US drafts new assistance plan for Central America

A man carries a basket full of spring onions.through a market in Guatemala. A new plan for assistance to Central America will likely appear in U.S. President Barack Obama’s budget request in February. Photo by: Tory Taylor / USAID / CC BY-NC-ND

The U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development have drafted a new major plan to “expand and reorient” assistance to Central America, according to Latin America policy analysts.

“There's a major new request coming from the administration to Congress for assistance to Central America that will likely end up in the president's budget he submits next month,” Eric Olson, associate director of the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told Devex.

An assistance plan to Central America has been in the works for more than a year, he said. An initial plan for $300 million in aid to the region was proposed to Congress in November in a supplemental request totaling $3.7 billion, but was rejected by the then-newly elected Congress.

Analysts predict the forthcoming plan will be similar to the one proposed in November.

The reasoning behind the plan is threefold. First, it is a response from the U.S. to the “Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle” plan put forward in November by the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras that outlined ways to strengthen economic productivity and security in those three countries.

Second, it is a way to address the underlying conditions causing the surge in unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America and arriving to the U.S. border this past summer.

And third, the new plan serves as response to feedback voiced in a December panel on whether U.S. programs in Central America have helped or hindered development of the region.

“The administration is trying to … acknowledge that [Central America Regional Security Initiative] needed to be rethought, so that's what they've been doing and we'll see that in budget,” said Olson, who moderated the panel.

CARSI was criticized at the panel for a lack of monitoring and evaluation to produce matrix on results, lack of coordination between USAID and the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement working on the ground, and lack of a clearer long-term vision instead of various small-scale, disconnected projects.

USAID and State Department officials declined to comment on the details of the newest plan, pointing instead to statements made in November when the initial plan was proposed.

“Over the summer, we asked Congress for $300 million more in funding for Central America — nearly double what was available in 2014 — and we remain committed to working with Congress to provide additional resources,” a November White House fact sheet reads.

The U.S. is committed to working to build a stronger Central America with a strategy focusing on “prosperity, security and good governance,” the release states.

Specifically, efforts in police reform and community security will continue through CARSI, and development in renewable energy and improved educational access and quality will occur.

Addressing problems of security and poverty will both “help Central America and protect U.S. national security,” Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs said in her appeal before Congress in November.

Jacobson said the State Department predicts it could take $5 billion over five years to fully implement its strategy. The $300 million proposed in November was double the funds available for Central America for 2014.

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About the author

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    Claire Luke

    Claire is a journalist passionate about all things development, with a particular interest in labor, having worked previously for the Indonesia-based International Labor Organization. She has experience reporting in Cambodia, Nicaragua and Burma, and is happy to be immersed in the action of D.C. Claire is a master's candidate in development economics at the George Washington Elliott School of International Affairs and received her bachelor's degree in political philosophy from the College of the Holy Cross.