Secretary of State Pompeo Defends Cuts to Central American Aid
By Jennifer G. Hickey | April 11, 2019
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the Trump administration’s decision to cut foreign aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras under tough questioning from Democrats on a Senate panel.
“We have not yet been able to convince El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to take seriously this need to control their own borders and to keep their people from moving into Mexico and ultimately across our southern border, that we should stop, take a time out,” Pompeo told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. “We have ceased allocating new funds inside of those three countries.”
Pompeo announced that Central America aid will be conditional and that the Trump administration would provide a set of requirements for the three countries to meet before the U.S. would consider resuming the foreign assistance.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has been directed to reprogram some $450 million in FY2018 funding.
“These are the things that are expectations that the United States needs for America’s interest, and we think in every case will be in their own best interest as well. And when we get to that point, we will return to considering whether and how much and under what means and what tools will we use to restart the providing of assistance,” the secretary added.
The decision, however, has been heavily criticized by Democrats in both chambers, so it was not unexpected that the matter would be a focus of the panel.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) railed against the suspension of aid to the Northern Triangle nations, suggesting that “a lot of policy experts on the Northern Triangle are saying, it’s a very bad policy to cut off foreign aid to the three countries down there where these folks are originating from.”
“That’s one of our levers to keep them there and to keep the countries more stable,” he added.
Ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) echoed Udall, arguing that cutting funding “that supports the institutional capacity of our partners in Central America to deal with the root causes of migration, including grinding poverty and the violence of MS13, is not an effective way to manage that challenge.”
But Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) countered that too narrow a focus on aid is coming at the expense of actual efforts to deal with the present crisis and likened continuing that approach would was akin to “whistling past the graveyard.”
The Wisconsin senator also chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which has dealt in-depth with the issues of drug and human trafficking along the border, as well as existing loopholes in the asylum program. He noted that in numerous conversations with officials from Mexico that aid remains a central theme, which is a “long-term solution” that does nothing to wrestle control of the border from the drug cartels.
“We’ve spent hundreds of millions of development dollars down there, but until we crush the drug cartels I don’t see development dollars doing a whole lot of good and it will certainly do nothing to solve the problem in the here and now,” stressed Johnson.