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Opinion

How Is the U.S. Helping Our Latin American Allies?

Ongoing budget negotiations between President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leadership have dominated headlines over the past few weeks.

As the government shutdown continues, both sides have remained steadfast throughout negotiations when it comes to their agenda in 2019. Among a variety of other projects, Trump has honed in on immigration reform, a bulwark of his campaign, fervently advocating for a significant funding allocation in next year’s budget.

Given all this attention, it has been difficult to miss the poor living conditions facing the Central American population. Take Honduras, for example, where two-thirds of the population lives in poverty. Many migrants moving toward the U.S. border started their journey in Honduras, looking to leave behind the violence and inadequate living conditions.

Over the past two years, the United States has provided nearly $1.3 billion in aid to Central America, largely to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. But in addition to government support, private investment in Central America could go a long way toward helping the working poor and putting these countries on a more sustainable and prosperous path for the future. Tangible investments, such as developing a nation’s infrastructure, may prove to be more beneficial than millions of dollars in largely undirected assistance.

For decades, much of Latin America has lacked the resources and infrastructure required to provide reliable electricity and fuel to meet its consumer energy needs. Although the region has made significant progress over the last 20 years, many still do not enjoy the basic necessities that reliable energy provides. In fact, nearly a million Hondurans live without access to reliable energy.

Unfortunately, there is not a simple solution for Honduras’ energy problems. But with careful collaboration and public-private partnerships, progress can be made.

Energy-rich countries such as the United States can play an important role in this, too. For example, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency’s Gas Infrastructure Exports Initiative can help to facilitate responsible energy development in Latin American countries.

The USTDA describes the initiative as a way “to ensure that emerging markets have the gas infrastructure necessary to be long-term off-takers” of U.S. liquefied natural gas exports. Since its launch a year ago, the initiative has funded 13 gas projects in more than 20 countries and generated more than $1 billion in exports.

In August, the USTDA hosted Honduran representatives from the country’s energy sector to plan for infrastructure solutions for gas terminals and power generation facilities. With this expertise and guidance, Honduras is working to develop long-term plans to invest in its energy infrastructure.

Greater access to reliable energy is not the all-encompassing solution to Honduras’ multifaceted challenges. Nevertheless, increased access to energy for the Honduran people, as well as investment in infrastructure to ensure a more resilient electrical grid, will surely improve the quality of life by providing the necessary resources for modern cooking capabilities, heating homes and routing ample electricity to hospitals and schools throughout the country.

The United States should play a role in realizing these goals.

 

Craig Stevens is a former senior adviser to U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman and the spokesperson for Grow America’s Infrastructure Now.

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