Vice President Biden, More of the Same Won’t Work in Central America

Source: The Hill

Vice President Biden is a man on a mission. Over the last few weeks, the White House’s go-to guy on Latin America has made every effort to persuade Congress to approve a $1 billion aid request for Central America. In separate op-eds in The Hill and The New York Times, Biden has argued that this money could help jump-start the region economically and pave the way for “the next great success story of the Western Hemisphere.” But Biden’s billion-dollar plan has already encountered resistance in Congress, and from fellow Democrats no less. “We’ve spent billions of dollars there over two decades,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) recently noted. “And we’ve seen conditions get worse in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador.”

There is no doubt that these three countries – often referred to as Central America’s Northern Triangle — could use some outside help. Appalling levels of violence and dire economic conditions have led increasing numbers of Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran citizens, including tens of thousands of children, to flee to neighboring countries and the U.S. The Biden plan’s apparent objective is to prevent these countries from spiraling into further economic and social turmoil. But is there anything to suggest that the proposed aid package will work, when past assistance clearly hasn’t?

Funding for development assistance to Central America is set to increase by nearly 400 percent under the Biden plan, with most of the funds going to the Northern Triangle. The White House’s budget request states that much of this funding is designed to “support the priority objectives” identified in the “Alliance for Prosperity” plan that the Inter-American Development Bank helped the three governments draft last year. Among these objectives are much-needed investments in education, health and housing.

But the “Alliance” plan appears to be largely focused on attracting forms of foreign investment that have arguably made life worse for many Central Americans and had little positive impact on the overall economic situation. These include investments in “strategic sectors” — textile manufacturing, agro-industry and tourism — which all too frequently offer workers poverty-level jobs and provoke the displacement of small farmers and entire communities whose rights and historic claims to land are rarely supported by state authorities.

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