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Rising violence in Central America may pose an even greater threat to the United States than the turmoil in neighboring Mexico.

U.S. backed anti-drug efforts in Colombia and Mexico forced drug trafficking organizations into Central American countries with weak governments and fewer resources to combat criminal activity. As a result, the higher rate of drug trade moving through Central American countries has contributed to higher levels of violence and corruption of government officials, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The Obama Administration has sought partnerships with countries in the region, forming the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), which offers law enforcement training, institution building, and addressing economic and social factors contributing to drug trafficking. The U.S. provided $260 million in assistance between 2008 and 2010 for the initiative.

While U.S. assistance to the region has increased by over 50 percent since 2008, Central American leaders and some members of Congress believe the resources provided are insufficient given the scope of the security challenges. Even if the U.S greatly increased funding for CARSI, “it would do little good as long as Central American leaders lack the political will to tackle long-standing issues such as incomplete institutional reforms, precarious tax bases, and the lack of opportunities for young people,” the CRS report noted.

The high rate of violence in Central American countries is matched with a high rate of poverty and an overarching system of income inequality. High corruption in the police force, prisons, and courts has exacerbated the security situation and decreased government channels to the protect citizens.

Other U.S. policies to curb violence in the region have had limited success. In February, the Center reported a controversial program by the ATF in which straw purchasers were allowed to move weapons across the border in an attempt to track trafficking trends. Two of these firearms were found at the scene of a shootout where a U.S. Border Patrol agent was shot to death. As a result, the Attorney General has also called for a review of the operation and other ATF tactics used to counter gun trafficking.

FAST FACT: Countries in Central America have some of the highest homicide rates in the world. In 2010, the homicide rate per 100,000 people in El Salvador was at 66, Guatemala was at 50 and Honduras at 77. The often publicized homicide rate in Mexico, on the other hand, was 18.

*The Manufacturing Extension Partnership provided $530 million over four years to assist manufacturers with technical assistance, productivity, and sustainability. While the Commerce Department program has been considered well managed, questions have arisen about whether the program enables inefficient companies to stay in business and whether there is a strong need for it. (GAO)

*About one-third of families who receive both Medicaid and the Children’s Health Initiative Program (CHIP) for children needing specialty care have trouble accessing services. About 45 percent of children in Medicaid and CHIP need coordinated services, but 37 percent did not receive it. (GAO)

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