Faced with a burgeoning crisis at the southern border, President Joe Biden has pledged to increase economic assistance to countries in Central America’s Northern Triangle. He’s right to do so. But money alone won’t be enough.
The three Northern Triangle countries — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — are some of the least developed nations in the Western Hemisphere, with poverty rates twice as high as in the rest of Latin America. The impact of the pandemic and two hurricanes in 2020 compounded the region’s misery, displacing hundreds of thousands and causing Central America’s economies to shrink by 6%. All three countries rank among the most violent and corrupt places on earth. Surveys show that more than 1 in 5 citizens say they’ve had to pay bribes to receive government services.
The Biden administration has called for providing $4 billion over four years to the three countries to address the “root causes” of emigration. That’s roughly double the amount spent by Donald Trump’s administration, which in recent years cut off aid to punish the countries for failing to crack down on migration. The U.S. has an interest in holding the region’s leaders accountable for their citizens’ welfare, but amid public-health and environmental calamities, Trump’s policy toward Central America was cruel and shortsighted. Wisely, Biden wants to reverse it.