“The challenges ahead are formidable. But if the political will exists, there is no reason Central America cannot become the next great success story of the Western Hemisphere.”
—Vice President Joe Biden
The people of the United States and Central America have a strong and abiding friendship. We are bound together not just by proximity, but by our shared history and values, and the deeply rooted connections of family and friends that inextricably link our futures. These ties are an essential part of our strength, and they should never be diminished or taken for granted.
Yet, from the first moments of announcing his candidacy for president, Trump has insulted and bullied our closest neighbors, and demonized as less-than-human migrants and the people of our partner nations throughout the region. He has governed through fear and division at home, and abandoned U.S. leadership in the region. It’s not just a moral outrage, it’s a complete failure of American global leadership that is exacerbating challenges in our own region and making the people of the United States less secure.
The Western Hemisphere has the potential to be secure, democratic, and prosperous from the northern reaches of Canada all the way to the southern tip of Chile. Critical to achieving this goal is ensuring that the nations of Central America–especially El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the Northern Triangle countries–are strong, secure, and capable of delivering futures of opportunity for their own people.
Currently, the Northern Triangle faces enormous challenges from violence, transnational criminal organizations, poverty, and corrupt and ineffective public institutions. This is forcing too many families, unaccompanied children, and adults to make an untenable choice: leave behind everything they know and undertake a dangerous journey to seek a better life, or stay and live under the constant threat of violence, persecution, hopelessness, or even death. Trump’s response has been to enact draconian immigration policies that seek to undo our asylum and refugee laws, coupled with severe reductions in our foreign assistance to the region. Trump has failed to address the challenge of irregular migration and abandoned our commitment to human rights and our democratic values in the process. And, we see the results of his dangerous and erratic decisions every day in the humanitarian crisis at our border.
Joe Biden knows that the most effective and sustainable way to reduce migration from the Northern Triangle is to comprehensively address its root causes–the factors pushing people to leave their countries in the first place–because he’s done it before. As the point-person for the Obama-Biden Administration to address the surge of unaccompanied minors from the Northern Triangle in 2014, Biden successfully built consensus among Democrats and Republicans in Congress in favor of a multi-year strategy to reduce irregular migration, and secured $750 million to support reforms in the region. Biden’s strategy engaged the leaders of the region to take responsibility for improving economic prosperity through poverty reduction and regional integration programs, deepened security cooperation to reduce gang violence and combat transnational criminal organizations, and strengthened institutions through technical assistance that improved governance and transparent fiscal management. The Biden approach reduced violence and helped to ensure that families and children remained in their home countries. Despite this success, since assuming office, the Trump Administration has delayed, reduced, or diverted assistance to Central America–a counterproductive policy that has been rejected by congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle.
As president, Biden will immediately do away with the Trump Administration’s draconian immigration policies and galvanize international action to address the poverty and insecurity driving migrants from the Northern Triangle to the United States. Central American governments and societies have a primary responsibility to address the drivers of emigration in their own countries, but the depth of the necessary reforms require sustained international assistance and cooperation. Renewed U.S. leadership is desperately needed, and must be complemented by private sector investment, the support of the international donor community, and a commitment by regional governments to undertake fundamental reforms.
As president, Joe Biden will renew a robust commitment to U.S. leadership in the region and pursue a comprehensive strategy for Central America by:
- Developing a comprehensive four-year, $4 billion regional strategy to address factors driving migration from Central America;
- Mobilizing private investment in the region;
- Improving security and rule of law;
- Addressing endemic corruption;
- Prioritizing poverty reduction and economic development.
A COMPREHENSIVE FOUR-YEAR, $4 BILLION REGIONAL STRATEGY
The people of the region understand that addressing these challenges in a sustainable way demands systemic change and reforms across many sectors of society in the Northern Triangle–and that sort of change requires a serious investment of political will and resources at every level. It requires the sustained commitment from the leaders and peoples of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and as they step up, the United States should be there to offer support and partnership. It is in the direct interest of the United States to help drive that change with a comprehensive strategy of U.S. support for regional initiatives and engagement at the highest levels of our government.
As president, Biden will renew the U.S. commitment to tackling the root causes driving migration with an integrated, four-year, $4 billion regional strategy that:
- Requires countries to allocate a substantial amount of their own resources and undertake significant, concrete, and verifiable reforms;
- Places strong conditions for verifiable progress to ensure that U.S. taxpayer funds are used effectively;
- Puts combating corruption at the heart of U.S. policy in Central America;
- Marshals private sector investment, including through public-private partnerships, to supplement government funds;
- Invests primarily in civil society organizations that are on the frontlines of addressing root causes;
- Renews efforts to work constructively with Mexico, Canada, and other regional partners from Central and South America; and
- Recognizes the central role of women as a powerful force for development.
To pay for this investment in the future of our region, Biden will reprioritize money away from the Department of Homeland Security’s budget for detention, which has skyrocketed under Trump’s inhumane and unnecessary policies, in favor of more effective and cost-efficient alternatives to detention. The savings from not locking migrants away like criminals or separating families will be much better used to improve conditions in the region and help people feel safe in their home countries.
MOBILIZING PRIVATE INVESTMENT IN THE REGION
Alone, government investment and generous foreign aid are insufficient to stimulate the kind of economic opportunity the people of Central America need to build stable, secure, middle class futures. Ultimately, economies will only grow sustainably by attracting greater private investment–both from international sources, and from their citizens being willing to invest at home.
A Biden administration will harness private sector investment to promote economic stability and job creation in Central America by:
- Working with multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), to develop infrastructure and promote foreign investment by engaging with the private sector in a cost-effective and competitive manner. The United States has historically been a significant funder of these international organizations, and we should use our role and investments to ensure that these institutions focus on Central America as a priority.
- Reducing the barriers to private sector investment by prioritizing strengthening the rule of law with increased judicial capacity and improving the competitiveness of the Northern Triangle market by modernizing and standardizing customs procedures.
- Directing the U.S. Trade Representative and the Commerce Department to evaluate whether the countries of Central America are abiding by their commitments under DR-CAFTA, including ensuring that labor practices do not disadvantage competition. Maximizing our trade and commercial deals also generates greater economic opportunities for U.S. businesses and investors. The U.S. is the primary source of foreign direct investment in Central America.
- Bolstering microfinance and financial inclusive banking in Central America with a priority on programs that empower women. Remittances from family members sending money home constitutes a larger share of the GDP in some Northern Triangle countries than foreign direct investment, accounting for more than 10 percent of GDP in Guatemala and approaching 20 percent in El Salvador and Honduras. As president, Biden will create mechanisms to help remittance recipients, especially women, invest in and start small businesses.
- Focusing economic development efforts on modernizing the Northern Triangle’s power grids, ports, and roads, so that local industries can compete globally. In the short term, Biden will join efforts to double the capacity of SIEPAC, the Central American Electrical Interconnection System, to generate electricity for the region.
IMPROVING SECURITY AND THE RULE OF LAW
Families will continue to flee the region if they and their children are not safe in their home communities. They will not try to start a business. They will not invest in their future. Violence and a lack of faith in the capacity of the region’s security services are an enormous barrier to progress in the Northern Triangle. Strengthening security and establishing confidence in the rule of law are the cornerstones for all the other reforms that are needed in the Northern Triangle. Improving both is in the direct interest of people throughout the region and the United States.
A Biden Administration will tackle regional security challenges by:
- Supporting reforms at the national level to fight corruption in the security services and strengthen the judiciary. Investing in improving professional standards and training for police and security forces in the region is key to ensuring that public safety, in partnership with communities, is prioritized.
- Backing violence reduction programs and job training programs that prevent youth from joining dangerous criminal gangs in the first place. These efforts will build on the latest evidence-based practices worldwide to reduce violence with data-driven programs that target high-risk offenders through violence interruption; cognitive, behavioral, and family therapy; juvenile justice reform; restorative justice; and workforce development.
- Providing technical assistance to judges and prosecutors to help authorities more effectively combat financial crimes.
- Ensuring access to justice and support services for victims of domestic violence. Domestic and intra-family violence continue to be a major problem in the Northern Triangle countries and a driver of migration, particularly for women and children. Biden will restore full access to asylum for domestic violence victims, while also strengthening prosecutors’ abilities to pursue domestic violence cases and put perpetrators behind bars.
ADDRESSING ENDEMIC CORRUPTION
Central America will never be able to mobilize private investment on the scale necessary or deliver the services its people need without also addressing corruption. Corruption prevents nations from governing effectively, siphons off resources needed for critical investments in things like infrastructure and education, drives away outside investment, creates crises of legitimacy in fragile democracies, and leaves countries vulnerable to organized crime. It is a cancer that is eating away at the countries of the Northern Triangle and preventing them from making meaningful progress on any of their other key challenges. As the most corrupt Administration in modern American history, Trump has undercut U.S. moral leadership on this issue, and his efforts to combat corruption anywhere in the world have been woefully inadequate to nonexistent.
A long-time vocal proponent of anti-corruption efforts around the world, including in the Northern Triangle, as president, Biden will treat anti-corruption in the Northern Triangle as a top priority by:
- Revoking visas to the United States and freezing assets of corrupt individuals from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
- Increasing the presence of U.S. Justice and Treasury Department attachés at our Embassies in Central America to better fight organized crime and illicit activity, and creating a new office as part of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) to investigate corruption in the Northern Triangle.
- Prioritizing additional funding to train prosecutors in specialized anti-corruption policies and procedures.
- Supporting existing anti-corruption mechanisms while also working with partners to create a regional commission to fight corruption, build more robust domestic institutions, and help local prosecutors pursue corruption. To ensure long-term sustainability and success, Biden will also enlist the support of international organizations, such as the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, that already have anti-corruption efforts in place.
PRIORITIZING POVERTY REDUCTION AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Progress depends on creating a stronger security environment, but it cannot be the sole focus of our efforts in the region. Investing in economic development and the potential of the people of the region is critical for long-term success. Unfortunately, Trump doesn’t understand that U.S. development aid is a vital investment not just in the success of the region, but in our own future security and prosperity.
A Biden Administration will prioritize poverty reduction and development by:
- Addressing food insecurity as a root cause of migration by investing in programs that combat malnutrition in the Northern Triangle, particularly in Guatemala’s Western Highlands and in the dry corridor along the Pacific coast of Central America.
- Strengthening U.S. investments in reintegrating returning migrants to ensure these individuals do not once again undertake the dangerous trek north. Biden will work with the private and non-profit sector in the Northern Triangle to target these individuals for job training and prevention programs, many of whom have gained valuable skills – including English-language skills.
- Prioritizing developing human capital. Biden will work with the public and private sectors to provide training opportunities for youth in the region, while also supporting more scholarships to bring Central American students to study in the United States.
- Providing technical assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of the Treasury to support tax reforms and enforcement. The Northern Triangle governments struggle to meet basic governance challenges such as securing their countries against criminal gang activity, mitigating the effects of extreme poverty, or building stronger educational systems. With increased tax revenue, the countries of the Northern Triangle can invest more of their own money in combating insecurity and strengthening economic development.
- Developing in coordination with countries throughout the region a comprehensive strategy to address the effects of the climate crisis. In our own hemisphere, climate change is already undermining security and prosperity, as well as driving increased migration. Biden’s strategy to meet the greatest threats and create opportunities includes a focus on the Caribbean and the Northern Triangle to promote transitions to clean energy as well as climate change adaptation and resilience.