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A New US Agenda for Central America

No “magic bullet” will solve the problems facing the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Only political will from the three governments, buy-in from societal stakeholders, and an extended commitment from the US and others can do that.

WASHINGTON, DC – Most undocumented migrants crossing the United States’ southern border come from three small countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Known collectively as Central America’s “Northern Triangle,” these countries will receive an outsized amount of attention from US President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration.

In the past 70 years, the US has had a sporadic relationship with the three countries, tending to focus on the region only when a crisis emerges. The main drivers of forced migration from the Northern Triangle – lack of jobs, weak citizen security, and bad governance – are the same ones that fuel the phenomenon in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Economic growth can help reduce migration: evidence suggests that interest in emigrating drops significantly when a country’s GNP per capita reaches about $8,000. Guatemala and El Salvador currently have a GNP per capita of around $4,000, with Honduras further behind at about $2,500.

Biden is himself no stranger to the region. As vice president under President Barack Obama, he was charged with leading the Alliance for Prosperity (A4P) initiative, which the US put together with the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in response to a 2014 migrant crisis on the US’ southern border. Vice President Biden made at least three trips to the Northern Triangle. The A4P also established a security initiative.

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