Lines of Action
Our strategy will be to use international resources to address the immediate and longer-term challenges facing Central American governments, while encouraging greater Central American government political and financial commitment. Specifically, we will promote regional prosperity through regional integration, deepen security cooperation to reduce gang violence and the influence of organized crime, and provide technical assistance to promote good governance and fiscal management. These three overarching areas for action – prosperity, security, and governance – are mutually reinforcing and of equal importance.
- Strengthening Central American Institutions: We will work with regional governments to promote concrete projects that will strengthen the mandates of key institutions and highlight the need to bring greater scale and coordination, especially for major regional economic initiatives.
- Promoting Trade Facilitation under Existing Free Trade Agreements: Though the Central America – Dominican Republic – United States Free Trade Agreement and intra-Central American trade agreements create a framework for highly integrated markets, the region is not operating at its full integration potential because of customs/border and transportation inefficiencies and other logistical impediments to cross-border trade. We will work with governments, private sector organizations, and multilateral organizations to promote the full implementation of existing trade agreements and implementation of the World Trade Organization Trade Facilitation Agreement.
- Linking Central America to an Integrated North America: Consistent with our commitment at the February 19 North American Leaders Summit in Mexico, we will promote deeper cooperation regionally between Central and North America. We will focus on areas such as transportation, customs, border control, law enforcement, energy distribution, and investment protections, taking particular advantage of Mexico’s existing collaboration with Guatemala.
- Promoting Transport and Customs/Border Integration: Poor roadways and lengthy border crossing procedures slow truck traffic to an average of 10 miles per hour in Central America. We will seek ways to support and complement projects such as the IDB’s $1.4 billion Coordinated Border Management and Pacific Corridor logistics projects to improve transportation networks and provide more efficient air, maritime, and land ports of entry. These measures will enable safe and secure trade resulting in improved regional competitiveness, and more opportunity in the formal economy.
- Promoting More Efficient and Sustainable Energy: The Central American Electrical Interconnection System’s regional grid, a project first envisaged in the 1980s and launched in 2007, is complete and, subject to reform that promotes electricity trade, Central America would attract more investment, lower energy prices, and advance energy security. However, the full benefits will only accrue if countries adopt integrated regulatory regimes and governance policies that attract foreign investment, increase modernization and privatization, and encourage adoption of regional energy solutions and standards. We will provide technical assistance to help countries modernize their regulatory systems, diversify their energy matrixes, and facilitate increased financing for investment in energy-related projects. There are good opportunities for collaboration with Mexico and Canada in this area.
- Reducing Poverty: As indicated in the background, 50 percent of Central America’s population lives in poverty. We will focus on initiatives aimed at lowering the poverty rate below 40 percent during the next decade and put the poverty rate on a downward trajectory over the longer term. A key component of this effort will be rural development programs.
- Education and Workforce Development: Central American countries have among the lowest secondary school graduation rates in the Hemisphere, and the quality of education at the primary level is weak as evidenced by low reading scores in primary grades. Improving the quality of education would likely increase Central American productivity. In the short term, we will focus education and vocational training in the cities and regions that are the source of the recent migration surge, but we will also promote broader efforts by Central American governments and institutions to expand access to education and update curricula. The U.S. Agency for International Development is developing approaches to improve the quality of education, keep children in school, reintegrate drop outs and provide workforce training. We will use the President’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative to focus on opportunities in higher education as well.
- Business Development: The challenges of starting a business in Central America push economic activity into the informal sector, limiting business growth and depriving governments of tax revenue. We will work with regional governments and the private sector to remove barriers to economic opportunity in both urban and rural areas; improve the business enabling environment; promote small businesses and encourage entrepreneurship; enhance access to financial services, including credit and banking services; expand access to markets and strengthen participation in value chains; and develop the next generation of job creators and leaders. We will work with the private sector to encourage investments that will foster broad-based economic growth.
- Increasing Resilience: Global climate change, setbacks such as the coffee fungus, and weak governmental institutions threaten the economic and environmental resilience of Central American countries. Unseasonal temperature and rainfall patterns damage small-scale and commercial agriculture in Central America; local governments are ill equipped to respond to different natural disasters; and rural communities are heavily reliant on stressed natural resources. To help countries manage these challenges, we will: assist with improving land and resource management; reduce deforestation; help vulnerable countries upgrade critical infrastructure; protect potable water supplies; develop risk mitigation measures in concert with the private sector; and improve rural livelihoods.
U.S. engagement complements the efforts of host nations and like-minded donors to: (1) reduce levels of crime and violence; (2) strengthen rule of law institutions; and (3) assist nations and marginalized communities in addressing the root causes of insecurity that impede broader economic development and social inclusion. Many successes have resulted from those investments and evaluations will continue to: a) inform the smartest investments moving forward; and b) allow for governments and the private sector to devote resources to “scale-up” successful models. Host nation investment in domestic and regional security institutions is important. Security cooperation and assistance should be coordinated with recipient government actions to provide security to its citizens, work in concert with U.S. law enforcement agencies, address corruption, promote governmental transparency, and protect human rights.
We will focus on:
- Promoting Police Reform: We will build on past police reform initiatives to create more professional police forces able to reduce corruption within the ranks, develop a police career path, and perform their functions in accordance with their mandate. We must focus efforts on building measurable increases in police security capacity, including a commitment to community policing through multilateral efforts and increased regional security cooperation. Vetted units working in concert with U.S. departments and agencies are important to this effort.
- Improving Community Security: Community policing programs in Nicaragua, and U.S.–supported municipal crime prevention programs throughout the region have proven the ability of even poorly resourced security forces to make a major impact on the security of Central American cities and towns. We will use this and similar models to expand the presence of trusted security forces significantly in communities most affected by violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. There will be a special focus on reducing the presence of gangs and prevention activities in vulnerable communities.
- Continuing Defense Cooperation: The United States will continue to build defense partnerships that professionalize and improve the competency, capability, and accountability of military institutions in the region from the tactical to the strategic levels. The United States will assist partner militaries to develop long-term plans and postures that, when appropriate, transition them from their current roles of supporting internal security to other missions as determined by their civilian authorities’ national security strategies and defense priorities. The United States will also work to strengthen regional defense cooperation and invite increased multilateral defense activities in Central America with other capable partners in the Western Hemisphere. All security and defense cooperation will continue to emphasize respect for human rights and the rule of law, as well as support to civilian authorities that lead our partners’ security agendas.
- Attacking Organized Crime: Organized crime groups have become more powerful in Central America and, in some cases, have gained significant influence over elected bodies and actual territory. Drug trafficking is the major source of revenue for the most powerful organizations, so our work to combat organized crime must be closely linked to intensified counternarcotics efforts in Central America. Some criminal groups are involved in a broader array of criminal activities, such as extortion, and, while not major actors in the drug trade, have a greater impact on the daily lives and security of citizens. International cooperation, specialized police and other law enforcement efforts, and judicial operations can support Central American governments to disrupt and dismantle such groups. Over the medium term, this effort may require creative new initiatives, such as regional courts or prison systems to reduce the vulnerability of local police and judicial officials. Multilateral efforts should focus on attacking vulnerabilities in the supply chains, transportation systems, governance of borders (land, maritime, and air), and financial infrastructure of major organized crime groups and smuggling networks through coordinated enforcement operations.
- High-Level Security Dialogue: A High-Level Security Dialogue will be established to reinforce these security efforts. This dialogue will invite other international partners supporting Central American security including the region, the European Union, and multilateral organizations.
- Targeting Corruption: One of the greatest complaints of citizens in Central America is a culture of corruption. We will support programs to modify current practices in the delivery of government services to reduce opportunities for corruption.
- Investing in Civil Service Reform: Throughout Central America, many essential, day-to-day governmental service delivery and policy implementation functions are carried out by staff who turn over with every election cycle. As a result, there is little institutional memory across organizations and a steep learning curve following each election. The lack of a professional civil service undercuts the efficacy of donor investments, as well as the capacity and effectiveness of governments in the region. In cooperation with host governments and with the support of other donor organizations, the United States Government will support efforts to undertake comprehensive civil service reforms, such as support for the institutionalization of career public service systems, including merit-based hiring and promotion, training, and professional development curricula. Given the scope of the needed reforms, a coordinated multi-donor investment is essential in order for us to move with this program.
- Improving Fiscal Capacity: Central American countries have among the lowest tax collection rates in the world, impacting the delivery of government services. Increased ability to generate new revenues and improve public financial management will help enhance the ability of governments to make key public investments, provide critical public services, improve fiscal transparency, and decrease the need for international donor support. We envision a major increase in technical support to national governments, major municipalities, and regional organizations to establish clear metrics for the collection of revenues and delivery of services.
- Increasing the Role of Civil Society: Citizen-led efforts to demand better government services, to seek reduced corruption, to broaden economic access, to improve use of tax dollars, and to promote human rights are key to improving governance. Civil society has grown increasingly important in Central America, and we will promote the capacity of citizens to demand accountability from and influence their governments, including through the Open Government Partnership and similar pro-transparency initiatives.
- Strengthening Judicial Institutions: U.S. resources spent building the capacity of justice systems in the region have resulted in a sector that is stronger than a generation ago, however, results have been mixed largely due to a lack of host government political will for meaningful reform. The lack of transparent and effective judicial system not only deters domestic and foreign investment, but more importantly forces ordinary citizens to endure a sense of pervasive injustice in both the civil and criminal arena. This is an area that will require significant contributions by those with greater experience and success in the application of civil law. At the same time U.S. assistance is needed in the form of judicial engagement programs, imbedded advisors for prosecutorial efforts in areas of U.S. expertise, technical assistance for prison reform, and expansion of prison security and capacity.
- Reinforcing Democratic Institutions: Some democratic institutions remain fragile in Central America and require the attention and support of the international community. While improved delivery of government services will help reinforce support for democracy, we will also need to maintain a strong defense of regional commitments to democracy and human rights to prevent governments from abusing or extending their powers beyond democratic levels.