El Salvador Economic Crisis
El Salvador is a small country in Central America that has been experiencing an economic crisis for several years. The root of the El Salvador economic crisis is the persistent levels of gang violence and extreme levels of poverty. In the face of the country’s instability, some have made attempts to aid the fight against violence and poverty.

Perpetual Violence

During the 1980s, El Salvador was in the heart of a civil war; once the nation prevailed, the government and the people set out to become a democracy. The country received praise for its smooth transition into democracy, however, in recent years the levels of gang violence have begun to rise. The issue has persisted for about 15 years where there has been minimal acknowledgment, thus feeding political silence and a lack of reform.

The perpetual violence in El Salvador is a predominant problem. The nation currently holds the title for the highest rates of murder and violence against children under the age of 19. The National Crisis Group (NCG) believes that a proper response to this issue includes “specific police and justice reforms, as well as a legal framework for rehabilitating former gang members.” Many believe that such steps essential towards the pacification of violence, which will ultimately improve El Salvador’s economic crisis.

Gang Activity

The severe incline in gang violence has directly impacted the El Salvador economic crisis. Estimates determined that nearly 40 percent of the population lives in poverty because of various factors involved with gang violence. The nation’s government has spent a massive amount of money to relocate individuals to communities across the United States in an attempt to curb violence. However, extreme poverty initiated gang violence in El Salvador. Extreme poverty fuels high levels of violence because of the lack of a sustainable educational system, therefore resulting in students eventually ending up on the streets. Gang members’ recruitment of young individuals to support violent activities with a promise of financial stability preserves this cycle.

The 7 Fund

In the face of the El Salvador economic crisis, former professional soccer player David Beckham started a fund to diminish the El Salvador economic crisis. Beckham started the project, known as the 7 Fund, which aims to provide various support to those in need, specifically in Indonesia, Nepal, Uganda and El Salvador.

Launching the project with UNICEF, Beckham focuses on the prevalent violence throughout El Salvador. The former soccer star hopes the “children can grow up free from fear and realize their potential.” One way the 7 Fund tackles this goal is through a hotline for children who are in danger or experience violence. 7 Fund also provides resources for teachers in the form of training programs to develop the skills needed to support the at-risk children. Further, the project has implemented various committees to improve the El Salvador economic crisis by keeping schools safe. Specifically, students, teachers, parents and even authorities provide a space for children to play sports, which allows the students to feel comfortable and safe.

El Salvador has certainly seen better days, but it is likely the nation will see a positive culture again. With David Beckham and UNICEF’s work, the economy has already begun improving. While poverty rates and gang violence are still high, child violence rates have gone down. Through initiatives such as 7 Fund, the El Salvador economic crisis can improve with time.

Sarah Mobarak
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Sanitation in El Salvador
Both water and sanitation are crucial to survival and a decent life. The water crisis has affected many countries and millions of people, but El Salvador, home to 6.1 million people, is dangerously close to running out of water. El Salvador’s abundant water resources are also grossly polluted, with only 10 percent of surface water safe to drink. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in El Salvador.

10 Facts About Sanitation in El Salvador

  1. Environmental degradation is a constant threat to the quality of water. El Salvador is prone to natural disasters like hurricanes and droughts, simply because of its geological location. But deforestation and animal migration also impact water sources, leaving the poorest inhabitants with contaminated water.
  2. The Cérron Grande is El Salvador’s largest body of freshwater and is one of the most contaminated in all of Central America. An investigation conducted by the Salvadoran Association of Human Aid Pro-Vida showed high levels of heavy metals, banned insecticides, cyanide and toxic algae. In addition, more than 8.5 million pounds of feces are deposited into the Cérron. This medley of contagions causes algal blooms and eutrophication. The National Service of Territorial Studies reports that only 20 percent of national rivers are safe to drink from.
  3. Residents fiercely oppose the privatization of water. In recent years, the government has attempted to implement a water tax, further limiting access to water. Academic and religious institutions, environmental organizations and community forums push legislatures to protect their water sources. The leftist political party Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front also fights for the protection of water rights and equitable distribution.
  4. Historically, water management is controlled by big businesses. Examples are industrial plantations, luxury housing developments and bottling companies. In fact, a subsidiary of ABInBev called La Constancia fills thousands of Coca Cola cartons a day.  Situated on top of a major aquifer in Nejapa, over a decade of industrial waste has severely polluted the San Antonio water source. 30,000 residents rely on San Antonio for drinking, hygiene and cooking.
  5. Mining heavy metals had a drastic consequence. In 2010, it was estimated 12 million ounces of gold and 78 million ounces of silver were available to mine. According to the International Ecological Engineering Society, 950 tons of cyanide and roughly 22 million liters of water are required daily for extraction. Protesters say “No to mining, yes to life,”  demanding a ban on mining due to the contaminate risks to the waterbeds and the industrial use of such large quantities of water. In 2017, El Salvador banned mining, but the pollution left behind permanently tainted the quality of water.
  6. Experts predict El Salvador will be uninhabitable in 80 years. The water crisis continues to worsen for low-income and extremely poor households. The downward environmental trajectory in tandem with growing economic instability leads to young Salvadorans joining gangs to gain access to water. There are an estimated 60,000 gang members in El Salvador and water sources are often located between combating territories. Access to water is extremely controlled and many women and children risk their lives to collect it.
  7. Regulating water through legislation is the first defense against distribution inequality. The General Water Law, first introduced in 2006, defines, and therefore protects, access to water as a human right. It also promotes universal access to water sources. Most importantly, it implements community consultation in national decision-making regarding water and sanitation.
  8. Millennium Challenge Corp. committed to a 5-year investment compact with El Salvador in the amount of USD $449.6 million. The Water and Sanitation Sub-Activity was created to target the poorest parts of the Northern Zone and increase access to regulated water and sanitation systems. The Sub-Activity also provided technical assistance for maintenance and system sustainability which consequently lead to employment opportunities. Through the MCC, Compact Water and Sanitation Sub-Activity installed new or upgraded pre-existing pipelines in more than 7,500 homes.
  9. Ride4Water dedicates bike riding to raising money for clean water. Founder of Ride4Water Ryan Delameter uses the proceeds gained from long-distance riding to improve the access and quality of water. Ride4Water has installed Hollow Fiber Membrane Filtration Systems across three regions and 60 homes. The filtration system traps any harmful bacteria and microorganisms contaminating the water.
  10. Companion Community Development Alternatives, a non-profit organization dedicated to making potable water distribution a reality, uses solar power to bring clean water to villages. The solar retrofit was completed in 2019 and has reduced bills, operation and maintenance of water systems by $250-300 per month, lowering the overall expenses for families. By utilizing the sun, water is pumped 300 meters (~984 feet) from a spring and stored in a water tower. Chlorinated water is then distributed directly into homes. These solar-powered water systems belong to the people and can never be privatized.

Sanitation and water accessibility are often connected issues. In El Salvador, water is disappearing, compromising sanitation and health. These 10 facts about sanitation in El Salvador bring awareness to this very serious issue. With continued efforts by non-profits and other humanitarian organizations, however, water access and sanitation in El Salvador will hopefully improve.

– Marissa Taylor
Photo: Flickr

What is the Northern Triangle?
If one ever wondered, “What is the Northern Triangle?” it is a region comprised of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. This particular region experiences growing migration due to chronic violence, government corruption and economic setbacks. Approximately 265,000 people have migrated annually in recent years, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, and estimates determined that this number would double in 2019. The Northern Triangle is one of the poorest regions in the Western Hemisphere, with Honduras’, El Salvador’s and Guatemala’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita ranking at the bottom among Latin American countries. One can see these economic hardships as a direct consequence of decades of war and violence. Transnational gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Eighteenth Street Gang (M-18) plague the Northern Triangle with criminal activity and corruption. In addition to these factors, agriculture setbacks due to unpredictable weather contribute to this large migration.

The Northern Triangle’s Plans

With increasing migration from the area, the Northern Triangle is cracking down on existing issues. To address economic instability, the region implemented the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity which increased production and ensured public safety. Even though El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras mostly fund the plan, the Northern Triangle has experienced limited economic growth since its implementation in 2014.

When considering the question, “What is the Northern Triangle?” it is impossible not to mention corruption. To address growing corruption, each nation took a different route depending on what each one required. Officials addressed corruption quickly due to its setbacks on the economy. El Salvador caught and charged three previous presidents for embezzlement. Officials also created a plan to implement an international anti-corruption panel. In contrast, Guatemala appealed to the United Nations for assistance in establishing a group dedicated to prosecuting criminal groups. Together, they established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) which has lowered Guatemala’s homicide rate immensely. Meanwhile, Honduras set up a corruption-fighting committee and implemented various sweeping reforms in 2016.

The Future of the Northern Triangle

Since many migrants are seeking asylum in the United States, recent U.S. administrations have varied widely as far as how to approach this challenge. Under the current Trump presidency, the administration decided to increase border security. President Trump cut down on America’s foreign for Central America and is holding back on funding until the Northern Triangle fully addresses this migration issue. The number of refugees and migrants will continue to increase until governments implement policies that reduce corruption and insecurity. Without intervention and aid, the Northern Triangle will make little progress in solving the root cause of violence, fraud and poverty within its countries.

Srihita Adabala
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

corruption in El Salvador

In 2018, El Salvador received a Corruption Perception Index score of 35 out of 100, with 100 being no perceived corruption. El Salvador ranked 105 out of 108 countries that the index scored. This poor rating is a reason for concern. However, with the establishment of the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador in September 2019, there is newfound hope.

Cost of Corruption

Corruption is not just morally wrong, it is also expensive, costing the world at least $2.6 trillion every year according to an estimate by the World Economic Forum. The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has noted that corruption often disproportionately affects the poor. That $2.6 trillion comes from schools, hospitals and other critical institutions losing resources and businesses and individuals paying bribes, creating a deteriorating effect on the society as a whole.

President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador estimates that every year the government loses $1.5 billion without a trace. Former President Tony Saca cost El Salvador $300 million because he redirected government funds into the companies and banks of family and friends. Meanwhile, his successor, Mauricio Funes, gave away another $351 million to family and associates.

Corruption in El Salvador has also largely centered around the actions of the state security forces and gang-related activities. Within the state security forces, there has been a pattern of excessive force, including reports of extrajudicial killings and threats against the LGBT community, children and those who work toward the rehabilitation of gang members by the U.N. In 2017, there were reports of a death squad engaging in killings, disappearances, robbery, sexual assault and extortion. Additionally, there are approximately 60,000 gang members throughout the country, and in many cases, they are the ones who set and enforce local rules and partner with government officials in criminal operations.

The International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador

The commission serves to act as an autonomous and neutral institution to ensure transparency within the federal government by investigating possible corruption in El Salvador and helping to enforce the laws. It is accomplishing this by establishing close relations with institutions in the country. This includes the establishment of an Anti-Corruption Unit within the National Civil Police, as well as working with the Ministry of Finance, the General Directorate of Customs and the General Directorate of Migration.

The El Salvadoran government has worked with the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States to set up the commission. The organization includes 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere and dedicates itself to the promotion of democracy, security and development. It has been working with various institutions within El Salvador, including the Attorney General’s Office, Supreme Court of Justice and various civil society organizations to ensure greater transparency and that authorities properly enforce the laws in El Salvador.

Concerns with the Commission

Firstly, Bukele’s major step of establishing the commission has come only in the past few months, meaning it is too early for there to be conclusive evidence of its impact on corruption in El Salvador.

Secondly, the commission is in conjunction with the Organization of American States, not the U.N. People have questioned the legitimacy of the commission due to the fear that the organization will not lead the commission with as serious intent, as the U.N. led the Guatemalan impunity commission. This fear stems from the belief that the organization is “underfunded, poorly managed and inadequately staffed,” according to the Foreign Policy Magazine. It is important to note that despite these concerns, the organization has played a crucial role in uncovering human rights violations in the Americas over the past several decades.

Lastly, President Bukele has stated that the commission will not require lawmaker approval to run. Jessica Estrada of the National Foundation for Development has added that the El Salvadoran “constitution does not allow the establishment of a mechanism” similar to that led by the U.N. in Guatemala. These statements call into question how much will change if there is a lack of legal enforcement available.

Reason for Hope

For one, the International Crisis Group reported in 2018 that the Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala has helped lead to a 5 percent average annual decrease in the murder rate in the country since it formed in 2007, providing a precedent for success. The commission in Guatemala accomplished this by being instrumental in the passing of legislation that allows for wiretaps along with greater use of DNA and ballistic testing and with other modern investigation methods. These efforts helped to create stronger law enforcement, discouraging criminal activity.

Also, already under the newly elected President, El Salvador has seen its most peaceful month this century, averaging only 3.6 homicides per day in October 2019. At its worst, the country suffered through an average of 17.6 homicides per day throughout the entire year of 2015.

Finally, within weeks after his election, President Bukele deployed police and soldiers to areas of highly concentrated extortion efforts where the gangs in the country receive 80 percent of their income, giving some sense of how seriously he is taking the issue.

While the fight against corruption in El Salvador is far from over, there is meaningful potential for the creation of a more peaceful and transparent state.

– Scott Boyce
Photo: UN Multimedia

Why are More People Trying to Cross the Border?
With America’s current politicians, U.S. border security is tighter than it has been in decades. In the spring of 2018, the Trump Administration introduced the zero-tolerance immigration policy to discourage migration into the U.S. The policy required detention of all individuals who crossed the border illegally, with or without children.  This resulted in the separation of children from their parents and their placement in shelters around the country. The U.S., however, halted the policy on June 20, 2018, due to widespread backlash.  The government has been letting thousands of held migrants go free because it lacks enough beds to hold them in detention facilities. However, these implementations have not been successful in deterring people from attempting to illegally enter the country. With the heightened security, why are more people trying to cross the border?

The Decrease in Mexican Immigration

The important thing to note with the changing migration patterns is the demographics of the people. Undocumented immigrants are no longer mainly coming out of Mexico, which is how it has been in the past. In fact, the number of people fleeing Mexico is on the decline.  Since 2007, the number of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. declined by 2 million. They now make up less than half of illegal immigrants in the U.S. This is due partially to the increasing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the increase in price for human smugglers, but there are other factors too.

  • The economy in Mexico has improved and Mexican employment opportunities are rising.
  • Fertility rates in Mexico have dropped significantly in the last 60 years, from seven births in 1960 to only 2.1 in 2019.
  • Not only are there fewer immigrants, but the Mexican immigrants that are crossing the border have higher education and are more fluent in English than the U.S. has seen in the past.  Mexico is undergoing a demographic shift and a technological transformation that is making it more habitable for its population.

With the decrease in Mexican immigration due to an increase in Mexico’s living conditions, why are more people trying to cross the border? As Mexico increases opportunities, immigration statistics are shifting to the impoverished Central Americans.

Increase in Central American Immigration

In Central American countries, over half of the population lives below the poverty line. The Northern Triangle of Central America, or NTCA, which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, has one of the highest homicide rates on earth and many consider this area to have some of the most dangerous countries. America is not the only country seeing a huge influx of these immigrants as well. Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica have seen a 432 percent increase in asylum applications, the majority coming from the NTCA.

Over 90 percent of the new illegal immigrants entering the U.S. is coming out of Guatemala specifically. Why are more people trying to cross the border? It is because of the challenges of poverty and violence in Guatemala.

  • About two-thirds of Guatemalan children live in poverty.
  • Over two-thirds of the indigenous population live in poverty.
  • The wealth distribution in the country is one of the most uneven distributions in the world. In fact, the top 1 percent control 65 percent of the wealth, and the top 5 percent control 85 percent. The economic elite is not indigenous either as most members have European heritage.
  • Guatemalans are itching to flee areas ridden with conflicts over land rights, environmental issues, official forced labor policies, gang violence, prostitution and human trafficking, and depressing crop prices that destroy farmers’ ability to make profits.

What the US is Doing to Help Guatemala

Fortunately, the U.S. is working to help improve conditions in Guatemala.  Traditionally, Guatemala and the U.S. have had a good relationship with a few disagreements over human rights and military issues. Guatemala has a strong trade system in place and the U.S. benefits by working to improve conditions there regarding security, governance, food security, civil rights, education, crime reduction and health service access for the people.

The U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America put in multiple initiatives including the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Central American Regional Security Initiative and Food for Peace. The U.S.’s goal is to spur development in Guatemala and reduce the desire for illegal immigration into the U.S. The Trump Administration proposed to substantially cut funds for the country and to completely eliminate food aid. Congress shot down much of these cuts in the Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2018 and 2019. However, in March 2019, the Trump Administration did suspend all U.S. military aid in the country when the Guatemalan government misused armored vehicles that the Department of Defense provided to combat drug trafficking. The Trump Administration is still actively trying to cut or eliminate all U.S. aid to Guatemala and the NTCA, but Congress remains actively invested in the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America.

– Gentry Hale
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in El Salvador
El Salvador is the most densely populated nation in Central America, with a population of 6.375 million people and the size of 21,041 kilometers squared. Citizens of El Salvador are impacted by daily petty crimes such as thieft and pickpocketing, as well as more intense gang violence. El Salvador has the fifth-highest murder rate in the world, mainly caused by gang violence. Many gangs also partake in human trafficking, exploiting victims both domestically and abroad. These 10 facts about human trafficking in El Salvador aim to shed light on the main perpetrators, as well as steps taken to combat these abuses.

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in El Salvador

  1. Women, children, and LGBTQ people are at a higher risk of exploitation than men. Traffickers will often exploit El Salvadorans, as well as citizens from neighboring countries such as Nicaragua and Guatemala, who fall into those demographics. Transgender people are particularly at risk for sex trafficking as they are often dehumanized and fetishized in Latin America and other parts of the world.

  2. According to the United States Department of State, El Salvador does not currently meet the bare minimum standards for combating human trafficking. The government has made some small efforts, such as investigating an allegedly complicit government official and providing psychiatric services to female victims. These small efforts demonstrate a willingness to be on the right track, which makes El Salvador a strong candidate for potential growth in combating human trafficking.

  3. Gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha, more commonly known as MS-13, lure women into trafficking by offering them jobs. Women from poor backgrounds are baited and then forced into sex slavery. Experts are weary to pinpoint gangs as the main source for trafficking, as there is evidence of government officials and other people in power who also partake in trafficking whether for sexual or labor purposes.

  4. The Human trafficking network in El Salvador involves a lot of different members from the private sector, including transportation, tourism, media, entertainment and legal industries. Bus drivers, taxi drivers and truck drivers all take part in transporting victims. The media industry is also used to recruit victims by advertising fake jobs in newspapers and on the radio. These advertising methods are usually aimed at the aforementioned demographics, as they are often the most vulnerable in communities.

  5. The public sector is also very much involved in trafficking networks. Often, immigrants, police and other civil servants aid traffickers. Public officials provide false birth certificates and other legal documents. Border enforcement patrols are easily bribed into allowing victims to be trafficked to other countries. Suspects in human trafficking cases are often protected by public officials.

  6. The average age of trafficked victims ranges from between 9 to 15 years old. Teenagers and children are often recruited at school or within their own communities. Traffickers are able to brainwash children because of their young age, making them more malleable. Children are trained to murder, sell drugs or sell their bodies. Girls, in particular, are harassed and forced into relationships with gang members. Children are physically harassed, assaulted, threatened until they have no choice but to join a gang.

  7. Florida is the top destination for trafficked victims from El Salvador. Florida has high demands for human slaves, including both sex and labor slaves. Victims from El Salvador are forced into the commercial sex industry with the demand to make a profit for their traffickers. Victims are threatened to the point that they have no other choice but to comply.

  8. The root of human trafficking is the demand for victims. People are trafficked not because of the needs of human traffickers, but because of the demand of people who will pay for human services. In El Salvador, this manifests itself through a demand for prostitution and stripping. The growth of gang networks and the tourism industry has led to sec trafficking in El Salvador to become a multinational scheme.

  9. Many organizations are working to combat sex trafficking in El Salvador. The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) started a campaign in 2013 called Tu Voz, which acmes to educate, alert, and support young people who are vulnerable to trafficking. The PADF worked with many other organizations to create the campaign, including MTV Latin America, the Inter-American Development Bank and its youth network (BID Juventud) and the Cinepolis Foundation (largest movie complex franchise in Latin America).

  10. The campaign has been incredibly successful so far, with over 150,000 people reached across 200 awareness events. Also, MTV produced and screened an anti-human trafficking documentary called “Invisible Slaves,” which had a successful impact across youth in danger of trafficking. The campaign also strengthened vulnerable youth to become activists against human trafficking. The success of the campaign demonstrates how empowering awareness and education campaigns can be, in combating some of the biggest villains in El Salvador.

Overall, minorities and women are the most vulnerable to be trafficked. There are many factors involved such as demand and poverty that contribute towards the human trafficking market. These 10 facts about human trafficking in El Salvador aimed to cover some of the reasons for the prominence of human trafficking in the region, as well as steps being taken to combat human trafficking. There has been an increase in effort from the international community, as well as the government of El Salvador to put an end to human trafficking. Education, advocacy and activism can all help to put an end to the atrocities of human trafficking in El Salvador.

– Laura Phillips-Alvarez
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

Where is the Northern Triangle?
With a long history of political and economic instability, the Northern Triangle has provided little reason for citizens to stay. Where is the Northern Triangle? This emigration haven lies in Central America and comprises of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Causes of Emigration

In short, the main emigration drivers in the NTCA involve political corruption (due to past wars and ongoing greed), economic instability (due to droughts and poor trade practices), gang violence (related to lack of educational and rehabilitation programs) and family matters (attributed to desired remittance and reunification with distant family).

The NTCA’s past, current and potential (up-for-office) political officials consistently squander the countries’ limited funds for personal advancement at the cost of its people. These authoritarian countries recently switched to democratic rule, but its leaders lack the experience and morale necessary to implement a well-running democracy. Low tax rates and lack of direction prevent subsidization of social, civil, health-related and educational programs and protection agencies vital to the NTCA’s transition to a safe, thriving region.

Since 2014, the U.S.A.’s Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has collaborated with the NTCA to fund over $315 million of specialized programs improving tax administration, youth workforce and public-private markets across Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Efforts from the MCC help the 25 percent of youth who do not work or attend school in these countries. As of 2017, nearly 60 percent of youth who do work do so informally or unregulated by the government.

Crime Management, Informal Work and Gangs

Beyond educational and vocational pitfalls, these countries possess poor crime management. NTCA homicide rates have decreased since 2014, but they remain higher than the global average. The Atlantic Council reports 75 percent of NTCA citizens as doubting their judicial systems’ ability to protect them. This primarily stems from the nearly active gang violence and 95 percent of homicides that go unsolved in these countries. According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, six children flee to the U.S. per every 10 homicides in the Northern Triangle. This leads to the separation of families and greater difficulty in establishing long-lasting labor practices in these countries.

Informal work is another causal factor of emigration as people search for better financial opportunities. The U.S. is such a major destination for these emigrants, it is no wonder many U.S. Americans might ask “Where is the Northern Triangle?” In fact, in the first five months of FY2019, authorities apprehended about 26,937 Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs) and 136,150 families at the U.S.-Mexican border, with nearly 47 percent of UACs and 49 percent of families, 25 percent of UACs and 38 percent of families and 11.5 percent of UACs and 9 percent of families coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, respectively. These emigrants inadvertently create financial burdens, safety threats and attention deficits in the U.S.

UACs pose a huge threat to U.S. borders because of their use by gang members. U.S. immigration legislation, like Obama’s catch-and-release policy and the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), allow gangs to get around policies involving UACs. Gangs make about $1,500 per smuggled child in border regions that they control and oftentimes convert UACs into gang members once they settle in U.S. territory. In return, alien-driven crime and the U.S. opioid epidemic continue to implode. Furthermore, transnational government corruption with cartel commerce continues.

According to U.S. Representative Norma J. Torres (D-CA), the State Department gave Congress an incomplete watch-list of criminal Northern Triangle government officials as the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 required. Thus, skepticism surrounds U.S. and NTCA political ties in criminal activity. Overall, government corruption and U.S. immigration policy loopholes remain pressing obstacles to boosting the workforce and prosperity of the Northern Triangle.

US Humanitarian Efforts

Fortunately, many U.S. humanitarian efforts positively impact life in the Northern Triangle. Notably, in the Plan Columbia (PC) of 1999, the U.S. gave Columbia $10 billion for economic and anti-narcoterrorist efforts. In return, Columbia acts as a key trader with the U.S. and a facilitator of progression tactics in NTCA. Similarly, the U.S. derived the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) of 2006 that supports Northern Triangle involvement in commerce and exposure to retail chains.

The U.S. also works with the Inter-American Development Bank to fund a billion-dollar improvement strategy written by the NTCA presidents. Within this strategy, called the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, the three presidents provide strategic pillars and action plans to put outside funds to effective use. Additionally, the U.S. works with Mexican and Northern Triangle governments through the U.S.-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act to improve security at the NTCA-Mexico border.

Outside of government action, several international organizations aid in Central American projects that chip away at NTCA poverty and political issues. Action Aid largely focuses on anti-poverty efforts in the NTCA. Care International, CHF International and Center for International Private Enterprise assist the NTCA with crime reduction and community support, youth education and empowerment and educated civilian political involvement, respectively.

Assistance from humanitarian groups and relationships with American countries help NTCA leaders impose more effective government policies and citizen-focused programs. With expertise and financial aid from more developed countries, the new democratic leaders can grow with the young workforce to build a long-lasting, more-trusting culture in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

In return, a reduction in emigration, the ongoing gang turmoil and behind-the-scenes narco relations can help lead to a more sustainable Northern Triangle. Increased focus on the source of NTCA emigration and continued assistance might alleviate the inquisitive question, “Where is the Northern Triangle?”

– Caroline Bell
Photo: Flickr

El Salvador

The youth in El Salvador, one of the world’s most violent countries, face a lot of obstacles when it comes to getting an education. With the poverty rate at 31 percent and teen pregnancy on the rise, going to school and getting an education in El Salvador is not a simple feat. Avoiding gang violence, affording transportation and supplies, finding employment or valuable training after high school are all challenges that the youth in El Salvador face when it comes to receiving an education.

However, there are several companies and organizations aimed at improving the quality of education in El Salvador. These innovative companies develop programs and projects with the purpose of bettering the lives of the young. These programs help students with job training, English-language learning skills, sex education, brain education and education for students with disabilities.

IBREA and Brain Education

IBREA is a nonprofit organization founded in 2008, aimed at spreading knowledge about the relationship between the brain and body. Ilich Lee, the founder of IBREA believes that through holistic education like meditation, artistic expression and group work, people can achieve peace within themselves and eventually within their communities. IBREA has offered educational programs, seminars and carried out several projects in countries around the world including Liberia, Costa Rica, Sierra Leone and El Salvador.

IBREA began working in El Salvador in 2011 and is currently present in one-fourth of the country’s schools. IBREA has made a notable impact on a school in the district of Distrito Italia. This district is one of many deeply affected by gang violence and poverty in El Salvador. Students, teachers and principals alike have said that since the beginning they have noticed significant improvements in their physical health, stress levels, and motivation in IBREA programs. Other improvements include better peer relations, clarity, decision-making and emotion regulation. The IBREA Foundation is continuing to make strides in El Salvador and Ilich Lee has even received the “Jose Simeon Cañas” award from the previous president of El Salvador Salvador Sánchez Cerén for the positive impact IBREA has had on schools in El Salvador.

FULSAMO and Vocational Training

FULSAMO is a nonprofit organization based in El Salvador aimed at improving the lives and creating opportunities for at-risk youth in El Salvador. Through various programs located in Community Centers throughout El Salvador, FULSAMO works to keep the youth of El Salvador away from gang violence by offering training programs that help them find employment. Currently, FULSAMO has four locations in Soyapango, a municipality in El Salvador.

FULSAMO is currently offering training sessions for work in call centers. The course is six months long, and students are offered help finding relevant employment upon its completion. Unemployment for the youth in El Salvador is nearly 12 percent, but only 7 percent for El Salvador’s general population. Since youth are more at risk for joining gangs, programs like FULSAMO are vital for the betterment of the community. Aside from training opportunities, FULSAMO also offers programs centered on arts, music and leadership.

“Comunidades Inclusivas” for Children with Disabilities

“Comunidades Inclusivas” is a project created by an Education Professor at the University of Maryland. The goal of this project is to make education in El Salvador more accessible to people with disabilities. Through small programs and networks, Comunidades Inclusivas works to have people with disabilities more socially involved in their communities so these connections can be used as a means to more access to education.

In developing nations, it is likely that children living in poverty, who can’t afford supplies such as uniforms, will drop out of school. For children with disabilities who may need more or different resources and supplies than students without disabilities, their likelihood of dropping out is increased. According to the Global Citizen, 90 percent of children living with disabilities are not in school, and 80 percent of people with disabilities, live in developing countries. The El Salvadorian government has made an effort to improve the lives of those living with disabilities and has had previous laws protecting their rights to public transportation and employment in place for decades. In 2018 the El Salvadorian government also passed an act that allowed the Basic Solidarity Pension Fund to apply to people with disabilities.

Through a partnership with International Partners, a nonprofit organization, Comunidades Inclusivas developed “Circulos de Amigos.” This is an initiative that connects people in a community who support and aid people with disabilities. Members of Circulos de Amigos support people with disabilities and their families by providing assistance during home visits, building ramps, and other specific needs. By improving the connection between people with disabilities and their community, Comunidades Inclusivas raises awareness and builds support systems for people with disabilities and their families. This ultimately makes education in El Salvador more of a possibility for people with disabilities.

Sex Education in Centro Escolar

Although teen pregnancy is prevalent in El Salvador, some educators aim to teach their students about sex education despite cultural stigmas. Females between 10 and 19 years old account for one-third of all pregnancies in El Salvador. In Panchimalco, a district south of El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, educators are taking the risk of teaching sex education, but do it in a way that avoids scrutiny.

Because sex education in El Salvador is sometimes associated with contraceptives and abortion, certain teachers (whose real identities are hidden) in Panchimalco take a different approach when trying to inform students about sex education to avoid ridicule from people in the community. For example, the courses inform students about gender rights and gender equality. This is especially important since the homicide rate for females is 12 for every 100,000 people and over 60 percent of females over the age of 15 have experienced some form of abuse by a male. Sex education courses help students recognize sexual violence, report sexual violence, recognize their rights, and plan for the future.

Although sex education is just in its beginning stages, if it continues, the bravery from teachers will make a difference in student’s lives.

– Desiree Nestor
Photo: Flickr

thenortherntriangle
Many know the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador for their high crime rates and their role in the refugee crisis at the southern border of the U.S. The good news about the Northern Triangle, however, is that crime and murder rates are declining, there has been notable poverty reduction and the economy is growing in the region. The future of the Northern Triangle is not as bleak as news coverage often indicates. These 10 facts provide information on the good news about the Northern Triangle.

10 Pieces of Good News About the Northern Triangle

  1. From 2008 to 2013, educational initiatives in Honduras created 800 new preschools. Additionally, access to education in impoverished communities increased from 36 percent to 50 percent. The educational initiatives also provided training for teachers employed at the new schools.
  2. During the past decade, Guatemala’s agricultural diversity has expanded, and it is now a top regional exporter of green beans, fruit and other types of produce. This has created more prosperity for small farmers.
  3. In El Salvador, economic growth has occurred steadily as well. In 2013, its GDP per capita was $3,516 and its exports were $5.5 billion. Four years later, El Salvador’s GDP per capita was $3,895 and its exports were $5.8 billion.
  4. From 2016 to 2017, the Northern Triangle’s homicide rates fell by 23 percent. Salvadoran murder rates fell by 34 percent and Honduran murder rates fell by 28 percent, with a comparable decline in Guatemala.
  5. Thanks in large part to USAID agricultural programs, the Guatemalan economy added 78,000 new jobs from 2013 to 2017. The new jobs created $160 million and specifically benefited the Western Highlands, a region that is a frequent source of migrants.
  6. From 2011 to 2016, USAID provided assistance to Salvadoran businesses. By 2016, there were 22,000 new jobs in the Salvadoran economy. The higher number of employment opportunities led to higher incomes and provided non-violent alternatives to youth at risk of being involved in gang violence.
  7. Poverty increases rates of illegal migration, but thanks to U.S. assistance, rates of illegal migration from the Northern Triangle were lower in 2017 than they had been since 1971. The three-year U.S. led initiative to reduce illegal migration through development aid was effective.
  8. The Honduran government is taking measures to reform the criminal justice system. In 2011, Honduras introduced a new Comprehensive Coexistence and Security Policy. In 2011, Honduras overhauled its police force, ousting large numbers of officers deemed unfit to serve. The country closed many mismanaged Honduran prisons, showing its commitment to respecting human rights.
  9. A commission formed to investigate corruption in the Honduran government launched its investigations in 2017. Although the investigated officials have made it difficult for the commission to conduct its work, it has continued to exist. The Honduran people and anti-corruption forces within the government continue to support the commission, indicating a commitment to respecting democratic norms. As the country’s economic situation improves, its people feel freer to demand a fair society.
  10. Guatemalan anti-corruption forces have seen unprecedented success. With support from the U.N., the Guatemalan anti-corruption commission was able to successfully conduct cases against multiple corrupt former presidents. In 2015, the commission forced President Molina, who previously engaged in fraud, to resign; he later became imprisoned.

These countries are building new schools and growing crops, while crime rates are falling and they are taking steps to fight corruption. These examples all spell good news for the Northern Triangle. It it is easy to be ignorant of the progress taking place when the media characterizes the Northern Triangle as a place defined merely by poverty and violence. It is also vital for people to note that the good news about the Northern Triangle links to U.S. aid, which funds programs that create new jobs and new opportunities in the region. If this aid continues along with a commitment to progress, then the dream of a brighter future in the Northern Triangle can become a reality.

– Emelie Fippin
Photo: Flickr