Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Aid cuts counterproductive, experts say (April 2, 2019)

U.S. President Donald Trump's move to cut $450 million allocated to aid in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras (see yesterday's post) would affect a broad chunk of programs in the Northern Triangle -- advocates say it will affect the countries' most vulnerable populations. So far the administration has not said whether certain types of assistance, such as military aid or support to combat drug trafficking, might be exempt from the move, reports the New York Times. Officials were scrambling yesterday to figure out what exactly the order entailed and how it would be implemented, reports Reuters.

Though Trump posits the cuts as retaliation for government inaction, most of the funds go to nongovernmental organizations, churches, charities and private contractors that carry out projects for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development. Indeed, using the funds to hit back against governments makes little sense, argues Michael Gerson in a Washington Post column.

Aid is in fact an imperfect tool that is implemented poorly -- but ending assistance to Central America will nonetheless be counterproductive, write Anita Isaacs and Anne Preston in a New York Times op-ed. "American aid to Central America has a lot of problems: Its total amounts are paltry, and it is mostly distributed inefficiently in large blocks by foreign contractors. Nonetheless, that aid is about the only outside support available to Central American governments confronting relentless poverty and violence. And some of the aid does work ..."

In a similar vein, Nacla notes the many deleterious effects of aid over the years -- but also maintains that the current move to cut financing is worst.

Several articles focus on Trump's accusation that Central American countries and Mexico are not working to stop migration -- and find that there are myriad policies in place, most in cooperation with the U.S.

In El Salvador development policies have actually been considered a success: both migration and homicide rates plummeted over the past three years, reports the Washington Post. U.S. aid funding has been used to train police officers, fund after-school programs and improve local governance -- and officials from both countries say the work put a dent in migration.

Mexico works closely with the U.S. on migration -- a cooperation that has continued despite President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's promise to respect migrants' rights. Mexican authorities are planning a "containment belt" near the border with Guatemala, and have agreed to host asylum seekers while their cases are processed in the U.S., notes the Washington Post. That being said, some argue that AMLO's relatively welcoming stance towards migrants has contributed to the surge of Central Americans at the U.S. border. Coupled with the new U.S. policy that keeps asylum seekers in Mexico, that is itself creating a crisis on the Mexican side of the border, reports the New York Times

And the situation be further complicated if Trump follows through on threats to close the border altogether. (See yesterday's post.) Such a move would not only affect Mexico, but would be drastic for communities on the U.S. side of the border as well, reports the Guardian. A complete shutdown would stop legal crossings, and disrupt billions of dollars in trade. Among other things: US consumers would run out of avocados in three weeks, reports the Guardian separately. (Yesterday AMLO met privately with visiting members of the US House of Representatives, reports EFE.)

Trump's threat to close the border is not without precedent, and in fact greatly resembles former U.S. president Richard Nixon's 1969 Operation Intercept, according to the Washington Post.

New Briefs

  • Russia has ramped up its presence in Venezuela, and support for Maduro in the midst of intense international pressure -- its part of a greater international relations chess game with the U.S. for global influence, reports the Washington Post. It could become Trump's own "red-line moment" with Russia, according to the New York Times. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The increase Russian (and Chinese) influence comes as international diplomats express frustration with the stalemate in Venezuela's crisis, reported McClatchy last week.
  • Venezuelan-American comic Joanna Hausmann hits back against the "Hands off Venezuela" movement. In a New York Times video op-ed, she argues that opponents focused on Trump's military threats in Venezuela are ignoring a dire humanitarian crisis.
Regional Relations
  • A group of Latin American countries, led by Mexico, are mounting diplomatic opposition to a secretive legal standard promoted by the US, UK and their allies to justify military operations in the Middle East. They fear it could eventually be used to justify intervention in Latin America, reports the Guardian.
  • Guatemala's electoral court accepted three challenges to Thelma Aldana's candidacy, at least temporarily putting the popular former attorney general out of the running, reports the Associated Press. Aldana, a prominent anti-corruption crusader, can challenge the decision. She said the accusations against her are politically motivated. The electoral court's decision was predictable but surprising considering Aldana's popularity, reports El País.
  • In Guatemala three female candidates are the main contenders for this year's presidential election -- but the judiciary seems to be more relevant than the popular vote in the race, writes Virgilio Álvarez Aragón in Nueva Sociedad.
  • Without Aldana in the race, null votes and absenteeism is expected to increase, which will impact the Movimiento Semilla candidates, reports Nómada.
  • A Mexican rock start committed suicide. He called it a "radical declaration of innocence" after he was accused anonymously of raping a woman when she was 13. The death comes in the midst of a surge in Mexico's Me Too movement. (AFP)
  • A Proceso report links Mexico's airport supervisor, Juan Manuel Hernández Palafox, to organized crime groups and alleges he facilitated the passage of drug shipments through Mexico City’s International Airport, as well as airports in Cancún, Guadalajara and Tijuana. (InSight Crime)
  • There are currently 498 human rights defenders and 292 journalists in the Mexican government’s protection program -- but most still fear for their safety, reports EFE.
  • U.S. border authorities are holding a group of migrant families in an outdoor temporary detention center under an El Paso bridge, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Police snipers have been deployed in Rio de Janeiro to take out armed suspects -- despite criticisms from rights groups. (AFP)
  • Brazil's Bolsonaro administration threatens to roll back human rights advances of recent years, but a new generation of activists and politicians are challenging inequalities and standing up for rights, writes Pedro Telles at Open Democracy.
El Salvador
  • Former Salvadoran first lady Ana Ligia de Saca will plead guilty to corruption charges related to her role in the laundering of $25 million in public money, reports the Associated Press.
  • Former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's potential candidacy in this year's elections is the great question confounding pollsters. Her participation would definitively change the playing field -- a strong economic downturn and poverty increases mean she would have a shot at winning -- though it's not clear whether she'll risk her influence by running, writes Brendan O'Boyle at Americas Quarterly.
  • Amid rising poverty, soup kitchens in Argentina say they are overwhelmed and called on the government to keep promises to supply milk, reports EFE.
  • Google and Cuban officials are exploring a direct connection that would allow internet users to navigate faster at lower prices, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Colombia's government has failed to comply with a coca crop substitution program that formed the cornerstone of the FARC peace deal agreement. It's a major setback for the country's drug fighting policies and leaves almost 100,000 families in limbo, reports InSight Crime.
  • The Guardian profiles the Siona indigenous tribe's fight against oil developments on their lands in Colombia.
  • Uruguay fired its defense minister, deputy and the army chief for allegedly covering up human rights abuses committed during military rule, reports the BBC.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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