Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez on Monday said that cuts in US support for Central America would hinder efforts to stem illegal immigration as he welcomed China’s growing diplomatic presence in the region as an “opportunity.”
In an interview, Hernandez expressed regret that US commitments to step up investment in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have been scaled back since US President Donald Trump took office.
Since Trump became president, Hernandez said the US has shown great willingness to work on combating street gangs known as maras that have menaced Central America, but it was less ready to support the region financially.
Under a scheme to strengthen Central America launched in 2014 known as the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, the US pledged to put forward US$1 for every US$4 invested by Honduras, Hernandez said.
However, that commitment has not materialized, he added.
“That will obviously have repercussions,” he said. “Because the whole idea of the Alliance for Prosperity ... was to attack the migration problem at the root.”
Since 2016, combined US foreign aid for Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador declined by more than one-third to US$195 million, official US data showed.
Adding to the challenges facing the region, the Trump administration earlier this year announced that it would end temporary immigration protection for tens of thousands of Hondurans and Salvadorans living in the US.
Meanwhile, China is strengthening ties with Central America.
Last month, Taiwan broke diplomatic ties with El Salvador after learning of its decision to switch allegience to China, citing economic reasons and following on the heels of Panama last year.
Honduras still has diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Hernandez said Beijing’s growing diplomatic presence posed a “quandary” for Central America, but also “an opportunity for all,” provided there are “clear rules.”
Other nations would likely follow the lead of El Salvador and Panama soon, he added.
“We see that things are changing in Central America. I think the United States has been a bit late to see it,” he said.
Asked whether Honduras would switch to China, the president gave a careful answer: “We’re still with Taiwan. Each country follows the principle of self-determination, that it can make its own decisions.”
“For the time being, we’re betting on a commercial relationship with Taiwan, a window to enter the Asian market,” he added.
A crucial test of whether Washington was prepared to reaffirm its commitment to the region would be a meeting planned for the middle of next month with officials from the US, Central American nations and Mexico, Hernandez said.
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