US ambassador to El Salvador contradicts Trump on aid

UNHCR has mobilized staff and resources to southern Mexico since Thursday, following the arrival at the Mexico/Guatemala border of thousands of people as part of a caravan of refugees and migrants travelling from Honduras. Photo by: © UNHCR/Julio López

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — As United States President Donald Trump on Monday repeated threats to suspend aid to Central American countries, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador reaffirmed American support for the region to help create more stable societies.

“The government of the United States remains committed to addressing the root causes of migration,” Ambassador Jean Manes said Monday at the Central America Donors Forum in San Salvador. “The fundamental issue of migration has not changed. People feel a substantial need to migrate due to a lack of security and economic opportunities in their home country.”

Trump tweeted multiple times regarding a “migrant caravan” that is traveling from Honduras to the U.S. border, directly blaming governments in the region for failing to stop people from making the journey. It is against international law for countries to prevent their citizens from leaving.

“Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them.”

The U.S. is a major donor to Central America, particularly to the three Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

In fiscal year 2017, the U.S. committed $420 million to programs that address issues such as rule of law, security, democracy, and economic opportunity. The three governments, in turn, committed to dedicating their own resources — $5.4 billion in fiscal year 2017 — toward such programs as a part of the Alliance for Prosperity, a regional strategy developed in response to the 2014 unaccompanied minor crisis.

“We give them tremendous amounts of money,” Trump told reporters at the White House before he left for a campaign rally in Texas. “Every year, we give them foreign aid. And they did nothing for us. Nothing. They did nothing for us.”

Manes said she believes the governments are doing their part to support the strategy designed to address the root causes of migration such as security, lack of economic opportunity, and weak institutions.

“The [U.S. government] continues to support the plan of the three governments, which is the Alliance for Prosperity, through the broader Central America strategy,” Manes said. “Do I think the government of El Salvador is committed to the plan? I do.”

She said that when she first arrived in El Salvador three years ago under the Obama administration, the number one priority for the three Northern Triangle missions was to reduce irregular migration to the U.S., and “that priority continues with the Trump administration.”

This is not the first time Trump has threatened to stop aid to Central America because citizens are fleeing for the U.S. But as the U.S. midterm elections approach, Trump in recent weeks has increased talk about immigration, which was a main issue in his presidential campaign two years ago.

Manes said it was necessary to “step back from the rhetoric” when it comes to migration.

Congress has repeatedly rebuffed calls from the Trump administration to reduce the foreign aid budget, and Manes stressed the bipartisan support in Congress for the Alliance for Prosperity.

“That bipartisan support was built on the shared belief that reducing irregular migration to the United States cannot just focus on security, and does not begin at the border of the U.S. with Mexico,” Manes said. “It begins at the countries of origin.”

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.