World

After Pressure From Trump, Honduras Seeks To Ramp Up Its Fight Against MS-13

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
  • Earlier this month, President Donald Trump suggested he would cut foreign aid to countries that don’t do enough to stem the flow of illegal drugs and gang members to the U.S.
  • Some observers worried the harsh rhetoric would alienate friendly countries
  • Trump’s remarks have had the opposite effect in Honduras, which is pledging to deepen security cooperation with the U.S.

A Central American country convulsed by gang violence is pledging to work closely with the U.S. to contain the spread of MS-13, two weeks after President Donald Trump suggested cutting foreign aid to governments in the region.

Honduras, one of the most violent countries in the Western Hemisphere, has for many years suffered the predation of transnational gangs, especially MS-13 and the Barrio 18. In recent weeks, Honduran officials have responded to pressure from the Trump administration to do more to crack down on the ultra-violent criminal organizations.

Trump floated the idea of cutting foreign aid to countries south of the border during a visit to the Customs and Border Protection National Targeting Center in Virginia earlier this month. He specifically called out Mexico and the so-called Northern Triangle countries — Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — for not doing enough to stop the northward flow of illicit drugs and migrants.

“I look at these countries, I look at the numbers we send them, we send them massive aid and they’re pouring drugs into our country and they’re laughing at us,” Trump said, adding that they are “not our friends.”

Days later, during a law enforcement roundtable meeting at the White House, Trump again connected the growth of MS-13 in the U.S. to a lack of enforcement in the Central American countries, where the gang numbers as many as 50,000 members.

Some critics warned that Trump’s blunt rhetoric and threats to cut foreign aid would backfire because the Central American countries would respond by working against U.S. interests in the region. Trump’s comments undermined “any American message of international cooperation and seriously jeopardizes the U.S. status on the world stage,” Salon reported.

Sarah Bermeo, an assistant professor of political science at Duke University, wrote in an op-ed for The Hill that Trump’s “not our friends” remark was “short-sighted,” especially since Honduras was one of just eight countries that voted against a U.N. resolution denouncing Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Cutting aid to them would undermine another established use of aid as a policy tool: rewarding countries that vote with the U.S. on difficult UN resolutions,” she wrote. “If President Trump’s statements mean these two countries are ‘not our friends,’ then our list of friends grows thin indeed.”

In Honduras, at least, Trump’s tough talk appears to have had the opposite effect. The office of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández released a statement on Tuesday promising to work with U.S. authorities to target MS-13.

“The government of Honduras expresses its full disposition to deepen bilateral cooperation with the U.S. government for the shared objective of combating the transnational criminal organization the MS-13,” the document stated.

The Honduran statement also acknowledged “the priorities expressed by the President of the United States during the Law Enforcement Roundtable on MS-13,” where Trump administration officials called for tighter border security and immigration controls.

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Nor did talk of foreign aid cuts dampen the diplomatic engagement at a meeting last week between Hernández  and John Creamer, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Cuba, Mexico, and Central America. Creamer reiterated U.S. support for Honduras in the “fight against organized crime, violence and MS-13 and Barrio 18,” according to local media reports.

Hernández, who came to power in 2017 during a contested election, said Honduras and other Central American countries are willing to work with the U.S. on security issues.

“We are all interested in dialogue, and as with the United States, there are also friendly countries [that are] interested and we are ready for the answer,” Hernández said after the meeting, according to Honduran newspaper La Tribuna.

“Now we see how great an opportunity President Trump’s words are for fighting together against gangs in the U.S. and in the Northern Triangle of Central America,” he said later on Twitter, taking a cue from Trump’s rhetoric on crime and jobs. “We will deepen our cooperative relationship for an effective fight against gangs and strengthening our regional economy. More jobs and opportunities for our people.”

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