Cutting US Aid to Central America Is Not A Smart Solution
April 12, 2019
On Monday I met with California Governor Gavin Newsom as part of his visit to El Salvador to learn more about the root causes of migration from the Northern Triangle. He also met with a displaced family in our victim protection program and heard their story firsthand. President Trump’s proposal to discontinue all direct support to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras has caused many to look again at this complex issue. I’m pleased that we are seen as an organization that does understand, because of our research and experience, why people are fleeing this region and what is needed, both here and in the US, to support these families in crisis and provide durable solutions.
In our 2018 Impact Report, I wrote about the challenges experienced in the Northern Triangle recently. Electoral fraud, major setbacks in efforts to combat corruption, and continued systematic violations of the rights of citizens were at the forefront in the last year. There are always challenges in this part of the world in the defense of human rights and in raising the funding needed to support this mission. We are an organization that moves into challenge with courage, knowing what is at stake and knowing, too, that we have great supporters who move with us.
Many of you are asking us about this new threat. President Trump’s proposal would reverse years of US strategy toward the region at a time where in El Salvador, at least, progress is beginning to take hold. While we can’t project the entire ripple effect of such a devastating policy change, we do know that Cristosal’s recent growth into a regional organization would be seriously threatened, perhaps ended at the end 2019, if aid from the US is discontinued. While we advocate and pray for calmer minds to prevail, we have been advised that we should plan for the worst.
Like any institution, US foreign assistance has its deep flaws. Many supporters of US foreign aid to Central America have been eager to reform the mechanisms for delivering foreign aid where it is most needed, making it more innovative, efficient, and transparent. USAID’s decision to partner with Cristosal was a result of that movement. We were identified by USAID leadership in El Salvador as an organization with smart ideas and program models developed locally, with great promise of change.
In the third year of implementation of our USAID project, we have developed innovative tools for monitoring displacement, assisting victims, and working with communities to help find solutions for internally displaced people. Despite President Trump’s claim that US foreign assistance to the region doesn’t work, with a relatively small amount of funding by USAID standards, Cristosal has driven a historical shift in national security policy in El Salvador to prioritize assistance and justice for victims of violence. This shift is codified in a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, a proposal for a special law to assist internally displaced people, overwhelming public support, and, as recently as this week, public statements by both the current Minister of Justice and Security and the Vice President-elect to prioritize the state response to assist victims fleeing violence.
The USAID grant has also allowed us to scale our programing and propelled us forward into Guatemala and Honduras. Just in the last week, I signed groundbreaking agreements in Guatemala to build frameworks of protection for human rights. As things stand at this moment, we are dependent on federal support to continue critical regional work such as this.
Our response to this threat is to share what USAID support means to Cristosal, to the families with whom we partner, and to the long-term changes we are making together in the human rights landscape in the region. Whether we are talking with a governor, with a North American parish, or with a single concerned individual, bringing the truth about migration to light is important work. Each time you share the story, call out untruths, and reaffirm your own commitment to human rights, you become part of the solution.
We also know that to build stability and sustainability in our regional programming, we need to further diversify our funding. Individuals, faith communities, and businesses provide the most stable source of funding for us and increasing our support from all of you will protect us from the political whims that can threaten the progress that we’ve made. Private support allows Cristosal to remain independent, flexible, and responsive to the human rights needs in all three countries.
So we ask that you share that part of the story, too, and consider your own commitment to Cristosal. Every new investment and every increased donation builds strength and stability for our regional work and helps us move confidently in growing programming and partnerships. It is your investment that will allow us to provide protection to victims, repair the lingering effects of human rights violations, and build environments where peace is possible.
Many of you were with us in Cristosal’s early days. Your support was all we had then and together we’ve built something we could only have imagined. Your partnership is no less important now as we face these new threats.
We face this challenge, like so many others, together.