United States Vice President Mike Pence delivered remarks on U.S. engagement with Central America on Thursday to a packed amphitheater inside the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. — the sprawling federal building where the U.S. Agency for International Development is headquartered.
Pence’s remarks at the Wilson Center event placed heavy emphasis on security cooperation with Central American governments, border control, customs regulations to ease cross-border trade and cracking down on gangs and drugs in the United States. The overall impression was of an administration much more inclined to use security and economic levers than traditional development assistance in its efforts to stem migration from Central America’s poorest countries.
Despite delivering his remarks a short elevator ride away from USAID’s offices, the vice president never explicitly mentioned the agency. He also never said the word “development,” opting instead for “security,” “prosperity” and “freedom.”
The budget proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration would see USAID shoulder a more than 30 percent cut in 2018.
“Under President Trump, this administration is now directed to continue to work in new and renewed ways with our partners to support the programs that prove effective,” Pence said on Thursday.
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“The President made that clear in our commitment when he requested an additional $460 million in our budget for security and prosperity in Central America,” he said. Pence did not clarify that the “additional $460 million” actually represents a reduction of more than 30 percent from the $655 million allocated in the 2017 fiscal year budget to Central America’s “Northern Triangle” countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
USAID’s Regional Development Cooperation Strategy for Central America and Mexico places a big emphasis on the challenges Pence described — pervasive crime and violence, slow economic growth and integration. It also targets climate change and natural disasters, and HIV/AIDS.
Security and prosperity in Central America was also the subject of a summit in Miami hosted by the U.S. and Mexico, which the vice president attended last week. Pence described “an America First agenda — an agenda of advancing security and prosperity and freedom across the world.”
There have already been some “concrete results” from last week’s conference in Miami, Pence told the audience. “Key private sector leaders identified policies that will promote sustainable economic growth and create a more attractive destination for investment,” he said. “Three nations have also committed to develop a roadmap to enhance economic integration in the region and streamline import/export systems and customs procedures. And we began initial discussions to further integrate energy markets and develop infrastructure.”
At one point it seemed like the vice president was going to reiterate the importance of the so-called “three d’s” of foreign policy — diplomacy, defense and development — but he stopped after the first two.
“We’re going to continue to engage,” Pence said. “I think that involves diplomacy. The president believes strongly that involves rebuilding our military to ensure that we have the readiness and capability as the arsenal of democracy to see to our vital national interests around the world and those of our treaty allies.”