Remittances: An Underlying Casualty in President Trump’s Immigration Plan

By David Leftwich

Since President Trump’s election, he has released executive orders to regulate immigration. The first executive order that received the most attention banned travel into the United States from six Muslim-majority countries. The next executive order was released on January 25, 2017 and is entitled, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” This executive order attempts to rid the United States of “criminal” illegal migrants in the U.S and will likely have a large impact on Mexico. Remittances, or gifts and money sent by migrants living in the U.S. back to Mexico, are an important source of revenue for the poorest people there. In addition, a drastic reduction in remittances will hurt the country’s economic growth.

Mexico is one of the leading remittance receiving countries in the world, receiving $28.7 billion in 2015 from all countries. The other top five remittance receiving countries are India, China, the Philippines, and France. To put this $28.7 billion in perspective, it represented 2.7% of Mexico’s total GDP of just over $1 trillion in 2016.  Because of close proximity and economic ties to the United States, Mexican migrants in the United States are the main source behind those remittances. Out of the $28.7 billion sent to Mexico in 2015, an estimated $25.2 billion came from the United States. In total, the United States is home to about 11 million Mexican migrants, most of whom send remittances back to Mexico. The median amount of money sent is $300 per gift, 14 times a year. This income from remittances is vital to both working migrants in the U.S. and their families in Mexico, especially in a Mexican economy that has seen a shrinking rate of GDP growth over the past two years.

Besides helping out families, remittances also diversify the Mexican economy away from oil. Relying on oil and other natural resources is related to many negative outcomes in developing countries. Energy dependence is correlated with authoritarianism according to Larry Diamond, professor of political science and sociology at Stanford University: “There are twenty-three countries in the world that derive at least 60 percent of their exports from oil and gas and not a single one is a real democracy.” Other negative outcomes associated with resource dependence include slow economic growth rates, inequality, and poverty.

Besides these negative long-term effects, from day-to-day, economies dependent on natural resources are more volatile and fluctuate drastically depending on the markets for their resources. Remittances have been important to reduce this resource dependence in Mexico’s economy, and in 2015, for the first time, money from remittances surpassed money brought in from oil.

This flow of remittance money into Mexico is being threatened by President Trump’s second executive order. The order targets “those that have abused any program related to the receipt of public benefits” for deportation. This includes a variety of common programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, unemployment benefits, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). Additionally, the executive order focuses on finding people who have “engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency.”

In order to acquire a job, most illegal migrants need to lie about themselves, whether it is about their citizenship status or social security number. According to Ronald Mortenson, a Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, “…approximately 75% of working-age illegal aliens use fraudulent Social Security cards to obtain employment.” Even if it’s not work related, illegal migrants need to lie about biographical information when obtaining basic goods, such as credit cards, in American society. Additionally, if an illegal migrant applies to receive any kind of private healthcare or a government benefit, under the executive order’s broad terms, almost every illegal migrant in the United States will be targeted. While the order was created to help secure the United States against criminals who are in the United States illegally, it gives Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the authority to deport the majority of working illegal migrants and their families.

The people this order includes are mainly longstanding, contributing members to their communities and to the national U.S. economy. According to the data, most have jobs and are longtime members of their community. The Pew Hispanic Center listed that in 2010, 8 million of the estimated 11.2 million total estimated illegal migrants were in the United States working. Also, 78% of illegals have lived in the United States for 10 years or more, and only 7% have been here less than five years. By uprooting these people, the United States would lose millions of workers, and the Mexican unemployment rate would immediately rise. Because these millions of deported people will be returning to their already impoverished families without a job or the extra income from their jobs in the United States, many families will fall deeper into poverty in Mexico.

The media and President Donald Trump have inflamed the issue of illegal migration, even though rates of immigration into the United States from Mexico have dramatically decreased over recent years, and the population of illegal migrants in the United States from Mexico has decreased from 6.9 million in 2007 to 5.6 million in 2015. This represents roughly a 19% decrease in population size over eight years. Despite this reduction, President Trump is focused on slowing immigration into the United States. He attempted to increase regulations on immigration in his first, “Travel Ban,” executive order, but this second executive order fills a completely different role. Its broad reach deports a group of working, productive members of society under the guise of criminal behavior.

President Trump paints all illegal migrants in the United States as a dangerous group, but in reality, they commit less crime than native-born Americans. According to the 2010 American Community Survey, about 1.6 percent of migrant males aged 18-39 were in prison compared to 3.3 percent of native-born males. There is an issue with illegal immigration in the United States, but broadly deporting established migrants is a counterproductive way to solve the problem that would hurt both the United States and Mexico.

Removing most working illegal Mexican migrants from the United States negatively affects the Mexican economy. As of 2013, 67% of remittances to Mexico were from undocumented migrants. Using this percentage against remittances from the U.S. to Mexico in 2015, President Trump’s plan could eliminate $16.9 billion of the estimated $25.2 billion of remittances being sent to Mexico. In 2016, Mexico’s economic growth slowed to 2.3%. Applying these estimated remittance losses from Trump’s proposed executive order to Mexico’s 2016 GDP would eliminate most if not all of the 2.3% GDP growth in 2016.

Even though President Trump’s executive order is meant to protect the United States from dangerous migrants, its broad language may cause widespread deportations. As an important financial resource for the poor and a diversifying component of the Mexican economy, a multi-billion-dollar reduction in remittances from the United States will have destabilizing economic consequences for Mexico. President Trump should weigh the unintended costs and see whether this executive order’s nominal gains are worth the damages.


Draft Operator Law Will Impart Harmful Restrictions on Kazakhstan Civil Society; Indicative of Regional Trends

The Republic of Kazakhstan, located in Central Asia, borders the Russian Federation to the North and the Xinjiang Uygur region of China to the East.  Kazakhstan gained its independence in 1991, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Since independence, civil society has flourished, with over 400 NGOs, many related to a wide spectrum of human rights causes, established in the last 25 years.  Recently, however, international donors to Kazakh Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have tightened their budgets, and the government has stepped in to fund the “third sector.”  While the civic space in Kazakhstan is relatively open, when compared to other countries in the region, recent legislation has imposed new restrictions on CSOs.  Despite Kazakhstan’s independence, Russia continues to serve as a kind of political model for the region’s former socialist republics.   With the implementation of the Kazakh “Operator Law” coming just a few years after the approval of the similarly restrictive Russian “foreign agent law,” Kazakhstan seems to be echoing Kremlin policy once again.

In September 2015, the Kazakh parliament introduced legislation that proposed a centralized system for administering grants and funds to CSOs in the country.  The draft law proposed the creation of a “noncommercial operator institution”, through which all state and foreign funding would pass before being allocated to CSOs.  The law also required CSOs to register their activities with the government and submit extensive information to a database managed by the government.  The draft law was approved by the lower house of the Kazakh parliament in early September of 2015 and signed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on December 2, 2015.

The new Operator Law, together with amendments made to the Criminal Code in January, has the potential to inhibit the operations of CSOs, particularly those related to human rights.  According to the new amendments to the Criminal Code, CSO leaders who fail to register their organization or accept funding while the CSO is unregistered may be punished with up to six years in jail.  Freedom House has tracked the decline of Kazakhstan’s civil society and reports that its “democratic progress” continues to decline. On a scale from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free), Freedom House assigned Kazakhstan a score of 5.75 in 2006 and a 6.50 in 2015.

Kazakh officials in favor of the Operator Law claim that it was designed to “bring greater organization and efficiency to the process of distributing public funds, mediate between state agencies and their suppliers from the CSO community and bring greater transparency to the NGO-state procurement process as a whole.” However, activists and CSO leaders fear that the law imposes restrictive government oversight on Kazakhstan’s civil society.  With a single organization allocating funds to CSOs, the government may withhold money from organizations that it perceives to be threatening.  Historically, Kazakhstan has favored certain CSOs over others, with a higher percentage of government funding being allocated to the construction of schools and hospitals rather than support for human rights initiatives. Hudson Institute stated that this may be due to a general mistrust of the sector after the destabilizing “Orange Revolutions” in the early 2000s.  The Operator Law has the potential to widen the financial chasm between CSOs that the government supports and those that it does not.

Last October, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concerns about the law when spokesperson Cécile Pouilly asserted that, “the scope and the vague wording of these amendments leaves room for broad interpretation, especially in terms of grant making, which may result in an arbitrary and discriminatory application of the law.” Similarly, UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai warned that the law, “may not only compromise the independence of associations, but challenge their very existence.” He asserted that financial resources are vital to freedom of association. The NGO community also spoke out against the law with Human Rights Watch urging Kazakhstan to “Amend the law on CSOs so that it meets international standards on freedom of association.”

Undoubtedly, the Kazakhstan Operator Law bares resemblance to the Russian “Foreign Agents” Law that was passed in July 2012.  The Russian law established that any civil society organization that received money from foreign sources, either governmental or private, had to register with the Ministry of Justice as an “organization carrying the function of a foreign agent.” Many have argued that the term “foreign agent” carries with it a heavy Cold War era connotation intended to demonize those civil society groups that carry the label. Additionally, the law states that CSOs are required to submit extensive semi-annual reports and financial records to the government regarding their organizational activities.  Today, over 120 civil society organizations are registered as foreign agents, including many prominent political and human rights organizations.

Unfortunately, a series of amendments made by the Duma in 2014 increased the regulatory power of the “Foreign Agent” Law. These amendments gave the Ministry of Justice full power to register groups as “foreign agents” without the groups’ consent. The 2014 amendments also made it illegal for Russian political parties to be sponsored by or associated with CSOs possessing “foreign agent” status. Much like the Kazakh Operator Law, Russia’s “Foreign Agents” Law allows the government to closely monitor its civil society and prevent threatening or politically uncomfortable organizations from receiving operational resources.  In Russia, as in Kazakhstan, Civil Society Organizations are funneled through a single institution, the Ministry of Justice, which maintains exclusive jurisdiction over the operational power of CSOs.

Douglas Rutzen of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law asserts that Russia has been a key leader in the increasingly restrictive civil society climate in Eurasia and Central Asia.  Rutzen notes that, while Russia was not the first country to implement laws that inhibit foreign funding, it contributed to the development of similar laws in neighboring countries. Citing Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book “Tipping Point,” Rutzen compared restrictive civil society laws to an infectious disease, with Russia as the carrier. The comparison is apt. Since Russia implemented the “Foreign Agent” Law in 2012, over 70 countries have proposed constraints on civil society. Among these, Kazakhstan’s Operator Law is important because it illustrates the extent to which the space for civil society organizations is shrinking on a regional level.

Wave of Remittances Riding the Political Tide into Cuba

“The culmination of years of talks resulted in this handshake between the President and Cuban President Raúl Castro during the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Role of Remittances in the Region

Remittances have major macro and microeconomic impacts on economies around the world. Historically, they have enhanced the GDP of the receiving country and helped fill the gap between a family’s income and its necessary expenditures, such as healthcare and education. The Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region is no exception to these observable benefits. The main source of remittances to the LAC region is the United States and recent data suggests that remittances to this region are increasing. In 2011, the U.S. sent an estimated $44.3 billion in remittances to the LAC region, with Mexico receiving the largest portion. In 2015, global remittances to the LAC totaled more than $65 billion, representing a growth of 6% from the previous year.

Cuba has been a bit of an enigma in the study of remittances to the LAC. Since the Cold War, both Cuban and U.S. foreign policy restricted, and even prohibited, the transfer of money between the two countries. While these restrictions and prohibitions were often circumvented, such policies inhibited the collection of accurate economic data. However, the recent restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries has relaxed these onerous regulations, increased Cuban immigration to the United States, and contributed to an increase in U.S. remittances to Cuba. Evidence now suggests that the increased remittances are already making an impact on the Cuban economy.

A Cold Shoulder Towards Remittances

In 1959, the Cuban Revolution and the ascendance of the Castro regime created an ideological rift between the United States and Cuba. In 1960, the U.S. ceased diplomatic relations with the island nation and imposed a trade embargo. In return, Cuba allied itself with the Soviet Union. Rocked by events such as the U.S. orchestrated invasion of the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the neighboring countries have had a turbulent past. Their political differences and tempestuous history led to a series of economic policies by which each government tried to control their flow of capital, particularly in the form of remittances.

From 1960 to 1979, the Cuban government actively discouraged the receipt of remittances, particularly from the United States. Cuba desired to break free of what it referred to as the United States’ imperialistic hold over Latin America and the Caribbean. After the revolution in 1959, “visits by Cuban émigrés, a common channel for unofficial remittance transfers, were prohibited. Thus, state-sanctioned remittances were restricted to in-kind transfers of small-scale packages that contained clothing, medicines, food, and other consumer goods.” In light of improved relations with the U.S. in the late 1970s, the Cuban government moved away from its prohibitive stance on remittances. Starting in 1978, Cuban emigrants were allowed to reenter the country to visit their families, often bringing small amounts of currency with them. Since U.S. currency was illegal on the island, however, remittances were limited. In 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s biggest trading partner and ally, forced the island’s government to rethink its economic policies and its relationship with the United States. Facing economic turmoil, Cuba allowed and even encouraged the transfer of remittances through official channels to help boost its economy. In 1993, Cuba legalized the use of the U.S. dollar on the island. Additionally, the Cuban government reformed its banking system to encourage remittances through official transfer methods “by diversifying financial banking instruments and improving trans-national transfer mechanisms” to make receiving remittances faster and easier. In short, economic challenges forced Cuba to become more open to its emigrant networks and remittances.

The United States also tried to control economic flows to Cuba. Beginning in 1963, the Kennedy administration enforced strict prohibitions on remittances and travel to Cuba. Along with the trade embargo, the U.S. hoped that, by restricting remittances and travel, it could limit the flow of dollars into the Cuban economy thereby inhibiting the island’s growth and, ultimately, undermining the power of Castro’s regime. However, in 1978, President Carter’s administration marked the beginning of a new policy towards Cuba. The U.S. removed its remittance ban for the first time since diplomatic ties were severed in 1963. Remittances were, however, quickly subjected to regulation and control, making it difficult to transfer money. Cubans could only send a maximum of $500 home to their families, and those funds were to be used solely to assist relatives with the cost of emigration. In 1994, the U.S. once again banned all remittances to Cuba. Even after remittances were allowed again in 1998, U.S. economic regulations stifled the Cuban remittance market. As diplomatic relations have normalized in the last five decades, the U.S. and Cuba have similarly relaxed economic restrictions on the transfer of remittances.

The Times They Are A Changin’

Between 2008 and 2014, remittances to Cuba experienced a growth of $1.7 billion, causing Cuba to become the seventh largest remittance market in the region, totaling $3.1 billion. This increase is the highest in the LAC region remittance market, with a growth rate of 116.2% between 2008 and 2014. According to one report, Cuba received $3.4 billion in remittances in 2015. Another report estimated that Cuba received $1.4 billion from the U.S. in 2015, almost double the 2014 remittance figure. With these numbers, it is clear that Cuba is continuing its tremendous growth pattern, making remittances more profitable than some of Cuba’s biggest industries, including sugar, tobacco, medicine, and tourism. This growth can be attributed to several factors, as both U.S. and Cuban economic policies have transitioned to encouraging the transfer of remittances between the two countries. Furthermore, as official transfer methods become more transparent and easier to use, Cuban emigrants in the U.S. are able to send remittances home instead of using unofficial and unrecorded money transfers, which do not contribute to official remittance data.

In 2009, President Obama ended restrictions on family remittances. In 2011, restrictions were further loosened, allowing anyone in the US to send remittances to Cuba. In 2015, transfer limitations were lifted, increasing the permitted amount of remittances that could be sent for non-family members, humanitarian projects, and private sector growth. The revised 2015 policy also increased the maximum amount of remittances that could be sent per quarter from $500 to $2000. Additionally, those sending remittances no longer needed a specific permit, meaning that more people could send larger sums of money. The Obama Administration has largely led this easing of regulations on travel and remittances through the OFAC, Department of State, Treasury, and Homeland Security. There have been several attempts by Congress to either enhance or to prevent the easing of regulations, but Congress has not passed or taken action on these proposed legislations.

Cuba has faced economic hardships, largely due to the U.S. embargo, since the Revolution in 1959, but its economy has recently experienced another decline. In the post-Soviet era, Cuba turned to Venezuela as a main trading partner. Cuba and Venezuela had a successful arrangement in which Venezuelan oil was traded for Cuban professionals, especially doctors. However, declining oil prices triggered an unprecedented collapse of the Venezuelan economy, which, in turn, has caused economic turmoil in Cuba. The economic depression in Venezuela and the ensuing depression in Cuba have forced the Castro government to impose new austerity measures. Even with these measures in place, however, the Cuban economy has continued to decline. In a drastic attempt to address this economic turmoil, Raúl Castro has “allowed entrepreneurs to start small businesses, cut the state workforce by 11% and opened a free-trade zone for foreign firms at the port of Mariel.” The expansion of the private sector links the reception of remittances with the emerging entrepreneurship on the island in a way that gives the Cuban people a bigger role in the development of their own economy. In fact, in the wake of this rise of small businesses, Cubans are more likely to use money from remittances establish small business and entrepreneurship than spend those funds on household expenditures, a trend not seen in many other LAC countries. The economic downturn, in addition to these new opportunities for private-sector growth, may encourage Cubans abroad to send more money back home.

In addition to Cubans sending more money home and doing so through official means, there has also been an increase in Cubans living abroad. Beginning in 2013, Cuba eased travel restrictions for its citizens, allowing them to more easily obtain exit visas. More recently, there has been another increase in Cuban emigration to the U.S., which some argue, is due to fears that the normalization of relations will lead to changes to or the termination of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. The Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) currently offers U.S. citizenship to Cubans who enter the United States (after a brief inspection) and establish residence for at least one year. Many Cubans speculate that normalizing relations and travel will give the U.S. reason to end this policy. This sense of urgency can explain a large part of the recent surge in Cuban immigration to the United States. Since immigration is expensive, the threat of the CAA’s termination is encouraging Cubans living abroad to send more money home so that their families can also leave the country.

Future Outlook

Since the normalization of diplomatic relations, migration to the U.S. from Cuba has increased along with remittances sent from the U.S. to Cuba. It is likely that U.S. remittances to Cuba will continue to grow in the coming years as other restrictions are gradually removed. Thanks to the thaw in Cuban and US relations, foreign investment from other countries, hesitant to provide economic aid in the past, has also started to flow into the country. Economic growth and normalized U.S. relations could make Cuba a bigger player in Latin America and the world.

Looking forward, there are still many unknown variables that could impact the normalization of relations between Cuba and the US, and, more specifically, the flow of U.S. remittances to Cuba. One immediate factor is the upcoming U.S. presidential election. With immigration and the U.S. economy significant issue areas in this election cycle, the new President may decide to continue with normalization or regress from open relations with Cuba. Regime changes in embattled Venezuela and Cuba could also accelerate or hinder normalization. In the case of Venezuela, further economic decline could push Cuba to accelerate private sector growth and normalize relations with the United States. On the other hand, economic improvement, rising oil prices, and new leadership in Venezuela could allow Cuba to once again rely on it as a trading partner, reducing the urgency to normalize relations with the United States.

Banking on Acceptance: China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank

The Beijing-headquartered Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) opened in January 2016, establishing itself as the newest member of the multilateral development bank community. Commonly billed as “China’s answer to the World Bank,” the AIIB aims to invest in infrastructure and other productive sectors across the Asian continent. Concerns about China using the AIIB as a front for its strategic and economic objectives plagued the bank’s planning stages and initial months of operations, but such concerns were difficult to substantiate before the bank had funded any projects. The recent announcement of the AIIB’s first four funding projects suggest that, while China is using the bank to its advantage, it is also maintaining the bank’s legitimacy as a multilateral institution.

China officially proposed a multilateral infrastructure bank for Asia in 2013, an announcement that received an unenthusiastic response from the United States and Japan. Both countries were concerned that founding a new bank, not necessarily beholden to “international standards of governance and transparency,” could provide China with the opportunity to exert disproportionate influence over Asia’s development agenda.

These concerns were substantiated in 2015 when it was announced that China would be the largest stakeholder in the bank, with a 26% voting share, after funding $29.78 billion of the AIIB’s $100 billion capital. Given that major changes to the bank, including capital increases or alterations to the governing structure, must be approved by a supermajority totaling 75% of the voting share, China effectively possesses an informal veto power over many AIIB decisions. However, Beijing has been keen to assuage worries of Chinese dominance. The chief of the bank stated that China will not seek to increase its voting share – in fact, he alluded that China’s voting share may decrease over time as more members join. In addition, China will not possess a formal veto power, a stark contrast to the United States’ formal veto over structural changes within the World Bank.

That said, Chinese interests were clearly supported when the AIIB began to consider development project proposals, the first of which were approved in June 2016. They included revitalizing slums in Indonesia and upgrading the power grid in Bangladesh, as well as constructing and improving roads in Pakistan and Tajikistan. While these projects will undoubtedly benefit China, they also show that AIIB’s reputation as a multilateral bank will not be undermined to serve solely Chinese interests.

To understand how the AIIB benefits China, it is necessary to look at Chinese development in the larger context of the country’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. Inspired by the ancient Silk Road, OBOR seeks to connect China with trading partners through Asia, the Middle East, and Africa via an “economic land belt” and a “maritime road” that links Chinese ports to those of other countries.

The AIIB, as a formal investment institution with international support to increase regional prosperity, is partly a way to fund OBOR. It is therefore unsurprising that the AIIB’s projects for Pakistan and Tajikistan are directly related to OBOR.  Both projects call for the construction and improvement of roads, which is critical to trade between China and other Asian countries.

But consistency with OBOR’s objectives does not mean that these projects are simply moves by China to increase its regional influence. Rather, the AIIB has chosen to co-finance all of these projects, except the one for Bangladesh, with other multilateral agencies including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the World Bank. Co-financing mitigates the risk that the young AIIB and its stakeholders are accepting and eases concerns in the international community regarding the transparency and governance standards of the AIIB. Cooperating with respected multilateral agencies ensures that the AIIB will, at least for these projects, comply with accepted international standards. This compliance strengthens the bank’s standing among multilateral institutions.

Still, some are convinced that the AIIB is prioritizing Chinese interests at the expense of regional prosperity. In particular, there is concern that AIIB rejected a project for India in favor of a road construction project for its strategic ally, Pakistan. However, the president of the ADB, which is the lead financer of the project, stated that there are “so many projects in the list in many countries. It just happened that the Pakistan project was approved first because it could be done quickly.” That this statement comes from the ADB strongly suggests that financing for the Pakistan project was not a case of the AIIB favoring China’s regional allies. Given Japan’s tenuous relationship with China, the Japan-backed ADB would have little incentive to finance a project in Pakistan if it believed that it would solely aide Chinese interests.

The AIIB is increasingly perceived as an institution that complements other development efforts, as evidenced by co-financing and support from other multilateral banks and the membership of other global powers such as Australia and Germany. Such acceptance is beneficial to both the multilateral development industry and China. Increased membership could augment the capacity of the AIIB to contribute to infrastructure development, leading to greater prosperity for China and the rest of the continent. Such a prospect is certainly motivation for the AIIB to continue to seek success not only in its project outcomes, but also in the eyes of the global development community.

Extreme Poverty and the Graduation Approach

Nearly 1.2 billion people are living below the extreme poverty line on less than $1.25 USD per day. Unfortunately, many of these individuals do not meet the qualifications of many poverty alleviation programs or are too consumed with meeting basic needs to apply for such programs. In partnership with the Ford Foundation, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) set up ten pilot programs in eight countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Honduras, India, Pakistan, Peru and Yemen) to test and observe the “graduation approach” to poverty alleviation developed by the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC). The graduation approach identifies individuals living in extreme poverty and provides them with basic resources, financial education, technical training, life skill coaching, and social support so that they can “graduate” from the program with food security and sustainable sources of income.

In September 2014, CGAP conducted evaluations of six programs that used the graduation approach. These evaluations were used to produce a detailed report that could serve as a technical manual for future programming. With the possible exception of the Honduran program, Mejoramiento Integral de la Familia Rural, five out of the six programs evaluated by CGAP had measurably increased their participants’ income, assets, food security, health, and happiness.

While CGAP’s evaluation supported the effectiveness of the graduation approach, it also identified some of the barriers to graduation. In order to achieve a truly sustainable income, participants needed to diversify their assets and income sources. This was particularly clear in Honduras where 83 percent of program participants had purchased chickens as a long-term investment. Unfortunately, many of these chickens contracted illnesses and died, plunging their owners back into poverty. Since illnesses and other acts of nature are often unavoidable, diversification of long term assets is essential.

Ultimately, the evaluations performed by CGAP and the Ford Foundation showed significant improvements for program participants. According to CGAP, pooled estimates of program participants’ per capita consumption increased 5.8 percent. In a true test of the graduation approach, per capita consumption continued to increase even after program support ended. The evaluations also revealed that participating families experienced fewer days in which a member of the household skipped meals or went a whole day without food. Finally, CGAP noted that the graduation approach had significantly and persistently increased household assets, improved psychosocial wellbeing, and increased self-employment income. By February 2016, 40 new programs had adopted the graduation approach. The success of the ten pilot programs established by CGAP and the Ford Foundation illustrated the efficacy of the graduation approach and ensured its use for decades to come.

Making Room in the Development Sandbox

The era of Western run foreign assistance is over. Throughout the history of foreign assistance, big development agencies like USAID have called the shots, touting stories of untrustworthy governments and issues of national security as justifications for entirely Western run development schemes.  The rise of South-to-South cooperation and support from developing economies has shifted power in the world of international development. There are many articles that either sing the praises of USAID or tear it down; this is neither. Policy makers must recognize a new wave in international development and consider alternative options to government assistance.

North-to-South aid relationships have been the status quo for as long as foreign assistance has existed. In the past, the North provided the funds, personnel and program structure, and the South provided the location and beneficiaries. But the dynamic is shifting.  Power blocs of emerging economies–like Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS)–are the new frontiers of global development.  On the growing list of South-to-South programming, Thailand is granting loans to Cambodia, India has started technology sharing programs, and Brazil started infrastructure programs in Paraguay.

In terms of real numbers, the U.S. is still the global leader in ODA and money contributed to foreign assistance, but we aren’t very popular. A number of academics from “developing” countries recently criticized the heavy hand of the United States in foreign assistance programming and decried what they refer to as the “cycle of dependency.” Thinly veiled arguments against South-to-South programming have also emerged from Western development heavies like Jeffrey Sachs and Paul Collier. These practitioners are disputing academics, like Zambia’s Dambisa Moyo, who have called for an African run development plan.

Internationally and domestically, USAID is no stranger to criticism. In 2011, 156 Republican Congressmen called for a drastic defunding of the agency. While defunding one of the largest development agencies in the world may seem brash and ill advised, it is clear that people are displeased with the current norm in development. Recently, USAID came under fire for poor financial accountability and low program achievement. In 2014, an audit of a $88.5 million program in Afghanistan detailed low objective achievement and possibly misappropriated funds. A financial audit, however, could not be conducted due to a lack of funds.

All of this is not to say that USAID is the enemy, the agency has achieved tremendous feats: 850,000 people have been reached through the HIV/AIDS prevention program and 15 million primary school children have been targeted and included in global literacy programs. The emergence of a new development dynamic is not a goodbye to USAID. As South-to-South Cooperation continues to grow, surely USAID will grow and change with it.

Burundi: Civil Society in Jeopardy

Burundi has recently raised some concern from the international community due to unrest between its largely Hutu government and the Tutsi opposition. This unrest stems, in part, from the government’s censorship practices. Over the last few years, these restrictive government policies have affected journalists, opposition leaders, human rights defenders, and civil society organizations (CSOs). More recently, the Burundian government has turned its attention towards CSOs and human rights organizations.

Like its neighbor Rwanda, Burundi has had a long history of political unrest and ethnic tensions. A little over twelve years ago, the country was engaged in a bloody civil war that resulted in the deaths of an estimated three hundred thousand Burundians. Since then, the country has attempted to ease these tensions by dividing political leadership more equally between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. Thanks in large part to this restructuring; Pierre Nkurunziza was elected to the presidency in 2005. The most recent conflict began when Nkurunziza ran for a controversial third term and won with 69.41 percent of the vote. Nkurunziza’s reelection violated Burundi’s terms limits. According to the country’s constitution, established in 1992, a president may only serve two five-year terms. As a result of the fierce opposition to Nkurunziza’s reelection, the government has engaged in a variety of  anti-democratic actions.

According to the Economist’s Intelligence Unit, Burundi is “on the cusp” of another civil war. Self-censorship (e.g. not reporting on certain topics and declining to speak on particular issues that concern the government) is reportedly common among citizens and the government has attempted to confiscate weapons in an effort to prevent a potential coup d’état. The president has stated that those who belong to the opposition party and who do not comply with these new measures will be considered “Enemies of Burundi and treated as terrorists.”

Burundi’s government has also carried out attacks and arrests on civil society leaders, journalists, and those who oppose the new repressive measures. At a time when watchdogs and whistle-blowers are needed most and at their most vulnerable, the government has approved a new law that requires journalists to disclose all of their sources. Bob Rugurika, the director of Radio Publique Africaine, was arrested for withholding a suspect from the authorities.  In addition, Welly Nzitonda, the son of prominent civil rights activist Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, was arrested on trumped up charges and later killed by the police.

In addition to these high profile arrests, the government has also attempted to exert its control over local CSOs. Early last year, the government announced that it would freeze the bank accounts of local CSOs and the interior minister subsequently suspended the operations of such groups. According to a secretary in the interior minister’s office, these organizations were being led by civil rights activists who had fled the country and backed the “troublemakers.” Thankfully, these CSOs were given a chance to defend themselves after further investigation.

The unrest in Burundi goes beyond mere political tension. The government has attempted to silence its critics through arrests, financial restrictions, and the outright closure of human right organizations and CSOs, but Burundi needs civil society organizations now more than ever. As it stands on the brink of a constitutional crisis and an ethnic civil war, the Burundian government must communicate with its opponents and critics to ensure peace and stability in Burundi and the region.