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The United States and Central America’s Northern Tier: The Ongoing Disconnect

By Héctor Silva Ávalos
February 28, 2014


Credit: San Salvador, El Salvador/José Alejandro Álvarez Ramírez/CC BY 3.0

The Inter-American Dialogue is pleased to publish this working paper by Hector Silva, an investigative journalist and former diplomat from El Salvador, now a research fellow at American University. Our aim is to stimulate a broad and well-informed public debate on complex issues facing analysts, decision makers, and citizens concerned about Latin America’s policy agenda.

In this working paper, Silva offers a review of US security cooperation with the nations of Central America’s Northern Triangle—Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Organized crime, rampant corruption, and largescale violence have stunted the region’s economic and social development since the end of Central America’s civil wars in the 1990s. As Silva notes, US aid has missed the mark and done little to reverse climbing homicide and crime rates. By examining the history of US engagement in the region and the political forces that have driven both US and Central American action, Silva reveals a disconnect between Washington’s national security agenda and that of the region’s leaders. According to Silva, it is this disconnect that has prevented the United States and the countries of the Northern Tier from pursuing the sort of comprehensive strategies needed to address the institutional weaknesses that lie at the heart of the region’s security challenges.

This working paper is part of a series of studies carried out through the Dialogue’s initiative on security and migration in Central America and Mexico. The project works with leading think tanks, research centers, and independent journalists in Mexico and Central America on these two pressing policy challenges.

Our work seeks to influence the policy and media communities in the United States, Mexico, and the nations of Central America; introduce Mexican and Central American viewpoints into policy debates and discussions in Washington; and promote fresh, practical ideas for greater cooperation to address security and migration challenges.

This major Dialogue initiative has featured four important meetings in Washington, Guatemala City, Managua, and Tegucigalpa. These meetings, held in conjunction with regional partners, have brought together influential migration and security experts, including Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, for conversations on the prospect of US and regional cooperation on security issues; successful security policy, police reform, and judicial models; and the impact of migration
trends on the region’s development. This paper provides background for the fifth meeting of the initiative in February 2014, co-sponsored by members of the US Congress in Washington, to examine recent political and economic developments in the region and ways to enhance international cooperation on migration and security challenges facing the countries of Central America and Mexico.

To further enhance these efforts, the Dialogue launched a web portal to serve as a clearinghouse of data, analysis, legislation, and other resources related to security in Central America. For more information, click here

Silva’s conclusions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Inter-American Dialogue.

We are pleased to recognize the generous support provided by the Tinker Foundation for this work.

Photo Credit: San Salvador, El Salvador/José Alejandro Álvarez Ramírez/CC BY 3.0.