Human Trafficking in Central America
In 1928, the League of Nations conducted a three-year global study of sex trafficking of women and children throughout Central America, which concluded, “Latin America is the traffic market of the world.” Currently, Central America is the third-highest source of human trafficking. These 7 facts about human trafficking in Central America will explain the factors leading to this significant problem and what people are doing to combat it.

7 Facts About Human Trafficking in Central America

  1. Dangers During Migration: It is not always an easy decision to relocate one’s entire family to a new country, but rampant poverty, extreme violence and governmental corruption throughout Central America force families and children to flee for a more prosperous life elsewhere. Risky job prospects and economic opportunity abroad may tempt migrants, but the true danger of migration lies in the 2,000-mile trek from Central America to the U.S. On this journey, migrants are in danger of human trafficking for domestic servitude, forced labor or the sex trade. A report by UNICEF states, “These families must navigate a long, uncertain journey in which they risk being preyed upon by traffickers or other criminals.” To avoid detection by authorities, migrants and refugees take dangerous routes where they do not know their whereabouts and where others can take advantage of their invisibility.
  2. The Vulnerability of Children: Children are one of the most vulnerable populations to trafficking due to their immaturity and the ease in which others can overpower them. According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), children account for three in every five victims of human trafficking, backed in large part by organized crime rings. The impact of child trafficking in Central America is far-reaching, with many risk factors leaving children susceptible. For instance, criminal gangs’ main operation is illegal adoption, which they can achieve through kidnapping and involvement of government officials. Street and orphaned children are especially vulnerable to trafficking into the sex trade, while others must work under dangerous circumstances in the agricultural and mining industries. In 2014, a report from the Department of Labor found ample evidence of the use of child labor in the production of goods throughout Central America, including bricks, coffee, gold and sugarcane.
  3. The Vulnerability of Women: Along with young children, women are another vulnerable population at high risk for trafficking, especially sexual exploitation. Traffickers traffick most females for prostitution, especially near the Guatemala-Mexico border, while they use others for stripping and pornography. These women are often irregular migrants who fall through the cracks and eventually suffer further exploitation in bars and brothels to local clientele. It can occur forcefully, with smugglers kidnapping victims or coercing them into prostitution. In other cases, women may have no other means of support, and with dependents at home, traffickers may lure them into the sex trade. Once they are involved, it is not easy to leave, as brothel owners may threaten violence or exposure if they sense that a worker is tempted to leave. Traffickers may send women internally or internationally and State Department officials have estimated that 10s of thousands of Central Americans suffer trafficking internationally each year. Large numbers of these victims come from Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
  4. Central America and Trafficking: Although human trafficking is a significant problem among Central American countries, none of them comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, which establishes human trafficking and related offenses as federal crimes with severe penalties. Through the TVPA, the U.S. Department of State ranks countries based on tiers, focusing on the country’s governmental efforts to comply with the TVPA standards. Mexico, Panama, Honduras and El Salvador rank as Tier 2, meaning they do not meet TVPA standards but are making significant efforts to combat human trafficking. Belize ranks as Tier 3 country, signifying it does not meet TVPA standards and are not making substantial efforts to comply.
  5. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS): The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has attempted to step in in the absence of action from Central American governments. In early 2019, the DHS developed a partnership with government officials from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador by signing a Memorandum of Cooperation, which concentrates efforts to combat human trafficking and stem the flood of irregular migration. Other initiatives are establishing, including combatting criminal organizations and gangs, addressing the root causes of human trafficking and smuggling and developing a proposal to tighten the region’s laws regarding trafficking. After a temporary halt of foreign aid being dispersed by the U.S. to the Northern Triangle countries, the White House resumed its support for the program by releasing $143 million in October 2019 to specific targeted efforts.
  6. The United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act: In July 2019, the U.S. took an additional effort to address the root causes of migration by passing the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act. This bill, which New York Representative Eliot L. Engel and Texas Representative Michael McCaul announced, passed unanimously through the House of Representatives. Because of the serious challenges that drive illegal migration to the U.S. and threaten the Northern Triangle’s stability, the act proposes a five-year strategy that prioritizes anti-corruption, economic growth and development and strengthening security conditions. Additionally, the bill authorizes $577 million in foreign assistance to the region for the 2020 fiscal year.
  7. The Polaris Project: Another organization working to stop human trafficking is the Polaris Project. Polaris’ work focuses on dismantling the networks that support human trafficking and sexual exploitation while boosting the international safety net. It acknowledges that its response must include a comprehensive understanding of migration, cultural context and gender norms. Not only does it engage in active efforts to combat the root causes of human trafficking, but it also recognizes the importance of supporting survivors in rebuilding their lives after the trauma they have endured. The organization operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline as well as the BeFree Textline to connect survivors with resources and support. Also, as 26 percent of the world’s trafficking victims are children, Polaris synchronizes its efforts with the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking as well as the National Network for Youth to support legislative efforts that increase protections for youth. Its combative efforts to end human trafficking by partnering with government officials and law enforcement are the crucial steps that are necessary for ending this exploitation.

The issue of human trafficking throughout Central America is a complex and nuanced one. A combination of political, cultural and socioeconomic factors contribute to a sense of desperation in Central America, forcing individuals to seek alternatives elsewhere. This environment creates a space in which traffickers can take advantage of the vulnerable. It is important that Central American countries work with one another as well as with international supports to combat human trafficking and promote a sense of safety and security within the region.

– Rachel Baum
Photo: Flickr

how to help people fleeing violence in central america
Central America is currently facing a growing and uncontrollable issue of violence and corruption. Many innocent civilians, in search of more stable living conditions, have decided to attempt to escape the devastating violence of the region. However, considering the various situations in nations like Venezuela and Colombia worsening, a large number of migrants are journeying toward the safety of the United States. In recent years, violence has run rampant in Central America and, specifically, the Northern Triangle (the region comprised of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras). Drug cartels and gangs have taken over, perpetuating corruption and violence that has crippled the region’s economy and political stability. The situation seems bleak, but here is how to help people fleeing violence in Central America.

Violence in the Northern Triangle

First, it is crucial to understand the violence occurring in the Northern Triangle. Specifically, two well-known gangs are to blame for much of the violence and conflict in the region. MS-13 and Barrio 18 have grown to control most of the crime and extortion rackets in Central America. These criminal organizations heavily involve themselves in drug trafficking as well, increasing the prevalence of violence and death in the region. According to InSight Crime, a foundation that focuses on the analysis of crime and threats to national and citizen security and safety, 47.4 percent of homicides in Guatemala in 2015 related to gangs or organized crime. On top of that, 49 percent of other homicides had unknown motives and perpetrators between 2012 and 2015.

The third country comprising the Northern Triangle, El Salvador, has also fallen victim to this festering cycle of violence and crime. Since 2015, gang violence alone has resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 people in El Salvador, and to this day, innocent civilians are still trying to flee this volatility and corruption.

How Organizations are Helping

That said, there is still hope for the desperate refugees who have been displaced from the region. Organizations like The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Amnesty International have developed programs by which people can donate money and garner support for the humanitarian crisis in Central America. UNHCR and Amnesty International have done extensive work to analyze migrations from the Northern Triangle, chronicling why and how people are fleeing from the region. The organizations have also called upon various nations and leaders, such as the United States, to provide more aid to this desperate region through financial appeals processes and garnering support from the general public.

How Anyone Can Help

Those looking for how to help people fleeing violence in Central America can do so by emailing and calling their local representatives in Congress in support of the rejection of any proposed cuts to foreign assistance going to the Northern Triangle countries in Central America. It is as easy as sending an email or making a quick phone call, but the impact of these small gestures can have tremendous effects on policymakers, as they all must consider the ideas and sentiments of their constituents.

By reaching out to policymakers and creating more awareness regarding this growing issue, foreign aid will eventually reach the Northern Triangle. Though the proliferation of political instability and gang violence in the region makes for a bleak situation, foreign aid facilitated by active public engagement can have a positive impact on the people fleeing violence in Central America.

– Ethan Marchetti
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Economic Development in Central America
Central America, which includes Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, is a diverse geographical region housing almost 50 million people. With a wealth of natural resources, Central America has the potential for sustainable and rigorous economic growth as it seeks to mitigate political unrest and economic inequality. Within this context, here are 10 facts about economic development in Central America.

10 Facts About Economic Development in Central America

  1. Central America is an Agricultural Powerhouse: The backbone of Central America’s economy relies on agricultural exports, such as coffee, bananas and pineapples. For example, agriculture comprises 24 percent of Costa Rica’s total GDP and 17 percent of Panama’s total GDP. In 2001, agriculture employed approximately 34 percent of Honduras.
  2. Central America’s Growing Tourism Industry: Belize and El Salvador contribute to Central America’s robust tourism industry. In Belize, tourism is the most important economic sector in the country next to agriculture. In 2017, El Salvador reported a 23.2 percent annual growth rate from domestic tourism. El Salvador expects to generate $75.5 million from its tourism industry in 2019.
  3. Severe Weather and Foreign Aid: In the wake of Hurricane Nate, Costa Rica alone reported $562 million in damages, severely crippling its agricultural and transportation industries. In response, USAID provided $150,000 to support immediate humanitarian efforts. More recently, in 2018, El Fuego erupted in Guatemala affecting approximately 1.7 million people. World Vision, a non-profit organization, responded by sending 30,000 boxes of medical supplies to affected regions.
  4. Tepid Economic Growth: One of the key 10 facts about economic development in Central America that informs policy-making is an analysis of GDP growth and poverty rates. As a whole, Central America has an average poverty rate of 34.2 percent. Guatemala has the highest rate of 59 percent as of 2014. Mitigating these poverty rates is difficult since GDP growth has slowly decelerated in many Central American countries. In the case of Honduras, declining prices for agricultural exports have left its main industries struggling. People expect Honduras’ GDP to grow with the decline in poverty. The nation’s poverty rate came down to 3.6 percent in 2019, from 4.8 percent in 2017.
  5. Political Uncertainty and Economic Expectations: Since 2018, many Nicaraguans protested the political oppression of their president, Daniel Ortega. They believe he is tamping out political opposition from human rights groups and using the poor to maintain political power. This recent political upheaval has alarmed investors, who have withdrawn an estimated $634 million according to Bloomberg. In this tumultuous climate, the International Monetary Fund believes Nicaragua’s economy could spiral into recession with unemployment climbing to 10 percent.
  6. Underinvestment in Infrastructure: Due to extreme weather and political upheaval, Central America often lacks the infrastructure to mobilize its economy. Central American countries spend only around two percent of their total GDP on transportation and infrastructure. Panama is a testament to the benefits of investing in infrastructure. The revenue generated from the Cobre Panama mine and the Panama canal gave the nation an average GDP growth rate of 5.6 percent over the past five years.
  7. Maintaining Trade Agreements: One way Central American countries have greatly benefited in terms of economic development is through maintaining trade agreements like CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement). Between 2006 and 2016, Central America’s total trade with the U.S. increased by 17 percent and with the world, 20 percent.
  8. Grassroots Technology and Collaboration: Grassroots organizations have achieved economic success. For example, The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) partnered with Nicaragua and Peru to promote agricultural productivity in its host country of Colombia. The CIAT has 51 active projects in Central America and 15 projects currently in Nicaragua. Such projects include investments in innovative technology that would make the rural family’s crops more resilient and more abundant.
  9. The Future is Technical: Costa Rica has successfully created a robust medical-device manufacturing industry dating back to 1987. It now generates $4 billion in exports for the country. Even more surprising, in 2017, medical device exports surpassed agricultural products for the first time in the nation’s history. Costa Rica boasts quality human resources and manufacturing and houses 96 operating firms in the medical device manufacturing sector.
  10. The Exemplary Success of Panama: Many expect Panama’s GDP to grow at six percent compared to 3.6 percent in 2018 and the country has cut its poverty rate from 15.4 percent to 14.1 percent. Panama’s performance comes from investing in industries like mining, transportation and logistics. In order to continue to compete in the global economy, Panama must continue to invest in education. One initiative in the U.S. that is investing in education in Panama is the Environmental Education Through the Transformation of Schools into Eco-friendly and Sustainable Schools program at Johns Hopkins University. Its goal is to educate Panama’s students on how to make their public school system more environmentally friendly.

Central America has positioned itself well for future economic prosperity based on this brief analysis of 10 facts about economic development in Central America. In order to accelerate Central America’s path of economic growth, World Vision has run a program in Guatemala since the 1970s that provides sponsorships, education, health and protective rights to children. Other organizations, like CIAT, have more than 60 programs in the Central American regions.

– Luke Kwong
Photo: Flickr

People Fleeing Central America
Many know Central America for its flourishing biodiversity and near-constant geological activity. This region is comprised of seven countries including Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are three countries that form the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA). Recently, the world is paying attention to the number of people fleeing Central America to surrounding areas like the U.S.

Every year, an estimated 500,000 people flee to Mexico to escape the NTCA. As involuntary witnesses to intense violence and economic instability, hundreds of thousands of citizens of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala choose to make the perilous journey north in hopes of finding safer, more peaceful living conditions. Immigration through the U.S.-Mexico border is not a recent or new development. Migration levels are increasing rapidly each year. Many asylum seekers are women and children searching for a life without senseless violence.

The three countries of the NTCA are extremely dangerous, and all rank within the top 10 for homicide rates and dangerous gang activity. In 2015, El Salvador became the world’s most violent country, rampant with gang-related violence and extortion. Though El Salvador no longer holds this title, high levels of poverty and violence continue to cause a rise in people fleeing Central America.

Poverty in Central America

The NTCA includes three countries that are among the poorest in the western hemisphere. Though Latin America has seen improvement in the distribution of wealth among its citizens, many still face the devastating effects of economic inequality that plagues the region. In 2014, 10 percent of citizens in Latin America held 71 percent of the region’s wealth. As a result, one in four people live in poverty, concentrated in rural areas. The most oppressed of this population tend to be women and indigenous peoples.

Economic migration has long been a factor surrounding discussions on immigration. People often choose to live and work in places with more prosperous economic opportunity. In rural areas of the NTCA, the need for more economic opportunity leads to people fleeing Central America. Sixty percent of people living in rural regions of the NTCA is impoverished.

Unprecedented Levels of Violence

Violence within the NTCA remains a leading cause of migration to the Mexican border. Because of the high poverty level across this region, governments do not have enough funds and are rampant with corruption. Many flee from senseless, violent crimes, including gang activity, kidnapping and brutal homicides, which law enforcement does not always punish.

Gang activity within the NTCA also causes citizens to flee. Women and children are at the highest risk for rape and kidnappings. People commit gender-based violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to coerce or intimidate others. Many children make the trek to Mexico alone because they are desperate for asylum to avoid gang recruitment.

Providing Aid to the NTCA

As witnesses to the traumatic violence raging throughout the NTCA, many people fleeing Central America are in dire need of medical and mental attention. Since 2013, Doctors Without Borders has provided more than 33,000 health consultations to those fleeing from the NTCA. Care includes treatment for victims of sexual abuse and diseases caught along the way.

Additionally, Doctors Without Borders, the International Crisis Group and the U.N. Refugee Agency have made strides urging host countries, like the U.S., to provide protection rather than detaining asylum seekers and sending them back. This strategy would reduce illegal entry and allow host countries to manage the influx of asylum seekers.

– Anna Giffels
Photo: UN

Organized Crime in the Northern Triangle
Two previously published articles on The Borgen Project’s website have mentioned the issues of violence, poverty and corruption in the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA). This article’s focus is on the organized crime in the northern triangle that engenders the violence and corruption, which includes street gangs, drug cartels and paramilitary organizations. Daily life in the NTCA is rife with immediate danger from many different sources.

5 Facts About Organized Crime in the Northern Triangle

  1. Gangs’ Influence: Gangs are a part of daily life, particularly for urban residents in the cities of the Northern Triangle. Gangs control swaths of city territory and young children must learn the boundaries from an early age—or risk being harassed, kidnapped, or even killed. In the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, gang violence is so common that the residents have adapted to it. Fortunately, there are local organizations (along with the help of foreign humanitarian aid) that are working to provide children with safe places where they can play without having to worry about crossing gang borders.
  2. Hard National Borders Exaberates Gang Activity: During the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the Northern Triangle became a focus of U.S. Policy—not for aid, but as a theater of operations in the War on Drugs. This led to a tightening of both the U.S. and Mexico’s southern border. Lack of adequate protection in Mexico and the U.S. put Northern Triangle migrants at risk of violence from paramilitaries and cartels, and detention and deportation from local authorities. Detention comes with its own set of health and safety risks, and deportation is tantamount to a death sentence for many migrants that were fleeing violence in the first place.
  3. Majority of Refugees Fleeing the Northern Triangle are Women and Children: Although there are several factors contributing to the surge of refugees coming from the NTCA, the two main ones are systemic poverty and the threat of gang violence. Many citizens of Northern Triangle countries live on less than $1.90 per day, making them extremely vulnerable to extortion from gangs which pose the threat of sexual violence and even death. In some cases, poverty leads to desperation for young men, prompting them to voluntarily join gangs for day-to-day security.
  4. Violence and Organized Crime in the Northern Triangle: In the last two decades of the 20th century, both Guatemala and El Salvador experienced violent civil wars that resulted in a major shakeup of the entire states’ power structures. Honduras itself was not involved in a civil conflict but the southern regions of the country were used as staging areas for the Nicaraguan contras during their rebellion against the Sandinista government in the 1980s. The end of the military conflicts instead led to a surge in criminal violence, with large numbers of armed and unemployed men forming their own paramilitary organizations, or finding work with street gangs and drug cartels.
  5. U.S. Deportations are a Direct Contributor to the Problem: While gang violence (both domestic and foreign) has been a consideration for the U.S. government for some decades now, methods differ on how to address it. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) usually deport any immigrant that commits a crime on U.S. soil, even if the deportee was not a member of a gang before deportation. This means they have limited recourse upon return to their home countries for reintegration, and tracking deportees after their return is difficult without information sharing. The lack of shared information is something that entities such as USAID and the State Department are hoping to address, via NGOs and independent commissions.

Organized crime in the Northern Triangle is one of the biggest obstacles to promoting stability and welfare in the region, exacerbated by many political and economic factors—the largest being the influence of international gangs. Corruption also enables many of the organized crime entities to operate with impunity, which in turn forces immigrants northward to flee threats of violence, extortion and forced recruitment. However, other articles have touched upon growing international visibility of the corruption—and efforts to fight it—in the Northern Triangle, and the spotlight on corruption has revealed the full extent of these gangs’ power and influence over the region.

In addition, U.S. Congress has introduced legislation targeted at addressing the root causes of migration from the NTCA which includes the threat of gang violence and organized crime. One such bill, the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act already passed in the House of Representatives in July 2019. Click here to encourage your Senators to support this bill when it is introduced in the Senate.

– Rob Sprankle
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Poverty in Central America
Recent news has increasingly mentioned the Northern Triangle, which includes Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and its migration crisis. Each of these countries have economic systems that have similar financial agreements with outside countries. These 10 facts about poverty in Central America will identify issues, solutions and trends that lead back to Central America’s poverty crisis.

10 Facts About Poverty in Central America

  1. The Economy: The political economy of Central America has parallelled that of the world for the past five decades. A combination of factors such as a vulnerable bureaucratic system, a shifting population and aggressive globalization are causing Central America to experience gentrification on a national level, creating more significant gaps between economic classes.
  2. Climate Change: Changes in nature such as unusually warm temperatures, nutrient-poor water and the comeback of the southern pine beetle are occurring throughout the region of Central America. This insect is a result of a change in climate where the ocean temperature rises significantly, placing additional demand on presently strained water reserves.
  3. Population: In the past five decades, Central America’s population has continued to increase with the most considerable change occurring up to the mid-1970s, after which the difference in community numbers became highly sporadic. As the population continues to increase, resources like infrastructure and the economy struggle to match demand. As a result, the levels of poverty and extreme poverty have increased by approximately one percent between 2014 and 2017 and extreme poverty increased two percent between 2014 and 2016. Congresswoman Alicia Barcena mentioned the need for public services such as social security and labor inclusion, and how pairing these resources with increased wages could lessen the amount of poverty.
  4. Legislation: Central American countries are making efforts through previous legislation to alleviate their economic hardships. Since 2004, the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement has promoted stronger trade and stability throughout these regions. FTA reduces the barriers that countries previously had to access U.S. exports. As a result, traded goods all originate between Mexico and Canada with the exceptions of agricultural commodities. These areas give considerable attention to the conditions and the rights of workers in their countries. Countries are currently updating NAFTA to address additional concerns such as how to verify labor standards and eliminate the time restraint on labor violations.
  5. Clean Water Accessibility: Nicaragua is the only country in the region that has substantial access to waterways but the surrounding countries, like Honduras, Guatemala and Peru, do not due to the steep terrain that can make up significant portions of their countries. These collections of water are rarely safe for consumption even if they are accessible. For many households, accessing water is a timely chore that can take hours traveling back and forth between sources of water and homes, and limit people’s ability to attend work or school. For example, around 63 percent of Honduras’ population is living below poverty and those who live in rural areas work as farmers; as a result, their earnings rarely go to education, but rather daily tasks like water collection. To help with water accessibility, Doc Hendley started Wine to Water. Wine to Water is a nonprofit organization that works to bring clean water to underserved communities. It has served over half a million people in over 300 communities, across five continents. To date, it has worked in Honduras within eight communities and aided over 11,000 people.
  6. Literacy: Many regions have limited water supplies that are safe or close in the distance, meaning that in a single day, a trip for a container of water takes several hours. As a region, Central America has lower literacy rates with an average of 79.4, compared to the global average of 83.7. The countries in Central America with the highest literacy rates are Costa Rica and Panama, while the country with the lowest is Guatemala.
  7. The Northern Triangle: The Northern Triangle is a subregion in Central America between El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. These countries have a secure connection with each other economically due to legislation that passed during the 1980s and 1990s. The majority of those changes, however, have had macroeconomic effects on the region leaving large portions of the population enduring unequal access to resources and encouraging many to migrate elsewhere, working against stimulating its economy. The House Committee of Foreign Affairs introduced legislation to address the causes of migration and authorized $577 million in foreign assistance for the years 2020.
  8. Women in Central America: Central American women are facing challenges to raise their economic status while being met with social obstacles. For example, some women in El Salvador meet with sexism, fragile protection and few rights. These challenges, along with limited assets, the possibility of extortion and insufficient education about business management and finances make some businesswomen wary of growing or succeeding with their activities.
  9. Migration: Many people have made efforts to migrate to other countries due to the rising concern of survival. Droughts, economic instability, increased violence between gang members and civilians, corrupt legal systems and a weak government have made daily life challenging.
  10. Violence: The violence in Central America has been on the rise for decades, causing hundreds of thousands of migrants out of the region. Of those who remain in the area, the violence, extortion and corruption are frequent. Legislation such as the Global Fragility Act of 2019 prevents and addresses the primary causes of violence in various countries.

These 10 facts about poverty in Central America emphasize the point that poverty is a broad issue with a number of solutions. While situations in Central America may seem dire, the efforts by nonprofits like Wine to Water and legislation like the Global Fragility Act of 2019 should aid in improving the area’s conditions.

– Kimberly Debnam
Photo: Flickr

Immigration and US Gun Policy
Thousands on the migrant caravan were outside Arriaga, Chiapas. To avoid some of the heat of the day they began walking at 2 am. Negotiations began in the dark, and shortly after dawn, the caravan continued towards Juchitan, Oaxaca. As the U.S. tightens its immigration policy at the border, civilians throughout Central America are struggling to cope with the bloodshed largely brought about by smuggled, American-made guns. Here is some information explaining the influence of immigration and U.S. gun policy on Mexico and various other Central American countries.

Variations in Gun Laws

Mexico and the United States have different gun laws. Although the constitutions of both countries protect a citizen’s rights to bear arms, Mexico’s licensing process is more rigorous. In Mexico, only one establishment, the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA), can produce and sell firearms. Anyone who purchases a gun in Mexico must register the weapon with this defense department. Even after proving employment, military service, proof of residence, picture identification, a Unique Population Registry Code and no criminal record, the country still bans some styles of AR and AK assault rifles from civilian purchase. Gun policy in the U.S. is far more relaxed giving further incentives to smugglers and those who hope to profit by obtaining guns illegally.

Smuggling Firearms has Increased

The illicit presence of U.S. guns has increased across Central America. Between 2011 and 2016, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) found that a licensed gun dealer in the U.S. purchased 70 percent of 106,001 guns that Mexican law enforcement recovered. Forty-nine percent, 45 percent and 29 percent of guns recovered from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, respectively, were of U.S. origin. Between 2014 and 2016, El-Salvador had more U.S. sourced guns used for a crime than 20 states combined.

This type of activity, where someone purchases a gun legally only to give that firearm to someone who cannot purchase a gun legally, is a straw purchase. According to Gifford’s Law Center, U.S. law does not currently regulate or prohibit this act enough for change to occur.

Violent Crime

People use the majority of these smuggled weapons for violent crimes. The U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded in 2016 that just around half of the guns that the U.S. manufactured or purchased in Mexico at the time were either semi-automatic, AK or AR rifles. Mexican government officials are concerned because these firearm models can easily become automatic in style and have become the choice weapon of gang members for that reason.

Violent gun crime has grown substantially in recent years in this part of the world. The current rate of homicide in Mexico is 20.5 per 100,000 people. The percentage of fatal shooting homicides increased from 15 percent in 1997 to 66 percent in 2017. Firearm usage also grew from 58 percent to 68 percent in Mexican robberies between 2005 and 2017.

Many cite the overall increase in violence as a major reason for the increased northbound movement of Central American refugees and asylum seekers. Known as the migrant caravan, groups of up to 10,000 will join together on their trek towards a less violent and less corrupt life. They are unlikely to find a solution to this type of life until their countries address their serious political problems.

The profits from gun sales in the Central American States fuel the violence and corruption still present in those countries. Weaponry will continue to pour into these countries for profit. As of February 2019, the Trump administration solidified a new approach to international arms deals allowing for little to no congressional oversight on large sales. This process is to go to the Department of Commerce instead of the State Department.

Paths Towards Improvement

Though immigration and U.S. gun policy have a close relationship as of now, there are legitimate solutions all individuals can participate in. Three possible paths to follow towards improvement include to:

  1. Encourage U.S. congressional leaders to support universal background checks in upcoming legislative sessions. Some have attempted these efforts but have not promoted them enough. A 2017 effort “to stop the flow of arms to Mexico” by one California representative and two New York representatives in the U.S. House stalled. Policymakers allow for individuals that cannot purchase guns to resort to even more opaque transactions, because they have not yet instituted background checks for all gun sales and purchases in the U.S. If it is true that people who desire weaponry will find a way to obtain it, the best option moving forward is to at least ensure every step possible is taken to keep guns out of the wrong.
  2. Support moves that would make straw purchasing and gun trafficking a federal crime. In the status quo, the only crime a straw purchaser or gun trafficker can receive charges for is paperwork violation. Any introduction of law specifically targeting those willingly involved in these acts is in the U.S. and Central America’s best interest.
  3. Increase access to data regarding specific details of recovered firearms. Being able to know the types and calibers of certain firearms could be very helpful in identifying which are the most widespread and may need increased supervision. Also, ATF reports cross-referencing types with U.S. states of origin could be very useful for local and state legislative bodies to know whether or not their direct action is necessary.

The presence of U.S. guns has become something of an epidemic for Central Americans. People in the United States and across Central America can benefit from changing the narrative surrounding immigration and U.S. gun policy.

– Fatemeh Zahra Yarali
Photo: Flickr

 

Why Refugees are Fleeing Central AmericaThe northern region of Central America is currently one of the most dangerous places on Earth. So, it’s no surprise that refugees are fleeing Central America. This circumstance has caused high levels of migration as many refugees are fleeing for their lives. In countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, many people experience gang-related violence, human trafficking and extreme poverty. The brutality forcing refugees to leave their homes is constant and not improving.

Moreover, poverty in Central America is widespread. In some regions, half of the population lives below the poverty line. Consequently, the number of asylum-seekers is increasing in neighboring countries, such as Mexico and the U.S. In 2014, there were 2,000 asylum applications in Mexico. In 2017, applications escalated to more than 14,000. As this crisis continues, it is important to understand the reasons why refugees are fleeing Central America.

Gang Culture in Central America

In the 1980s, civil wars weakened countries in Central America, leaving a legacy of violence and fragile governments. Due to these civil wars and mass deportations from the U.S., organized crime groups flourished. These groups grew into the overwhelming gangs present today.

Over the last 15 years, gangs have taken over rural and urban areas within Central America. They target poor, and thus vulnerable, communities by imposing their own authority. They also recruit boys as young as 12 years old and living in poverty as they lack educational or economic opportunities. Because of gang violence, the Northern Triangle is considered one of the deadliest places in the world, outside a war zone. For example, between 2014 and 2017, almost 20,000 Salvadorans were killed due to gang-related violence.

Gang culture has deeply penetrated the social fabric of northern Central America. Their grip on society is so severe that many migrants fear that their deportation will result in death. For example, 82 percent of women reported they would most likely be tortured or killed if they were to return home. Despite decades of authorities trying to eliminate gang activity, these criminal groups remain defiant and seemingly unbreakable.

Extortion and Human Trafficking

Similarly, extortion-related crimes are common in this region. Gangs extort small businesses and local individuals by forcing them to pay protection payments. If these individuals cannot afford these amounts, the gangs will murder them. For example, it is estimated locals in Honduras pay $200 million in extortion fees every year. Extortion fees cost Salvadorans $756 million a year. This results in a significant financial loss for local businesses and endangers many lives.

Moreover, human trafficking is another common reason why refugees are fleeing Central America. Women and young girls are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Often, gangs target and traffick young children for the sex trade. In Guatemala alone, at least 15,000 children are victims of child sex trafficking networks.

Gangs also manipulate children. They subject children to forced labor, making them sell and transport drugs throughout El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Though widespread, authorities prosecute an extremely low number of people accused of human trafficking. In Guatemala between 2009 and 2013, police detained 604 human traffickers. However, only 183 went to trial and only 33 were convicted.

Helping Central America

A huge reason why refugees are fleeing Central America is lack of opportunity. Of course, this is largely due to the rampant crime and violence in the region. While the reality is grim, there is a reason to be optimistic. Many organizations and volunteers help these migrants in any way they can. In particular, Doctors Without Borders has been providing medical relief and mental health care to refugees traveling along migration routes through Mexico since 2013. The organization reported they provided more than 33,000 consultations at mobile health clinics and other facilities. Many patients need mental health care, especially women who are victims of sexual abuse. In fact, 31 percent of women reported being sexually assaulted along their journey.

UNICEF also recognizes the humanitarian crisis happening in Central America. UNICEF has offices in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In these countries, UNICEF is working directly with people to prevent violence and alleviate poverty. They also help reintegrate deported children into their home countries and support children in asylum countries, protecting them from discrimination and xenophobia. UNICEF’s work in Central America is necessary as it is bettering the lives of many vulnerable people.

Often times, the only ways for migrants to escape the persecution and violence plaguing their hometowns is to seek asylum in another country. No matter how bleak these circumstances may be, hope can be found through the compassion and understanding of volunteers around the world. By understanding why refugees are fleeing Central America, people and organizations can begin working to change the conditions in these countries.

Marissa Pekular
Photo: Flickr

Education in Central AmericaMany Central Americans are attempting to migrate to the U.S., motivated by the prospect of finding a better life. An understanding of current conditions in Central America is key to understanding the reasons behind migration. Education is a vital component of any region. These 10 facts provide information about this vital component, giving readers a glimpse at education in Central America.

10 Facts about Education in Central America

  1. Many teens and young adults are not in school – Currently, Guatemala’s primary-school-aged population is almost fully enrolled in school. But secondary-school enrollment is not as common. About 2 million Guatemalans aged 15-24 are not in school. In 2017, 60,573 Salvadoran adolescents were not in school. In the same year, 192,262 Honduran adolescents were also not in school. Additionally, unemployment rates are high for this age group. Children in rural Guatemala are also significantly less likely to remain in school than their urban peers.
  2. There is low gender disparity – In 2017,  the number of Guatemalan adolescents enrolled in secondary school was 47.2 percent. Of these students, 47.1 percent of female adolescents were enrolled, while 47.2 percent of boys were enrolled. In 2016, 84.9 percent of girls were able to transition from primary school to secondary school. Additionally, 94.2 percent of boys were able to make the transition. Overall, the disparities between male and female enrollment were not large, indicating a positive trend in regard to education in Central America. Typically, gender disparities in education are higher in low-income countries.
  3. There are low completion and enrollment rates in secondary education – Only about half of Salvadoran children attend secondary school. Even fewer go on to graduate from secondary school. Roughly 300,000 Salvadorans between the ages of 15 to 24 are unemployed and not enrolled in school. High rates of poverty, food insecurity and violence prevent Salvadoran youth from accessing the education and vocational training that they need.
  4. Girls are more likely to complete primary school – On average, Salvadoran children spent about 11 and a half years in school. Girls were less likely to repeat grades and more likely to finish primary school. Boys were slightly more likely to transition from primary school to secondary school, with 91.72 percent of girls and 92.44 percent of boys making the transition.
  5. The Education Law seeks to improve the education system – In 2012, the Honduran government passed the Education Law as part of a major effort to reform its education system. The Education Law redefined “basic education” to extend to grades six through nine. It required preschool attendance and introduced a new system for hiring and monitoring teachers. The Education Law emphasized cooperation with rural populations in need of better schools.
  6. The average amount of schooling is ten years – On average, Honduran children spent about 10 years in school as of 2015. Girls spent an average of 10.66 years in school, while boys spent an average of 9.8 years in school.
  7. Enrollment rates are increasing – From 1999 to 2009, preschool enrollment increased in both Honduras and El Salvador. During the same period, primary school enrollment increased in Guatemala and El Salvador. The first decade of the 21st century saw a significant decrease in child labor, with more and more children in school instead of working.
  8. Literacy is high – As of 2015, 81.5 percent of Guatemalans were literate. As of 2016, 89 percent of Hondurans were literate. As of 2015, 81.5 percent of Salvadorans were literate.
  9. U.S. Congress is now involved – In 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation to address education in Central America. The legislation has an emphasis on the Northern Triangle region of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. 70 percent of migrants from the Northern Triangle claims to have received no education beyond primary school. This is a factor that contributes to their desire to migrate with their families. The U.S is currently providing data to the Northern Triangle countries about their educational systems in order to show them the areas that are most in need of attention.
  10. Central Americans are migrating for better education – Current migration rates from Central America to the U.S. are fueled in part by parents’ desires to access better education for their children. Central American public schools are underfunded, and the private schools in the region are too expensive for many families. In some cases, Honduran parents spend over half of their income to send their children to private schools, a practice that is not financially sustainable. They see more opportunity and safety in American public schools.

Improving Education in Central America

Overall, poverty greatly hinders educational progress in Central America. Many adolescents, especially in the Northern Triangle, are not in school and are unprepared to enter the workforce. Fortunately, there are many positive signs as well, such as nearly universal primary school enrollment and low gender disparities in secondary school enrollment. Education drives migration. As a result, aid programs prioritizing education initiatives could decrease migration and improve the lives of countless children. Improving the quality of education in Central America is vital to the future of the region and its people.

– Emelie Fippin
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in Central AmericaThe ability to consistently access nourishment is vital for all people. In regions affected by poverty, like Central America, many families lack this ability. These 10 facts will provide a glimpse at food insecurity in Central America, how it affects the lives of the people who live there and what has been done to address it.

10 Facts About Food Insecurity in Central America

  1. More than 10 percent of Guatemalan children are underweight. About 46.5 percent of Guatemalan children suffer from stunted growth caused by malnutrition. Indigenous children are more likely to suffer from stunted growth; 58 percent of Guatemalan indigenous children under 5 suffer from this condition. Indigenous children are also more likely to suffer from anemia and vitamin deficiencies.
  2. Food insecurity fuels migration to the U.S. Severe droughts, crops destroyed by fungus and persistent poverty all play a role in preventing families from thriving in their home country. USAID and U.N. reports find that poverty and food insecurity in Central America motivates migration more than other factors.
  3. From 2015 to 2018, food insecurity in Central America increased annually. Indigenous populations and women were the groups most impacted by chronic hunger. Poor and rural communities were also likely to suffer from hunger and malnutrition.
  4. USAID’s response to food insecurity is focused on agriculture. USAID funds studies that create solutions to agricultural problems. USAID works with many groups, including governments, universities and American farmers, to bring agricultural solutions to regions affected by food insecurity. USAID also implements initiatives like Feed the Future that directly address food insecurity. Guatemala and Honduras are two of the 12 countries that receive specially targeted assistance through Feed the Future.
  5. Between 2013 and 2017, USAID’s initiative Feed the Future provided assistance to 215,000 Guatemalan children. During this period, Guatemalan agricultural production created $47.8 million worth of profits for the Guatemalan economy. Feed the Future worked to improve agriculture in Guatemala by providing resilient seedlings, higher-quality pesticides and training to prevent the spread of disease among crops. Guatemalan agriculture also became more diverse thanks to the introduction of new crops. In cooperation with USDA, Feed the Future helped Guatemalan farmers learn new methods of planting crops and tracking their growth electronically.
  6. In 2014, USAID implemented new programs in Honduras to fulfill the goals of the U.S. Global Food Security Strategy. In cooperation with the Honduran government, USAID works to decrease rates of stunted growth by 20 percent by 2020. USAID is also working to move 10,000 families out of extreme poverty by 2020. To combat food insecurity in Honduras, USAID is promoting crop diversity, improving infrastructure connecting rural areas to urban areas and improving child nutrition.
  7. The Dry Corridor is experiencing drought. The region referred to as the Central American “Dry Corridor” consists of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. During the summer of 2018, the Dry Corridor was hit by low levels of rainfall and above-average temperatures. The unusually severe drought of 2018 came after a previous two years of drought that lasted from 2014 to 2016, which required food relief for millions of people.
  8. Food insecurity in Central America has been worsened by severe droughts. For the past year, there has been a severe drought in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. 290,322 families in the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were affected by the 2018 drought. $37 million worth of corn was destroyed in El Salvador alone due to lack of rain.
  9. The Central American drought was caused by the effects of the 2015-16 El Niño Event and by the results of global climate change. After the drought, about 3.6 million people required food-related aid. 50-90 percent of the region’s agricultural production was destroyed.
  10. After the 2014-15 droughts and the following spike in food insecurity, the Central American Dry Corridor received an influx of humanitarian aid. Efforts were made to conserve soil, more closely track data about nutrition and hunger and better prepare for future droughts. In the midst of the 2018 drought, data collection was prioritized in order to maintain stable food prices, combat food insecurity within particularly vulnerable populations and relocate rural families away from the regions most severely affected by the drought.

Central America, a region already affected by poverty, reached the brink of crisis after nearly 5 years of severe droughts. By 2018, food insecurity in Central America had spread throughout the countries of the Dry Corridor. But regional governments, with the assistance of relief agencies, implemented agriculture-based solutions to ensure that future droughts would not have the same disastrous consequences. These innovative solutions pave the way for a more secure future in Central America.

– Emelie Fippin
Photo: Flickr