U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America

Central America is at a pivotal point in its history. Compared to the 1980s, the region is relatively free from armed conflict, politically stable, and benefiting from a free trade agreement with the United States. However, a combination of economic stagnation, weak governmental institutions, and insecurity in some countries has plagued Central America. The recent surge in migration to the United States and Mexico from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala is just one result of these challenges and of the inability, to date, to find solutions to the challenges the region faces.

Current efforts by Central American governments, the United States, and other regional governments have proven insufficient to achieve meaningful progress in addressing these challenges. U.S. local-level programs have achieved some important successes; however, a broader, more comprehensive strategy and greater Central American government resource and political commitment is required to achieve systemic and lasting success at the national level. It is therefore in the national security interests of the United States to develop an integrated U.S. strategy for engagement in Central America and to work with international organizations and regional governments to put the region on a course to sustained, broad-based economic growth, better government performance, and improved security conditions. This is consistent with our commitment in the National Security Strategy to work in equal partnership with the region to advance economic and social inclusion and safeguard citizen safety and security, among other objectives. While the United States will need to invest significant resources in such an effort, the success of the strategy will depend far more on the readiness of Central American governments to continue to demonstrate political will and undertake substantial political and economic commitments to bring about positive change in the region. We will work closely with Central American governments and the governments of Mexico, Colombia, and Canada; multilateral development banks; and other international actors to establish a shared vision and develop concrete plans for realizing that vision. U.S. support should be geared toward promoting Central American ownership of both the challenges and the solutions. The Alliance for Prosperity represents an important effort to develop a unified, Central American-led plan that could be supported by the international community and be a starting point for continued multilateral engagement.

Proposed Strategy

Central America alone cannot address these challenges without the support of the international donor community. An approach is required that will encourage private sector investment and combine the financial, intellectual, and human resources of North American governments, Colombia, the European Union, and multilateral development banks. Central American governments should commit to extensive reforms and increased regional coordination. We know from our discussions with potential donors that they are prepared to work with us in support of Central America.

Desired End State

Our objective is the evolution of an economically integrated Central America that is fully democratic; provides economic opportunities to its people; enjoys more accountable, transparent, and effective public institutions; and ensures a safe environment for its citizens. Important successes would include: the establishment of strong regional coordination mechanisms and institutions; reducing violence to a point where no Central American country is among the top ten countries in terms of homicide rates; a 50 percent reduction of the youth unemployment rate in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala; full implementation of ongoing electrical interconnection projects and other initiatives aimed at making energy more affordable, cleaner, and more sustainable; and steady economic growth throughout the region such that the poverty rate is pushed to below 40 percent over the next decade.

Assumptions

  • In the absence of international cooperation and assistance, certain Central American countries will continue to suffer from weak economic growth, poor social indicators, and high levels of crime, generating instability in the form of illegal migration and entrenched organized crime. Other Central American countries will continue to perform relatively well in terms of economic growth and social development but will not realize their potential without stronger regional growth.
  • Central American governments will continue to demonstrate leadership and contribute significant resources to address challenges if they are supported by a strong network of international partners.
  • Transnational criminal organizations will continue to have a strong presence and influence in Central America. The United States will continue to assist Central American nations to combat organized crime.
  • Consistent with Presidential Policy Directive (PPD)-6 (U.S. Global Development Policy) and PPD-23 (Security Sector Assistance), an inclusive whole-of-government process that aligns activities and resources, including specialized technical advice and cooperation, with national security priorities is most effective at addressing common security challenges in the Western Hemisphere and achieving the sustainable development outcomes of this strategy.

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.