The Transformation of Crime in Medellín, Colombia


The reign of Pablo Escobar left a dark stain on Colombia’s beautiful jungles and colorful streets. The city of Medellín felt it in
particular. This was the hub of his cartel for over 20 years, filling the city with drugs, crime and poverty. Since then, however, crime in Medellín, Colombia has taken such a drastic downturn in the city that many consider it a miracle. Poverty rates have also dropped, and the city is now one of the most progressive urban spaces in the world.

History of High Crime

Pablo Escobar ran the Medellín Cartel from 1972-1993. In 1991, the murder rate of Medellín was 381 per 100,000 residents in a population of 2.1 million, making it the most dangerous city in the world at that time. Even though the city has seen a slight rise in homicide rates since achieving its lowest in history in 2015 (20 per 100,000 residents), it has come a long way, and this is largely due to its implementation of social infrastructure programs.

After Escobar died and the cartel disbanded, officials believed that increased police activity to break up gangs would lower crime rates in Medellín. However, murder rates still soared even after the cartel left. In the first year of an Escobar-free Medellín, the city still had a murder rate of three times that of the rest of the country. It did not match the murder statistics of the rest of the country until 2005 when it finally fell to 37 homicides per 100,000 residents

The Start of a Transformation

Crime and poverty rates did not begin to continuously decline until the implementation of social infrastructure programs. Social infrastructure refers to facilities that include education, health and youth services that promote a high-quality lifestyle. The city has utilized social urbanism, an umbrella term that includes social infrastructure focused on mobility and safe public spaces. These developments have the public good in mind, with the intent of providing better outcomes for peoples’ livelihoods. In Medellín, the government focused on providing access to quality sanitation, clean water and public transportation.

Starting in 2004, the city built beautiful buildings in its poorest neighborhoods. These structures remind those communities that they deserve beauty just like everyone else. This then led to public transportation lines being available in these neighborhoods in order to connect them with the city center, which is also the economic hub. These projects continued to be implemented within marginalized neighborhoods and included: 10 new schools, large parks that doubled as museums and libraries, a cultural center and a public gondola to connect many inaccessible hilltop communities with the rest of the city.

Outcomes and Continued Work

The GDP of Medellín alone now accounts for 10% of the GDP for all of Colombia. In 2015, Medellín claimed the best quality of life in all of Colombia and in all of Latin America. As of 2017, the city saw a 56% decrease in poverty levels, with only 2.8% living in extreme poverty. It also now has the best access to clean water and sanitation than any other city of its size and wealth in Colombia.

MasterPeace is an international organization that works to promote peacebuilding projects in countries coming out of conflict, and/or have high crime rates. The Peace Hub works under MasterPeace in Medellín. It conducts projects such as youth boot camps, art, dance and writing classes. It also promotes the creation of social businesses in order to create solidarity with the community.

These organizations have recognized the importance of utilizing culture and community in bringing peace and reducing crime in Medellín, Colombia.

Conclusion

Peace deals and law enforcement have played an important role in revitalizing and reducing crime in Medellín, Colombia. However, the city flourished because its officials decided to attack the root of the problem. Crime is often a result of desperation from tumultuous conditions. When officials choose to look at root causes of crime, rather than reacting to crimes ex-post, they begin seeking long-term, sustainable solutions. The programs in Medellín are not one size fits all. Still, they teach a valuable lesson on the importance of revitalizing the dignity of marginalized communities. Medellín is a prime example of how access to basic needs can transform cities, as well as countries.

Stephanie Russo
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Mexico
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) is an elusive term that describes homelessness in Mexico. Although the term seems straightforward, there is not an international standard definition for homelessness, and the concept and qualifications for homelessness vary from state to state. In general, those who are homeless (or internally displaced) are rough sleepers or those who live in the accommodations often available for street dwellers such as emergency temporary accommodations or homeless shelters.

Impoverishment, drug wars, corruption and violence are the norms for nearly 127 million Mexican civilians. Although only 12 percent of Mexico’s entire population lives in what some consider “adequate housing” (dirt floors with tin roofs and mud walls), an overwhelming 53.3 million internally displaced persons cannot afford to live in decent housing and experience homelessness in Mexico. Many of these families must leave their homes due to criminal violence.

Criminal Violence and Displacement

Sebastián Albuja, head of the Africa and the Americas Department of the Norweigan Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, stated that “Displacement of civilians has been a significant effort of the drug war in Mexico.”

As drug trafficking organizations fight for territory and drug routes, thousands of civilians have to leave because of criminal violence. Criminal violence, including sex trafficking and systemic, large-scale kidnapping, poses a serious threat to the lives and sustainability of those in cartel territories.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement identifies IDPs as any persons who flee “situations of general violence.” In other words, IDPs are groups of people who must flee their homes or places of habitual residence to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of violence or violations of human rights. The guide also states that those displaced due to natural or man-made disasters qualify as internally displaced.

Sources reveal that the proportion of individuals leaving violent municipalities, like Tijuana, are four to five times higher than those leaving non-violent municipalities. Many of these IDPs seek government protection and provision, namely housing accommodations, land and property rights, opportunities for a decent livelihood and access to basic necessities (i.e. food, shelter and health care services).

Many largely undermine the reality of homelessness in Mexico. The Mexican government historically neglects and ignores the circumstance of homelessness and internal displacement, leaving IDPs to their own devices for sustenance and security.

Indigenous Mexicans Are the Most Vulnerable

In 2017, Guerrero’s indigenous communities made up less than 6 percent of the total population, yet accounted for more than 60 percent of all forcibly expelled persons during a large displacement event. That same year reports determined that Guerrero’s highest rate for internally displaced persons was 168.3 per every 100,000 people.

Indigenous Mexicans are most susceptible to falling victim to forced displacement. They often live in isolated communities with inconsistent phone services and poor road conditions, making it difficult for authorities to reach them with assistance or protection. In addition, many speak little to no Spanish.

Entire communities will vacate and abandon homes in response to drug-related crimes and violence. Sources describe small towns in known DTO territories as ghost towns.

According to the Mexican Commission in Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, it considers displacement events, like the Guerro episodes that the press covered, as significant if displacement affects no less than 10 families or 50 people

The media and press are the primary entities that track displacement events because the government overlooks the issue of internal displacement. Press coverage does not track individual families or persons when reporting displacement numbers. Therefore, the number of internally displaced Mexicans is much higher than many perceive.

In fact, the only IDP cases the government accounts for are the ones that people file directly with it. The Congressional Research Service reported that civilians who experienced clashes between armed DTOs abandoned their homes because of intergang violence, direct threats and Mexican security forces. However, many IDPs do not file a case describing the circumstance of the evacuation because many municipalities do not consider criminal violence to be a political or national crisis.

As aforementioned, new interpretations of legal norms concerning internally displaced persons vary from country to country and municipality to municipality. To qualify as an IDP under the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, there must be evidence of coercion. Many consider that the violence in certain localities is only generalized violence and falls outside government mandates or mission statements of humanitarian agencies.

Displacement in Mexico is largely a consequence of criminal violence. Getting the necessary aid is difficult if evidence does not legally qualify an IDP as coerced into displacement. Internal displacement in Mexico is the essence of a “Catch 22.”

Marissa Taylor
Photo: Flickr

What is Global Fragility

Global fragility is a compelling global phenomenon. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has defined it as, “the combination of exposure to risk and insufficient coping capacity of the state, system and/or communities to manage, absorb or mitigate those risks. Fragility can lead to negative outcomes including violence, the breakdown of institutions, displacement, humanitarian crises or other emergencies.”

The 2030 Agenda

Rising global challenges such as climate change, global inequality, the development of new technologies and illegal financial flows, are all aggravating global fragility. Now more than ever before, these challenges most severely affect low and middle-income countries. Global fragility is a pressing issue as poverty is increasingly present in fragile areas and those affected by conflict. It is estimated that by 2030, as much as 80 percent of the world’s extreme poor will be living in fragile areas, becoming both a threat to global security and a prominent barrier to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.

Within the 2030 Agenda, SDG 16 outlines achieving peaceful, just and equitable societies. Additionally, this SDG emphasizes the importance of sustaining peace and conflict prevention. Peace and conflict prevention are not achievable with increasing global fragility risks and inefficient responses. Indeed, 2016 was the year affected the most by violence and conflict in the past 30 years, killing 560,000 people and displacing the highest number of people in the world since World War II. Moreover, countries that are part of the 2030 development agenda all committed to leaving no-one behind, stressing the need to address fragile areas.

Addressing Global Fragility

Taking into account the elements mentioned above and the existing consensus on the matter, it is fundamental for countries and international organizations to address global fragility and take action by joining efforts. International institutions faced some blame for inadequate performance in fragile states. Recently, efforts began focusing on developing frameworks and tools to address fragility more efficiently. At the core of the solution to global fragility lies resilience. Additionally, this comprises of assisting states to build the capacity to deal with fragility risks and stabilize the country.

For example, the World Bank launched the Humanitarian Development Peace Initiative (HDPI) in partnership with the U.N. to develop new strategies to assist fragile countries. Under this initiative, the U.N. and World Bank will collaborate through data sharing, joint frameworks and analysis, etc. Additionally, the European Commission changed the way it approaches fragility, now concentrating more on the strengths of fragile states rather than their weakness, to assist them in resilience building and empowering them to do so.

All these efforts revolve around a set of core principles, stemming from lessons learned from the past. These mainly include empowering local governments and helping them escape the fragility trap. Another principle revolves around achievements in the long-term. Long-term achievements will ensure sustainability, as transforming deep-rooted governance takes time for effective implementation. Inclusive peace processes prioritizing the security of citizens, along with inclusive politics, are essential in the transformation of fragile states.

The Global Fragility Act

On December 20, the Global Fragility Act was passed as a part of the United States’ FY 2020 foreign affairs spending package, to address fragility more effectively. The Act emphasizes interagency coordination regarding development, security and democracy. In addition, the Act also highlights a more efficient alignment of multilateral and international organizations. As the first comprehensive, whole-of-government approach established by the United States, the efforts plan to prevent global conflict and instability.

The numerous actions and initiatives launched recently illustrate a significant step forward in addressing the threat of fragility. The common consensus between donor countries, multilateral and international institutions must now be translated into concrete actions.

Andrea Duleux
Photo: Flickr

violence in el salvador
The Republic of El Salvador is a country in Central America situated between Honduras and Guatemala. It is the smallest and most densely populated coastal country in Central America, with 6.4 million people residing within approximately 8,000 square miles. Here are eight facts about violence in El Salvador.

8 Facts About Violence in El Salvador

  1. From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, chronic political and economic instability plagued the country. The coalition of socioeconomic inequality and societal unrest culminated in a brutal 12-year civil war. The right-wing military-led government sought to quell the left-wing guerrilla fighters, who had been instigated by a rigged election that saw General Carlos Romero, an anti-communist, take power in 1977. Protests burst throughout El Salvador to express the people’s anger with Romero’s election, and in response, the military slew thousands.
  2. With growing tensions between the government and its people in 1980, civil war broke out when a left-wing military coup deposed Romero. The Revolutionary Government Junta of El Salvador took power and quickly formed a military dictatorship. The Junta began killing peaceful demonstrators, assassinating socialist leaders and even killed archbishop Oscar Romero. The Junta then found allyship in the U.S., which was eager to suppress the possible spread of communism. Nearly $1 billion funneled into the Revolutionary Government Juta, by then-president Ronald Regan.
  3. Throughout the civil war, thousands fled the violence in El Salvador. Many displaced people found their way to Los Angeles, California. In LA, some of the children of the Salvadorian immigrants encountered gangs; this began the development of one of the most violent gangs to populate LA: MS-13. However, in the 1990s, the U.S. began to mass deport criminals from the country, sending LA’s MS-13 problem back to El Salvador. Gang members arrived in a country still wounded from civil war and unstable to its very core. Weak governance and poverty allowed MS-13 to infiltrate, gain power and flourish. As of 2017, an estimated 60,000 active gang members populate El Salvador, outnumbering the 52,000 police and military officers. The gang also found many sympathizers in El Salvador who rely on income from the gang’s activity.
  4. In 2018, the homicide rate in El Salvador was 50.3 per 100,000 people. However, these numbers are dropping and have been for the past three years with 60.8 per 100,000 in 2017 compared to 103 per 100,000 in 2015. This drop is important and shows progression within the country, although it did not move the country away from its ranking as the second deadliest country in the world not engaged in war.
  5. From 2012 to 2013, the murder rate in El Salvador cut in half after MS-13 and the Barrio 18 gangs entered a temporary cease-fire. In 2012, homicides in El Salvador occurred up to 14 times a day. In an attempt at peace, the Catholic Church and the Salvadorian government stepped in to arrange a truce between the two rival gangs. The truce lasted only around a year before the country plunged back into a gang war. However, in April of 2016, another attempt for a truce occurred between the gangs and government, but the government instead decided to intensify its anti-gang efforts and crack down on gang activity within prisons.
  6. Imprisonment of gang members only bolstered the problem of gang violence in El Salvador. By containing gang members within four walls with nothing but time on their hands, El Salvador breathed a new level of organization into gangs. Gangs use prisons not only as a place to plan and to make connections but also to recruit. To protect themselves from violence, new inmates often align themselves with gangs who, in return, ask them to steal, cheat and kill to earn their protection. Then once on the outside, the cycle only continues as honest work is hard to come by for convicts, so they turn back to the gangs.
  7. In the 1990s, the U.S. poured billions of dollars into the Colombian government to fight the country’s drug cartels in an attempt to stop the flow of Colombian cocaine into the U.S. However, the problem merely shifted to Mexico, who reacted with a forceful crackdown on the drug trade within the country. The cartel then moved again, finding a home in El Salvador and other Central American countries. With the gangs’ control, the country quickly fell into the grasp of the Colombian cartels, who recruited gangs to act as drug runners.
  8. Fighting violence by fighting corruption seems to have become the effort of the new Salvadorian government, run by President Nayib Bukele. Bukele is working to solve El Salvador’s gang and crime issues from the inside out. Previous administrations attempted to corral violence through militaristic force. Bukele, however, is focusing on addressing institutional problems that fostered a society that creates and accepts gang members and gang violence. In 2019, he launched mass arrests of gang members, business people, lawyers and police officers who were known to be corrupted or to have committed violent acts. There are also plans to strengthen border security in El Salvador to quell the importing and exporting of drugs.

Violence in El Salvador grew from the culmination of political unrest, poverty and socioeconomic inequality. Shook to its very core by the brutal civil war of the 1980s and 1990s, El Salvador found little time to recover. However, through the work of President Nayib Bukele and organizations like the Integrated Community Development Program run by the Anglican Episcopal Diocese of El Salvador, the country has a chance of getting its self back on track. The Integrated Community Development Program works to bring food security, community-centered economic stability and disaster risk reduction to the Salvadorian people so that they will not have to turn back to the gangs and cartels. The hope is that this will create a country where people can develop and stand on their own and foster a level of stability that El Salvador has lacked for decades.

Emma Hodge

Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

The World’s Largest SlumLocated in the northwest periphery of Karachi, Pakistan lies the world’s largest slum, Orangi Town. This slum is home to over 2.4 million people. Established almost 18 years ago, it stands as the largest town in Karachi. While it does not have a notorious reputation for poverty like many other slums across the world, the people in Orangi Town do have to deal with a lack of basic amenities and services. These are five important facts about Orangi Town, the world’s largest slum.

5 Facts About Orangi Town: The World’s Largest Slum

  1. The 12th Largest Megacity: In 2016, the U.N. named Karachi the 12th largest megacity with a projected population of 18.7 million people by 2025. Orangi Town also is home to a very diverse group of ethnicities including the Seraikis, Sindhis, Bohras, Ismailis, Punjabis, Mahajirs, Pakhtuns and Kashmiris. Despite the variety in ethnicity, Orangi Town is 99 percent Muslim, which implicates a lack of religious diversity.
  2. Water Scarcity: Water scarcity is one of the most potent problems in Orangi Town. The town relies heavily on the Hub Dam, which is unreliable at providing sufficient water. As a consequence, Karachi officials must look at alternate ways of obtaining safe drinking water. Experts found that the other channels have many pathogens in them. Water quality is the culprit of 40 percent of deaths in Pakistan and a prominent cause of child mortality, with 60 percent dying from diarrheal diseases.
  3. The Orangi Pilot Project: In 1980, Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan founded the Orangi Pilot Project with the goal of alleviating the effects of poverty across the region. Dr. Khan emphasized the need to create affordable sanitation, health, housing and finance facilities. Currently, there are three institutions operating under the Orangi Pilot Project; the OPP Research and Training Institute, which manages sanitation and housing; the Orangi Charitable Trust, which specializes in finances; and the Karachi Health and Social Development Association, which manages health programs. Through research and promotion of education for citizens on pertinent topics, the Orangi Pilot Project became one of the most successful nongovernmental organization projects to date.
  4. Housing and Overcrowding: Similar to many slums in the world, Orangi Town has a housing crisis with the demand for homes three times higher than the supply. Roughly eight to 10 people share a two-bedroom household in many parts of Orangi Town. The suboptimal living conditions that overcrowding causes, combined with the lack of services such as clean water, led to the spread of harmful diseases such as cholera and dengue fever.
  5. Gang Violence: Orangi Town suffers from the effects of crime and violence all too common in poverty-ridden areas. Many instances of gang violence are a product of the various ethnicities that reside in Orangi Town. This led to turf conflict where groups mark their land, usually based trade and markets, and employ violent tactics toward those that encroach on their land. Furthermore, studies show that women are more susceptible to petty crimes and sexual harassment due to the socioeconomic standards in Orangi Town. From 2011 to 2014, 77 percent of women in Orangi Town were victims of rape.

While the situation may seem hopeless due to the plethora of issues including an inefficient government and ethnic tension, Orangi Town is taking steps in the right direction to help eradicate the effects of poverty. Sanitation continues to be a core problem in the region, but the efforts of the OPP and individual citizenry are significant. In 2016, Saleem Khan, a resident of Orangi Town, developed a plan to create a new sewer system and pipeline to eliminate wastewater and halt the spread of detrimental diseases on his street. The growth of microfinance and work centers for women helped strengthen the economy and facilitate cooperation, as opposed to conflict, across the people in Orangi Town. It is imperative that the government reforms the anarchical nature of Orangi Town and takes initiative to abate the widespread crises. Funding infrastructure projects, creating schools and building homes will go a long way to improve the lives of millions in Orangi Town, the world’s largest slum.

– Jai Shah
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Corruption in Colombia
Colombians often say that the biggest sport in the country is corruption. Since 1994, corruption in Colombia has steadily increased and as of 2018, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranks the country 99 out of 180. The following 10 facts about corruption in Colombia break down the issue by looking at the various affected sectors, the implications of corruption and potential solutions that the country has attempted.

10 Facts About Corruption in Colombia

  1. One can trace Colombian corruption back to the early colonial legacies of the Spanish conquest. Many believe that the Spanish Empire had a corrupt and disorganized bureaucracy. As a colony of the Spanish Empire, Colombia adopted this system when it gained independence. During the early years, the elite members of society achieved a majority of their wealth through corrupt manners, and there was little punishment due to corruption in the judiciary court as well. Consequently, many aspects of society remained vulnerable in the future.
  2.  Eighty-one percent of the Colombian population believes that political parties are corrupt. Corruption levels have increased continuously since 2009, and as of 2019, corruption exists at every level of government, from local to national. Investigations for corruption have taken place regarding over 48,000 government officials across the political spectrum. Unfortunately, due to corruption in the judiciary system as well, a majority of these politicians avoid prosecution by using their own political parties’ budget to bribe judges.
  3. Colombia has lost up to 1 percent of its GDP annually due to corruption. There is a large amount of mistrust from the people when it comes to businesses and their products, as companies are often corrupt and there is no guarantee for a product’s quality or functionality. Furthermore, Colombia suffers from a trade deficit as other nations are reluctant to engage in business. Due to diminishing consumer interest, Colombia’s production, both domestically and internationally, has decreased.
  4. There has been a 39.7 percent annual increase in crime rates. Forty-nine percent and 61 percent of Colombians believe that the military and police, respectively, are corrupt. Due to military personnel, police officers and other armed forces repeatedly taking bribes, many crimes do not receive punishment. As a result, crime has become normalized and crime rates are climbing.
  5. Eighteen networks of corruption are in Colombia’s public health care system. The Colombian health care system has lost $160 million due to corruption. Doctors and other medical professionals manipulate medical records, including inventing fake patients or fake hiring employees, in order to acquire money for their own gains. The cost of corruption has increased treatment and drug costs and weakened health care performance.
  6. In 2012, audits prompted education secretariats to reveal the embezzlement of $125 million from school budgets. Corrupt officials are inventing ghost students, nearly 180,000, to secure money from the treasury for personal gains. Over the years, this number has decreased due to stricter regulations, but the practice continues to remain in effect; it is especially prominent in smaller areas, where school reports do not receive thorough checks.
  7. Only 2.9 percent of the population views the problem of corruption as a high priority. Corruption in Colombia has become normalized to the extent that most people disregard it, opting to focus on other issues such as increased crime rates and lack of health care. Unfortunately, many of these problems have corruption rooted in them. The widespread apathy from society enables corrupt behavior to persist.
  8. Colombia has put anti-Corruption policies into place such as the Anti-Corruption Act of 2011 and the Colombian Penal Code. These legislations redefined legal framework, criminalizing active and passive bribery, political corruption, foreign bribery, extortion and trading with confidential state information. The government’s goal in implementing such legislation was to increase prevention, investigation and penalty mechanisms against both, private and public corruption. By imposing more drastic measures, the government hoped that people would become more cautious and reports of corruption would increase.
  9.  President Santos created an Anti-Corruption Office in 2011. After the legislation improved, the government needed new agencies to tackle corruption. The Anti-Corruption Office maintains control and performs checks in order to ensure that others follow the legislation. The office intends to prevent conflict of interest and avoid nepotism, cronyism and patronage.
  10. Colombia has signed many international conventions to gain further assistance in addressing corruption. In 2013, Colombia signed the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention, the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. By signing such documents, the country sent an important message to the government, businesses and the people about the seriousness of the issue. Colombia has also taken part in the UNCAC’s voluntary Pilot Review Programme and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, both of which allow an external review of corruption in Colombia as a means to keep the country in check.

As the current government is understanding the repercussions of high corruption, it is taking steps to counteract the problem. Unfortunately, the problem of corruption has not decreased and the country’s world ranking continues to fall. Looking at the 10 facts about corruption in Colombia mentioned above, it is clear that the issue affects many different aspects of life in the country; a lack of further change will significantly hinder Colombia’s development.

– Shvetali Thatte
Photo: Flickr
10 Facts About Corruption in Greece
When the Greek economy began to publicly collapse in 2009, it started to drown in a depression the likes of which many could not handle. Instead, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund stepped in with the largest bailout in the history of global economics. Greece got a second chance for a price of 240 billion euros. Many expected this to mark an end to illicit financial practices in Greece, however, in the past decade, corruption has managed to stay alive and well in a country with a new lease on life. These are 10 facts about corruption in Greece to help better understand what is happening and why.

10 Facts About Corruption in Greece

  1. The Price One Pays for a Civilized Society: Oliver Wendell Holmes was an American Supreme Court Justice and not an expert on the Greek economy, however, his definition of taxes shall be important in these 10 facts about Greek corruption. It expresses the importance of paying taxes to maintain a civilized society. Tax fraud is rampant in Greece. When millions of citizens lie about their income to get away with spending next to nothing on taxes and large corporations do the same (albeit on a larger scale), the tax burden often shifts to the middle class. When life in the middle class becomes unaffordable, poverty grows and the problem seems increasingly unsolvable, eroding the public’s trust in its own institutions. Former U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Magdalena Carmona, stated that “Tax fraud perpetuates income inequality. A government that does not do everything it can to fight tax fraud is a government that is not doing everything it can for economic equality.”
  2. Crime and Lack of Punishment: Millions of Greeks take no issue with lying about their income due to the fact that there are little to no consequences for it. Greek citizens and officials expect their names to disappear in a void of red tape and missing files, and it works more often than not. However, despite the general sentiment that corrupt officials can get away with their crimes, former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, leader of the New Democracy Party, began actively pursuing financial corruption in his government. Perhaps the most notable of his achievements was the arrest of former defense minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos. Prosecutors had reportedly given him a 20-year prison sentence after they determined that he might have stolen close to a billion euros from defense contracts.
  3. Fakelakia: Corruption thrives in places that have normalized it. Generally, bribes in Greece happen through small envelopes stuffed with cash to expedite services from household utility maintenance to hospital care. The practice is so common that fakelakia, meaning little envelopes in Greek, has become shorthand for bribes. Anyone can do it in Greece, from high-level officials to everyday citizens. In an effort to combat this, a young woman named Kristina Tremonti started an anonymous whistleblower website in 2012 for people to call out corruption without risking persecution. According to Tremonti, “names are not revealed for the whistleblower’s protection. Once a significant number of complaints have been lodged against a particular clinic or doctor the authorities are promptly notified.”
  4. Justice is for Sale: It is not just everyday Greek citizens who have become all too familiar with bribery. According to the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption group, the Greek judicial system needs more clearly defined rules concerning professional conduct and integrity for judges and prosecutors in the judicial system. As the system is now, it does not resolve corporate regulation cases in an efficient manner. When it does, “over a third of companies perceive the independence of courts as fairly or very bad.” In addition, almost half of all Greek citizens believe corruption to be a common practice in Greek courts.
  5. Corruption is Classic: While overhauling a nation’s government to root out corruption is certainly a victory, as Samaras began doing in 2014, the process can be a bit messier than most people might want to deal with. When a corrupt system is the only system with which people are familiar and it goes away, the immediate aftermath is a nation of citizens who do not know what to do next or how they should do it. Older generations suffer frustration that they can no longer fully utilize a system they have known all their lives. A Greek senior citizen reported to the Guardian that, “Nothing gets done anymore because it’s so much more difficult to bribe civil servants… Now nothing works.”
  6. Expectance of Failure Can Ensure Failure: The desire to hold on to as much money as possible is not the sole motivation for the tax fraud crisis in Greece, it is also about withholding that tax money so that a government the people perceive as untrustworthy cannot spend it. Without public funds to spend on health care, social security and school systems, all public services suffer as a result, thus reinforcing the public’s belief that the government doesn’t have what it takes to help them. In the early years after the financial crisis, under-the-table payments to doctors and clinics totaled 300 million euros or $334,949,950.66 U.S. Greece has made some progress in recent years, though, and now dental and health care costs have reduced by half.
  7. Many are Guilty of Corruption: Tax dodgers or corporations are not the only offenders of bribery in Greece. Corruption is so widespread in Greece that even rehab networks and humanitarian organizations have a history of doing things under the table for the sake of efficiency. The former president of Kethea, the largest rehab network in Greece, even went on the record saying, “Even agencies like Okana, dealing with the very sensitive issue of drug addiction, have been found to have abused funds on a massive scale.”
  8. For the Record, There is not Always a Record: When people do not include economic activities in national records to avoid paying indirect taxes to the proper authorities, they are part of a country’s shadow economy. Obviously, funds that go into a shadow economy are nearly impossible to track, but the majority of funds in the shadow economy are the result of undeclared employment. Getting payment under the table means fewer taxes for everyone involved. The issue may not seem too pressing, however “various studies have calculated that the shadow economy makes up between 20 to 30 percent of GDP [in Greece], an unusually high percentage for a developed country.” To put that into solid numbers, the shadow economy took up 22.4 percent of the total economy in 2015. That means 40 billion euros went unaccounted for that year.
  9. Holding Greece’s Corruption Accountable: Through these are 10 facts about corruption in Greece, financial and political corruption are prevalent all over the world. That is why a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) called The Combating Global Corruption Act proposes requiring the U.S. State Department to rank countries on a three-tier system. Countries compliant with anti-corruption regulations would rank as a first-tier country whereas countries like Greece with a history of apathy towards rooting out corruption would rank as a third-tier country. This bill would let U.S. officials put money into anti-corruption policies with seized resources. Essentially, those who helped perpetuate global poverty would have to pay to clean up their own mess.
  10. Ninety Years of Financial Instability and Still Going Strong: Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. The Greece that the world knows today is almost two centuries old and for 90 years of that time, it was either in the middle of restructuring debt or in default.

Despite Greece’s challenges with corruption, it is slowly moving in the right direction through Kristina Tremonti’s whistleblower website, government efforts and the reduction of costs for health care services. With the implementation of The Combating Global Corruption Act in the U.S. and Greece’s internal efforts to reduce corruption, these 10 facts about corruption in Greece may disappear into the past.

 – Nicholas Smith
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About the Sudan Genocide
The grave human rights abuses and mass slaughter in Darfur, West Sudan between 2003-2008 was the first genocide of the 21st century. The Sudanese government and the Janjaweed (government-funded and armed Arab militias) targeted civilians, burned villages and committed many more atrocities. Below are 10 facts about the Sudan genocide.

10 Facts About the Sudan Genocide

  1. The long term causes of the Sudan genocide stem from the two prolonged civil wars between the North, that promoted Arabisation and a Middle-Eastern culture, and the South, that preferred an African identity and culture. The First Sudanese Civil War began in 1955 and ended in 1972 with a peace treaty. Eventually, unsettled issues reignited into the Second Sudanese Civil War in 1983 and lasted until 2005, however. Both civil wars occurred due to the southern Sudanese rebels’ demands for regional autonomy and the northern Sudanese government’s refusal to grant it.
  2. The direct cause of the genocide during the Second Sudanese Civil War revolves around allegations that the government armed and funded the Janjaweed against non-Arabs. This supposedly led to the southern rebel groups, the Sudan Liberian Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, attacking a Sudanese Air Force base in Darfur in 2003. The government countered with widespread violent campaigns targeting non-Arabs and southern Sudanese civilians, which turned into genocidal campaigns.
  3. The United Nations estimated that the attacks killed at least 300,000 people and led to the displacement of 2.6 million people. Of that number, 200,000 fled and found refuge in Chad, which neighbors Sudan to the west. Most of the internally displaced people (IDP) settled in the Darfur region, which counts 66 camps. According to a UN report, the lack of law enforcement and judicial institutions in these areas generated human rights violations and abuses, including sexual violence and criminal acts of vulnerable IDPs.
  4. The government and militia conducted “ethnic cleansing” campaigns, committing massive atrocities. They targeted women and girls, deliberately using rape and sexual violence to terrorize the population, perpetuate its displacement and increase their exposure to HIV/AIDS. The government and militia conducted ‘scorched-earth campaigns’ where they burned hundreds of villages and destroyed infrastructures such as water sources and crops, resulting in the dramatic famine. These acts are all war crimes that still prevent IDPs from returning to their homes.
  5. In 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened investigations regarding the alleged genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan, which produced several cases that are still under investigation due to the lack of cooperation from the Sudanese government. The ICC dealt with the genocide in Darfur, the first genocide it worked on and the first time the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) referred to the ICC.
  6. A military coup in April 2019 overthrew the former President of Sudan, Omar Al Bashir, allowing the country to secure justice and address the wrongs committed between 2003-2008. Indeed, the prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, urges the UN Security Council to extend the UNAMID’s peacekeeping mission to 12 months and the new government of Sudan to transfer Omar Al Bashir and two other war criminals to the ICC.
  7. Omar Al Bashir was the first sitting President that the ICC wanted (it issued the first arrest warrant in March 2009 and the second in July 2010) and the first example of the ICC incriminating a person for the crime of genocide. However, the ICC still cannot move forward with the trial until Omar Al Bashir receives arrest and becomes present at the ICC (in The Hague).
  8. The UNSC created and sent the peacekeeping force UNAMID (composed of the United Nations and the African Union) to Darfur in 2007, which operates to this day. The mission deployed almost 4,000 military personnel to protect civilians threatened by violence, especially in displacement areas and on the border with Chad. In addition, UNAMID facilitated humanitarian assistance by protecting and helping in the transportation of aid to isolated areas and providing security for humanitarian workers. The UN decided to extend the mandate of the UNAMID until October 31, 2019.
  9. Although the fighting stopped, there is still a crisis in Sudan; the UN estimates that 5.7 million people in Sudan require humanitarian support and can barely meet their basic food needs. There are many NGOs actively working to provide aid, such as Water for South Sudan, that works to ensure access to clean water to rural and remote areas, and the Red Cross, that provides medical care across the country due to its collapsed public health care system. Despite these efforts, there is still an unmet funding requirement of 46 percent in humanitarian aid as of 2018.
  10. In September 2019, a new government established with a power-sharing agreement between the military, civilian representatives and protest groups. According to Human Rights Watch, Sudan’s new government should ensure justice and accountability for past abuses. Moreover, the constitutional charter (signed in Aug. 2019) entails major legal and institutional reforms, focused on holding the perpetrators accountable for the crimes committed under al-Bashir’s rule, as well as eliminating government repression and ongoing gender discrimination.

These are just 10 facts about the Sudan Genocide which are essential to understanding the current events happening in Sudan. Despite the peak of violence in Sudan in 2019 which killed hundreds of protestors, the country finally has a new government and it seems willing to right the wrongs committed during the genocide. The new prime minister Abdullah Adam Hamdok expressed in front of the UN in September 2019: “The ‘great revolution’ of Sudan has succeeded and the Government and people and will now rebuild and restore the values of human coexistence and social cohesion in the country as they try and turn the page on three decades of abhorrent oppression, discrimination and warfare.”

– Andrea Duleux
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in South Africa
Following the national election in May 2019, Cyril Ramaphosa, a member of the African National Congress (ANC), started his first full term as President of South Africa. Born in a township outside of Johannesburg, Ramaphosa fought in the South African liberation struggle and negotiated on behalf of the ANC to bring an end to the segregationist regime. He was a member of the international Mandela Reception Committee and held the microphone in 1990 as Nelson Mandela gave his first public speech after 27 years in prison. Ramaphosa initially assumed the presidency after former president Jacob Zuma resigned in February 2018 following a large corruption scandal.

In the general election, Ramaphosa’s party, the ANC, won 58 percent of the vote, granting him the presidency for the next five years. The ANC won with less than 60 percent of the electorate in the May election, which was the first time since South Africa emerged as a free democratic state in 1994. This suggests a significant loss of influence for the party, which has been in power since the fall of apartheid because of its association with Mandela and other freedom fighters.

During his campaign earlier in 2019, Ramaphosa made many promises to the South African people; he vowed to end government corruption and state-capture, improve education and health care, achieve economic stability and drastically reduce poverty in South Africa. Many believe that the future of the ANC, which has been steadily losing support in recent years, depends on Ramaphosa’s ability to deliver on these promises. Here are his plans below.

Unemployment

“Let us declare our shared determination that we shall end poverty in South Africa within a generation.” Ramaphosa made this declaration in his inauguration speech to a country where 40 percent of the population falls beneath the poverty line and unemployment has increased to 27.6 percent.

In June 2019, Ramaphosa vowed to create two million jobs over the next five years through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), the Youth Employment Service (YES) and the National Youth Service (NYSP). He also plans to work with private sector investors on special projects that will create 115,000 jobs in the coming years.

Crime

Ramaphosa recognizes the concerns of residents over crime and has promised to cut violent crime rates in half by 2029. To spearhead this effort, he plans to create a national campaign to increase enrollment in police academies, thereby increasing law enforcement in communities around the country. He also pledged to strengthen investigative and prosecutorial processes through improved training. Reducing violence would help relieve poverty in South Africa by ensuring the safety and mental well-being of struggling communities.

Gender-based violence and sexual assault have been widespread in South Africa in the past several years. To combat this issue, Ramaphosa wants to strengthen the capacity of law enforcement to support survivors and deal with these cases more responsibly.

Health Care

Sickness, disease and injury can exacerbate poverty and deteriorate the quality of life if not treated properly. Health care is one of the universal rights that the South African Constitution outlines, which states, “Everyone has the right to have access to health care services, including reproductive health care…” Ramaphosa has promised to improve existing health care and cover all South Africans under a new state health insurance plan. On August 8, 2019, the South African Department of Health published a new National Health Insurance Bill which will cover all residents, including services for refugees, inmates and certain foreigners. The bill will cover all necessary health care services (including reproductive care) free of charge to all South Africans. The country will implement it in a multi-phase approach over the next several years, beginning in September 2019. Ramaphosa plans to use tax increases to pay for part or all of the program. Additionally, the government will promote the employment of health care professionals in rural areas, which are disproportionately underserved in terms of health care quality and access due to the historical legacies of apartheid.

Education

The public education system in South Africa is notoriously poor. The World Economic Forum recently ranked the country 126th out of 138 in the 2016-17 Global Competitiveness Report. Ramaphosa plans to fix the country’s schools by implementing a nationwide reading campaign and improving teacher training. He also supports efforts to diversify curriculums by including topics like coding and data analytics in primary school classes. Long before his presidency, Ramaphosa established a charity for South African students, the Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust (CRET), which supports gifted but disadvantaged students in their efforts to attend university.

Corruption

Political corruption has long been a problem in South Africa; government officials routinely siphon money away from South Africa’s many social welfare and public improvement programs to enrich themselves and the corporations they connect with. The party with the most officials accused of stealing public funds for personal use is the ANC, which has remained in power despite scandals. The corruption has even led to the assassination of whistleblowers who have accused ANC officials of pocketing public funds. Former President Jacob Zuma had to resign in 2018 after intense corruption allegations that he had stolen government money and granted profitable government contracts to preferred corporations and friends.

President Ramaphosa has acknowledged that his party is currently under great scrutiny due to its previous transgressions. In June 2019, he vowed to redistribute more than $979 million recovered from successfully prosecuted corruption scandals, directing the funds toward services and infrastructure in poor communities. He also made a public commitment to strengthen the reach and influence of government watchdog agencies like the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Special Investigative Unit (SIU), the South African Revenue Service and State Security. Ramaphosa recently met with the national director of public prosecutions to create a plan to increase the capacity of the NPA to investigate public officials and seize assets of corruption proceedings.

–  Nicollet Laframboise
Photo: Flickr

10 facts about slums in Brazil

Brazil, being among the top 10 most populous countries in the world, has one of the highest levels of wealth inequality. Wealth distribution is lacking, as the south is responsible for the vast majority of Brazil’s bustling economy and holds a large fraction of the nation’s money. The stark contrast between the affluent and the poor is as visible as the divide between the metropolis and the countryside. The outskirts of Brazil’s major cities, namely Rio de Janeiro, indicate a clear division as unregulated neighborhoods, or slums termed “favelas,” are ever-present. Here are 10 facts about slums in Brazil.

10 Facts about Slums in Brazil

  1. Construction of homes: The original slums were constructed from debris and stolen materials such as wooden scraps. The homes generally start as makeshift creations. After a time, improvements are made and the homes are solidified with brick, cinderblocks and sheet metal; however, the homes are far from being “adequate living conditions,” according to the World Bank.
  2. Growth: Favelas started growing between the 1950s and 1980s. As the cost of scarce land increased drastically and people migrated from the countryside to the city, rural migrants were trapped in poverty. During this time period, the population in favelas outside Rio de Janeiro alone increased from around 170,000 to over 600,000.
  3. Lack of housing: Brazil has anywhere between six to eight million fewer houses than it needs to house the residents of the favelas. The lack of housing leads to the proliferation of slum housing and the overcrowding of these neighborhoods. Habitat for Humanity is working alongside city councils to rehabilitate the slums and find solutions to the housing crisis.
  4. Population: According to the 2010 census, nearly 6 percent of Brazil’s population lives in a favela. This is likely due to the low wages and extremely high cost of living in Rio de Janeiro and other parts of Brazil.
  5. Poverty: Favelas are areas of concentrated poverty. More than 50 million Brazilians are living in inadequate conditions. Of these 50 million, most are families that have an income of around $300 per month.
  6. Sanitation: Twenty-six million Brazilians in urban areas do not have access to drinking water, 14 million are without trash collection services and 83 million live without sewage systems. In order to reach clean water, people living in favelas have to walk over two hours each day. Habitat for Humanity is making strides to alleviate the severity of this issue by repairing and enlarging roofs in favelas while also “building cisterns for water catchment and storage,” according to their website.
  7. Life expectancy: The life expectancy in Brazil is approximately 68 years while the life expectancy of individuals living in favelas is merely 48 years. Conditions are improving as medical care is available at no cost. However, essential medicines are lacking and care for illnesses such as bronchitis is rare as resources are slim.
  8. Crime: The favelas are overrun by drug-trafficking gangs, and the police presence is scarce. However, in the favela outside Rio de Janeiro, a local militia formed in response to these gangs. The Police Pacification Units were introduced in 2008 and are slowly reducing the crime rates in the favelas.
  9. Employment: Around 80 percent of people living in Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, are employed and a grand majority of the inhabitants have no affiliation with the previously mentioned gangs and violence associated with favelas.
  10. Improving the favelas: While poverty and disease within the favelas is still high, there are social and religious organizations focused on gaining access to basic rights and services for residents of favelas. For example, The Future Begins at Home is a project based in Recife that allows 250 families access to healthier spaces for work, play, and family life.

The favelas of Brazil signify the divide between the poor and the wealthy. Rio de Janeiro has implemented programs to eradicate the favelas and replace the weak, dangerous infrastructure of the slums with more permanent housing. While the conditions of the slums in Brazil may seem hopeless, change is occurring and progress is being made.

– Clare Leo
Photo: Flickr