U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on while testifying before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by: REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that the Trump administration will provide a set of requirements to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras before the U.S. would consider resuming the foreign assistance it announced at the end of last month would be cut off.

“We have not yet been able to convince El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to take seriously this need to control their own borders and to keep their people from moving into Mexico and ultimately across our southern border, that we should stop, take a time out,” Pompeo told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. “We have ceased allocating new funds inside of those three countries.”

“Can you think of any precedent, historical precedent, in which the United States has urged another country to stop people from leaving?”

— Rep. Tom Malinowski, a Democrat from New Jersey

President Donald Trump made the announcement due to his frustration that migrants and asylum-seekers continue crossing the southern U.S. border. At Pompeo’s instruction, the U.S. Agency for International Development has been instructed to reprogram $450 million in fiscal year 2018 funding, and the agency is still analyzing impact on FY17 funding. He argued Tuesday — in a hearing that was meant to be about the administration’s 2020 budget request — that funds allocated for Central America were not demonstrating results fast enough to be proven effective.

U.S. funding has been targeted at root causes of migration in a region where gang violence, food insecurity, climate change, weak institutions, and poor governance can all contribute to people’s decision to leave their communities and attempt to reach the U.S.

“These resources weren’t very effective. They may well have been thought out but they just weren’t getting the outcomes,” Pompeo said of money the U.S. has spent in the last several years on the Alliance for Prosperity initiative, which began under the Obama administration and is modeled after the successful Plan Colombia.

The resumption of U.S. assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — which includes the largest portion of USAID dollars going toward activities that improve governance — will be conditional, Pompeo said.

“We will present to each of those three countries a set of requirements,” Pompeo said. “These are the things that are expectations that the United States needs for America’s interest, and we think in every case will be in their own best interest as well. And when we get to that point, we will return to considering whether and how much and under what means and what tools will we use to restart the providing of assistance.”

USAID Administrator Mark Green was also on Capitol Hill Tuesday to defend the 2020 budget request, testifying in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He was asked repeatedly about the administration’s decision to cut off Central America aid, which both committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, and Ranking Member Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, have decried as counterproductive.

“I see it as the prevention side of this. I understand the president’s frustration with the crisis on our southern border,” McCaul said. “I share that frustration, but I believe that this decision from a policy standpoint, if you really analyze that, could make the situation worse, not better.”

Green said multiple times that aid was cut off because Trump was “frustrated” with migration across the U.S. border and that he “looks forward to the day when the White House is satisfied.”

He said the agency is participating in the review of assistance initiated by Pompeo and wants to focus USAID programs on geographic areas that are sending lots of migrants and asylum-seekers. Metrics applied to agency and implementer programs must be sharpened, he said.

“Clearly we all have to do more and we are looking at new approaches,” Green said. “I’m very hopeful that when the president is satisfied that our partner countries are doing all that they can that we will have an opportunity to further craft these programs … to address both the issues of migration but also economic opportunity.”

Green received perhaps the toughest line of questioning on the issue from freshman Rep. Tom Malinowski, a Democrat from New Jersey, who asked Green if the administration is suggesting police in the Northern Triangle should actively prevent people from leaving, which is against international law.

“We would be outraged if the [President Nicolás] Maduro regime were to stop people from leaving,” Malinowski said, referencing the leader of Venezuela.

“There’s a huge distinction between addressing the drivers, which is what USAID was doing by funding development security assistance programs, and urging countries to stop people from leaving. Can you think of any precedent, historical precedent, in which the United States has urged another country to stop people from leaving?”

On that matter, Green referred Malinowski to the State Department.

“On the piece that is in our lane,” Green said, “we’re looking at tools that we can sharpen and present.”

About the author

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    Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh is a Reporter with Devex based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa wrote about Latin America from McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She worked as a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.