Joe Biden’s Administration promotes a plan to invest up to 4,000 million dollars [unos 3.300 millones de euros] in four years in Central America to improve the living conditions of its citizens and thus curb emigration to the United States. The aid, however, will be subordinated to the fight against corruption in the beneficiary countries, and in addition, the plan foresees direct contributions to NGOs with the idea of preventing resources from being diverted.
The White House, after analyzing the experience of previous programs, sees a need for a change in the way of managing aid. In 2014, when tens of thousands of Central American children and adolescents came to the southern border of the United States seeking protection, President Barack Obama asked his then number two, Joe Biden, to take charge of the situation.
The current president of the United States negotiated a bipartisan law in Congress that increased investment in Central America and had dozens of meetings with the leaders of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in search of cooperation. He posed smiling with the leaders of the region, but six years and several immigration crises later, the Democrat faces a similar challenge. In February of this year alone, border agencies apprehended more than 100,400 migrants, although most are immediately returned to Mexico by the closure of the border imposed by Donald Trump due to the coronavirus crisis and that the current administration has kept in force.
Biden continues to believe that the solution to the rise in the arrival of unaccompanied minors and Central American families is to improve living conditions in their countries of origin, but with greater control of aid. Washington is clear that the main enemy to face will be corruption, an endemic evil in the region that, together with natural disasters and the coronavirus pandemic, has worsened the situation in the main countries that send migrant families to the United States. And after seeing how the investment approved with Obama of 2,600 million dollars annually (about 2,210 million euros) did not have an impact on a substantial improvement in conditions in those places, this time the Government is inclined to channel aid through NGOs and strengthen the counterpowers of civil society.
To carry out the plan, the same day he arrived at the White House in January, the president sent a proposal to Congress that includes a $ 4 billion investment for a four-year program of aid to the three countries in the north of Central America, which will be “conditional on their ability to put an end to the corruption, violence and poverty that make people flee.” The task will not be quick or easy, and it will be approached amid strong criticism of the White House for the increase in arrivals to the southern border; criticisms that Republicans hope to take advantage of in the 2022 legislative elections.
Biden, who has pledged to bring humanity back to U.S. immigration policy and put an end to some of the heavy-handed programs of the Trump era, is asking Central Americans for patience as aid arrives and they put in place a system so that They can apply for asylum and other types of visas from their communities without having to make a dangerous path as undocumented immigrants.
“It will not be an easy job, but it is necessary,” wrote US Vice President Kamala Harris after Biden put her at the forefront of diplomatic efforts with Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to address the root causes of migration. Harris will share the task with an experienced team in the region, such as former Mexican Ambassador Roberta Jacobson, coordinator of the southern border; the presidential advisor for Security in Latin America, Juan González, and the person in charge of Central America, Ricardo Zúñiga, who have also advanced that they will create an anti-corruption force and seek to generate governance in alliance with the governments, institutions and civil organizations of the region that be willing to get on that train.
“The leader who is not ready to fight corruption will not be an ally for the United States,” González warned in an interview with the Salvadoran digital media. The lighthouse. For his part, Zúñiga has analyzed corruption as one of the main burdens of economic development and a fact of insecurity in Central America, two of the reasons that drive migration. “Efforts to deal with inequities have largely foundered because of entrenched resistance to reform by small but powerful groups of political, economic, and (in some cases) criminal actors in each of the three countries,” he writes. the now head of the Biden Government for the Northern Triangle in a study published by the Wilson Center late last year. “In those three countries, there are people who can reform [el sistema]But it needs political support, ”the report continues, citing the commissions against corruption and impunity set up in Guatemala and Honduras, the CICIG and the MACCIH, and which the governments of those countries put an end to.
The Biden government plans to accompany economic aid to Central America with a diplomatic effort to politically support the reforms and those who implement them and use the tools at its disposal, such as sanctions or the withdrawal of visas to punish corrupt officials. “You have a civil society in the region that has been a counterweight to corruption and that the Administration should support and strengthen, as well as journalists and investigative media that have also unfortunately been victims of attacks,” Adriana Beltrán tells EL PAÍS, Director of the Citizen Security Program of the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA).
The analyst points out that research in the region shows a clear link between the diversion of resources and migration. “Those most affected by corruption are the most vulnerable sectors and communities and they have no choice but to migrate, abandon their communities because they do not have the capacity to meet their basic needs and have no hope that conditions will improve. ”, Affirms Beltrán.
The effects of Trump’s aid cuts
The fight against this diversion of resources is also being promoted from Congress by the Democratic representative of California Norma Torres, of Guatemalan origin, who last week sent a letter to the government from Biden to ask that they refrain from sending aid to governments targeted for corruption. “Our assistance must go to civil society, non-governmental organizations, multilateral organizations and other credible institutions that have a proven track record of helping vulnerable people and communities,” Torres demanded.
In the letter, the congresswoman also criticized that the previous Trump administration allowed “rampant” corruption in those countries and highlighted that, during her tenure, the military in Guatemala used vehicles donated by the United States to intimidate the Embassy of that country without there would be no retaliation. In addition, he recalled that the Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, has been accused in a New York court of protecting “drug traffickers while boasting about bringing drugs to the United States,” and in El Salvador, “Nayib Bukele uses his influence to discredit legitimate democratic processes and institutions ”.
During his four years in the White House, Trump focused on the heavy hand toward migrants and ignored the Obama administration’s anti-corruption approach. In addition, in 2019, the Republican decided to cut aid to the Northern Triangle, accusing governments of not doing enough to stop migration. Months later, in 2020, it partially reinstated them after those nations signed agreements in which, among other things, they pledged to receive asylum seekers returned by the United States. causes that are making people leave, and I started doing it when I was vice president with a plan of more than 700 million dollars. But what did Trump do? Eliminate those funds, “Biden criticized last week.
According to a congressional reportIn Honduras, total beneficiaries of US aid agency (USAID) programs fell from 1.5 million in March 2019 to 700,000 in March 2020. Cuts hit working NGOs on the ground such as Catholic Relief Services (CRS), whose main donor is the US Government.In Guatemala, for example, the decision marked the end of a food security project that benefited more than 7,000 families in the dry corridor , a region that in recent years has expelled thousands of families due to the lack of rain.
Now, that organization has already seen an increase in project financing opportunities through the USAID website, mainly in the areas of education, water, sanitation and emergency response, according to Nicole Kast, director of programs at CRS. in Guatemala, who is hopeful about the new approach of the Biden Administration. “The drivers of migration are structural circumstances of the Central American countries and require structural responses.” But he cautions that the effects will not be seen anytime soon. “These are changes that require investment over time and at a structural level, and many of the initiatives that are coming out seek that”.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.