Andres Oppenheimer

Trump’s cutting aid to Central America. It’s one of the dumbest ideas in recent U.S. history | Opinion

Though the flow of migrants to the southern U.S. border is growing, the numbers are still far lower than in 2007.
Though the flow of migrants to the southern U.S. border is growing, the numbers are still far lower than in 2007. Getty Images

I’ve seen many presidents do many stupid things over the years, but President Trump’s decision to cut foreign aid to Central America ranks among the dumbest of them all.

Citing an increase in undocumented migrants from violence-ridden Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to the southern U.S. border, Trump recently announced that he will cut more than $450 million in U.S. aid to those countries.

Trump claimed that the three countries’ governments “haven’t done a thing” to stop migrants heading to the U.S. border. In fact, much of the aid does not go to these countries’ governments, but to U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations that help fight crime, corruption and hunger.

“I’m not playing games,” Trump said during a March 29 trip to Florida, with Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott at his side. “I’ve ended payments to Guatemala, to Honduras and El Salvador. No money goes there anymore.”

This week, more than 100 alarmed members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, asking the administration to reverse its decision. Cutting aid to Central America will only spur an increase in the flow of migrants to the United States, they said.

“The situation at our border will get worse, not better,” they wrote. The legislators, led by Rep. Norma J. Torres,D-California, and Albio Sires, D-New Jersey, said that much of the U.S. aid goes to churches and U.S.-financed groups that have helped reduce violence in the three countries that make up Central America’s “Northern Triangle.”

“Multiple programs that are demonstrating results — reducing violence at the local level, helping young people find jobs and reducing the rates of malnutrition in rural areas — will be forced to close their doors,” the legislators wrote.

In addition, Trump’s decision is unconstitutional, in that only Congress has the authority to appropriate foreign aid, they said. Pompeo reportedly has given instructions to re-direct the $450 million in 2018 funds earmarked for Northern Triangle countries.

Over the past two years, the Republican-controlled Congress had already cut aid to Northern Triangle countries from $750 million in 2016 to $527 million in 2019. Now, the Trump administration is cutting both pending 2018 and 2019 funds for the region.

In Guatemala and Honduras, part of the U.S. aid went to the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala and the Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras. Both groups have helped train prosecutors, investigators and judges to fight corruption.

As a recent report by the Washington Office of Latin America, a think tank, concluded, “Foreign assistance should be part of a long-term strategy to help address the underlying factors forcing many families and children to leave their communities.”

Trump’s decision to cut off aid to Central America is not only counter-productive, it will further increase China’s growing influence in the region. China has gained significant ground in Central America and the Caribbean under Trump’s watch.

Panama established diplomatic relations with China in 2017 and has since been followed by El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. China’s President Xi Jinping visited Panama in December — a visit Trump has yet to make.

Not surprisingly, Panama’s President-elect Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo told the Reuters news agency that while the United States is neglecting Central America, “another one (China) is making advances.”

Why is Trump doing something as foolish as cutting off aid to Central America? For the same reason he claims to be preparing to close the U.S. border with Mexico, even if that is resulting in more migrants heading north before such threats become a reality.

Like so many of Trump’s foreign-policy decisions, it has very little to do with advancing the U.S. national interests and a lot to do with keeping his xenophobic, immigration-obsessed followers happy.

The next time Trump rants about the alleged avalanche of undocumented migrants into the U.S. border, for the record, their numbers are still below those of 2007. Americans armed with the fact can tell him that he’s making it worse. Because he is.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” 8 p.m. Sundays on CNN en Espanol. Twitter: @oppenheimera