U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off foreign aid to three Central American countries over their inability to stop a migrant caravan from leaving their borders on its way to the U.S. via Mexico.
The issue has been building in intensity for weeks now, since a band if migrants jointed together to form a caravan in mid-October. Almost immediately, Trump seized on the issue, threatening to cut off aid to the countries in Central America and to deploy the U.S. military along its border with Mexico to stop the caravan.
At its height, the caravan numbered about 7,000 people, all attempting to escape violence and lack of opportunity in Central America, particularly Honduras. By October 19, the group reached the border with Mexico. After a brief conflict with Mexican border security personnel, the caravan continued on its way and is now passing through Mexico on its way to the U.S.
That latest development set off a new round of Tweets from President Trump, culminating in his declaration that the U.S. will begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S. We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2018
It is not clear what Trump means by this statement. U.S. Fiscal Year 2019 spending has already passed through Congress. The State Department, which manages U.S. foreign aid, would have to go to Congress in order to get permission for a “reprogramming” of funds. Alternatively, Trump could start to cut funding in the FY20 request. It’s not clear if the president has the power to issue an executive order to change foreign aid the middle of a fiscal year.
Central American countries have already experienced cutbacks in aid from the U.S. The trend is clear when looking specifically at security assistance, money used specifically to combat gang violence and drug trafficking in Central America. Part of the decline can be attributed to new accounting methods used by the U.S. state department. However, the cuts are undeniable. All the three countries targeted by Trump’s latest tweet experienced declines in security assistance to $800,000 in FY18. El Salvador dropped from $2.8 million in FY17, Guatemala received $2.5 million, and Honduras received $5.3 million. No matter the time period Trump has in mind, the declines are likely to continue going forward.
Note: the graph above was produced by Forecast International using U.S. State Department data.