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New U.S. COVID-19 relief legislation includes assistance for Central America, Belize

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Posted: Tuesday, December 22, 2020. 4:03 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Conservative opponents have criticized one of the last acts of the current United States Congress – the passage of a US$900 billion pandemic relief package on Monday – for containing “a significant portion of funds” in foreign aid.

In the case of Central America and Belize, that includes US$$505,925,000.22 in assistance.

Section 7045 of the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021, the longest bill ever passed by the U.S. Congress, discusses the parameters and conditions to the assistance, much of which is to be routed through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).

The funds “shall be prioritized for programs and activities that address the key factors that contribute to the migration of unaccompanied, undocumented minors to the United States and such funds shall be made available for global health, humanitarian, development, democracy, border security, and law enforcement programs for such countries, including for programs to reduce violence against women and girls and to combat corruption, and for support of commissions against corruption and impunity, as appropriate,” the Act reads.

Further, it provides for US$45 million to support the offices of Attorneys General and other entities and activities to combat corruption and impunity in each country.

Economic support is being provided specifically to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, but they will get 50 percent of what is available after the Secretary of State certifies and reports to the legislative committees on appropriations that each country is implementing and pursuing various anti-corruption and security initiatives, including “informing its citizens of the dangers of the journey to the southwest border of the United States,” an obvious reference to the migrant caravans that have been halted at the Mexican border as the U.S. takes its time certifying claims for asylum and so on.

The funds may be reprogrammed for other countries in the region if any of the trios fail to follow through, but it does not apply to the funding for legal, judicial, and anti-corruption entities, programs to combat gender-based violence; humanitarian assistance and food security programs. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are also barred from receiving funding under the Foreign Military Financing Program.

The Act otherwise focuses on extending unemployment for Americans, providing stimulus checks, and boosting small businesses. But other countries in the region and outside are also set to receive assistance.

The Act is expected to be signed by outgoing President Donald J. Trump in the coming days.

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