WASHINGTON -- The United States is cutting off aid to the Northern Triangle, otherwise known as the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the State Department told CNN Saturday, one day after President Donald Trump said they had "set up" migrant caravans for entry into the United States.
"We were paying them tremendous amounts of money. And we're not paying them anymore. Because they haven't done a thing for us. They set up these caravans," Trump said Friday.
"At the Secretary's instruction, we are carrying out the President's direction and ending FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle," a State Department spokesperson said. "We will be engaging Congress as part of this process."
The government of Honduras responded to announcement later Saturday, blaming "contradictory policies" by US agencies for the move.
Officials in Tegucigalpa said they would continue working with El Salvador and Guatemala on the Northern Triangle initiatives while "internal discrepancies over regional cooperation are resolved."
The Honduran government also emphasized its "solid and positive" bilateral relationship with the United States, adding that relations between both countries were strengthened this past week when Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and US national security adviser John Bolton met at the White House.
Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen signed what she called a "first of its kind" regional compact agreement with the Northern Triangle countries aimed at preventing irregular migration, combating criminal organizations and ultimately helping with US border security.
Trump threatened to cut off or substantially reduce aid to the Northern Triangle before saying in an October tweet the countries "were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the US."
But experts have said cutting off aid is likely to increase the number of migrants leaving the countries and heading for the United States.
According to the US Global Leadership Coalition, comprising retired diplomats, military leaders and members of Congress, aid programs in the three countries are working to address the "root causes of violence" in order to "promote opportunity and security for their citizens."
Officials would not say exactly how much money would be affected by the directive with some of it likely already spent. Between last year and this year, about $1.3 billion was allocated to the region, with the vast majority of it going to those three countries, according to a study from the Congressional Research Service.