U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield was in Honduras last week to sign over $1.75 million in Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) funds—part of a larger $200 million sum he pledged to Central American nations. Brownfield, who heads the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, noted that the funding would support prison management, anti-gang community policing efforts and security enhancement of borders and ports. In the latter case, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Border Tactical Unit would provide training to Honduran Frontier Police.
The $200 million in CARSI funds will aid Honduras and six other Central American countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama. The CARSI program is an enhanced version of the Mérida Initiative. According to the State Department, CARSI has a list of five goals including to “re-establish effective state presence and security in communities at risk” and to “disrupt the movement of criminals and contraband within and between the nations of Central America.”
In his remarks in Tegucigalpa, Brownfield added that he chose to visit Honduras because it suffers from crimes—including gangs and illicit drugs—from consequences that often originate outside the country. In speaking of CARSI, he said that “the logic is that if Honduras is a victim of transnational threats, the solution should also be transnational.” Brownfield, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and Colombia, also visited Guatemala, El Salvador and Colombia earlier this month.
President Barack Obama’s proposed budget plan for fiscal year 2011 would decrease aid to Latin America by nearly 10 percent, mostly by cutting military and police support. Released on Monday, the plan—a blueprint of the president’s budget priorities that will now be debated in Congress—calls for economic development aid in the region to stay about the same, while aid for health programs would increase. Obama’s budget proposal increases overall spending by the State Department, with much of the proposed increase going toward programs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Colombia and Mexico, currently the largest recipients of U.S. aid in Latin America, would receive less funding in 2011 under Obama’s plan. Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew said the cuts represent the Plan Colombia and Merida Initiatives moving on to less costly phases. Most of the helicopters the U.S. promised Mexico to help counter drug cartels under the Merida Initiative, for example, have already been purchased. Colombian Minister of Defense Gabriel Silva, however, plans to ask U.S. congressional leaders to maintain support for Plan Colombia when he travels to Washington on Monday.
The Obama plan would cut aid specified to combat drug trafficking by $16 million, especially in Colombia, although anti-narcotics programs across the region would still receive $690 million in 2011. Assistance directed toward Latin American development initiatives would essentially remain constant with 2010 funding, with $736 million allocated for programs such as alternative agriculture techniques, judicial reform in Colombia and support for Cuban civil society.
Cutting aid to Colombia, calling for greater parity between military and development spending, and increasing aid to Central America were also priorities reflected by the Obama administration in its 2010 budget requests.