The Domestic Conditions and Influences of U.S. Foreign Aid on Guatemala Emigration

Graduation Date


Document Type

Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science and International Studies

Department or Program Chair

Alison Howard, MA

First Reader

Gigi Gokcek, PhD


Guatemalan emigration to the U.S. is largely due to domestic conditions including corruption, impunity, land rights, drug gangs and the 2008 economic recession. Guatemala’s living conditions and development trajectory interact with past and current American policy to the detriment of the population in poverty. Some Washington policies favor development in Guatemala (e.g., USAID funded projects) but others such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), anti-drug, and immigration policies may hinder development and encourage emigration. Scholars identify economics, ethnic inequality and weak government as motivating people to leave Guatemala, but it is unclear how Washington’s policies might interact with or exacerbate these factors. Even though the U.S. has provided $736,000,000 for development aid to Guatemala since 2008, this paper argues that the people that it targets are not benefiting. What is the role of US policy in Guatemala’s emigration? How do immigrants explain their reasons for leaving? How are these reasons related to internal conditions and/or U.S. policies, if at all? The methods used in the study include review of USAID investment and personal interviews with adult immigrants who live in the U.S. and in Guatemala to understand the impact of American aid for development on people’s reason for emigrating.

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