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What is really wrong about the 3 Mexican Countries comment: US Aid to Central America and how the Commercial Media fails to inform

April 1, 2019

It is widely known on social media how the TV show Fox & Friends put up a graphic that  stated, Trump cuts aid to 3 Mexican Countries. The producers of the show later apologized, but not before the screw-up had saturated social media and even brought the wrath of other news sources who were appalled by the mistake.

One could say that the error is a reflection of the decline in US journalism, a decline that  we have witnessed for decades now. However, there are larger (and I believe more important) issues at stake with the US State Department’s announcement that the US would no longer be providing foreign assistance to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

First, most of the mainstream commercial news media did not provide much information on current foreign aid to the three countries named. For example, the New York Times stated in an article on March 29:

Currently, the United States spends about $620 million a year for gang prevention programs and other initiatives aimed at helping support civil society in the three countries. Advocates say that cutting the funds will only accelerate the migrant flows into the United States.” 

This was the extent of any details on the amount of US aid that was going to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, not did the New York Times provide much information on how the US aid was being used.

Secondly. the New York Times article fails to provide much historical context, in terms of how much US aid has poured into those countries in recent decades and for what purposes.

Lastly, there was limited investigation into how ending foreign assistance to the three countries would limit the number of people who are seeking asylum in the US or what Trump called, an “invasion” of people who were nothing more than conducting a “big fat con job.”

Instead, most of the attention was focused on the error that the news show Fox and Friends made, rather than, 1) providing the public with substantive information on what US aid to Central America has looked like in the past; 2) what it looks like now;  and 3) how it will achieve the goal of reducing refugees from seeking political asylum.

Historical Context

The United States has been giving massive amounts of foreign aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala for since the the early 20th Century. However, the bulk of the aid money was either military aid, funds to support drug war programs, corporate subsidies, free trade zones and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). For example, all throughout the 1980s, the US was contributing $1million a day in military aid to El Salvador, in order to fight a counterinsurgency war against a popular armed rebellion. In Guatemala in the 1980s and 90s, the US was providing millions in military aid, military advisors and military training to the death-squad government, which resulted in the deaths of roughly 200,000 people and the disappearance of some 60 – 80,000. In fact, the US counterinsurgency wars in El Salvador and Guatemala at that time were the major cause of displacement and a root cause of the refugee crisis that brought hundreds of thousands of Central Americans seeking asylum in the last few decades of the 20th century.

For more background information check out the following resources:

More Recent History

Since the US sponsored counter-insurgency wars have ended in Central America, US aid to the region has decreased. However, the regional trade policy, known as CAFTA, along with free trade zones and an increase in drug trafficking, has resulted in further destabilization in the region, an increase in poverty and continues to force people out of the El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Check out the following resources:

Current US funding for Central America

US Foreign Aid to Central America has declined in recent years, towards the end of the Obama administration and now under the Trump administration. According to the Washington Office on Latin America

The 2018 House bill would cut assistance to Central America by $40 million — all of which would come from the Development Assistance account, through which $279.5 million was funneled to the region in 2017. Development Assistance supports violence-prevention efforts, job-creation programs, and other non-security related programs mostly administered by USAID. For 2018, the House supports $235 million through this account, a $50 million reduction in funds to the Northern Triangle.

As the below tables show, this bill maintains funding levels for security assistance through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF), International Military Education and Training (IMET), Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, De-mining and Related Programs (NADR), and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) programs. It also keeps funding for Attorneys General from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH).

House appropriators kept conditions attached to Central America assistance, putting a hold on at least half of funds until the Secretary of State certifies that countries are taking steps to improve accountability, transparency, justice systems, and security practices, among others. This year, the Committee went a step further and included $20 million for an “Incentive Award” program, which would be given to the single Northern Triangle country that has made the most progress on two or more of the conditions.

This analysis from WOLA tells us a great deal about US foreign assistance to Central America, since it provides not only a dollar amount, but a break down in what kind of programs the funding goes to.

Image if this is how the US news media reported on US foreign policy towards Central America. Not only would we be better informed about what US policy in that region is being used for, we would not be so easily manipulated by the government/corporate media propaganda and misinformation about the refugee caravans from Central America.

Lastly, while the 3 Mexican countries error was from Fox News, this issue of Central America, Central American refugees and US funding in that region have been created from bipartisan US policies and supported by both liberal and conservative news agencies that ultimately supports US foreign policy in Central America. Making fun of Fox & Friends might make us feel superior, but the real problem is that US-based journalism has primarily failed us around complicated and critical issues like the Central American Asylum Seekers, US Foreign Assistance in Central America and what impact US foreign policy has on that region. 

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