US vice president Kamala Harris announced a “call to action” for American and Latin American businesses and non-profits on May 27, asking for commitments on inclusive economic development in the so-called ‘Northern Triangle’ of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. 

In a bid to “address the root causes of migration” from the Northern Triangle into the US, the White House said in a statement that it will make significant contributions to “foster economic opportunity, strengthen governance, combat corruption and improve security”. But, it added, “supporting the long-term development of the region, and in the Western Hemisphere more broadly, will require more than just the resources of the US government”.

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“The administration looks forward to increased collaboration with private companies — US, foreign, and local in the Northern Triangle and Latin America more broadly — to build upon this ‘call to action’ in the months and years to come,” the statement continues.

According to a model developed by academics at the University of Texas at Austin, an estimated average 311,000 people left the Northern Triangle annually between 2014 and 2020, with the majority bound for the US.

The collaboration between the US government and the private sector will target six focus areas: reform agenda; digital and financial inclusion; food security and climate-smart agriculture; climate adaptation and clean energy; education and workforce development; and public health access.

Arun Pillai-Essex, US lead analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, says that such a move from the US government has revealed the inefficacy of direct aid. 

“Marshalling the resources of the federal government to encourage foreign investment is an acknowledgement that direct aid to regional governments and support for civil society alone has done little to improve baseline socio-economic conditions that continue to drive people north,” he says.

The Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the economic plight of these three Central American countries, particularly Honduras and El Salvador which fell 8% and 8.6% in terms of real gross domestic product growth, according to the IMF.

But, Mr Pillai-Essex adds, the eventual success of this move — which is part of a long-term strategy to help foster the conditions for business investment — “hinges more on regional governments making necessary reforms to improve long-standing impediments to private sector growth”. 

The 12 companies and organisations cited in the official statement are: Accion, Bancolombia, Chobani, Davivienda, Duolingo, The Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Mastercard, Microsoft, Nespresso, Pro Mujer, the Tent Partnership for Refugees, and the World Economic Forum.