Mega-Gangs of Venezuela 
Heavily armed with automatic weapons, hand grenades and military equipment, meta-gangs in Venezuela are unlike typical street gangs. Often, they have more weapons than the police, launching attacks against law enforcement and driving officers from gang territory. Numbering anywhere from 50 to more than 200 members each, the mega-gangs of Venezuela rule over the fearful civilians in their territory with impunity.

The gangs have lost some of their power in recent years, but the political and economic crises in the country are driving people to join them, increasing their influence. Some of the most notorious gangs are “El Koki’s” gang, Los 70 del Valle, Tren de Aragua and El Picure.

El Koki’s Gang

In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, El Koki and his allies had full control of neighborhoods such as El Valle and Cota 905 until July 2021, the latter of which served as his gang’s stronghold. El Koki is distinct from other gang leaders. He never served jail time and is running his gang outside of prison. Additionally, he has already lived to the age of 43 when the average criminal in the country’s poorest areas does not live past 25. He has also had an outstanding arrest warrant since 2012.

In 2012, the Venezuelan government developed the “peace zones” policy. It began negotiations with hundreds of gangs from all over the country. The government offered a truce in which police would stay out of designated neighborhoods if the gangs ceased criminal activity in addition to providing financial incentives for gangsters to disarm. One such incentive was the use of money and other resources meant for starting legitimate businesses.

The policy backfired, however, when gangs like El Koki’s gang began using the money to discretely acquire heavier weaponry, as reported in El Pais. El Koki and other gang leaders also took advantage of Venezuela’s criminal organizations gathering for negotiations to bolster the size of their gangs. Merging with these other groups, they formed the numerous mega-gangs of Venezuela that followed the implementation of peace zones.

The “Peace Zones”

One of the established peace zones was Cota 905. El Koki seized the opportunity there due to the lack of a permanent police presence. He strengthened his control as he killed off rival gang leaders and made alliances with others. For four years prior to June 2021, the police did not cross into Cota 905 once to enforce the law, something El Koki’s connections to the military and government may have had a hand in. In June, however, the truce between El Koki’s gang and law enforcement fully broke down. The two sides entered a war when the gang invaded the La Vega neighborhood southwest of Cota 905.

Demonstrating how empowered the mega-gangs of Venezuela have become, El Koki’s gang launched an attack on central police headquarters. The government retaliated by sending roughly 800 troops into Cota 905, where they went door to door battling the gang. According to InSight Crime, El Koki’s whereabouts are unknown. However, some have said that he may be in Cúcuta, Columbia, a common sanctuary for Venezuelan gangsters where he can continue to run his gang.

Tren de Aragua

In the state of Aragua, the mega-gang Tren de Aragua operates out of Tocorón prison. With nearly 3,000 members in groups spread across the country and expanding into nations like Columbia and Peru, Tren de Aragua, once a railroad workers’ union, is the most powerful criminal organization in Venezuela. Last spring, the gang made headlines with the completion of a baseball stadium it constructed within the prison it occupies. Reportedly possessing other luxuries such as a swimming pool and a disco hall while brandishing greater firepower than the police, the gang has demonstrated its financial success to an impoverished nation enduring an economic crisis.

Using its large arsenal, vast numbers and extreme wealth, Tren de Aragua has been able to expand rapidly as it repeatedly clashes with police and the military. Like other mega-gangs, it is alluring to people in poverty who do not get enough help from the government, have limited opportunities and are lacking in police protection. According to Mirror, to entice youths and build rapport with communities, it offers food packages at a time when much of the population faces starvation due to poor economic conditions that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened.

Police Brutality

It is not strictly poverty and recruitment efforts that motivate people to join and comply with the mega-gangs. Police brutality is another contributing factor and extrajudicial killings in retaliation for gang violence are all too common. As El Pais reported, in July 2021, more than 3,000 officers responded to gun violence between police and El Koki’s gang. There were reports of the police committing extrajudicial executions and robberies, and the circumstance resulted in 24 victims. When police assume the role of executioner and their responses to gang activity cause innocents to die, people end up in the mega-gangs for membership and protection.

The Work of NGOs

Currently, various NGOs and nonprofits are working to alleviate the situation in Venezuela. One such nonprofit is InSight Crime, which conducts investigative journalism, data analysis and makes policy suggestions for governments regarding organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean. InSight Crime speaks with police and officials when doing on-the-ground research. It also interacts with people involved in illegal activity to gain their perspective.

The International Crisis Group organization advises governments on preventing, managing and resolving deadly conflicts. Additionally, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is an organization that operates in Ecuador and provides shelter and supplies to migrants who the ongoing turmoil and violence displaced. There are also local organizations such as Mi Convive, a nonprofit that feeds thousands of hungry children a week. Nonprofits providing food to children like Mi Convive are essential in preventing mega-gangs from bribing them with food.

Other Solutions

The Venezuelan government is addressing the high levels of gang violence with police reform and crackdowns to kill or drive gang leaders out of their territory. However, to put an end to organized crime and dismantle the mega-gangs of Venezuela, the government must take a complex, multifaceted approach. Corruption in politics and the military has led to impunity and the mega-gangs becoming better armed than the police. Eliminating financial incentives for organized crime is important. Otherwise, materially motivated criminals will continue to organize for profit. The police and other local public institutions should receive empowerment to rally their communities. They should act against the mega-gangs while scaling back military involvement.

The Venezuelan government, NGOs and foreign nations must work together. They have to ensure there is funding for robust social programs and that Venezuelans have economic opportunities where they live. They should be doing sufficient community outreach to sway people from the criminals and meta-gangs of Venezuela should be facing appropriate consequences.

– Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

Poverty-related crimeCrime is a significant issue around the world, especially in developing countries where limited resources contribute to higher poverty-related crime rates. In countries such as South Africa, high crime rates are prevalent among children and adolescents. Correlations exist because of increased time and fewer resources to productively fill children’s free time after school. Because of this, many nonprofit organizations and individuals have worked to provide more after-school activities for children as a deterrent from the path to criminal activity. Although many nonprofit-sponsored activities contribute to children’s education while discouraging criminal behavior, sports have been one of the most impactful extracurriculars due to a focus on discipline, responsibility and guidance.

Criminal Behavior in South Africa by the Numbers

Crime in South Africa is a significant issue that is rooted in poverty and inadequate access to basic resources. According to PLOS ONE, an online journal, “recent statistics show 2,250,257 crimes reported for 2015 alone [1]. Further all crimes have increased since 2013, when 2,217,862 crimes were reported [1]. Also the rate of interpersonal violence in South Africa is the sixth highest in Africa and fifteenth in the world, with an intentional homicide rate of 31.8 per 100,000 population [2].”

Based on the criminal activity report, criminal activity in South Africa is increasing from year to year and is largely tied to violent crimes such as homicide. These crimes are oftentimes fueled by a lack of economic resources in addition to psychological factors. Racial and gender inequality also exacerbate issues. Although these crime statistics include offenders of all ages, dangerous behavior and crimes are also significant issues in South African schools.

An organization called Safer Spaces conducted an observational study in which pupils from several South African schools and various grade levels were asked about their school experience. “Of all learners, 15.3% had been victimized (Burton, 2008). Of the secondary school learners, 22% had been victimized (Burton & Leoschut, 2013).” This is a large portion of the student body that is experiencing violence or other dangerous behavior while at school, making early intervention a necessary effort.

Extracurricular Solutions

Although poverty-related crime among youth is a big issue in South Africa as it can lead to more serious crimes in adulthood, extracurricular activities can make a significant impact in decreasing the number of children that engage in criminal behavior. For example, The International Committee of the Red Cross works with AMANDLA Edu Football to use soccer as a safe activity for South African children to spend their time with after school. The latter organization is a nonprofit that is paving the path for early intervention for criminal activity in South Africa. It is located in Capetown and runs during the peak crime hours, offering children and other individuals an alternative activity to crime.

In Capetown, this means that kids can spend their weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. and weekend nights on a soccer field where they learn discipline, respect, and have fun away from dangerous activities. This is especially impactful as it ensures that these children will have adult supervision and guidance between the time school ends and their parents get home from work, further decreasing opportunities for dangerous behaviors.

Poverty-related crime among youth is a serious issue in South Africa that contributes to high levels of violent crime in adulthood, making this a pressing issue to address. Moreover, criminal behavior is commonly linked with poverty, inadequate access to food and other daily necessities and other issues of discrimination. Partnering or contributing to organizations that provide extracurricular alternatives for children is key. These efforts ensure that children are equipped with the resources and guidance that will deter them from criminal behavior in the present and future and will decrease the overall levels of poverty-related crime.

– Kristen Quinonez
Photo: Flickr

Economic Development in NicaraguaEconomic development in Nicaragua has encountered issues that have slowed the country’s development. Nicaragua declared itself an independent country in 1821. However, it has directly felt the crippling effect of economic issues from the onslaught of crimes. As recently as 2020, Nicaragua was recognized as a critical threat location for crime by the Overseas Security Advisory Council. Nicaragua has also encountered natural disasters. As of November 2020, Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota, Category 4 and 5 hurricanes respectively, caused more than $740 million in damage.

However, even with mounting external and internal pressure, economic development in Nicaragua has shown potential for improvement. This change is based on securing educational opportunities that turn into growth in economic projects. Private organizations have created community centers and offered low- and middle-income citizens better access to education. Such organizations have also created jobs by amplifying the reach of renewable energy, agricultural irrigation expansion and fortification of infrastructure.

Nicaraguan Poverty

Nicaragua has faced an uphill battle in economic growth due to its criminal and poverty-stricken background. The conflict between rival gangs within the country exacerbates this issue. This instability has also caused a decline in economic fortitude. Moreover, inflation has reached undeniably high levels, and people have left Nicaragua in droves to pursue better economic opportunities. The people left behind continue to suffer from a lack of proper healthcare and education.

Education Improves Economic Development

The educational system within Nicaragua is adjacent to the poverty level. Children within the educational system find themselves facing the challenge of completing school due to a wide range of reasons. A recent study from the USAID reported that an estimated 72% of Nicaraguans do not finish secondary school, leaving them likely to be impoverished. In addition, more than 18% of teachers do not have more than primary school education. This creates a new generation of unprepared Nicaraguan citizens.

The correlation between educational attainment and job development is significant. It is the bridge that keeps many Nicaraguans in impoverished income brackets. With the constant issues that many lower-income Nicaraguan students face, there has been an increase in steering them toward an attainable educational path and improving educational success.

Formative Ways of Change

Outside help from the U.N. and the U.S. has created a shift in economic and educational development in Nicaragua in recent years. Organizations such as Save the Children and the World Bank have supported the upturn of educational prowess within Nicaragua. Save the Children has created an infrastructure for educational access by establishing toll roads and paving new ones. Additionally, the World Bank has established more community centers with creative and technical workshops to teach and fortify skills. The skills taught include knowledge of irrigation, infrastructure fortification and a new era of clean and renewable energy.

The organizations have also increased job development and commercial development projects from the private sector. These development projects have provided more job opportunities within the industries of agricultural irrigation, the fortification of infrastructure, renewable energy and the reinforcement of trade.

Projects of this magnitude were given more than just a prime objective with the World Bank portfolio. Such projects totaled more than $400 million for nine planned projects. These projects include the enhancement of telecommunications, roads, education, health and insurance for natural disasters. Two credits have already been passed together, worth more than $100 million, to combat COVID-19 and help those most affected by hurricanes.

The Nicaraguan educational system has had a rise in scholars coming through the ranks to create an ever-growing class of job-ready individuals. Problems of organized crime and violence have troubled Nicaragua in the past, but there is hope to establish a better economic system that can create many more jobs and lead Nicaragua to a better future. Organizations like the World Bank and Save the Children are instituting an educational and job pathway for young and experienced Nicaraguan citizens alike to create a more prosperous Nicaragua.

Mario Perales
Photo: Unsplash

CBT Eliminating ViolenceAlthough providing for basic needs helps break the cycle of poverty, consider those who have already been affected by unstable conditions. How do we help them? What effect do they have on future generations? How do we break the cycle of crime and violence? These questions plague Liberia. However, one answer comes from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) eliminating violence in Liberia.

What Is CBT?

According to the American Psychological Association, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychological treatment that aims to change behavioral and thinking patterns. CBT understands that complications in our psychological makeup result from learned behavior and thought processes.

People treated using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy work on improving their self-confidence, adopting effective coping mechanisms and altering harmful patterns of thinking. Clients also exercise modifications in habits, such as confronting rather than avoiding difficult situations. Additionally, they practice self-control and prepare for real-life scenarios that they may find challenging.

One of the distinguishing factors of CBT is its focus on the current and future aspects of the client’s life. Although this method takes a person’s past into account, it aims to create effective techniques that deal with the client’s present issues.

The Situation in Liberia

The Overseas Security Advisory Council’s (OSAC) Liberia 2020 Crime and Safety Report states that violent robberies and home invasions have increased. The Council also reports that “[s]exual assault and rape are the most commonly reported violent crimes.” Simultaneously, Liberia also faces a rise in social upheaval due to escalating difficulties in the economy, healthcare and employment.

As urban poverty surges in Liberian cities, so has homelessness, pollution and deteriorating infrastructure. Impoverished citizens face a lack of opportunity and inequality. Discrimination, poor education and epidemics such as Ebola all have the hardest impacts on the poor. Overall, these unstable environments catalyze the high rates of crime and violence, especially among young Liberian men.

CBT Eliminating Violence in Liberia

A study in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, revealed the benefits of CBT eliminating violence in Liberia. More than 1,000 men participated in this experiment, all of whom were at risk for crime and violence. The men were placed in one of four different groups. These included receiving only therapy, only cash,  both therapy and cash and nothing at all. The cash provided enough to start a small business. As such, it was an incentive for participation.

Therapy alone improved behaviors significantly, and much of participants’ objectionable behavior decreased. However, the men who received both therapy and cash saw the longest lasting results. These men could practice what they learned in therapy while feeling like a “normal” member of society. Providing them with means, motive and opportunity helped improve their lives and their place in their communities.

CBT eliminating violence in Liberia is not the only approach necessary to ending poverty. However, it does contribute to progressive change. It also highlights the importance of the long-lasting and widespread measures that can help communities plagued by violence.

Amy Schlagel
Photo: Flickr

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