Since 2008, the US Congress has appropriated more than $1 billion for the flagship US security assistance program in Central America: the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).
After nearly a decade, more than half a billion dollars worth of assistance has been delivered to Central America through CARSI. And in late 2015, Congress authorized a multi-year $750 million aid package for the region, of which $126 million is allocated to CARSI.
But there is little clarity about both the ultimate destination of CARSI funds as well as the impacts of the large number of programs the initiative supports in one of the world's most violent regions.
In 2014, Vanderbilt University's Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) published what became one of the most widely cited examinations of the outcomes of CARSI-funded anti-crime programs in Central America. The LAPOP study focused on evaluating the impact of a subset of CARSI programs implemented in the so-called "Northern Triangle" countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as well as Panama.
The researchers examined "community-based crime prevention" programs implemented by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) -- the same branch of the State Department that commissioned LAPOP's report.
Their "main finding" was that "in several key respects," the CARSI-funded USAID programs "have been a success."
The LAPOP study has been referenced by several well-respected non-governmental organizations, including InSight Crime. And it is featured on USAID's website, where it is described as a "scientifically rigorous impact evaluation" that "is part of a broader effort to determine the effectiveness of community-based crime prevention, in contrast to the traditionally more common law enforcement, or mano dura ('iron fist'), approach to addressing the widespread crime and violence permeating Central America."
Late last year, however, the Washington, DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) issued a rebuttal of the LAPOP study's findings, arguing that LAPOP's data "cannot support the conclusion that the areas subject to treatment in the CARSI programs showed better results than those areas that were not."
The ensuing public debate between the two organizations over how to best measure the impact of US security assistance programs in Central America highlights several themes, including the lack of publicly available information about these programs, the difficulty of accurately assessing the impact of security aid, and the broad agreement that these issues deserve greater public scrutiny. Full article
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