Following review, US 'will not provide new funds' to Central America

A group of Central American migrants walk next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence. Photo by: REUTERS / Jose Luis Gonzalez

WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department has completed a review of U.S. foreign assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras nearly three months after President Donald Trump announced he would cut off aid to the “Northern Triangle.”

Implementers, missions in the dark about Central America assistance cuts

Implementers were assured more clarity within two weeks of Trump's announcement to cut aid to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. But seven weeks on, they have no information about if and how their programs may be impacted.

State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said that previously awarded grants and contracts from fiscal year 2017 will go ahead, which is welcome news for many implementers who feared the breadth of the cuts and had been left largely in the dark about how operations would be impacted. The review examined more than $615 million in U.S. assistance to the Northern Triangle, $432 million of which will be spent, according to the U.S. State Department.

But funds allocated under fiscal year 2018 — about $370 million — will be directed toward other projects.

“We will not provide new funds for programs in those countries until we are satisfied the Northern Triangle governments are taking concrete actions to reduce the number of illegal migrants coming to the U.S. border,” Ortagus told reporters at a department press briefing on Monday.

“Working with Congress, we will reprogram those funds to other priorities as appropriate. This is consistent with the president’s direction and with the recognition that it is critical that there be sufficient political will in these countries to address the problem at its source.”

President Trump, who has grown increasingly frustrated with the flow of migrants and refugees from the Northern Triangle across the southern border, demanded in March that the three countries’ governments stop citizens from leaving for the U.S. This policy received pushback from lawmakers, who argued the president did not have authority to stop the flow of funds Congress had appropriated, and that stopping U.S. assistance would have a counterproductive impact on people fleeing the violent and economically depressed region.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee, which has oversight of the U.S. foreign assistance budget, last month passed out of committee a bill cosponsored by its two leading members that includes language that would explicitly prevent the administration from halting or reprogramming future funds appropriated to the region. The bill has not been voted on by the full House nor taken up in the Senate, which last month introduced separate legislation focused on U.S. assistance to Central America.

Ortagus said the State Department reviewed 707 foreign assistance programs in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and that support for “priority programs” run by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security would continue. She provided no information about the timeline under which the administration would propose to Congress how to reprogram fiscal year 2018 funds.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told lawmakers in April that the State Department was developing a list of criteria that the three countries would have to meet in order for aid to be resumed, but the department did not give further details Monday regarding those requirements.

“As Secretary Pompeo has said, these nations have the responsibility to take care of the immigration problems in their home country,” Ortagus said.

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.