drug trafficking and poverty
People who live in low-income communities often face different types of challenges than those who live in more comfortable economic situations. People who live in poverty-stricken areas often do not have access to proper education, clean running water, shelter, food or health care. Along with the lack of basic humanitarian needs is the instability of life and income. All of these factors come together into the complex relationship between drug trafficking and poverty.

El Chapo

Those who live in poverty may be in vulnerable situations that lead to their participation in the drug trade. Some examples have proven that exposure to drugs and drug trafficking can influence adolescents into doing and selling drugs. Lastly, the fact that these people do not have a stable form of income also leads them to drug trafficking because of the fast and vast amounts of money that can come from selling drugs.

Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán, also known as El Chapo, is one of the world’s biggest drug lords. American actor Sean Penn was pictured with Guzmán in 2016 when they sat down for a seven-hour-long meeting. Even though Penn’s intention was to start a conversation about the war on drugs, he actually discovered the impact that Guzmán’s drug trafficking activities had on his community and personal life.

Raised in a very humble and very poor Mexican family, Guzmán grew up on a ranch called La Tuna that offered no job opportunities. The only way his family was able to survive and have food on the table was because of the growth and sale of marijuana.

Guzmán acknowledged the way that drugs ruin human lives in the sense that poverty pushes individuals into the drug trade, but it does not stop there. This destruction consists of violence and conflict, which adds on to this vicious cycle of people falling into the drug trade in exchange for money to live. Writer for the Guardian, Nick Croft, said that “poor development fuels conflict, which fuels the drug trade, which fuels conflict, which fuels poverty.”

The Unexpected Outcome

When a person has no way to make money to maintain themself or their family, drug trafficking can often seem like the fastest and easiest way to make up for those financial losses. It is interesting to see the way that Guzmán’s drug trafficking activities actually helped his town rather than tainting it. His drug deals offered many people in the area job opportunities that were not present before. It also created a safe environment for those living nearby because of the massive power Guzmán had in the drug community. Everyone had a sense of stability because of the illegal trade activity that was going on around them, and it is this paradox that highlights the complexity behind the relationship between poverty and drug trafficking.

These people who have nothing, and often do not receive anything to help themselves, increasingly must choose between two lives. One is a life full of hard work with little to no returns of money, leading to a lack of education, water and food. Meanwhile, the second is a life of illegal activity that could possibly shed light on the daily hardships that those in impoverished areas face.

What the Research Says

A study by Joshua Okundaye, Drug trafficking and addiction among low-income urban youths: An ecological perspective, provides an analysis of drug use, drug trafficking and drug addiction among low-income youths living in urban areas.

It demonstrates the way that people living in poverty can be more vulnerable to drug-related situations because of the interactions within the microsystems and mesosystems they live in. Microsystems refer to “the family, the classroom, the neighborhood, the community center and the playground” while mesosystems are the “interrelationships between two or more of the microsystems.”

By looking at drug trafficking through this ecological perspective, one can see the way that this relationship is all about the point in which “independent systems or groups meet and interact.” It is exactly this point that differentiates socioeconomic groups. Those living in areas where poverty levels are higher are more prone to becoming involved in drug dealing than those who live in more privileged areas.

The finding of this study is that after evaluating the young people studied and the facts, drug trafficking is the main source of behavioral issues. With the elements of parental drug use, communication with local dealers, the number of times people ask young people to participate, age and the actual size of the person, drug trafficking becomes a key component in poverty.

The relationship between drug trafficking and poverty is very complex in the sense that it puts families and individuals in positions where they have to choose between life or death. In this case, life is the sense that one can either remain in their impoverished life while death is where if they do not take on this illegal activity, they will die with the few resources they have.

– Isabella Gonzalez Montilla
Photo: Flickr

10 facts about violence in honduras
In Honduras, the homicide rate is currently 43.6 per 100,000, meaning for every 100,000 of Honduras’ inhabitants, about 44 people will be murdered every year. With this statistic alone, it is easy to see Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. However, by evaluating the implemented solutions working to combat violence, homicides in Honduras appear to be dropping; raising the possibility of losing its position as the murder capital of the world. Here are 10 facts about violence in Honduras.

10 Facts About Violence in Honduras

  1. Murder – In 2011 Honduras experienced a peak in murder rates making Honduras the holder of the highest homicide rate in the world. Between 2011 and 2015, the murder rate in Honduras decreased by 30 percent. Homicides went down from 88.5 per 100,000 residents to 60.0 per 100,000 and have remained constant or decreased slowly depending on the year. However, in Honduras, only 4 percent of reported homicide cases result in arrest showing there is still lots of room for improvement.
  2. Lack of Trust – Police and judicial systems in Honduras suffer from corruption, lack of training and a list of cases so long that even honest, well-equipped officials struggle to keep up. As a result, members of the most vulnerable Honduran communities often do not trust the police, public prosecutors or judges to do their jobs. Fearing retaliation from violent perpetrators, they often refuse to provide witness testimony necessary to bring about a conviction. This causes Honduran judicial officials to lose trust in victims. This lack of trust and support fuels a vicious cycle of violence and impunity that has contributed to Honduras’ status as one of the most violent countries in the world. The Special Commission to Purge and Reform the Honduran Police is working to rid the force of corrupt leaders, strengthen public and police relations and reorganize their internal and external goals. Today, the Special Commission to Purge and Reform the Honduran Police has put in nearly 15 months of work and suspended or removed 5,000 police from the force.
  3. Poverty – Poverty and violence are directly related, and they work together to generate difficult living conditions in Honduras. As of 2017, 64 percent of Honduras’ population lives in poverty. Further, Honduras has the second smallest middle class in Latin America, at only 10.9 percent of the population. A larger middle class would result in stronger public institutions, stronger economic growth and greater societal stability. Therefore, Honduras would see lower levels of violence because of stronger societal relations. Working to stem both violence and increase economic opportunities is the key to sustainable development.
  4. Illegal Drug Trade – Central America serves as a transit point for at least 80 percent of all cocaine shipments between the Andean region and North America. Criminal groups in Honduras are very aware of this and profit primarily from drug trade and extortion as well as kidnapping for ransom and human trafficking. In February 2019, authorities in Honduras arrested four Colombian citizens caught in an attempt to smuggle over 100 kilograms of cocaine into the United States through a remote region of the country’s eastern coast. This is one example of thousands.
  5. Gangs – Gang presence in Honduras is common in poor urban areas and where territory is controlled by members of rival gangs, the most powerful being the Mara Salvatrucha and the Barrio 18. The most common age for Honduran gang members is between 12 and 30. Gangs constitute a real but often misunderstood feature of these 10 facts about violence in Honduras. While there is little doubt that they are involved in significant levels of violence, gangs are highly diverse and linked more to localized insecurity rather than the transnational danger ascribed to them by the media and certain policymakers. It is understood that 40 percent of gang members claim to be involved in gangs to ‘hang out,’ 21 percent because they had gang member friends and 21 percent to evade family problems. There is also a correlation between youth unemployment and gang membership: only 17 percent of gang members were employed and 66 percent actively characterized themselves as unemployed.
  6. Domestic Violence – One woman is murdered every 16 hours in Honduras, and the country has the highest femicide rate in the world. Shocking numbers of rape, assault and domestic violence cases are reported. However, 95 percent of cases of sexual violence and femicide in Honduras were never investigated in the year 2014. As mentioned above, widespread underreporting is likely to be linked to the lack of trust in governmental figures such as police and judicial systems. Rape is widespread and is employed to discipline girls, women and their family members for failure to comply with demands. In Honduras, there is a 95 percent impunity rate for sexual violence and femicide crimes and the lack of accountability for violations of human rights of women is the norm rather than the exception.
  7. Honduras Youth – The expansion of gangs and the increase in violence is linked to the lack of opportunities for the youth of the country. Many young Hondurans turn to gangs for their welfare protection and identity construction because they see no other way. Gangs emerge in this context as an option that is often desired for the marginal youth as it provides a form of transition from adolescence to adulthood. About 2 percent of females go completely uneducated, compared to 3 percent of males. Likewise, secondary school lasts between two to three years between the ages of 13 and 16, and 38 percent of females drop out compared to 33 percent of males.
  8. The Public and Prevention – In areas with low levels of violence, residents have taken incidents of crime and made an effort to minimize conditions that might allow violence to thrive. Kindernotheilfe has partnered with the community-formed group Sociedad más Justa (ASJ). They are dedicated to improving the living conditions of children and young people in Tegucigalpa and protecting them from violent abuse. Since 2004, parents, children, young people, teachers, churches, justice officials, city administrations and other NGOs have gotten involved. Some of their help include psychological and legal counseling, neighborhood patrolling and organized children’s clubs and activities.
  9. USAID and Honduras Citizen Security – On Sept. 30, 2016, the U.S. Agency for International Development programs for Honduras invested in a $34.17 million project lasting until Feb. 13, 2021. They are working to support the Government of Honduras’ efforts to improve the service delivery of justice institutions; increase the capacity of police to work with targeted communities; and incorporate respect for human rights to help reduce violence, decrease impunity and implement human rights standards within government institutions. During the third quarter of year one, they achieved key targets, including launching five city events, holding an international conference, instituting a Supreme Court Innovation Committee, connecting with the LGBTQI committee and collaborating with other donor programs.
  10. The Peace and Justice Project – The Peace and Justice Project provides investigative, legal and psychological support for people with few resources who have been victims of violent crimes and push for structural change in Honduras’ security and justice systems. The project has a 95 percent conviction rate, almost 24 times the national average. This has reduced the impunity rate in key communities from 4 percent convictions to 60 percent convictions for violent crimes, while also reducing the overall homicide rate drastically. Over the last 10 years, 600 lives have been saved through interventions in these violent communities.

These 10 facts about violence in Honduras prove that while strides have been made, violence in Honduras is still a major global concern. Communities and citizens of Honduras should continue to make a difference by demanding higher standards and continuing prevention actions. Furthermore, other nations should continue to support by becoming involved in helping strengthen institutional, governmental and police and judicial systems to see long term change.

Grace Arnold
Photo: Flickr

Latin American Drug Cartels Target Impoverished Children

Drug cartels are a rising problem everywhere, especially for those that are in poverty. Children, specifically children in poverty, are generally the most vulnerable population anywhere in the world. Latin American drug cartels target impoverished children specifically due to their innocence and willingness to obey. Although this situation seems unfixable, people are uniting together against Latin American drug cartels, providing much needed hope.

The Situation

In Latin America, 43 percent of children live in poverty. These children’s come from families with no money for food, clothing or shelter. Cartels know the struggles of these children, so they offer them work. Because many feel they have no choice but to accept work from Latin American drug cartels, 80 percent of children under 25 agree to work for them.

Young children in Mexico and other Latin American countries draw less suspicion than older individuals and are willing to work for little money. As a result, the cartels use them in every way possible. Cartels often send children unaccompanied to push drugs across borders. Subsequently, border security will help unaccompanied children, thus enabling drug traffickers to smuggle drugs across borders.

How Countries Combat Drug Cartels

Luckily for these children, countries are taking steps to eliminate cartels. Recently, Mexico initiated a joint investigative team with the U.S. to fight against drug cartels. The U.S. and Mexico have worked together to combat cartels since the 1970s. For instance, one program, the Merida Initiative, worked to stop the flow of illegal weapons from the U.S. into Mexico and, subsequently, Latin American cartels. Similarly, the U.S. and Mexico offer amnesty to drug dealers in exchange for information.

This new joint investigative team is based in Chicago and directly targets cartel finances. Cartels survive by distributing goods to suppliers and laundering money. Therefore, disrupting their finances and cracking down on money laundering will drastically slow their production. In doing so, the team intends to weaken and ultimately stop Latin American drug cartels.

How Nonprofit Organizations and KIND Help

Nonprofit organizations band together to help the children that drug smugglers employed previously. One organization in particular, KIND, is dedicated to offering such help. KIND protects children’s rights when unaccompanied children are detained by the U.S. and when they are on the move. KIND ensures detained children receive necessary legal aid, especially as these children are burdened with an immigration system they do not understand.

With the U.S. and Mexico targeting drug cartels’ financial assets and nonprofit organizations providing the necessary help, there is hope to eliminate drug cartels and keep vulnerable children safe. The U.S. and Mexico, along with nonprofit organizations, are executing solutions to keep drug cartels away from children and shut them down altogether.

– Emme Chadwick
Photo: Pixabay

Drug Trafficking in TajikistanAlthough Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, it has experienced rapid rates of poverty reduction in recent years. In 2000, more than 83 percent of the population was in poverty, while in 2016, the poverty rate reduced to 31 percent. Though rewarding, the rapid reduction of monetary poverty has been unable to address non-monetary poverty issues, such as the quality or accessibility of public services and the persistent problem of drug trafficking in Tajikistan.

The Tajikistani population is faced with a lack of educational institutions, deteriorated healthcare, severely limited access to clean drinking water, high rates of childhood malnutrition, high maternal mortality, a growing HIV/AIDS epidemic, high rates of tuberculosis and inadequate access to electricity, heat and roads. In addition to these daily struggles, the country continues to combat drug trafficking, an issue that is intertwined with Tajikistan’s economy, governance, culture and health.

Explaining Drug Trafficking in Tajikistan

Approximately 75 to 80 metric tons (MT) of heroin and 35 to 40 MT of opium are smuggled into Tajikistan annually, either for transfer north to Russia and Europe or for domestic consumption. Tajikistan’s geographic location, history of political unrest and high level of poverty contribute to the country’s major function as a “drug transit state.”

Tajikistan’s geographic location, with a porous border of 1,400 kilometers next to Afghanistan, has affected the country’s vulnerability for trafficking of illegal drugs to Russia, Kazakhstan and Europe. According to a 2012 estimate, 30 percent of the opiates produced in Afghanistan passed through Tajikistan. The high volume of drug trafficking in Tajikistan has now become equivalent to 30 percent of the country’s GDP.

Drug trafficking in Tajikistan is the product of a variety of interwoven problems. These problems include the continued large-scale production of opium in Tajikistan’s neighboring state of Afghanistan, a growing economic and social crisis in Tajikistan and governmental complicity contributing to the problem. Despite Tajik governmental policies to combat drug trafficking, U.S. counter-narcotics policies in Afghanistan and $200 million of U.S. military assistance since 2001, drug trafficking in Tajikistan not only continues to persist, but has increased.

Common discourse tends to overemphasize the link between the increase in drug trafficking in Tajikistan and the country’s neighbors, who are composed of Islamist groups such as the Taliban. This emphasis places responsibility for drug trafficking with terrorist organizations. However, this explanation undermines the severity of Tajikistan’s economic, social and political crisis.

In 2011, it was estimated that drug trafficking in Tajikistan generated $2.7 billion per year. For a country with an unstable population growth rate of 2.2 percent and a volatile GDP annual growth rate of 6.9 percent, the wealth generated from the drug trade is seen as profitable and legitimate among politicians and state officials.

Since the Tajikistan Civil War, which took place from May of 1992 to June of 1997, drug trafficking in Tajikistan has been a major source of income for the government. State officials, government personnel and military administrators continue to profit not only from the drug trade, but from the outside aid and efforts to combat drug trafficking.

Methods to Fight Drug Trafficking

Prior to 2004, Tajikistan’s government was limited in its methods to put an end to the drug flow. However, U.S. military assistance in the form of vehicles and specialized equipment, the creation of anti-drug squads and the construction of border outposts has served to undermine the flow of narcotics. More barriers positioned along the border has equated to more extraction opportunities for Tajik government officials, facilitated by the severe and persistent institutionalized corruption. The largest drug traffickers in Tajikistan are believed to be among the high-level officials of the Tajik government.

In addition to corrupt law enforcement, drug trafficking in Tajikistan has developed through the efforts of small traffickers, namely Tajik migrant workers who are willing to transport drugs to meet their basic needs. Government corruption and resistance to reform, as well as the country’s limited economic resources, has encouraged the development of illicit drug rings among local administrative officials.

What Can Be Done?

As long as governmental corruption is present in Tajikistan, international organizations and aid efforts have little hope of tackling drug trafficking in the country with any legitimate success. Institutionalized corruption among law enforcement officials, the presidential family and Tajik authorities is seen as a valid and necessary form of wealth production for the state.

International aid and military assistance has, thus far, failed to make any kind of a serious dent in the issue due to the governmental acceptance of drug trafficking and corruption. Drug trafficking in Tajikistan will not significantly decrease without greater emphasis placed on socio-economic development, poverty reduction efforts and the creation and maintenance of basic public services and infrastructure. These basic needs to be met include healthcare, education, transportation, heating, electricity and sanitation.

As a result, drug trafficking in Tajikistan must be fought indirectly. Organizations such as USAID are working with the Tajikistan Ministry of Health to improve basic healthcare services. By creating and building upon Tajikistan’s infrastructure and public services, international aid will be more effective in preventing the widespread corruption and drug trade prevalent within Tajikistan.

– Kara Roberts
Photo: Flickr

St. Vincent’sDespite appearing to be a tropical paradise to prospective tourists, St. Vincent’s population faces a harsh economic reality. Its population is currently experiencing a 30 percent unemployment rate while more than 90 percent of the people there don’t have healthcare insurance. The U.S. doesn’t have to sit on the sidelines while conditions fail to improve for those struggling to escape poverty. By reversing these statistics, The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Drug Trafficking in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ high unemployment and low health insurance rates are primarily consequences of its economic downturn during the global recession of 2008 (St. Vincent had a 0.6 percent decline in GDP) and its subsequent sluggish recovery. In combination with this, the country has experienced difficult agricultural seasons over the years, particularly due to hurricanes, that have resulted in fluctuating yields with a -3 percent growth in 2015 up to a record 14.5 percent in 2016 then down to 1.7 percent GDP growth in 2017.

This is how drug trafficking gained more ground within St. Vincent’s borders. Faced with uncertain incomes year to year, an increasing number of desperate islanders have sought work growing marijuana, participating in the narcotics trade from Venezuela or both. So much so, that The U.S. State Department’s 2018 International Narcotics Reports claims that “St. Vincent continues to be a primary source for cannabis in the Eastern Caribbean.” Faced with no income or health care, illicit trafficking has become a necessary means for survival.

The drug trade has become a serious foreign policy issue for The United States along its southern border. Drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana, not only enter The U.S. through Mexican land routes but now increasingly so through Caribbean countries like St. Vincent. Drug traffickers rely on yachts, “go-fast” boats, fishing vessels and cargo ships for transporting illicit drugs up The Caribbean to The U.S. or Europe.

US  Foreign Aid in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The U.S. Department of State and The U.S. Agency for International Development have both implemented foreign aid projects meant to improve conditions in St. Vincent while simultaneously strengthening U.S. security. This is one example of how The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has embraced a youth-centered strategy that employs the use of programs such as the Skills and Knowledge for Youth Project (SKYE), The Community, Family and Youth Resilience Program (CFYR) and the Liberty Lodge Boys Training Center. All of these U.S. sponsored programs provide funding and training for youth to get an and education and to find employment while also receiving healthcare benefits.

In particular, SKYE provides 2,000 youth in The Caribbean with counseling, employment skills training and rehabilitation services. Similarly, CYFR intends to seek out evidence-based solutions to local issues through community involvement, greater access to employment and a reformed law enforcement system. The Liberty Lodge Boys Training Center, funded and supported by USAID, has recently been re-established in order to ensure that young men will have access to education and employment and be able to provide for their families.

While these programs and initiatives are fairly young, they do have the potential to have a significant impact on the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. All utilize local resources with the goal of strengthening local authorities and leaders to become self-sustaining.

Another way that The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to St. Vincent and the Grenadines is through a more secure Caribbean. The U.S. Department of State has teamed up with The Department of Defense to build and maintain a stronger government and create more security in The Caribbean. This joint venture between The U.S. and The Caribbean nations is known as The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). The CBSI demonstrates an overlap between U.S. humanitarian and U.S. security policies.

Since 2010, The U.S. has committed $437 million in funding to the CBSI with three significant goals in mind.

  1. Reduce illicit trafficking through programs that focus on counter-narcotics to stemming the flow of illegal arms sales.
  2. Increase public safety and security by improving law enforcement and judicial institutions.
  3. The promotion of social justice through justice reform, anti-corruption reform and increased educational, social and economic opportunities for youth.

The DEA reported seizing 658.18 kg of cocaine and 267 metric tons of marijuana during the first 9 months of 2017 thanks to efforts to upgrade security measures in the area. Furthermore, they have seized $1.3 million in drug proceeds, which is used on programs to further support the country’s efforts to stamp down on drug trafficking. The funding provided by the CBSI has also led to the building and funding of new rehabilitation clinics throughout St. Vincent in order to help reduce drug addiction.

Here, poverty and security have become one in the same. U.S. foreign policy advocates are utilizing security policies and funding to better protect the people in The Caribbean while, at the same time, protecting those at home in The States. Moreover, creating better living conditions for the citizens of St. Vincent, especially the youth, is viewed as a necessity to securing The Caribbean from illicit trafficking within and outside the region.

The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to St. Vincent and the Grenadines precisely because of the fact that it strengthens regional security in the Americas. Initiatives, such as the CBSI and CFYR, demonstrate that foreign aid and poverty reduction are vital tools within U.S. foreign policy. St. Vincent and the Grenadines may be a tiny blip on the map, but with U.S. foreign aid, it could have a substantial impact on the Americas.

– Tanner Helem
Photo: Flickr

Mexico
Recently, immigration has been at the forefront of political controversy given its potential for economic impact on both nations. The underlying economics of U.S.-Mexico immigration offers a glimpse into the roots of the issue and how it is being addressed today.

Escaping Drug Activity

Currently, a great deal of the migrants come from economically and politically troubled states where a great deal of blame is directed at drug organizations battled by federal governments. The poorer states tend to have a disproportionate amount of drug-related activity, which can bottleneck growth to the drug-elite in the states.

Take, for example, Michoacán. The state is a leader in the most migrants sent to the United States and has also been noted as one of United States’ five states to avoid when traveling in Mexico. While the state is 15th in GDP, it accounts for 57 percent of Mexico’s ‘very poor’ population.

Seeking Economic Stability

Drug activity, however, is only a part of the problem. While job prospects are available, the pay rate is very low. Unemployment sits around the three percent mark, but the minimum wage rate is just below five dollars. The high opportunity cost of those working in cartels serves as a major factor in why many may join. For others, crossing the borders to the north is a better option.

Of the 50 states, California receives the most of the legal and illegal immigration from Mexico (37 percent). Consequently, the state and private organizations have taken significant measures to try and remedy underlying economic stressors and ensure smooth transitions for immigrants in the U.S.

Decrease in Emigration

Over the years, factors in the economics of U.S.-Mexico immigration have shifted. Although there is increased media coverage, emigration from Mexico has actually decreased. Since 2008, the number dropped from 6.4 per 1000 residents to 3.3 and has continued to fluctuate around the number.

Part of the reason is that conditions in the United States, while better, are not easy to access. Stanford scholars at the university’s Immigration Policy Lab found that a high cost of naturalization actually prevents low-income immigrants from becoming citizens. The fee to apply for citizenship in the United States is $725, a steep price for numerous immigrants.

Outside Aid

To address the economic issues in Mexico, Mexican organizations such as ProMéxico have tried to change the image globally by attracting foreign investment. At the core of its goals is the belief of “obeying the principle of the common good and contributing to sustainable development.” As the organization develops over the next few years, it hopes to expand its reach and deepen its impact.

Similarly, American initiatives have followed suit. LatinSF is a public-private partnership between the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development and the San Francisco Center for Economic Development that works to “promote business and trade between San Francisco and the Latin American region.”

Starting a formal connection between San Francisco and the Latin American region is key for mutual development. This effort helps individuals working in Mexico and provides an opportunity for immigrants arriving in the United States.

Academic and Technological Influence

Once immigrants are in the United States and settle in states like California, local universities pitch in. UC Berkeley and Stanford University each have their own Immigration Law Clinics which offer “law assistance to economically disadvantaged immigrants.”

The clinics help prep immigrants, regardless of immigration status, with interviewing, document filing and other legal matters. Private organizations such as the ACLU and Immigrant Legal Resource Center have contributed in the same way as well.

The issue is not just being addressed by the legal field. Studies conducted at UC Berkeley have led to new developments such as an app that recognizes immigrant concentrations and government funds that are not being allocated to the correct locations.

By correcting spatial differences, Jasmin Slootjes, executive director of the Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative, notes that the initiative is “providing local officials with the facts about immigrant communities and their service needs.”

Unweaving the Complex Economics of U.S.-Mexico Immigration

The immigration issue is undoubtedly complex. It is important to remember, however, that the underlying economic factors are the first steps to resolving the issue.

Addressing the problem will require the continued effort of both proactive organizations like ProMéxico and universities that help immigrants acclimate to a new world, and such combined efforts should make a world of impact.

Mrinal Singh
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Against Substance Abuse in Nigeria
Drug trafficking is on the rise in Nigeria, along with criminal groups using the country as a base to move narcotics to neighboring regions. As a consequence of cross-border trafficking, illegal drugs are easily available within the country. A study conducted in 2017 found that cannabis is the drug with the highest rate of prevalence in Nigeria with 6.6 percent of respondents having used it in their lifetime. Though cannabis is the primary drug used in Nigeria, the use of other illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines is increasing.

Dangers of Substance Abuse

Surprisingly, the greatest danger of drug abuse in Nigeria lies with substances that are not illegal. The abuse of alcohol and over-the-counter medications has increased significantly in recent years. Alcohol is the third most abused substance in Nigeria. In 2015, it was reported that an average of 11.3 liters of alcohol was consumed per person per year in Nigeria, which was among the highest levels of consumption for countries with a GDP measured in purchasing power parity of less than $10,000. The second primary type of drug used in Nigeria is opiates. Among the opiates being abused are several prescription drugs such as tramadol and codeine.

Despite the growth in awareness of the rising rate of substance abuse in Nigeria, there is very little data to show the extent of the problem. Studies have shown an increase in the consumption of illegal drugs through data such as arrest records, but capturing the rate of addiction to prescription and over-the-counter medication is much more difficult to ascertain. Not only is there a lack of addiction reporting, but there is also a lack of treatment. A vast majority of Nigerians live in poverty, and access to treatment for addiction is limited across the country.

Prevention and Treatment

New methods for prevention and treatment of substance abuse in Nigeria are underway. In 2013, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) initiated a program that focuses on fighting drug trafficking in Nigeria. Through the fight against criminal activity involved in the sale of illegal substances, the UNODC can reduce the availability of addictive substances in the country. This program also works toward ending addiction by gathering more accurate information on drug use, as well as improving treatment of addiction itself in hospitals and treatment centers.

Following the release of a BBC documentary on substance abuse in Nigeria and the development of addiction, the Nigerian government has instituted a ban on the import and production of a codeine-containing cough syrup, which will reduce the availability of codeine. Because the cough syrup was unregulated, people could buy it from pharmacies without a prescription, giving them easy access to addictive opiates. Other methods the government is using to fight against the growth of addiction include policies and taxes. The Nigerian government has instituted a new “sin” tax, causing tobacco products and alcohol to cost more. Hopefully, an increase in cost will reduce consumption.

With a health crisis that has severely increased in recent years, Nigeria has begun to institute new regulations and programs that will help people who may not have access to treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. Policy and program changes will help Nigeria fight substance abuse and improve the lives of those living in poverty or facing stigma for addiction.

Lindabeth Doby

Photo: Flickr

International Drug Trade
Drug trafficking operates on an international level and involves numerous individuals and groups, or cartels. According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, drug trafficking is a “global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of substances, which are subject to drug prohibition laws.

Drug Trade Touches Many Impoverished Countries in Different Ways

Afghanistan, one of the most impoverished countries in the world, is also one of the largest producers of opium. As violence has taken over the region since the mid-1980s, causing turmoil and rising costs of living, farmers have increasingly turned to growing opium poppies as a more lucrative option than producing food. Heroin is then produced from the opium and internationally trafficked. Trafficking to Europe takes place along the Balkan and northern travel routes from Afghanistan to Russia and western Europe. These two markets combined have an annual value of approximately $33 billion per year. The other top heroin producers in the world are Myanmar and Laos.

Cocaine is primarily produced in South American countries such as Columbia, Bolivia and Peru. The majority of the drugs trafficked from these places end up in the United State and Europe. In 2008, it was estimated that almost 17 million people worldwide were cocaine users, similar to the number of people who abuse opiates on a global scale. North America made up 40 percent of that population and Europe approximately 25 percent.

The magnitude of the problem resulting from the international drug trade for other countries, such as Mexico, is evident when examining the statistics associated with violent crimes related to drug trafficking. In 2011, there were more than 50,000 drug-related murders. That number has climbed to 200,000 drug-related murders since 2006. The competing cartels initiated the violence throughout Mexico and are therefore the predominant cause of economic insecurities and instability throughout the nation.

The issues associated with the drug trade have a ripple effect on those outside the cartels as well, worsening the overall problem. Extreme poverty to the point of not being able to buy food is experienced by about 30 percent of the population in Mexico as a result of drug cartel activity, with an estimated 40 percent facing basic poverty in terms of lack of healthcare and education. Mexican citizens who may otherwise be honest, law-abiding workers may succumb to the temptation of the drug trade, as what may appear to be their only option for survival.

Global Cooperatives Work to Counter International Drug Trade

Moreover, governments abroad are rife with corruption. As such, the stabilization of the economy for the masses is less of a priority than increasing the personal wealth of those benefiting from the illicit drug trade. Accordingly, poverty ensues. To address these concerns, in 2003, the Paris Pact Initiative was enacted into law as a means to combat the global illicit drug trade. The Paris Pact has 58 participating countries and 23 organizations.

The Vienna declaration of 2012 resulted in the development of four pillars designed to work towards finding solutions in the fight against the international drug trade, specific to the illegal trafficking and sale of opiates.  The first pillar is to strengthen already existing regional initiatives. The second pillar is to detect and block financial flows linked to the trafficking of opiates. The third works to prevent the diversion of precursor chemicals used in illicit opiate production. The final pillar is to reduce the abuse of such drugs through a multi-faceted approach. This initiative has been implemented in phases thus far.

The international drug trade is not operating unnoticed by any means. However, the power that the leaders behind the scenes have and the wide user base makes the fight against this type of crime particularly complex. Of greater import, the mobilization of the groups involved and their presence in every corner of the globe creates further difficulties. With that in mind, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has made great strides in raising awareness and addressing each area of the drug trade that causes problems for the rest of society. The most recent Vienna Declaration of the Paris Pact Initiative is a thoughtfully devised, comprehensive approach to creating a safer world, especially for those already subjected to the harsh realities that poverty as a byproduct of the international drug trade creates.

U.S. Partnerships Important to Continuing Progress

The United States plays a key role in leading other countries to monitor and deter criminal activity related to the sale and trade of illegal substances through the work of the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. As a result of the United States’ partnership with other countries, a collaborative approach is made possible in combatting this significant societal problem because of the sharing of information and resources cross-continentally.

Other aspects that are associated with the illegal trade of illicit substances that involve financial matters, such as money laundering, are addressed by this department as well. An additional benefit of this collaboration of departments throughout the world is that it holds other countries accountable for monitoring illegal activity through their own governments or agencies and thus acts as an incentive to ensuring safety. The bureau also provides assistance to countries that may need extra resources to control criminal activity. Through this ongoing assistance, the world can continue to make progress towards resolving this multi-faceted global issue.

– Bridget Rice
Photo: Flickr

Initiatives Against Drug Cartels in Latin America
Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s president, says that a global problem requires a global solution. One problem in need of a solution for more than 40 years is drug cartels in Latin America.

The Problem of Drug Cartels in Latin America

Because of drug cartels in Latin America, especially around South America, thousands have been killed in Colombia, Mexico and other areas where cartels are deep-rooted in society. Santos is urging countries to rethink their strategies because the human cost is too high, despite current efforts. The drug business also hurts consumers and the environment as land is deforested in order to plant cocoa, which supplies cocaine.

The largest drug cartels in Mexico — the Zetas and Sinaloa cartels — control most illegal drug trades from South America to the U.S. Usually, cocaine is imported from South America then smuggled to the U.S. Some groups also traffic marijuana and methamphetamines. Cartels are also involved with extorting local businesses, kidnapping for ransom, prostitution rings, intimidation and murder.

There is a shared responsibility among the international community to reduce both supply and demand for drugs. Some substantial initiatives have been employed to combat drug cartels in Latin America by Mexico, Guatemala and the European Union.

Cutting Drug Demand with Social Programs

Pena Nieto, the President of Mexico, promised in 2013 that $9.2 billion would be invested in social programs to alleviate crime by tackling its root causes, instead of following a policy of force. These initiatives consist of improving health and social services, roads, parks, lighting, and job opportunities for mothers. School hours also increased in an effort to keep the youth occupied and away from gang activity.

Waging War on Drugs

Mexico’s army has been deployed to arrest members of cartel kingpins. The Institutional Revolutionary Party is the ruling party, headed by Pena Nieto, and has rebranded itself into a modern force focusing on economic growth, poverty reduction and tackling drug-related violence. Under the current governance, crime and violence are usually dealt with at a local level. Exceptional cases include the severe violence occurring in Michoacán, where the President resorted to sending troops to back up the federal police forces. Vigilante groups are allowed to keep their own weapons when they agree to integrate into the official security forces.

Decriminalizing Drugs

Otto Pérez Molina, Guatemala’s president, proposed the method of regional decriminalization on growing drug trades. This effort could slim down profits obtained by the cartels from illegal drug trades in the black market, therefore crippling the drug business for brutal cartels.

Colombia adopted a similar approach by switching from the usual hard-line policies to the softer decriminalization method. Colombia hosted the 2012 Cartagena Summit of the Americas, which focused on decriminalizing drugs and expanded coordination between countries in combating drug calamity.

International Cooperation on Crime

Crimjust, a joint initiative implemented by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, is funded by the European Union. It was established to counter organized crime and drug trafficking through international cooperation. In 2016, Central American and South American countries like Panama and Colombia became one of the first few countries to join Crimjust in order to enhance their own national capacities to counter drug and illicit trafficking. The 2016-2020 program is expected to specifically strengthen investigations and criminal justice cooperation along the cocaine route in Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa. Through Crimjust, the international efficacy in combating drug cartels in Latin America has been amplified.

– Heulwen Leung
Photo: Google

causes of poverty in Central America
Central America links North and South America and includes countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama. Tropical and evergreen rainforests bring a wealth of biodiversity and beauty to the region; however, these countries face high infant mortality, low life expectancies and especially devastating poverty. Here is an analysis of the main causes of poverty in Central America.

 

Oppressive Histories

The Central American countries have histories which involve changes in power to those who wish to conquer them. This began with Columbus and the Spanish conquest of the region, where oppression was the norm as the years went on and the region was ruled by different European elites who put down the indigenous people.

This treatment and “status quo” continued until independence reached the region in the 19th Century. By this point, though, a classist system had already been put in place, and the effects of which can still be seen in modern times. Many attribute Costa Rica’s relative success to the fact that there was only a small indigenous population when the Spaniards conquered the region, the numbers allowing them to avoid the tiered class system that developed in neighboring countries.

 

Unequal Distribution of Wealth

Of the main causes of poverty in Central America, unequal distribution of wealth is by far the most consistent. The region has seen periods of boom and bust since the end of World War II, yet the vast difference in wealth distribution remained unchanged for decades. If wealth inequality remains the same, the only way to reduce poverty is by raising incomes.

In this region, industry remains limited due to a lack of mineral and energy resources making factory jobs scarce while agriculture still dominates. These factors make it increasingly difficult for citizens to gain increased incomes; however, an adjustment to wealth inequality may not increase incomes, but it does reduce poverty.

From 2008 to 2014, there was a period of decreasing wealth inequality due to a rise in minimum wage. This change led to an almost doubling of the middle class, and with formal employment, millions were able to ascend classes and overall statistics improved, including a 65 percent decrease in infant mortality. Yet, despite these promising changes, the region remains the most unequal region in the world for prohibiting the decline of poverty.

 

Gangs and Drug Violence

One of the largest setbacks faced by Central America is the success of gangs and the drug trade. Many of the Central American countries are referred to as “transit countries” as they transport cocaine and other drugs from South to North America. With the increase of drug trafficking, there has also been an increase in organized crime brought about by competition between trafficking groups as well as the governments of the countries they operate within.

Instead of putting money into social programs which could alleviate poverty, the government must use resources to fight against these illegal activities and violence. The effects of the drug trade and organized violence can be seen in the number of children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador found in Mexico attempting to flee their home countries. This number reached 16,000 in the first few months of 2016.

These main causes of poverty in Central America are certainly problematic, but all hope is not lost. These countries have made significant improvements in different areas in recent years and will continue to do so in the address of the most pressing problems. With foreign aid and government cooperation, these countries can move past these issues and put the lives of their citizens first.

– Megan Burtis

Photo: Flickr