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Northern Triangle

Security & Economic Opportunity Task Force

Northern Triangle: How Central America Can Be a Win for US National Security

To many Americans, the difficult issues facing Central America’s Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—may seem distant. But the future of the United States is tied to these countries, some of our closest neighbors. The Atlantic Council’s Northern Triangle Security and Economic Opportunity Task Force has studied the issue closely and is presenting this blueprint for Congress, identifying short-term solutions and long-term structural changes.

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Urgent attention is needed to the dire situations in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Improving security, rule of law, and economic growth are critical to local and US national interests.

Today, nearly 10 percent of the thirty million residents in the three countries known as the Northern Triangle have left, seeking relief from poverty and asylum from skyrocketing violence. Public and private-sector efforts to stymie the growing insecurity have failed to provide meaningful results, with political divisions further hindering progress.

This is why the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center has launched a Northern Triangle Security and Economic Opportunity Task Force. Catalytic momentum is needed now to find a comprehensive, locally-driven strategy to improve security and economic development. Our plan will include bold, new ideas that build on the $750 million approved by the US Congress for the three countries and the joint Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity.

The Northern Triangle Task Force is co-chaired by former Vice President of Guatemala Eduardo Stein, former Minister of the Presidency of Honduras Luis Cosenza, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador Maria Eugenia Brizuela, and Vice Chairman, McLarty Associates, and Former Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte. Members include high-level policymakers, business executives, and civil society leaders from the Northern Triangle and the United States.

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The Task Force's work is informed by an Atlantic Council-commissioned Gallup poll in the three countries that lays out policy alternatives so the citizens themselves can have a voice. In early 2017, with a new administration and Congress in power, the findings will be released.

The US national security implications of inaction are too great. Violence, poverty, lack of opportunity, weak institutions, and high unemployment must be simultaneously tackled to set the Northern Triangle on the right path. The region needs new ideas, new directions, and new initiatives. If not, insecurity will only fester just south of the US border.

Jason Marczak

Jason Marczak
Task Force Leader and Director,
Latin America Economic Growth Initiative
Atlantic Council


  • 01 Provide a roadmap with many new, yet-to-be-tried ideas for how the international community, and specifically the United States, could most effectively partner with the Northern Triangle. Examples could include aggressive violence prevention and rehabilitation programs, multilateral interventions, public-private partnership strategies, regional integration, or reciprocal migration programs.
  • 02 Build consensus across sectors and political affiliations for a strategy that builds on the Alliance for Prosperity.
  • 03 Ensure momentum into the next US administration for the efforts begun by Vice President Joe Biden to make the Northern Triangle a higher foreign policy priority.


Eduardo Stein, former Vice President of Guatemala.

Eduardo Stein served as vice president of Guatemala from 2004 to 2008 and was coordinator of the Honduran Truth Commission. From 1996 to 2000, Stein served as minister of foreign relations of Guatemala. As such, he participated actively in the country’s peace process in the promotion of international support for the implementation phases. Since leaving government, Stein has served as a consultant for the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Development Program. He has also been president of the Foundation of the Americas and the head of various OAS Electoral Observation Missions. Stein has ample experience in the coordination and promotion of international cooperation between Latin American, European Community, and Nordic governments with Central America, as a result of his decade-long involvement with CADESCA (Action Committee for the Support of the Social and Economic Development of Central America), where he promoted foreign aid for and helped implement development projects in the areas of food security, indigenous peoples’ and peasants’ productive organizations, micro and small enterprises, agro-industry, and environmental issues.

Among his present international collaborations and duties, he is one of the twelve members of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty that reports to the secretary general of the UN: he is also one of the two Latin American members of the International Crisis Group in Brussels, for the prevention and handling of political crises worldwide. Stein obtained his master’s and doctorate degrees in communications sciences from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s in philosophy from the University of St. Louis.

Eduardo Stein, former Vice President of Guatemala Task Force Co-Chair

Maria Eugenia Brizuela de Avila, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador

María Eugenia Brizuela de Ávila served as Minister of Foreign Affairs for El Salvador from 1999 to 2003 and is currently Director of Corporate Sustainability at HSBC for Latin America, where she oversees sustainable development projects like a climate initiative in Brazil and a tree-planting project in Costa Rica. Brizuela worked at the Salvadoran Social Security Institute in 1994 and in 1995 she became the manager of the Fund of Social Investment. She worked as an insurance executive, becoming the first woman in El Salvador to serve as president of an insurance company, Internacional de Seguros (International Insurance) where she worked from 1996-1999. In 1999, she was appointed the Minister of Foreign Affairs and was the first woman to head the Ministry. In 2000 the first Hemispheric Ministerial Meeting on the Advancement of Women was held by the Inter-American Commission of Women. Brizuela, and delegates from 32 other countries of the Americas attended to create and adopt the women's strategy for the 21st century. She remained in the government service until 2003, when she left to take a position as president of Banco Salvadoreño (Salvadoran Bank), becoming first Salvadoran woman to lead a private bank. In 2006, she received the Distinguished Professional of the Year Award from her alma mater, José Matías Delgado University.

Maria Eugenia Brizuela de Avila, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador Task Force Co-Chair

Luis Cosenza, Former Minister of the Presidency of Honduras

Luis Cosenza has had a distinguished career in public service. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame with his PhD in electrical engineering, Cosenza began a career with the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) in Costa Rica. He spent eight years working with the Bank supervising projects in Costa Rica and then preparing projects at the headquarters in Washington, DC. In 1989 he joined the World Bank and began working on projects in both Africa and Latin America. He worked with the World Bank advising countries on electricity and power projects until 1997. He then served as campaign manager for Ricardo Maduro when Maduro won the presidency of Honduras in 2001 and as the minister of the presidency in the Maduro administration, responsible for coordinating the day-to-day activities of the government and working with multilateral and bilateral donors. With 16 years of experience with development banks in Latin America and Africa, he has served as executive director for Central America and Belize on the Board of Directors of the Inter-American Development Bank and worked with the World Bank. Cosenza began his career with the Honduran state-owned power utility, where he rose to CEO.

Luis Cosenza, former Minister of the Presidency of Honduras Task Force Co-Chair

John Negroponte

Ambassador Negroponte held government positions abroad and in Washington between 1960 and 1997 and again from 2001 to 2008. Since 2009, Ambassador Negroponte has also been the Brady Johnson Distinguished Fellow in Grand Strategy and Senior Lecturer in International Affairs at the Jackson Institute of Yale University, his alma mater. He has been Ambassador to Honduras, Mexico, the Philippines, the United Nations, and Iraq. In Washington he served twice on the National Security Council staff, first as Director for Vietnam in the Nixon Administration and then as Deputy National Security Advisor under President Reagan. He has also held a cabinet level position as the first Director of National Intelligence under President George W. Bush. His most recent position in government was as Deputy Secretary of State, where he served as the State Department’s Chief Operating Officer. Ambassador Negroponte serves as Chairman Emeritus of the Council of the Americas/Americas Society. He is also Co-chairman of the US-Philippines Society and a member of the Secretary of State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board. He has also served as Chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. Ambassador Negroponte has received numerous awards in recognition of his more than four decades of public service, including the State Department’s Distinguished Service Medal on two separate occasions, the highest award which can be conferred by the Secretary of State, and on January 16, 2009, President Bush awarded Ambassador Negroponte the National Security Medal for his outstanding contributions to US national security.

John Negroponte Vice Chairman, McLarty Associates, and Former Director of National Intelligence Task Force Co-Chair

Honorary Co-Chairs

Project Director

Jason Marczak

Jason Marczak is director of the Latin America Economic Growth Initiative at the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. He joined the Atlantic Council in October 2013 to help launch the Arsht Center and set the strategic direction for its Latin America work. Marczak frequently provides English- and Spanish-language commentary on political and economic issues in Latin America, including a weekly appearance on Bloomberg TV in Mexico. He has written for publications such as CNN, Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, the Miami Herald, Roll Call, and USA Today as well as El Universal, El País, and O Estado de São Paulo. Marczak is also a Huffington Post blogger. He received a bachelor's degree from Tufts University and a master's degree in international affairs and economics from the Johns Hopkins University Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Marczak is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations where he served as a member of its 2014 North America Task Force. He is a Board Member of Qualitas of Life Foundation in New York City.

Jason Marczak, Task Force Director


Atlantic Council-Commissioned Poll Finds Deep Mistrust of Institutions, A Clamoring for Change

A new Atlantic Council-commissioned poll conducted as part of our Northern Triangle Security and Economic Opportunity Task Force finds a dire, somewhat hopeless outlook from the citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Results of this three-country, groundbreaking poll highlight the urgency for this Task Force.


High perceived corruption, combined with a lack of trust in institutions and constant worries around security and the economy characterize results across El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Nearly nine in ten respondents believe there is “a lot” of corruption in their country. Over 75 percent of the people in all three countries have “little to no” confidence in the police. In El Salvador, over seven in ten people do not have confidence in judges, the military, the tax authority, or the attorney general. Similar results are found in Guatemala and Honduras. The top-two concerns for respondents and their families: crime and violence and the cost of basic goods.


Full country-perception results are available here.

The face-to-face poll was administered by CID-Gallup from August 30 to September 4, 2016, in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. A total of 2,400 adults were surveyed, allowing for a 95 percent confidence interval and a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.


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