The plan announced last week by the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras is a promising start toward addressing the issues causing so many people to flee those countries.
Announced alongside Vice President Joe Biden and Inter-American Development Bank President Moreno, the plan focuses on development and job opportunities for youth, providing security through prevention and better law enforcement, and improving governance. But it’s going to take more than rhetoric to attack the problems driving migration. The governments of Central America and their private sectors, the United States government and U.S. philanthropic community, and other international donors are going to have to provide resources to turn the rhetoric into reality.
Securing funding from the United States government, other countries, and the private sector will be only the first step. We must also make sure the money is spent wisely. Congress and the Administration should take an active role in helping to facilitate these smart investments.
Yesterday, in fact, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere heard from Administration officials about their plan to deal with the surge in migration of unaccompanied children from Central America to the U.S. Both Administration officials and subcommittee members expressed a mutual interest in addressing the root causes of the issues plaguing the region.
One common-sense approach would be to make sure new aid builds on the decades of support and investments made by U.S. foundations and other nonprofits working to help the region. A new report commissioned and released today by the Seattle International Foundation shows that between 2010 and 2012, 138 foundations awarded 909 grants for Central America totaling $488.4 million. However, there is poor coordination between the U.S. government, private philanthropy, and other donors. The problems of Central America are complex, and to succeed we need to foster collective action and work to maximize and align the investments of key stakeholders.
The Obama Administration has an important role to play in helping shape a regional strategy that can leverage private resources and ensure the federal government’s dollars are maximized.
The U.S. government and other nations have poured billions into these countries over the decades, but state institutions remain fragile and unable to deliver basic services to the majority of the population or guarantee human security. Conditions are so poor that in the past year, we saw more than 60,000 unaccompanied children fleeing Central America and arriving at the U.S. border. They are fleeing extreme poverty, conscription into criminal gangs, and the highest murder rates in the world. But perhaps most importantly, they are fleeing societies where the governments are incapable of protecting their citizens or their economies leave too many without a chance to earn a basic income.
The people of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras need support that can boost their economies and strengthen their state institutions. But they also need smart aid that helps improve basic government functions and encourages the private sector to create new jobs for millions of disenfranchised youth.
Vice President Biden rightly points out the dire infrastructure needs in this region for roads, bridges and electrical grid improvements. But its people need jobs, and the training and education necessary to do those jobs. As we build roads and bridges, we must also work to prepare the craftsmen and engineers who will build and maintain that infrastructure, and the entrepreneurs and workers who will use it to build more inclusive economies.
This region needs strong, accountable government institutions. The three countries must tackle organized crime, street gangs, and pervasive insecurity. That requires solid criminal investigations, professional police forces, and effective criminal justice systems. Community policing and special criminal investigation units are models that show promise, so aid should be targeted at improving civilian law enforcement and court systems.
The people of this region need support in combating corruption and increasing the accountability of their elected leaders and public officials. Accordingly, support should flow to governments and agencies where leaders are committed to strengthening civilian-led law enforcement, criminal justice systems, and the rule of law.
Most agree on the issues; these are complex problems that require a smart, long term commitment and the political will to change the status quo. We need to also remember that help is not enough. Let’s make sure we send smart help. This is a rare opportunity for the U.S. to lead, improve millions of lives, and increase our standing in Latin America.
This op-ed by Mauricio Vivero , CEO of Seattle International Foundation, which supports worldwide poverty alleviation efforts through grant-making and other activities, with a strategic focus on Central America, appeared here.