United States approves $750 million aid package for Central America

by Jennifer Kennedy | 24th December 2015 | @kennejen

A group of U.S.-bound migrants wait to cross a river at the Guatemala-Mexico border. Photo: AP Photo/Moises Castillo

The United States Congress has approved a new budget which will see $750 million allocated to Central America.

The money is to help the countries in the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) – Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador – tackle poverty and gang violence, improve security, and reform their government.

Escaping violence….

A statement by the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden underscores the growing issue of migrants, including unaccompanied minors, who are risking their lives to enter the U.S. to escape violence, poverty, and crime in Central America.

“The security and prosperity of Central America are inextricably linked with our own,” says Biden, adding that “this decision by Congress to invest $750 million in Central America demonstrates that we honor our commitments and believe in a future where the Western Hemisphere is middle class, democratic, and secure”.

In recent years, a surge of women and unaccompanied children have been crossing the Mexico-U.S border.

Earlier this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a report, ‘Women on the Run’, documenting the testimonies of women fleeing violence in Central America and Mexico.

According to the report, the NTCA is one of the most dangerous places in the world with endemic violence, impunity, corruption and crime sweeping across the area.

Statistics from the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime place Honduras as first, El Salvador as fifth, and Guatemala as sixth in the global ranking of homicide rates. Femicide is also a worrying trend in the region. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras rank first, third, and seventh, respectively, for global female homicide rates.

In their thousands

The number of people fleeing the NTCA has increased dramatically. In 2014, tens of thousands sought asylum in the United States, and the number of women entering the states across the US-Mexican border has risen three-fold since 2013. Asylum applications have also increased in the neighbouring countries of Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama.

The U.S.-based think-tank Migration Policy Institute, reported in 2014 that the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border increased by 90 percent from the previous year.

The U.S. considers the $750 million aid package an important step in stemming the flow of migrants in the country.

According to the Washington post, Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said of the allocated funds: “We are pleased Congress has taken action on the Administration’s request to fund the Strategy for Engagement in Central America. The Strategy will support security, good governance, and prosperity – three critical pillars to making longer-term progress in the region and in stemming the flow of Central American migrants across the Southwest border.”

Critics and conditions

The package is not without conditions. Insight Crime reports that the NTCA countries will need to prove that they have taken “effective steps” to combat migration, as well as addressing issues such as human rights and corruption.

The million dollar funding initiative, however, also has its critics.

Alex Main, Senior Associate for International Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, told TeleSUR that “these forms of ‘assistance’ are unlikely to mitigate the root causes of migration, and, in fact, have been prone to exacerbating these causes,” and that “the ‘war on drugs’ has contributed to an increase in levels of violence in the Northern Triangle, while failing to abate the flow of drugs to the U.S.”.