President Trump announced this week that he has instructed the State Department to cut off all financial aid to the Northern Triangle of Central America-Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The action is in response to the many refugees escaping the violence they face in these countries by making their way to the southern border of the United States where they seek safe harbor for their families.
It is difficult to see how the President’s actions are anything more than a childish expression of frustration and pique that will only serve to make conditions worse for the innocents of the Northern Triangle and, by so doing, make things worse for the United States as we try to stem the tide of refugees appearing daily, in growing numbers, at our border.
I suppose one could make an argument that the money we provide to these nations is doing little to stem the flow of refugees. So why not save the money if the situation is not going to improve?
That would be one way to look at it.
But the President’s decree, while saving us a few bucks, will do absolutely nothing to address the crisis created here at home as a result of those escaping the violence in their country and looking to the United States as the answer to their problems.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
We actually already have a road map, with proven success, for how we can use our money and influence to improve the situation these nations – and their threatened citizenry – face.
It was called Plan Colombia – a cooperative venture between the American and Colombian governments that played a major role in turning Columbia from the crime-ridden, drug-cartel controlled nation engaged in a civil war that it was in the 1990’s to the peaceful, prosperous nation it is today.
In 1999, Colombian President Andres Pastrana and American President Bill Clinton signed an agreement that became law in 2000. The United States would provide money, military assistance and diplomatic initiatives designed to assist Colombia in gaining control of their drug cartel infestation while putting an end to the violent, left-wing insurgency that had long plagued the nation.
Rather than go with something resembling the Trump Doctrine-which requires that anything done by a predecessor is, by definition, wrong, boneheaded and worthy of ridicule, President George W. Bush continued the plan put in place by his predecessor.
What was in it for the USA?
The hope that we could stem the flow of drugs and refugees coming into the country from Colombia-while, as some critics would point out, protecting American corporate interests in Colombia.
And it worked.
By 2015, many of the cartels and drug gangs had either been destroyed or chosen to leave Colombia before it was too late. And with the efforts being made by the Mexican President to also take on the drug cartels, the drug dealers headed for – you guessed it- Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
At the same time, the Colombian government was in legitimate peace negotiations with FARC, their most virulent enemy.
With the help and influence of the United States, things were very much on the upswing in Colombia.
Based on the success, the Obama Administration and Colombia agreed to end Plan Colombia in 2015 and replace the program with the next phase, called Peace Colombia. This successor program called for the USA to continue providing financial aid to the nation predicated on a peace agreement with FARC which came to pass in 2017.
Today, we have what is referred to as The Colombian Miracle.
Rather than learn the lessons of Plan Colombia and use the approach to have a genuinely positive impact on the situations in the Northern Triangle, President Trump has chosen his preferred means of dealing with most everything that displeases him – vindictive and reactionary behavior.
Simply put, so long as street gangs in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are willing to inflict the punishment of death on anyone who fails to do exactly as they say, the citizens of these nations will continue to leave and head for the United States.
Cutting off our foreign aid to these nations will not solve the problem-either for the countries of the Northern Triangle or the United States.
There are only two ways to deal with such a problem.
We do what we are currently doing, which is forcing people to go back to the hell they are escaping-with a short stay in cages provided courtesy of the USA where parents are separated from their children; or
We do what the United States is more than capable of doing- using our influence, money and diplomatic skills (if we still have any) to take on the problem at its source, just as we did so successfully in Colombia.
There are also a number of ways this can be accomplished.
Certainly, the preferred method would be to convince the Northern Triangle nations that the creation and execution of a Plan Colombia type strategy is in everyone’s best interest.
However, should we encounter resistance due to governments that prefer pursuing corrupt practices to having peace in their nations, we have other ways of making our wishes known and accepted.
We are, after all, the most powerful nation on the planet.