The Northern Triangle is a region in Central America comprised of three countries: El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The title originally described a series of trade agreements but the area is now one of the world’s most violent regions. Listed below are 10 facts about violence in the Northern Triangle.
10 Facts About Violence in the Northern Triangle
1. Asylum Seekers – In 2015, the number of asylum seekers fleeing from the Northern Triangle region reached 110,000, an increase of five times higher than reports from 2012.
2. High Homicide Rates – All three countries have homicide rates which have consistently ranked as some of the highest globally, even given that each has witnessed a recent decline in their respective rates. In 2018, InSight Crime reported that El Salvador’s homicide rate was 51 per 100,000 individuals, a drop from 81.2 in 2017; the report estimated Honduras’ rate at 40, a drop from 42.8; Guatemala’s was 22.4, a drop from 26.1. These high rates of homicide translate to the Northern Triangle’s low rankings on the 2019 Global Peace Index (GPI), which measures nations based on levels of peacefulness, where El Salvador ranked 113th, Guatemala 114th and Honduras 123rd out of 163 countries.
3. Domestic Violence – Many asylum seekers fleeing the region are women and children. This can be credited to female homicide rates that are some of the highest in the world. In Guatemala, only two percent of the over 50,000 cases of violence against women in 2013 saw the perpetrator convicted. The majority of these cases, and those elsewhere in Honduras and El Salvador, involved domestic abuse.
4. Gang Violence – Those living in the region are under a constant threat of violence from gangs, the largest being Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Eighteenth Street Gang (M-18). The combined membership for both gangs is an estimated 85,000.
5. Drug Trafficking – The Northern Triangle region of Central America has become a major shipping route for illicit drugs coming into the U.S. In 2015, an estimated 90 percent of cocaine seized in the U.S. was of Columbian origin and had traveled through routes in Central America. Despite this high rate of cocaine shipments into the U.S., the region has much lower numbers of other illicit drugs traveling along the same routes, such as heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl.
6. Extortion – In 2015, estimates indicated that Salvadorans paid $390 million, Hondurans paid $200 million and Guatemalans paid $61 million in extortion fees. The primary victims of these extortionists were public transportation operators, small businesses and residents of poor neighborhoods.
7. Corruption – High levels of corruption at the state level have hindered progress in the region. According to a 2016 index of corruption perceptions by Transparency International, all three countries ranked on the bottom half of the scale.
8. Unemployment – There is a remarkably high number of young people in the region who are out of school and without a job, over one million in total. In El Salvador, this correlates to 24 percent of the youth population, 25.1 percent of Guatemalan youth and 27.5 percent of Honduran youth. This is another factor of economic in-opportunity which leads many to flee or become involved with local gangs.
9. Poverty – Poverty in the Northern Triangle and the lack of economic opportunity play a large role in the proliferation of violence and mass migration. An estimated 60 percent of people who live in rural areas in the region are living in poverty.
10. High Impunity Rates – For all of the recorded violence and homicide covered in these 10 facts about violence in the Northern Triangle, the rate of impunity for crimes is 95 percent or higher. This acts as an incentive to criminals and a further deterrent to public confidence in law enforcement.
While these 10 facts about violence in the Northern Triangle continue to paint an alarming picture of living conditions in the region, it is important to recognize the small steps toward improvement. The Borgen Project is currently working to gain support for the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act (H.R.2615), which aims to address the root causes of the migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
– Alexandra Schulman