solve them – in Central and South America.” What Vice President Pence said then was correct. What President Trump is doing now — cutting aid — is wrong. I must respectfully dissent.
Fifteen years ago, Colombia was on the verge of collapse. The nation was overrun with drug traffickers, cartels, and local gangs. Crime and violence were rampant, people were fleeing the nation, and the government of Colombia teetered on the edge. The United States deployed its foreign aid budget and military resources to help the Colombian government stabilize, fight its domestic drug war, and beat the cartels. The nation went from the brink to being a stable leader in South America and a strategic ally of the United States. In the past decade, trade with Colombia has tripled to $14 billion, benefiting American businesses.
Since 2016, American assistance to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador has declined 20% and, concurrent with that decline in American assistance, those countries have seen an increase in domestic crime, corruption, and flight of refugees headed towards the United States.
According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, “[I]n El Salvador and Honduras, studies have found that homicide rates have plummeted by up to 78% in neighborhoods where USAID has the resources to operate.” Other studies have shown that “for every 10 additional murders in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, 6 additional children sought safety in the United States.”
Notably, the Trump Administration itself claims El Salvador has used the aid it received from the United States to stem the tide of illegal immigrants coming from that country.
“What [El Salvador is] doing is working, both on the security front and on the economic opportunity front,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said in July.… McAleenan, speaking last year at the Bipartisan Policy Center, described El Salvador as a model: “We want to achieve those same successes in Honduras and Guatemala as well.”(Source: Washington Post)
Kevin McAleenan is President Trump’s appointee and it highly respected in both this administration and in Congress.
What is notable is that the last time the United States worked in concert with Central American countries to fund internal projects related to fighting crime, corruption, and abuse, those governments committed ten times as many resources and, with our dollars and direction, saw crime go down and population flight decrease. In 2014, for example, we spent $420 million in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to help and those countries combined spent $5.4 billion of their own resources, but let the U.S. take the lead in a partnership that benefited us all.
As former White House Chief of Staff and SOUTHCOM Commander, General John Kelly, has noted, “If we can improve the conditions, the lot in life of Hondurans, Guatemalans, Central Americans, we can do an awful lot to protect the southwest border.”
I used to believe we should just cut foreign aid from our budget. But I have realized we can, in situations like this, spend far less in these countries helping stabilize situations than we could on the border wall. Border wall estimates are $5 billion and we are not even building it right now. We can spend a tenth of that in the northern part of Central America and see a decrease in illegal caravans, violence, and the drug trade.
If we just build a wall, we are going to see an increase in violence, drug trafficking, and nation-state collapse. Those problems will eventually penetrate our border with or without a wall. On top of that, these countries are, in many cases, desperate. By ignoring them, we are seeding the ground for China to lay down roots in the Western Hemisphere as it and Russia have tried to do in places like Venezuela.
We risk undermining our longterm national interests by cutting foreign aid. We should, instead, spend it wisely in those countries to ensure stable governments that view us as allies and work with them to root out crime, corruption, and cartels.
The present policy to cut foreign aid cuts off our national nose to spite our face.