The United States is planning massive cuts to foreign aid that could potentially have a negative impact on efforts to combat organized crime and insecurity in Latin America.
US President Donald Trump's administration is looking to slash assistance to developing countries by more than one-third in fiscal year 2018, a State Department budget plan obtained by Foreign Policy has revealed. (Document embedded below.)
While the 15-page draft is still only a proposal, the potential cuts are staggering, particularly for Latin America and the Caribbean.
In 2016, the United States provided more than $1 billion in development aid to countries in the Western Hemisphere. Trump's plan aims to cut that figure by almost 40 percent.
The cuts target funding for programs like the Economic Support Fund (ESF), which seeks "to promote economic or political stability in areas where the United States has special strategic interests," and Development Assistance, which "provides expertise and resources essential for the development of economic, political and social institutions in developing countries," according to the research organization Security Assistance Monitor. Programs related to health services would also see cuts under the plan.
In many cases, Trump's proposal would completely eliminate funding from these programs for certain countries. Development Assistance funding would fall to zero in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Peru.
Foreign Policy also reported that the Trump administration is considering merging the US Agency for International Development (USAID) with the State Department, as part of a plan detailed in a March 13 presidential executive order seeking to reorganize the executive branch.
Experts consulted by the magazine strongly criticized the proposal.
"What you're basically doing is eviscerating the most important tool of American influence in the developing world, which is our development program," said Andrew Natsios, the former USAID Administrator under President George W. Bush. "In my view, it will be an unmitigated disaster for the longer term."
In a February open letter, more than 120 retired military generals warned Congress and the White House against cutting funding for the State Department and other development agencies, saying their work is "critical to preventing conflict."
InSight Crime Analysis
The cuts to foreign assistance fit squarely with Trump's "America First" rhetoric. Surveys have shown that the US public believes the United States spends far more on foreign aid than it actually does, and most Americans favor reducing aid programs.
In reality, the United States only spends about 1 percent of its total federal budget on foreign aid. Therefore, the cuts do not represent a huge shift in overall spending. But they do represent a big blow to recipient countries that could threaten their ability to fight organized crime groups and improve security.
In Latin America, the ESF and Development Assistance programs have been supporting initiatives that aim to boost economic growth and strengthen local institutions. For example, while the efficacy of USAID anti-crime programs in Central America has been subject to debate, the initiatives sponsored by the agency have sought to generate prosperity and reduce crime and violence across the region.
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Recent research has established a link between underdevelopment and criminal activities. As discussed at length by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), crime appears to be both a cause as well as a consequence of poverty. And weak state institutions have been blamed for contributing to a host of crime problems throughout the region. Consequently, slashing funds for development initiatives that seek to overcome these concerns may end up strengthening the hand of criminal organizations.
US 2018 Fiscal Year Budget Control Levels (courtesy of Foreign Policy):