All right Welcome to this week’s Weekly InSight. My name is Mike LaSusa I’m the senior editor for InSight Crime, and I’m joined here by Héctor Silva Ávalos who is our senior investigator Thanks for being with me again. Hi, Mike. How are you? Good, good. So today we wanted to talk about US policy towards Latin America specifically security policy and policies related to organized crime under the Trump administration. And we’ve written pretty extensively about this over the past couple weeks, We have Héctor who’s there in DC. So I think we’ll be able to provide some pretty interesting perspectives on this. And I wanted to talk about US foreign aid to Latin America first. We published two articles this week about that. One was published today, about the Northern Triangle in Central America and The other one was more broadly about planned cuts in foreign assistance to latin America. So the bottom line is that The assistance is planning, the planed cuts to the assistance are mostly for development initiatives, what people call soft side aid. And and the cuts to the hard side aid to the military and security force funding are relatively small in comparison. So Héctor, I was wondering if you could kind of give us your perspective on What that means Broadly speaking that the administration and Congress appear to be shifting away from supporting soft side initiatives and towards more hard side funding for security in the region. Yes, Mike, well first of all as you said, I think this is this marks… it’s too early Yet, but I’m definitely as we have written and in this pieces in InSight Crime what these does are both are some things that they Accepted that the White House the administration itself that is going to do and also that the kind of marking that Congress did couple of weeks ago with that with the foreign OPS budget at Capitol Hill, here in Washington. What they do is They give us a pretty clear idea of what the shifts are going to be in this administration Compared to the Obama administration towards Latin America and what trends we can expect in the next, the next four years. Many things could be said, one is what you said, I think it’s pretty safe to say that both the administration and Congress are betting for Going back to what’s known as the hard approach which is in the security issue, which is going back to the approach which takes aiding the military, aiding the police forces focusing on interdiction of drug trafficking as the main pillar of foreign aid versus the soft approach with a dimension which is you know betting to development programs, social and economic development programs in Poor communities or in needed communities in the region? I think you know during the Obama administration those two approaches were kind of balanced, because It’s not accurate to say that the Obama administration privileged the soft approach But he put it in he put it into the equation, the Bush administration before that was more of a hard line, hard approach to the Mexico, Central America, Colombia, let’s use the method mesoamerican region as a whole, so it was interdiction it was fighting the gangs, it was fighting cartels, it was putting a lot of money into militaries, into police forces… When Obama came and approached and in fact the Alliance for Prosperity for the Northern Triangle Which is this program that former Vice President Biden put together with Guatemala, El Salvador to tackle immigration to tackle immigration got in a lot of of the soft approach with an Important chunk of money dedicated to that, you know developing programs, like social economic developing programs. seems What the Trump administration is doing now is taking that money off and going back to the other stuff you know, to privileging a military approach. Not so much, The money that would go to a child from USAID for instance. So I think we’re going back to those days. Well and you have, I mean, you have a lot of experience in the Northern Triangle like you mentioned El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and the article that we did today actually focused specifically on what you were just talking about, which is the cuts and assistance to to the region. So like you mentioned under Obama Congress approved 750 million Dollars in funding that was relatively evenly balanced between sort of hard side and soft side assistance. And now Under Trump Congress has just approved in their most recent budget cuts to primarily the soft side of that package. So the the funding as a whole is going to be reduced by about 95 million dollars and Approximately 80 million of that 95 million is going to come out of the soft side aid. So, like I mentioned you have plenty of experience in the Northern Triangle. What do you think of that? What do you think could be some of the effects of these cuts? Well As I said, I think it’s kind of early to… but listen, some things won’t change will not change because Again the Obama administration did have through the State Department and through the policies implemented from the State Department An important piece of hard approach to this. I mean, And if you look at some of the officials, that are calling the shots now in Washington, are officials that Were there in the Obama administration that were very important in drafting policy and implementing policy in Central America for instance, in the Northern Triangle and/or Elsewhere, I’m talking for instance about Mr.. Ambassador William Brownfield who is the head of INL and He, he was very important in the past administration in drafting policy and you know highlighting stuff and communicating with US Officials in the ground in these countries to put forward or move forward the policies and the execution of the money. The thing with the Obama administration is is that Brownfield and the Brownfield types kind of shared the space with other more… With other officials that were More aligned to the soft side. What does this mean? Let’s look at the Northern Triangle, one particularly important policy has been for instance the fight against corruption. The money coming from The US To fund say the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala CICIG. That money has come from a different set of pockets and Probably in the next exercise and the next fiscal year Excuse me Some of those pockets are going to change, But the support for CICIG is going to be there so that the US policy of supporting fight against corruption in Central America won’t change and Bill Brownfield who was Kind of an advocate for that in the past is still going to be there and if you look down south, Things might change a bit for instance in Colombia, you know. The approach towards Colombia in the peace process and the Obama administration or Even in the war against drugs and the older eradication policy has been changing, it changed before Obama but Obama maintained some sort of balance between soft and hard approach. Now in that case probably, we’re going to be seeing more of the… More insistence coming from Washington to Bogota to remain in the hard approach side of it. In terms of policy, Mike in the Northern Triangle, specifically I Will see that’s going to be… The support towards anti-corruption efforts is going to continue Congress has given us a hint of that if you look at the mark they did in the budget for 2017, you see specific support for instance for the three Fiscalías the three Attorney General Offices in Central America something that wasn’t there before. Specific aid, specific packages, millions. I mean, I think it’s 111 million for Guatemala for instance for Ministerio Público So that that’s going to stay there. What you’re going to be Seeing less and less are probably prevention problems In the case of poor communities or gang plaged communities. Those that were Put forward from USAID for instance. I think that’s going to be the programs those are going to be the problems there are going to be hurt, in this case. Yeah, I agree with that And I think you know, one of the main, I Guess, themes of Donald Trump’s campaign and also his presidency has been not just migration through the the Southern border of the US Most of which comes from Central America and Mexico but also the the issue of criminal organizations and drug trafficking also coming over the border. So We’ve reported quite a bit on on some of the proposals that Trump has made I’m talking specifically about his proposal to add thousands and thousands of new Border Patrol Agents and ICE, Immigration Agents And so we we’ve talked a little bit about how this can potentially backfire on the Trump administration. It sounds great to put more people on the border. You know you would think that that would stop immigration, rather undocumented immigration and illegal drug trafficking but border patrol has long had a big problem with corruption and this could actually End up exacerbating that problem and then weakening security along the border. I don’t know if you have anything that you want to add about that? no, I Basically I think you’re you’re right. The piece that we wrote about that is pretty clear on that. I mean, yes there again, there’s an intention in the way, they’re drawing and drafting these budgets or approving these budgets And yes, if you look at what CBP is getting, the Customs and Border Patrol is getting in this new exercise It’s a little bit more from what they were getting before and yes, there’s the presidential promise let’s say that they’re going to put more agents on the ground, but so far they are they have had a lot of difficulties and filling those posts because A. Not everybody wants to be a border patrolmen so far B. I was reading in our piece that 75% of those that made the test failed the polygraph exam. So, Yeah, it’s a recipe for disaster If you look at what has already happened with CBP in the case of immigration especially when the surge of unaccompanied minors happening back in 2014 there’s been a lot of complains of How agents in the ground handle these minors for instance or corruption problems or abuses problems and at the end of the day if you were able to fill 5,000 Positions which seems, you know like a lot, that’s not going to be enough To cover and patrol the whole border and as we have pointed out in InSight Crime What this will provoke at the end of the day is… because you could say that this is the US version of “mano dura” approach in the border right? So what this is going to Do is it’s going to enhance the muscle of the criminal smuggling organizations that down South will be will still be working to put illegally, people, drugs or Anything in the US border. It’s not going to tackle the problem Probably is going to cost you in the US a new problem in the border. Right and and so the other big proposal I think that that’s perhaps even more famous than Trump’s proposal to hire all these new Immigration and border agents, is the the infamous wall that he’s planning to build along the southern border. Please tell us a little bit about how you expect that to impact drug trafficking trends and criminal trends in the region. Well first of all I mean it’s As we have said you know budgets are blueprints right and under, as we have written they’re kind of they’re policy papers, you know, the budgets indicate you where You’re setting your goals, and how you’re funding them of course or like one thing that’s clear is that the US Is funding the wall, nobody else is, you know. US taxpayers are funding the wall and if you look at the budget That’s clear, that’s pretty clear. So it’s going to be US taxpayers’ money that’s going to be poured to the border. That’s one thing that’s now Clearer than ever and then the second thing is okay. What does that mean? What does that mean? fencing more miles? Actually building concrete walls? Is the wall an idea, this idea of putting more Agents down. That’s been done before, Again, that’s been done before I mean it didn’t solve anything. The Alliance for Prosperity That that was put together in 2014 at least has something and it was that weaken that plan that policy paper and plan Recognized that in order to tackle immigration you have to go down south. Because I mean you can put 5,000 agents in your border board, but if you have I don’t know hundreds of thousands coming each year. I Mean, dozens of thousands will will make it. You know it’s been happening for three decades now and and… So, What’s the wall in in actual terms? fencing? more agents? what is it? So, I do see a lot of rhetorics here and then again Probably the creation of a new problem down there and here’s something interesting Mike One of the main elements of this rhetoric for instance lately has been MS-13 We’ve talked about this, you know we’re friends to make this make this wall to stop MS-13 members coming to the US. It’s interesting that I was seeing the news, I was watching the news. I think it was yesterday that DHS announced that it had implemented the largest ICE, the largest operation ever against MS-13 with you know a number of raids. Of all they did I think it was 14% of all the arrests that they made, 14% were alleged gang members in the US. Of those Some 70 percent were US-born You know and the rest were coming from Central America. So MS-13, US MS-13 problem is in great part part here in the US. Already those are US citizens. So you cannot deport them. So, never mind the wall. You know it’s not it’s not going to be a solution for that. Well yeah, and the other, the other dynamic at play here I mean you have the the proposal to beef up border security, To beef up immigration enforcement, to build this wall potentially and then you also have the Trump administration apparently Pressuring Mexico as the Obama administration did to do more To deport Central Americans from Mexico before they could reach the United States. There’s also reports that the US is going to encourage Mexico to more eradication of opium poppies which are a huge source of the heroin that’s causing, contributing to the opioid epidemic in the United States So that’s another part of their their strategy it seems us to put more pressure on Mexico, ask Mexico to do more. I don’t know if you have thoughts about how that might work out or not? Yeah, I think that’s really important but then again. That’s not a shift in policy. The Obama administration started with that. I mean after 2014 It was the Obama administration the one that actually Worked with Mexico, to have Mexico to deport more Central Americans. You know. Probably the Trump administration what they’re willing or planing to do is to enhance that and that’s yeah That’s going to be That’s going to mark shifts in the in the immigration, but it won’t stop it. It won’t stop it, so… but then again, that’s not, That’s not as a shift in policy And I think it will have… If you look at the numbers and an ICE and and DHS statistics It is yet not clear how that particular policy in the case of Mexico increasing their deportations impact The whole number of Central American illegal migrants coming into the US. The take is that it was, I mean was not a big a big Decrease in People all over all coming to, because I insist as far as the conditions that Push migration from the Northern Triangle persist Migration will keep happening. Yeah, well and this kind of brings us back a full circle sort of, you know. We’ve talked about potential reductions in soft side aid particularly to Central America But also throughout the region. We talked about, you know, putting more pressure on Mexico to continue an enforcement centric approach enforcement of migration, enforcement of drug eradication and interdiction. You know, again here in the United States There’s plans to build the wall, increase border security and immigration enforcement. So all these things are hard side or at least enforcement centric approaches to problems of security and organized crime. And I think that we can, we’ve been talking a lot about Mexico and Central America, but I think that that applies Probably more broadly to the region as well, and I just wondered if you have if you have thoughts on that. I mean, like you’ve mentioned the Obama administration folks who have moved into the Trump administration like John Kelly the Homeland Security Secretary, like Bill Brownfield at the State Department. Those guys are probably making pretty key decisions And it could be that there’s some continuity in the policies between Obama and Trump due to that and other reasons, but What what do you, in terms of this shift it does seem like we’re seeing a shift away from trying to at least incorporate those soft side measures and Like it seems like we’re seeing a shift towards focusing more on enforcement, security force capacity and just sort of increasing the number of agents on the streets. Do you think that that’s applicable more broadly than just in Mexico and Central America? I think get through meant to be seen, for certain that seems to be the path. That seems to be, From the indications that we are having, in the form of how the this first Trump budget has been drafted and has been approved or marked by both houses appropriations committees. It seems like that way for sure and then again if you look at what’s happening within the Administration at the State Department the officials that privilege the hard side of things are still there and as I said You know being in Washington in all the Obama years, but you had inside the State Department. Where’s kind of a balance so you have to get the hardliners, because you know that if let’s say the interdiction part of the drugs and war approach never Never faded. Not even during the Obama administration the hardline approach to MS-13 Has been there always, you know, in the conversations between Washington and all this countries. But what you had again was an approach that privileged again all the kind of measures. For instance Supporting, as we talked about before, supporting prevention programs of violence Successful ones for instance in Guatemala, in the outskirts of Guatemala City you had a couple. Where those Meaningful enough? That’s another discussion, but you had that. In the case of El Salvador you had USAID money in cash transfer programs aimed to prevent violence in in gang plagued communities. It was kind of a mix, but the document that marked the line in this second half of the Obama Administration or the second term of the Obama administration, which was the Alliance for Prosperity, Was precisely a mix of that, you know. And what came to that, from that mainly was kind of the the Reinforcement of the idea that in order to address security you had to address institution, Institutional health down there in the Northern Triangle, specifically. So you had to put money there You know. Is that a hard approach or soft approach? Well at least it’s not just the interdiction based approach that was The CARSI or the Merida Initiative theme, you know. It was another a different approach that really Grabs in the Northern Triangle to a number of stuff that’s happening now in Guatemala. We’ve written about this a lot I don’t think that’s going to change. I don’t think it’s going to change I think so far what you’ll see in practical terms is the end or at least the Yeah, their own. They will almost finish. I guess, these prevention oriented programs, these programs aimed at Civil Society or Civilian population, I think that’s going to be, we’re going to be seeing less and less of that And we’re going to see more, but then again. We’re going to see more of of An approach that privileges the aid to the military, but then again if you look at the budget carefully That has come down too you know in general terms. So we will have to see, what I think we have so far are hints, are kind of uh The idea of the blueprints you know and if you put together that with the rhetoric it seems that yes, it’s going to be hard line approach all over and under the whole period, but then again these are huge machines. Border Patrol is in huge machine. It’s a big difference in between what you’re saying You will do and what you can accomplish in the ground, you know. Then again What the Mexico, what the Peña Nieto Trump Relationship is going to be, is it going to be is as smooth as the Obama-Peña Nieto Relation was? We don’t know that yet, You know. So, but definitely is safe to say Mike that it seems like In terms of the budget it’s it’s a step further than just me rhetoric You know and probably yes, we’re heading that way. Right well, I think that’s that’s an important point that you that you brought up about these are just sort of initial signs. They do tell us something but but there is a lot that remains to be seen about the ultimate direction the policy takes, But you mentioned one thing About Obama and Peña Nieto’s relationship compared to Obama’s and I’m sorry compared to Trump’s and Peña Nieto’s relationship significantly more Rocky, I would say, with Trump and Peña Nieto. So I, We had a question from one of our listeners Asking us more broadly how we see the Trump administration Interacting on policy discussions with partners in Latin America, do you think that because of how controversial Trump is, because of the controversies about his approach and the criticisms of just him kind of as a Leader. Do you think that will impede cooperation on the part of Latin American countries with the Trump administration? I think it’s safe to say now that it’s come to its lowest point I mean the and I think it has to do in fact or things that in bureaucratic terms for instance I’m talking to Central American diplomats here in Washington. It’s not clear who the interlocutor is in the State Department aside from Bill Brownfield you know and because you know there’s a lot of empty positions there. So embassies now are talking more with congress, with the Republican Congress than with the Administration. So I think it’s now it’s still in that side in what the relationship is especially with countries that are not as Strategical in Latin America to the US as Mexico or Colombia. It’s kind of there’s still some sort of line of confusion still, You know, but I Think that’s about to change. And something we haven’t talked about is We have we have talked about the budget. We have talked about the border, We have talked about the security side a little bit about immigration But there’s some other signs. For instance where the Trump administration said this week or the week before about a TPS for for haitians, you know. The Temporary Protection Status yeah, so that could be huge. I mean that if that’s Policy administrated by the executive Branch it depends only on Trump and the White House whether that continues or not, and if it doesn’t, if it is narrowed in some way, that could mean a Huge difference. I don’t see a whole conversation between Northern Triangle and Washington in that regard, you know. Of course and that has to do probably with what I’m saying about it’s some sort of line of confusion still on Who the interlocutors are up here. Of course if you talk about President Santos in Colombia, that’s a priority, you know. And I guess the Trump administration is already marking its rhythm down in Bogota on how The US is going to handle the whole peace process down there. Same thing with Mexico the whole wall thing But then again in Mexico you have to look at, you know, Commerce, trade, all that and Probably is going to be rougher, you know. Especially in the case of Mexico. In the case of Central America one thing is safe to say. It’s in my view for Secretary Tillerson, for President Trump It’s far way less important the region so far, than it was for the Obama administration. It was Vice President Biden, the second-in-command, driving that policy. Here, You know, it’s it’s just not that important and that is important for Central America for instance. Right, yeah. Well, I definitely think you know we’re definitely going to see differences Based on countries, based on who, which political figures the United States are Lining up behind certain policies, you have splits even within the Republican Party, Rubio coming out and backing the Colombian peace process with Trump kind of wavering on it. So yeah, I think, you know, there’s definitely going to be plenty to Keep watching going forward and we’re obviously going to be covering it for our audience. So please Keep an eye on our website for all that. But that’s all we have time for today Héctor. Thank you so much for being with me. Thank you. Thank you, my pleasure! Absolutely, and don’t forget to tune in next Thursday at 4:00 p.m Eastern for the next discussion. Thank you! Bye!