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What The End Of U.S. Aid Could Mean For El Salvador, Guatemala And Honduras

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Trump administration is moving to end aid programs for three Central American countries - El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. This is in retaliation for the tens of thousands of migrants leaving those countries each month for the U.S. White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney went on CNN yesterday to defend the move.

(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)

MICK MULVANEY: The people say it's working, but the proof is in the numbers. It's not working well enough to help us solve our border crisis, and that's what the president is focused on.

CHANG: In a moment, we will hear from the U.S.-Mexico border. But first, let's focus on the hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance that could be at stake here. El Salvador's ambassador to the U.S. joins us now.

Claudia Canjura, welcome.

CLAUDIA IVETTE CANJURA DE CENTENO: Hello. Good afternoon. Thank you.

CHANG: So have you heard directly from anyone in the Trump administration about this move? Did you get any warning, any guidance about it?

CANJURA: You know, we - as government of El Salvador, we haven't received an official announcement from the government of...

CHANG: Really?

CANJURA: ...The U.S. regarding the cancellation of the economic aid for our country and for the Northern Triangle. So as - you - all we know - our country has made significant progress and - if the - each of the areas establishing the Northern Triangle prosperity plan. So we are confident that the cooperation that the people of the United States gives to our country will be maintained for the region.

CHANG: Well, now President Trump is threatening to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance. What would that mean to El Salvador, to lose that money? How do you currently use those funds now?

CANJURA: You know, that money - that money isn't managed directly for our government. That money is managed and administrated by different companies, enterprise - enterprises, NGOs that work in the government - that work...

CHANG: And how do they spend the money?

CANJURA: ...In our country. They spend the money in different programs of cooperation that are related to safety, to youth empowerment, to security, you know, that has to be with the creating better conditions of living in our country in terms of improving the conditions for our young people, creating jobs, creating great opportunities, developing spaces of recreation for our people. So it's a very important cooperation for our countries. But we don't manage the money, as government.

CHANG: OK. Now, Mick Mulvaney, the president's chief of staff - he said yesterday that, quote, "El Salvador could do more." What do you make of that pushback? What do you think your country could do to help slow down migration into the U.S.?

CANJURA: What - what I can do is that we are making all our efforts - we're doing the best in terms of decrease in the movements of irregular migration. El Salvador is one of the countries in the region that has decreased it more than 60 percent, the arrivals at the north - at the southern border...

CHANG: Right. But the Trump administration wants to see your country do more. Is there anything you can offer?

CANJURA: We are working. You know, one of this - this weekend, this just past - last weekend, a codel, a delegation from congressman and congresswoman from the U.S., went to our country. And they could witness all the performance that the - the U.S.-El Salvador cooperation programs has and how they impact in appropriate way in - in our community. So they could see the performance and how we are doing the best that we can at all the levels - at the local levels with all our governments - with all our local governments in terms of improving the conditions.

CHANG: Ambassador Claudia Canjura of El Salvador, thank you very much for joining us today.

CANJURA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to share with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.