This “working paper” is part of a yearlong Wilson Center study of the Central America Regional Security Initiative that examines U.S. security assistance in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The full report including chapters on each country, an in-depth analysis of homicide in the region, an overview of U.S. security policy and strategy, and a series of policy options for policy makers to consider will be published Fall 2014. Any comments or questions for the author or the Wilson Center’s Latin American Program, and requests to cite this work, should be directed to


The  wave of undocumented, unaccompanied minors (and mothers with young children) from Central America crossing the U.S.-Mexico border this past summer has raised serious questions for policymakers about the causes of the influx.  High rates of violence and growing insecurity in Central America’s Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the countries of origin for most of the migrants – have long been identified as a growing concern for U.S. policy and the health of the region’s democracies, as well as a major factor in the latest exodus of Central Americas.   U.S. policy has sought to address these issues in a focused way since 2008 through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).

Nicholas Phillips, author of “CARSI in Guatemala: Progress, Failure, and Uncertainty,” looks at the country which has received by far the most CARSI funds to date.  Among his key findings are:

• The U.S.-developed D.A.R.E anti-drug program is being actively promoted despite evaluations of the program in the U.S. showing little or no impact.
• No impact evaluation has been conducted of the heroin poppy eradication program and there is evidence that these programs have had little impact on the volume of cultivation.   
• Programs to establish model police precincts have enjoyed limited success in the specific areas where they were established, but the hoped for scaling up of these model programs has not  materialized in part  because of the government’s lack of commitment to such programs.