Honduras may be bearing the brunt of President Trump’s ire today over immigration, but only a few months ago it was receiving accolades from the administration.
Honduras was among only seven nations that voted with the United States and Israel in December against a resolution condemning the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Trump and Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, both suggested U.S. aid could hinge on how nations voted.
While 128 nations voted for the resolution anyway, Honduras, which got $137.5 million in U.S. aid in 2017, seemed to be safe, along with Guatemala, Togo and several small Pacific Island nations.
For a time, U.S. appreciation was boundless. In late February, Haley visited Honduras and Guatemala, in large part to thank them for having the administration’s back.
Even then, her display of gratitude was an about-face from Trump’s criticism of countries that drugs produced elsewhere transit through. A few weeks earlier, Trump had threatened to cut off aid to countries that did not stop the drug trafficking. Honduras, a major hub for drug trafficking, was one of several countries he mentioned by name.
Tuesday brought another whiplash turn when Trump said U.S. aid to Honduras and other countries in the region is now “in play” again as a caravan of migrants moved through Mexico toward the U.S. border.
Honduras already is on the chopping block in the foreign aid budget for next year. The administration has proposed cutting aid in half, to $65.75 million, in 2019. Foreign aid has strong bipartisan support in Congress, however, and early indications are the administration’s wishes will be ignored.
If Trump carries through on his threats to cut foreign aid to countries that migrants are fleeing for the United States, it could compound the challenges those countries face.
Honduras suffers from high levels of crime and poverty, poor governance and endemic corruption. U.S. aid to the country is based on the philosophy that supporting economic development and anti-corruption programs will help produce a safe, more prosperous and democratic nation so people “see their future in Honduras and not elsewhere,” as a State Department page on U.S. aid puts it.
It is unclear how Trump’s latest threat affects what was expected to be a year of greater U.S. focus on Latin America.
“This is the year of the Americas,” Haley told reporters in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, after meeting with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández.
“You will see multiple members of the president’s cabinet making visits to Latin America to really talk about ... what else we can be doing and how else we can be partnering.”
Right after Haley left Honduras, several hundred protesters threw rocks at police near the U.S. embassy. They were protesting the U.S. acceptance of the results of Hernandez’ reelection in November despite fraud allegations and calls from the Organization of American States to hold a new vote.
It also is unclear if the latest foreign aid threat to Honduras will make other countries less susceptible to U.S. pressures at the U.N. After the Jerusalem vote, Haley suggested Washington would remember those who sided with it.
“That will never be a stand-alone issue,” she told reporters traveling with her. “But it will always be an element that we can go back to and say, ‘You know what? They stood by us when it came to that Jerusalem vote.’ ”