The Trump administration has cut off all foreign aid to the Central American nations of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – known as the Northern Triangle countries.
“At the Secretary’s instruction, we are carrying out the President’s direction and ending FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle,” reads a statement to The Hill from a State Department spokesperson.
The sudden move comes after a Friday statement by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen – who said she signed a “historic” regional compact last week with the Northern Triangle to “combat human smuggling and trafficking, crack down on transnational criminals fueling the crisis, and strengthen border security to prevent irregular migration.”
Later Friday, President Trump said that said countries “set up” migrant caravans, per CNN.
“We were paying them tremendous amounts of money. And we’re not paying them anymore. Because they haven’t done a thing for us. They set up these caravans,” Trump reportedly said.
“At the Secretary’s instruction, we are carrying out the President’s direction and ending FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle,” said a State Department spokesperson. “We will be engaging Congress as part of this process.”
The move comes after disputed reports of the “mother of all caravans” assembling in Honduras. On Wednesday Mexico’s Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero warned “We have information that a new caravan is forming in Honduras, that they’re calling ‘the mother of all caravans,’ and they are thinking it could have more than 20,000 people.”
Trump, meanwhile, did not mince words on Friday – threatening to close the border with Mexico if they don’t stop the latest caravans.
"Mexico could stop it so easily," Trump said of "big caravans" he claimed are now coming from Central America.
He said he stopped foreign aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador because "they set up these caravans" and threatened to close the border "for a long time" pic.twitter.com/UqxcBSgOwM
— POLITICO (@politico) March 29, 2019
In December, Trump threatened to cut off aid to countries from which the caravans originate, and are “doing nothing for the United States but taking our money.”
Trump cuts off foreign aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. I’m happy to hear he is putting America First.
— Omar Navarro (@RealOmarNavarro) March 30, 2019
While Trump’s supporters have praised the move, others have suggested that cutting foreign aid will further destabilize the region and cause larger problems – including more migration.
Cutting foreign aid to our Central American neighbors will be broadly destabilizing & will exacerbate the problems that are leading to migration from these countries. Migration will likely increase, which the White House will then use as a cudgel in the 2020 election. #Cynical?
— Richard Bloom (@RichardBloom) March 30, 2019
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) – ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, denounced the move.
“If carried out, President Trump’s irresponsible decision to cut off our assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras would undermine American interests and put our national security at risk,” he said.
“U.S. foreign assistance is not charity; it advances our strategic interests and funds initiatives that protect American citizens. This latest reported move shows the Administration still does not understand that the United States cuts foreign aid to Central America at our own peril.”