President Obama's offer of $1 billion per year for five years to Central America remains valid after officials in Washington met with ambassadors from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as well as the Inter-American Development Bank, to prepare the "Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle." However, the president's proposal certainly comes with the possibility of failure, due mainly to U.S. electoral politics. The Republicans simply don't care about living conditions in Central America and only look to discredit Obama and make him out to be a liar in order to avoid another Democratic win in the next election.
It's impossible not to think of Plan Colombia when talking about Obama's offer. Those billions of dollars are equal to what the U.S. spends in just one day on military operations in the Middle East. From the point of view of the U.S., a billion dollars isn't so much a modest as a laughable amount of money, albeit dramatically important for Central America, especially over five years. Not everyone is behind his plan, though, and if Congress — with a Republican majority — decides to scrap it, the president will once again look like a man whose hands are tied, which will actually hurt Republicans and be helpful to whomever the next Democratic candidate is.
The announcement has clear internal political motives to finance the Latino vote. If Congress' majority party wasn't currently led by its most hardheaded members, they might have taken advantage of the chance to criticize the president for the number being too small. But they won't. It's too subtle. To Central America, however, the "modesty" of the offered aid does not go overlooked, as the region has suffered so much as a result of its proximity to the United States and its brute politics, the Cold War, and problems of drug trafficking, in part caused by Plan Colombia.
Not very long ago, the whole world was exposed to the scandal of the thousands of children crossing the southern border of the U.S., many coming from Central America's Northern Triangle. The reaction wasn't the best, in part because it caught U.S. authorities off guard, which is why so many children were left in inadequate facilities. The coordinated action of local authorities and ambassadors from Mexico and Central America helped lower the rate of these cases, and the topic faded out of the media's spotlight. But illegal immigration continues, as living conditions in parts of Central America can truly be hell-like, forcing many to risk it all and travel on the famous train, "The Beast."
I agree that it is necessary to control corruption and that a stable legal system must be in place for private investment to begin. If there were more jobs in the Northern Triangle, immigration to the U.S. would decrease. Terrific. But giving money isn't the only answer: Buying products is also key. Guatemalan coffee is now gourmet and its entire production (600,000 pounds) is bought by Europe and by Starbucks, the largest coffee chain in the world. That has helped create and sustain more small and medium-sized businesses. Doing away with Obama's plan would be a huge political mistake. In the meantime, out of the meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank came promises that will be almost impossible for the governments involved to keep. That's the good news.