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How Central America Could Win from Trump's "America First" Policies

El Salvador Factory Workers

Factory workers in El Salvador. (flickr/Dennis Tang)

June 08, 2017

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras must develop human capital, formal jobs to battle insecurity, migration.—@ericfarn

The United States continues to be frustrated by a lack of progress in Central America even with a growing body of work supporting economic development, crime and insecurity. After years of slow burn, regional realities exploded onto Washington’s political agenda at the end of the Obama administration with the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied minors at the Southwest border of the United States. Despite the obligation of hundreds of millions of dollars since then—and a commitment for hundreds of millions more—indicators in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have barely budged since the end of the vicious civil wars over twenty years ago. Now, the election of Donald Trump has raised additional concerns. By restricting entry into the United States for migrants from Central America, including asylum seekers, while seeking to deport undocumented migrants back to their home countries, U.S. actions could inadvertently intensify pressure to the breaking point on already-stretched national and regional democratic institutions.

To ensure this is not the case, in mid-June the U.S. Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, together with their Mexican counterparts, will host a meeting in Miami of leaders from the Northern Triangle countries and ministerial-level representatives from others in the region. Vice President Pence is also likely to attend. This initiative is designed to set a new agenda building prosperity and improving security, while also seeking to target U.S. assistance and other assistance more effectively and galvanizing improved regional coordination and cooperation. One desired outcome would be the facilitation of new, unprecedented waves of investment from the private sector that will support economic growth and create jobs in the Northern Triangle. This would offer undeniably better options for citizens beyond the Scylla of a dangerous, uncertain trek north and the Charybdis of living in constant fear and even the possibility of premature, gang-involved death.

It is an effort that will disappoint without a radical rethinking and refocusing of regional priorities....

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