One of the time-honored practices – and myths – behind globalist U.S. foreign policies has been its faith that turmoil in various parts of the world that allegedly threatens American interests can be either eliminated or reduced to manageable levels with enough foreign aid. The idea is that such assistance will address the social and economic problems thought to be mainly to blame for the instability. So it’s no surprise that the globalist Biden administration has decided that aid programs are the keys to bringing immigration from Central America under control – though not of course right away.
As stated by Vice President Kamala Harris upon being tasked by President Biden to oversee U.S. effort to turn the counties of the region’s “Northern Triangle” into places whose populations won’t be determined to leave, the United States “must address the root causes that cause people to make the trek” northward.
That’s why I sure hope she reads Colbert I. King’s column in Tuesday’s Washington Post before she rolls up her sleeves too far. For as the author notes, the Biden administration plan to turn the Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) from clearly failed states into (reasonable) success stories isn’t exactly new in its essentials.
And especially in recent years, when conditions in the region ostensibly worsened dramatically, and therefore fueled especially big migrants flows, there’s been no shortage of U.S. aid, especially considering the tiny size of the three economies.
As King details,
“Congress appropriated more than $3.6 billion to fund a Strategy for Engagement in Central America program between 2016 and 2021. The money was supposed to strengthen rule of law, improve the administration of justice, promote economic prosperity, prevent violence and combat gangs, and empower youth and women.
“>In fiscal 2021 alone, U.S. funding amounted to $505.9 million.
“>Between 2013 and 2018, The U.S. Agriculture Department allocated $407 million to Central America to provide school meals, nutritional programs for women, infants and children, and to train and provide technical assistance to improve agricultural productivity.
“>The Obama administration asked for money to help the region in fiscal 2016, and Congress appropriated $750 million, requiring the countries to improve border security, combat corruption and address human rights concerns.”
Then the author – properly – proceeds to ask “What happened to it all?” And what can the Biden administration do to make sure that the $4 billion it plans to spend in the region will work any better if Congress approves this sum?
Moreover, the case against more Central America aid as a Border Crisis game changer is actually stronger than King describes. Because Washington has not only been pouring money into the region for decades. It’s also granted these three Central American countries (and their regional neighbors) tariff cuts and other trade-related assistance aimed at enabling them to export their way to prosperity.
Indeed, as then President George W. Bush declared while lobbying for passage of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) – which was eventually expanded to include the Dominican Republic,
“People have got to understand that by promoting policy that will help generate wealth in Central America, we’re promoting policy that will mean someone is less–more likely to stay at home to find a job. If you’re concerned about immigration to this country, then you must understand that CAFTA and the benefits of CAFTA will help create new opportunity in Central American countries, which will mean someone will be able to find good work at home, somebody will be able to provide for their family at home, as opposed to having to make the long trip to the United States. CAFTA is good immigration policy as well as good trade policy.”
Critics can reasonably argue that these U.S. programs failed to achieve their immigration aims because they were poorly designed. On the aid front, it’s true that too much of the assistance provided by the United States during the Cold War was military or other security assistance that largely helped corrupt governments repress their own people – and fight rebels labeled as tools of the Soviet Union and Cuba.
When it comes to trade, globalist U.S. Presidents did Central America no favors, either. For CAFTA simply plunged the region into a frantic race to the bottom in wages and worker safety that had been sparked by the decision to free up trade indiscriminately with all the very low-income countries (including China, India, and Bangladesh) that also produced the apparel products that have represented Central America’s best hope for prospering via globalization.
At the same time, significant U.S. assistance for Central America continued after the Cold War’s end, and more was targeted at economic development. And the Biden administration has said nothing about U.S. trade policy reforms that actually would give the Northern Triangle – or the rest of Central America for that matter, or Mexico – major legs up on non-Western Hemisphere competitors.
All of which could support the conclusion that no amount of aid or trade breaks can make Central America successful. A globalist administration will be particularly loathe to accept this admittedly depressing proposition, but there’s abundant evidence in its favor. The work of development economist Lawrence E. Harrison, to cite one leading example, has compellingly argued that some counties – and entire regions – simply don’t have what it takes to achieve economic success because of the cultures they’ve evolved.
At the same time, as my friend – and noted political scientist and former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda – has argued, the Central American economies are so small that enough smartly spent U.S. money might be able to overcome even these deep-rooted obstacles.
I can’t say that I know the answer. But the analyses of King, Harrison, and Castaneda all point to the overarching conclusion that the kind of business-as-usual version of the address-the-root-causes of Central America’s failings being contemplated by the Biden administration can’t possibly stem the migrant flow. Moreover, until genuinely promising plans are developed, there will be no substitute for re-securing the border by reinstating the type of Trump-ian controls that minimize the strength of the U.S. magnets that influence migrant flows as surely as the problems of sending countries.