Central America Needs a ‘Marshall Plan,’ Julián Castro Says

Democratic presidential candidate and former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro said that Central America needs a 21st century “Marshall Plan” to halt the influx of undocumented immigrants at the US-Mexico border.

In an interview with The Guardian, the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas argued that a new model of economic cooperation could follow in the footsteps of Harry Truman’s aid program, which helped western Europe in the devastating aftermath of World War II. Castro said the US could provide resources and know-how instead of President Donald Trump’s border wall.

“Extending a hand of friendship, of opportunity to countries in our hemisphere — this approach is much more in keeping with our values,” he told the British publication. “This is a mutually beneficial way to engage Central Americans, not a slap in the face like the wall.”

Castro told the publication that his investment plan would be focused on the “Northern Triangle,” a region comprised of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. He pledged to work with the rest of Latin America, mainly Mexico and Brazil — two of the largest emerging markets south of the US border.

“Throughout our history the United States has benefited from having stronger relationships, including investments in Europe, that have kept us and the world safer and benefited us economically. I believe it’s time to look at Latin America in the same way,” he said.

The US has already provided aid to Central America. Nearly $2.6 billion in financial help was allocated through the State Department between 2015 and 2018. Castro noted that money should be spent more effectively to combat poverty and rampant violence. “We need to be more accountable and transparent and actually serve the people of those countries. The US has a checkered history when it comes to some of these Central American regimes — oftentimes strongmen leaders have used the US as a foil to prop themselves up,” he added.

In the wake of the migrant caravan last year, the Trump administration vowed to earmark $5.8 million in aid for Central America, as well as an additional $4.8 billion for southern Mexico. In December, the State Department said that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) a government agency established in 1971 that helps business set foot in foreign markets, “could invest and mobilize up to $2.5 billion more in this region if commercially viable projects are identified.”

Although economic development could quell poverty and unemployment in the region, experts argue that private businesses would do little to improve the conditions of millions of Central Americans.

“Central Americans should be skeptical because a bunch of credits and guarantees for private investment will do almost nothing to address the reasons why migrants are fleeing,” Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, told Newsweek in December. “If they’re fleeing poverty, they need assistance to make small farming viable, or decent formal-sector jobs. OPIC credits might help with the latter, but those would probably be $10 per day, nonunion, no-benefits jobs in the export sector.”

In addition to organized crime, rampant corruption also hinders progress. “Weak, underfunded institutions, combined with corruption, have undermined efforts to address gang violence and extortion. Tax revenues as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) in the Northern Triangle are among the lowest in Latin America, exacerbating inequality and straining public services,” the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in June 2018. Last year, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras ranked 112th, 143th, and 135th, respectively, in a list of 180 countries from Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index last year.

About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and U.S. politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.