Trump Is Playing Dangerous Military Gambit in Central America

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There has been a flurry of Trump administration activity around Central America recently. Most prominently, several cabinet members and Vice President Pence traveled to Miami last month for the administration’s “Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America” that the United States cohosted with Mexico.

The signals so far are not encouraging. In the Trump White House’s proposed 2018 budget, we can see a shift toward trying to spur private sector investment in Central America, while increasing “defense” spending to more than half the overall budget. State Department and USAID programs for Central America are cut by over 30 percent, while additional security assistance is expected to come from the Pentagon budget. The new official emphasis, as reiterated by US officials throughout the Miami conference, is to encourage Central American, Mexican, and Colombian leadership on Central America.

While the USAID programs are themselves controversial, and their effectiveness in reducing crime and increasing social inclusion is often debatable, the emphasis on military solutions to complex problems of poverty, violence, crime, and outward migration is even more troubling.

A lot of what we’re seeing is rebranding of old initiatives and Obama administration policies that continue under Trump. The antidrug and anticrime part of the strategy is explicitly modeled on Plan Colombia, which Secretary Kelly has described as “a miracle” in terms of its impact. The Trump administration is also doubling down on Plan Frontera Sur, which critics have described as the “outsourcing” of apprehending and deporting Central Americans, fleeing violence, back to their home countries. The economic components of the approach rely on the Obama-era Plan for Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle and continuing Bush-era plans for massive infrastructure, energy, and communications development (originally known as Plan Puebla Panama, later folded into Proyecto Mesoamérica).

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