CRS Report R43616, El Salvador: Background and U.S. Relations
Conditions and U.S. Relations; and
It begins by examining U.S. policy in
Central America, including a brief historical background, the current policy framework, and the
initial response to the surge in unaccompanied minors. The report then discusses a variety of
issues Congress might take into consideration as it formulates policy toward the region. These
include the capacity of Central American nations to receive and reintegrate unaccompanied
to address the root causes of the exodus, the role of Mexico as a transit country, and the response
of the international community. The report concludes with an outlook for U.S. policy.
U.S. Policy in Central America
focus on Central America. As
consider how U.S. policy has influenced the region in the past, the current framework for U.S.
, CRS Graphics Specialist.
Notes: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are often referred to as the "northern triangle" countries.
Given the geographic proximity of Central America, the United States historically has had close
political, economic, and cultural ties with the region. During the Cold War, the U.S. government
viewed links between the Soviet Union and leftist and nationalist political movements in Central
America as a potential threat to U.S. strategic interests. The United States provided extensive
assistance (equivalent to $9 billion constant 2012 dollars) to El Salvador, Guatemala, and
Honduras during the 1980s as the Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments fought leftist
insurgencies and the Honduran government supported U.S. policy in the region.
70,000 Salvadorans and 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or disappeared during the countries
civil conflicts, and truth commissions have determined that government forces were responsible
. The unilateral preferential trade
provided duty-free access to the U.S. market for many goods from the region.
Figure 3. U.S. Assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras: FY1946-FY2012
Total obligations from all U.S. agencies in millions of constant 2012 U.S. dollars
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants: Obligations and
U.S. support for Central America began to wane in the 1990s following the dissolution of the
s civil conflicts. Peace accords were signed in El Salvador
in 1992 and in Guatemala in 1996. Although the United States provided some support to Central
American countries to strengthen democratic governance and implement market-oriented
economic reforms and provided considerable assistance in the aftermath of natural disasters such
as Hurricane Mitch in 1998, aid to the northern triangle countries declined significantly during
the 1990s (see Figure 3). Following the passage of the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant
Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996, the United States accelerated deportations of Central
Americans. Nearly 46,000 convicts were among those deported to the region between 1998 and
both of which were founded in Los Angeles—contributing to the spread of gang violence in
The Obama Administration has set forth a broad framework for U.S. policy toward Latin America
that includes four principal objectives: promoting economic and social opportunity
clean energy future.
the United States has a vital interest in contributing to the building of stable,
in the hemisphere.
The U.S. government has sought to
advance these priorities in Central America through a variety of mechanisms, including foreign
assistance and trade agreements.
Given that El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras continue to struggle with major development
challenges, foreign aid continues to play a prominent role in U.S. engagement with the region. In
FY2014, bilateral assistance provided through the State Department and U.S. Agency for
million in Honduras (see Table 1). This funding
strengthen justice and security sector institutions and traditional development activities in areas
such as agriculture, basic education, and economic reform. Although El Salvador
U.S. security cooperation with the countries of the northern triangle has grown considerably in
major transit point for illicit narcotics destined for the United States. Much of this cooperation has
taken place under the umbrella of the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).
Initially established in FY2008 as part of the Mexico-focused Mérida Initiative, CARSI provides
partner nations with equipment, technical assistance, and training to improve narcotics
interdiction and disrupt criminal networks. It also supports Central American law enforcement
and justice sector institutions, identifying deficiencies and strengthening their capacities to
provide security for the citizens of the region. In addition, CARSI supports crime and violence
prevention efforts that seek to reduce drug demand and provide at-risk youth with educational,
vocational, and recreational opportunities.
to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Table 1. U.S. Assistance to Central America: FY2013-FY2015
U.S. Department of State, Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations,
. These countries may receive additional assistance from other
Includes assistance for Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama.