Does US Foreign Aid to Latin America Do More Harm Than Good?

President Donald Trump listens to a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, in Washington.

By Christopher Manion Published on November 12, 2018

“We pay these countries by the way — Honduras, El Salvador — we pay these countries hundreds of millions of dollars … They don’t do a d***ed thing, they don’t do a d***ed thing for us.”

— Donald Trump, Macon, Georgia, November 3, 2018

Are leaders in Central America and Mexico doing enough to stop the illegal mobs coming towards the U.S. border? President Trump doesn’t think so. America’s taxpayers have sent them tens of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in recent years — it’s called “foreign aid” — and, well, Mr. Trump says they aren’t acting very grateful.

They aren’t doing anything for us, he says. Well, first, let’s ask, what is “foreign aid” doing for them?

A long time ago I tried to find out. And I didn’t get very far. In 1984, President Reagan had appointed Victor M. Rivera to be Director for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), the “foreign aid” agency. Rivera, a Puerto Rican businessman, wanted to help poor Latin Americans learn how to start small businesses. That way they could pull themselves and their neighbors out of poverty without depending on welfare. Rivera wasn’t sure how to bring some business sense to our foreign aid programs, so he dropped by my office at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to talk about it.

McPherson quickly found a way to make sure AID programs would keep getting money, whether they produced any results or not.

We came up with a simple plan: Rivera would ask each AID Country Director in Latin America and the Caribbean two simple questions: “What are your post’s ten most successful aid programs, and which the least successful? And how do you account for those successes, and failures?” He agreed, and a day later, he sent the telegrams off.

Uh-oh, bad idea. Within 24 hours, a well-orchestrated outcry from some 34 foreign AID posts reached Rivera’s boss, Peter McPherson. “How can we possibly tell poor villagers that their program is the biggest failure in the country?” they wailed.

In other words, “What? We’re supposed to be accountable to the taxpayer?”

Well, the answer is, no, they aren’t. Without wasting any time, McPherson ordered Rivera to apologize and to officially withdraw his telegram.

The lesson? One does not measure the quality of foreign aid projects by their performance, but by how much money they spend, and who gets it.

So Why Does Congress Insist on Funding Failures?

McPherson knew that many Republicans consider foreign aid a waste of money. But hardened bureaucrat that he was, he learned fast. He quickly found a way to make sure AID programs would keep getting money, whether they produced any results or not.

McPherson knew that many suppliers of goods and services used by AID were in the U.S. He made sure that the money was spread around to key states and congressional districts, especially to those represented by AID’s critics. That way, any cut in funding would mean “Job Losses!” for that member’s constituents.

Congress quickly got the message. Good and hard.

We should note here that AID is the strongest supporter of abortion and population control in the entire U.S. bureaucracy, regardless of which party controls the White House and Capitol Hill.

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So in 2006, with the GOP in the White House and both sides of Capitol Hill, AID targeted a pro-life Senator from Alabama, one of the most outspoken critics of foreign aid. At the time, a condom factory in one of Alabama’s poorest counties supplied a majority of the 400 million condoms (not a misprint) that AID distributes to Third World Countries.

Well, AID announced that they were going to save the taxpayer’s money by buying condoms from China instead of the U.S. — putting some 300 workers in Eufaula, Alabama, most of them African-American, out of work.

Guess what happened next? That hard-core pro-life foreign-aid critic from Alabama was forced to crawl on his knees to preserve that contract for Eufaula. AID cheered — they had humiliated him.

By the way, that senator’s name was Jeff Sessions.

‘Charities’ Doing Well by Doing Good

Foreign aid is a moneymaker not only for U.S. suppliers, but for U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) — including the Catholic Church. “Catholic Relief Services” alone receives some half a billion taxpayer dollars a year in AID contracts.

Catholic bishops in Latin America complain that every AID health program is required to include the distribution of contraceptives and abortifacients. But U.S. bishops can’t help them.

The bishops get the money, but they also have to play the game. In addition to praising Obama’s agenda and attacking President Trump, NGOs run by the bishops ally with pro-abortion groups to keep getting funded. They also acquire some strange bedfellows. In one case, when Democrats won the White House and both houses of Congress in 2009, Catholic Charities USA realized they had to make changes. They quickly hired Washington’s premier homosexual PR firm — at $476,750 a year — to lobby for increased federal funding from the new pro-LGBT administration and Congress. The bishops never revealed this deal to the faithful — we found out only in 2011, when Washington’s Gay Blade newspaper ran a front-page exposé bragging about it.

That’s what you have to do to get government “charity.”

Maybe We Help Them Enough, Already

Catholic bishops in Latin America complain that every AID health program must include the distribution of contraceptives and abortifacients, or they won’t get clean water, medicines, or any other basic necessities. But U.S. bishops can’t help them. Their NGOs need the money — as then-Cardinal, now disgraced child abuser Theodore McCarrick once explained — so they go easy on pro-abort Catholic politicians.

And Catholic Relief Services? They play along too. Kenneth Hackett, who ran CRS for 20 years before becoming Obama’s ambassador to the Holy See, once bragged that he’d never knowingly hired a Republican. Since most bishops grew up in Democrat homes, it’s not surprising that none of them objected.

After all, they need the money.

Trump’s threat to end the taxpayer funding of bloated federal failures won’t hurt those six million Guatemalans at all.

Free-market capitalism has removed some two billion people from severe poverty in the past thirty years, but Pope Francis, and his echo chamber in the U.S. bishops conference, says that capitalism is a sin.

And so does AID, as Victor Rivera and Jeff Sessions learned to their chagrin, when they tried to take on “foreign aid.”

So how does the U.S. really help Central Americans? Here’s how. Forty percent of Guatemalans — that’s six million people — live on remesas, the millions of dollars of “remissions” sent back home by family members working in the U.S., legally and illegally, every year.

And they don’t need AID to deliver it — they use Western Union.

So Trump’s threat to end the taxpayer funding of bloated federal failures won’t hurt those six million Guatemalans at all.

That’s why his very credible threat sends a chill down many a spine — both south of the border and on Capitol Hill.

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