It’s hard to imagine that it was less than a year ago that the media became consumed with horror stories about child migrants from Central America entering the United States. Some of us noticed that all of that (as well as the fear-mongering about Ebola) disappeared from the headlines as soon as the 2014 midterms were over.

But thanks to the Economist, we learn that the Obama administration is continuing to follow up.

At a summit in Panama City on April 10th and 11th Barack Obama reiterated his goal of spending $1 billion next year to tackle the causes of migration from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, known as the Northern Triangle. Experts say his proposal, coupled with joint efforts by the three countries to stop young people from fleeing, mark enlightened new ways of trying to revive Latin America’s most violent region. They face big hurdles, however.

The $1 billion earmarked for the three countries, which has been championed above all by the vice-president, Joe Biden, is three times what America allocated for spending on the region last year. Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think-tank, says the Obama administration deserves “a great deal of credit” for sticking with the issue after the media lost interest. Four-fifths of the aid proposal is aimed at building up civilian institutions and fostering economic development. This is an “important shift” from the usual focus on law enforcement, says Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group.

One of the “big hurdles” this initiative faces is that Congress will have to approve the $1 billion in funds for development in these countries. That’s something to watch for in the upcoming work on budgets. The question to pose to Republicans is whether all their screaming about this issue was an election-year ploy or are they serious about actually solving the root of the problem.

Speaking of the root of the problem, the Economist is right to point out that it goes back further than most Americans want to admit.

The United States helped stoke the region’s troubles, both by backing anti-Soviet regimes in civil wars during the 1980s and by expelling gang members from Los Angeles to El Salvador in the 1990s. More recently, it has focused narrowly on law enforcement and fighting drug-trafficking. A new approach, in which the United States, Mexico and international donors work alongside Central America’s governments to get at the roots of the region’s worst problems, is worth a try.

The “new approach” the Obama administration is taking is exactly the kind of thing that was at the top of liberal’s agenda back in the 1980’s. But lately we haven’t been paying much attention to this part of the world. If we are truly interested in a foreign policy based on something other than military dominance (overt or covert), this is how it starts.

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