Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the Trump administration’s decision to cut aid to Central American countries in a Friday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead,” dismissing data that shows aid has lowered murder rates and migrant flows to the US in the past.
Tapper cited State Department statistics that show that after the US launched an aid program to El Salvador, homicide rates went down and the number of migrants fleeing to the US dropped as well.
Similar results were seen in Honduras and Guatemala, the other two “Northern Triangle” countries to which the Trump administration announced April 1 that it will cut aid.
Tapper asked Pompeo if the aid cuts were “self-defeating” given past results.
“Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent,” said Pompeo, “and you see the results.” He argued that the US had been “throwing more money at those problems” with little impact and there is “no reason to expect we’ll get any different outcome.”
When Tapper pointed out that the data showed the aid had a positive impact and that the numbers came from Pompeo’s own department, the top US diplomat said, “I think that President Trump’s decision makes perfect sense … I think the data you describe proves this point.”
“If what you’re doing doesn’t work,” Pompeo said, you should stop.
Tapper tried again, pointing out that homicides went down and “fewer people came,” according to “your agency’s data.”
The Obama administration launched an “Alliance for Prosperity” initiative in 2014 to respond to a crisis of unaccompanied minors being sent to the US southern border. The goal was to improve security and economic opportunity in those countries to reduce the incentive for migrants to leave and try to enter the US.
‘Return on our investment’
The US committed $420 million to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador for fiscal year 2017, while the three Northern Triangle countries committed $5.4 billion to support investments public safety and opportunity.
The Global Leadership Coalition, an organization of retired military leaders, diplomats and members of Congress, reported that the aid “not only worked, but also delivered a return on our investment for the American taxpayer.”
Homicide rates declined by 42% in El Salvador, 13% in Guatemala, and 23% in Honduras from 2015 to 2017. By 2017, American assistance helped improve security and economic conditions throughout the region, and border-crossing apprehensions had fallen to their lowest point since 1971, the group reports.
In fiscal year 2017, the US provided approximately $837 million in foreign assistance to Central America and Mexico for such programs to help them address the root causes of migration including brutal violence, hunger, and instability in communities.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney announced April 1 that the Trump administration would cut aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras because the countries “could do more” to mitigate the “humanitarian crisis” at the southern border.
The decision has been criticized by lawmakers, analysts, security and migration experts.
Officials would not say exactly how much money would be affected by the Trump directive and some of it has likely already been spent. Between last year and this year, about $1.3 billion was allocated to the region, with the vast majority of it going to those three countries, according to a study from the Congressional Research Service.
CNN’s Greg Clary contributed to this report