TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduras will keep fighting the scourge of gangs whether or not the United States decides to cut off aid, the security minister said on Thursday, a day after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened aid cuts.
Trump announced on Wednesday that he is working on a plan to reduce U.S. aid to countries he accuses of doing nothing to stop MS-13 gang members from crossing into the United States illegally. Trump did not provide details on the plan but said it would “radically” change the way U.S. foreign aid is structured.
The notorious crime group was founded by Salvadorans in Los Angeles in the 1980s and spread to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala as the United States deported waves of migrants.
El Salvador said on Thursday that Central America suffered most as those deportations ramped up in the mid-1990s, giving way to gang-fueled extortion, drug trafficking, killings and the recruitment of children.
It said it is committed to helping deportees re-settle and to reducing “irregular migration” to the United States.
“We express our firm and total disagreement towards those who characterize all of our migrants as criminals,” Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren said in a statement.
“The great majority of Salvadorans on U.S. soil are workers and industrious.”
Honduran Security Minister Julian Pacheco told reporters that the government is working “incessantly” to break up gangs and otherwise stem the tide of migrants fleeing the violence for better prospects in the United States.
“No one can say Honduras is giving up on this struggle. We’re almost alone as we fight it and we’re doing so with our own resources,” Pacheco said.
“International aid is very important, but if there isn’t aid we can’t just lay down and cry,” he said.
The United States has pledged $750 million to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador through the “Alliance for Prosperity” announced in 2014, seeking to curb migration through development projects and law-and-order funding to crack down on gangs.
At the start of 2017, $125 million went to Honduras and $98 million to El Salvador.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced it will end temporary protections for immigrants in the United States from Honduras by early 2020, leaving potentially 57,000 people vulnerable to deportation.
Last January, it cut the same protections for 200,000 Salvadorans who had been allowed to live and work in the United States since 2001. Their status will expire in 2019.
Reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa and Nelson Meza in San Salvador; Writing by David Alire Garcia and Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool