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Trump administration OKs aid to Central American countries praised for immigration help

Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- If the president of a country is implicated in running a massive drug-trafficking network, you might think that would be a disqualifier for receiving U.S. aid.

But not if the country is Honduras and the Trump administration holds the purse strings.

The State Department in recent days has quietly certified Honduras and its two Central American neighbors, El Salvador and Guatemala, for millions of dollars in U.S. aid, despite each country's failure to demonstrate progress on human rights and good governance.

In documents filed with Congress and reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, State Department analysts reported limited success in the countries' efforts to improve human rights, police practices and governance, or in curbing corruption and violence.

Where the three received the highest marks, however, was in their cooperation with President Donald Trump's immigration policies, designed to drastically reduce legal and illegal migration from Central America to the U.S.

"The certifications reflect the 'glass half full' approach," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who follows Latin America closely and is a veteran member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "There are glaring examples of not only failing to meet the conditions in U.S. law, but actively seeking to undermine them. It makes a mockery of the process."

 

U.S. law has for a couple of decades made some foreign aid contingent on advances in human rights and other issues, which is why the State Department is required to make its annual assessment.

At stake is about $500 million for each of fiscal years 2019 and 2020 to be divvied among the three countries. (The 2019 fiscal year ends Sept. 30). Several months ago, Trump threatened to cut the aid for lack of cooperation on immigration.

The case of Honduras, critics say, is especially egregious.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez, a dedicated ally of Trump, was an unindicted co-conspirator in a U.S. federal case against his brother, Tony. Tony Hernandez was found guilty in Manhattan in October of running what the indictment called a "state-sanctioned," multimillion-dollar drug-trafficking network that sent tons of cocaine to the United States.

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