Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy Department of State and Foreign Operations Hearing United States Assistance for Central America

For most of the 20th Century, there is a concern that United States policy toward Central America consisted primarily of propping up corrupt, abusive regimes led by families of oligarchs who benefited from the exploitative practices of U.S. corporations.

During the Cold War, the armies of those regimes – trained and equipped by the United States – committed atrocities in the name of anti-communism.  Democratic movements were crushed; their leaders assassinated.  To this day, almost no one has been punished for heinous crimes in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.     

The legacy of that period is the poverty, violence, impunity, inequality, and political polarization that exists today.  These problems have been amplified by the influx of illegal drugs and the ruthless gangs that traffic them.

Since 1980 alone, the United States has provided billions and billions of dollars in military and economic aid to what we now refer to as the northern triangle countries.  Much of that aid, in my opinion, was either wasted or contributed to the problems those countries face today. 

And throughout that period, we often made excuses for governments that were interested in only one thing:  enriching themselves.  The people of those countries have been paying the price.

Last year we embarked on what has been portrayed as a new approach, aimed at addressing the underlying causes of the flood of undocumented migrants fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. 

For fiscal year 2016, this subcommittee provided $750 million to support the Alliance for Prosperity.  A few weeks ago we approved another $655 million.  President Trump proposes to cut that to $460 million in fiscal year 2018.

As I have said from the beginning of this latest phase of our engagement with Central America, this time must be different.  I strongly support this aid, but we cannot repeat our mistakes.  We cannot want economic and social equality, justice and human rights, in these countries more than the governments themselves want it.  We need to see real, sustainable results. 

So Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing.  Central America, in my opinion, gets too little attention here.  These countries are our neighbors.  The struggles and hardships of their people deeply concern us.  We want these countries to succeed.  We need them to succeed. 

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.

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