Why is the US giving Central America any money at all?

Here's Dana Frank writing about Honduras in Al Jazeera America
Since 2009, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has helped depose a democratically elected president in a military coup, ousted part of the country’s Supreme Court and facilitated the illegal appointment of Honduras’ sitting attorney general. He's jettisoned the Honduran constitution through militarized policing, helped abolish presidential term limits and he even pushed through Congress a law that says that the Honduran constitution doesn't apply in new, privately-run “model cities.”
Yet the Barack Obama administration continues to champion Hernández as a key regional partner and wants to send even more money to shore up his regime. Just how heinous should Honduras have to be before the U.S. stops supporting it?
And now Mary Anastasia O'Grady writing about El Salvador in the Wall Street Journal
This case exposes the deliberate destruction of the rule of law. In 2000 The Wall Street Journal/Heritage Index of Economic Freedom ranked El Salvador the ninth freest economy in the world. It now sits at 62. Last week the U.N.’s Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean said that in 2014 El Salvador received a piddling 3% of all foreign direct investment to Central America.
Nevertheless, Washington hasn’t stopped flooding Salvador with foreign aid. As part of Vice President Joe Biden’s $1 billion Central America aid initiative, the State Department has requested $119 million for development assistance for El Salvador for fiscal year 2016. This doesn’t include spending on security. The new MCC infusion raised its commitments to El Salvador in the last seven years to more than $700 million.
This is only a spit in the U.S. government-budget ocean of almost $4 trillion. But it’s a lot of money for revolutionaries in a small country who have the goal of using the state’s monopoly power to dismantle democracy.
Ms. McCue did not answer either of my requests for comment since January. Mr. Craner, who is no longer on the MCC board, told me in an email in January that he stands by his defense of El Salvador’s rule of law but that he did not know about the high-profile CEL-Enel case. He said he would “research” it. Last week he told me in an email that he now thinks the MCC should rethink its support.
That’s cold comfort for the victims of the FMLN repression that the U.S. is underwriting.
Christine Wade and I tried to publish an op-ed on our Central American partners in July 2014 but it didn't get anywhere. Now's as good a time as any to publish it here.

Unaccompanied Minors Crisis Makes for Strange Bedfellows

On Friday President Barack Obama met with three people who would probably not have been invited to the White House under many other conditions. A retired general, a businessman, and former guerrilla commander, presidents of the three Central American countries at the heart of the border crisis, met with the US president to discuss the recent surge of unaccompanied minors and families on the US southern border. The divergent backgrounds of the four men demonstrate the difficulties that lie ahead for our countries as we seek long-term solutions to our shared challenges.

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina is a retired general who has been linked to human rights violations during the Guatemalan civil war. A witness implicated him in crimes against humanity and genocide during last year's Efraín Rios Montt trial in Guatemala. Perez has advocated for drug decriminalization in some form, which has put him at odds with the White House. Perez, on the other hand, has been critical of the US government for not providing Guatemala with sufficient resources to fight the drug war and organized crime due to congressional restrictions on military assistance to the country in place since the Cold War.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who skipped previous high-level meetings to attend the World Cup in Brazil, also attended the White House meeting. Honduras is considered one of the US' most awkward allies. Hernandez has probably been the most outspoken president with regards to the US' contribution to the border crisis, emphasizing the critical role that the US appetite for drugs has played in Central America's crisis. While true, that argument distracts from Honduran and regional elites’ failures to root out corruption, strengthen democracy, and invest in their people. 

The 2009 coup carried out by the right-wing in Honduras, including the current president, greatly opened the country to drug trafficking and organized crime. Though violence was increasing in the years prior to the coup, it is the failure on the part of current Honduran political and economic actors that have made Honduras the deadliest country on Earth. 

Finally, President of El Salvador and former FMLN guerrilla  Salvador Sanchez Cerén will be attending - the most remarkable of visits. Sanchez Cerén and the FMLN fought against US-backed governments for over a decade in the 1970s and 1980s before becoming a political party following the country’s 1992 peace accords. The Salvadoran government is frustrated with the never-ending conditions emerging from Washington for the country to continue receiving economic and security assistance. 

While the US and Salvadoran governments might have more reservations about engaging with each other than the other two countries, President Obama has bet his Central American policy on El Salvador in recent years - a second Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact, the Partnership for Growth Program, and a presidential visit. The US might not want to engage with the FMLN and the FMLN and Salvador Sanchez Cerén might prefer to work with other leftist governments in the region, but strong historic, people-to-people, and economic ties compel the two to work together.

The US government is allegedly discussing a proposal to provide refugee status to young people from Honduras and then, perhaps, to young people from the other countries. While all three countries suffer from high rates of criminal violence, Honduras' murder rate is approximately double its neighbors. While it might make sense to start with Honduras, President Perez has already stated that that the three Presidents perceive the problem (and solution) to be the same for all three countries, suggesting a coordinated strategy among the three presidents.

Still, there was some indication that presidents would push for consideration of individual issues. Guatemalan President Perez has stated that he intends to broach the subject of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Guatemalans living in the US once again, a status extended to eligible Hondurans following Hurricane Mitch and more than 200,000 Salvadorans following two 2001 earthquakes.

President Obama's decision to meet with these three leaders is a recognition of the shared interests / challenges that exist regardless of the ideological backgrounds of the region's leaders and governments. In fact, these divergent perspectives may be key to crafting a solution to the crisis. 

While there is a pressing need to resolve the immediate humanitarian crisis, there must also be discussion of long-term solutions to deal with the causes of violence in Central America. That means that the region’s leaders must address not only poverty and inequality, but corruption and impunity as well. It also means that President Obama needs to take a long, hard look at the failed “War on Drugs” and the havoc that it has wreaked throughout the region. With a crisis as complex as the backgrounds of those tasked with solving it, don’t expect easy solutions to be forthcoming.