Joe Biden Talks Security in Central America

Latin America and the Caribbean

This week Joe Biden took a two-day trip to meet with various leaders and organizations from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The goal was to emphasize the United States’ commitment to a proposed $1 billion aid package to help fund the Plan for the Alliance for Prosperity in the North Triangle, as well as discuss specifics and particular strategies to address chronic poverty, crime and corruption. The Plan for the Alliance for Prosperity in the North Triangle is designed to entice foreign investment, increase infrastructure and improve citizen security in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

On Monday, in a meeting with the Northern Triangle presidents, Biden reportedly urged Presidents Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador, Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, and Otto Perez of Guatemala to restructure their tax rates and revenue management, key obstacles to funding government programs in all three nations. “Right now your countries have among the lowest effective tax rates in the Western hemisphere,” Biden told the presidents, emphasizing tax-and-spend programs would raise standards of living.Source: AP

Biden also noted the importance of managing revenues “effectively, efficiently, and transparently so people know where their money is going,” addressing the issue of corruption that deeply permeates all three governments’ institutions.

A few specific benchmarks, and several more general ones, were set on the issue of security in all three countries. These include an agreement to hold a regional security dialogue with the three governments and United States in May of this year and promises from all three countries to improve transparency, oversight and quality of law enforcement. Honduras also plans to recruit, train and deploy an additional 6,000 police in the next three years and announce a proposal for comprehensive reform of its police training.

These were all included in a joint statement released by the three presidents and Vice President Biden on March 3rd, which can be read here. According to the document:

The senior representatives also agreed to conduct joint high-level dialogues on security issues with relevant authorities, to discuss social issues with civil society, and to review trade and investment issues through meetings between the U.S. private sector and the private sectors of the Northern Triangle of Central America. All these meetings will be held in the first half of this year.

The Northern Triangle leaders told Biden they would implement security reforms in order to stem the historic levels of people fleeing the region. President Peréz said cooperation among the nations is “in the spirit of shared responsibility to deal with the causes of irregular migration.” Peréz also added that the project was a compromise, and the three leaders each had a responsibility to find matching or even greater resources for every dollar contributed by the United States.

The vice president sent an extremely important message: the continuation of the U.N.-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) in Guatemala is a condition of the country receiving the U.S. aid package. The CICIG is an independent body that has partnered with Guatemala’s justice system since 2006 to investigate and prosecute high level and serious crime in the country’s institutions. However, President Peréz has said he will not accept the “imposition” of the CICIG as a condition on U.S. assistance.

The renewal of the Commission’s mandate, set to expire in September, has been a source of contention for President Peréz. As the Washington Office on Latin America noted, “The CICIG’s investigations have demonstrated that the Guatemalan justice system can be made to work even against those once deemed untouchable. It has brought to trial a former president, a minister of interior, and many other high-profile individuals with ties to criminal networks.” There have been numerous calls, even from Biden himself, for something similar to the CICIG to be replicated in Honduras and El Salvador due to its success in Guatemala. CICIG has an excellent compilation of coverage of Biden’s visit.

Biden also met with the private sector, tying the region’s development to the potential for foreign private investment. “Corporate America wants to come,” said Biden to a group of business leaders, calling investment in Central America “a matter of intense interest to the United States.” “You hold the key,” Biden told the business leaders. “You need to make a convincing effort to have companies around the world come and invest in Central America.” Biden’s 20-minute speech about investing in Central America can be found here.

While Biden had a number of messages for leaders of the Northern Triangle, the leaders also had messages for the United States: “If the leaders of the United States do not understand that a violent Central America from the consequence of drug trafficking is a tremendous danger for the United States, by the time they learn, it might be too late,” said Hernández.

Over at NACLA Alexander Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has a good breakdown of the challenges to U.S. assistance in the Northern Triangle and offers insight into how U.S. aid would be best spent. When it comes to how effective U.S. policy and the Plan for the Alliance for Prosperity will be in 2016, as analyst Mike Allison noted, “the devil is still going to be in the details and depend upon how much, if any, additional funding the US Congress approves.”