Surf tourism in El Salvador
Many know El Salvador for its beautiful beaches and surfable waves. However, gang violence also makes the country the deadliest non-war zone in the world. Bryan Perez grew up in Punta Roca, El Salvador, where he began surfing at a young age. The sport helped him escape gang life, and he became a four-time World Cup champion. Perez’s success story increased surf tourism in El Salvador and gave Salvadorans hope of a better life.

Gang Culture in El Salvador

In 2019, approximately 23% of El Salvador’s population lived in poverty, and an estimated 8% had a connection to gangs. Salvadoran gangs have traditions and sadistic rites of passage, and they often socialize children into them at a young age. A person who refuses to support a gang risks torture or murder.

Surf Tourism

The beaches of El Salvador were what drew nearly 38% of the 350,000 Americans who visited the country in 2015. El Salvador nonprofits such as La Red Foundation use surf tourism to help impoverished communities.

Salvador Castellanos established La Red Foundation to show that surfing can be an alternative to gang life. He has recruited more than 1,500 volunteers to run surf camps, provide food and install infrastructure in poverty-stricken communities. Overall, La Red Foundation has used surf tourism to provide resources for more than 3,000 people. In exchange for volunteers’ efforts, La Red Foundation gives them amazing surf opportunities on El Salvador’s best beaches.

Salvador Castellanos’s son, Marcelo Castellanos, established El Salvador’s first professional surfing academy, Puro Surf. Puro Surf provides top-notch surfing training in a safe environment, and it helped a young Bryan Perez escape gang life.

Star Surfer Bryan Perez

As a child, Bryan Perez supported his family by watching tourists’ cars while they surfed, and he used his earnings to negotiate truces with local gangs. After receiving a broken surfboard from a tourist at age nine, Perez discovered his love for surfing. By the time he was a teenager, Perez had become highly dedicated to the sport.

Perez temporarily lost his passion for surfing after his little sister died from gang violence in 2014. Reflecting on that year, Perez said, “I was so depressed it was hard to get surfing again. I didn’t have the energy to compete and get focused.” Nevertheless, Marcelo Castellanos took Perez in and helped him rediscover his motivation. Perez trained intensively at Puro Surf Academy, where Castellanos helped him gain sponsors and surf in international competitions. Once Perez began surfing internationally, he became one of El Salvador’s most famous athletes. Because of his likable personality and strong media presence, the country closely followed his performances.

Hope for the Future

Perez failed to qualify for the Olympics at the 2021 World Surfing Games in El Salvador. However, his escape from gang life demonstrated how the capitalization of surfing can change lives. Perez became an inspirational figure and role model for Salvadorans living in poverty.

Perez’s international fame also put El Salvador on the map as a top surfing spot. The country’s leader, President Nayib Bukele, is working to decrease gang violence by capitalizing on surf tourism in El Salvador. He promoted the 2021 World Surfing Games because according to the Salvadoran government, surf tourism will create an estimated 50,000 jobs and has already created 200 businesses. With additional job opportunities, citizens can escape gang life.

Surf tourism in El Salvador increases the quality of life by boosting the economy and giving hope to a poverty-stricken nation. Despite the continued struggle against gang culture, both nonprofits and the government are advocating for a better future in El Salvador.

Abby Adu
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty In Honduras
Honduras, a country home to nine million people, is crippled by poverty, gang violence and a lack of education. Roughly 60% of the population of Honduras lives below the poverty line. The country is also known for having one of the highest crime and violence rates of all time. In terms of child poverty in Honduras, poverty impacts children in multiple ways, including health, safety and education. Nearly 75% of children use outdoor bathroom systems or open fields and 69% of 9-10 year-olds are infected with parasites because of this. Furthermore, 23% of Honduran children suffer from malnutrition and stunting. This article will explore the consequences of child poverty as well as efforts to address it.

Children and Gang Violence

Children face many dangers from exposure to gangs and gang violence in Honduras. Many children are too afraid to go to school because of the prevalence of gang members on the streets. A report from the Norweigan Refugee Council highlights the risks that Honduran children face, including pressure, sexual harassment and abuse.

Gang members have also successfully infiltrated Honduran schools and now promote the distribution of drugs to minors and attempt to recruit them. Families are also faced with pressure from gangs, often in the form of war taxes, which prohibits their ability to buy school supplies and uniforms.

Children and Education

The Honduran government provides free schooling until the sixth grade. However, when children in Honduras graduate from the sixth grade, many of them stop their education to support their families. After receiving a partial education, boys will often go to work in the fields while girls will stay at home to care for their families until marrying around the ages of 12-14 years old.

The lack of education in Honduras increases involvement in gangs, drugs and other dangerous behaviors in order to survive and to support their families. One organization working to alleviate this problem is the Honduras Good Works Secondary Education Scholarship Fund. This fund provides school supplies, transportation and school uniforms to children in Honduras.

Changing the Future for the Children

Children International, an NGO aimed at protecting and aiding children, works to address many of the issues facing Honduran children. Among their current projects is the distribution of annual parasite treatments and workshops about hygiene, the Sport Development and Youth Leadership Training program to alleviate pressures of gang violence and the Youth Health Corps that ensures equal rights for girls and boys. Children International has five centers on the ground in Honduras and focuses on combatting child poverty in Honduras.

Save The Children is another organization working to better the futures of children in Honduras. With the support of generous donations, this organization was able to aid 141,000 children in Honduras just last year, and more specifically have raised 36,000 children from poverty. Save The Children is currently working to promote food security for families in coffee-producing areas, addressing causes of migration and training government officials on the prevention of trafficking.

Moving Forward

Child poverty in Honduras continues to impact millions of children across the country. Fortunately, organizations like Children International and Save The Children are stepping in to help. Moving forward, it is essential that these efforts and others continue to prioritize alleviating child poverty and ensuring better livelihoods for children in Honduras.

Caroline Pierce
Photo: Flickr

Stopping Gang Violence Success Stories from Within HondurasHonduras is trapped in a cycle of violence and poverty that creates the perfect environment for gangs to thrive. Reports state that gangs and drug traffickers pay off members of the criminal justice system to get away with their crimes. However, despite these injustices, violent crime rates have dropped by half over the last decade as community outreach programs join humanitarian organizations’ efforts in stopping gang violence.

Poverty in Honduras

In 2018, Honduras had a poverty rate of 48.3%. Inequality in the country has led to an extremely small middle class and a large income gap. Gangs feed off of poverty and a lack of government services. Moreover, gangs become the only way young people could get an income and find a semblance of a supportive community.

Honduras has a Corruption Perception Index score of 26 out of 100, which is directly reflected in the fear citizens have of reporting crimes. Gang members can be killed for attempting to leave a gang and many businesses are forced to pay “war taxes” for protection. Luckily, nonprofits and community outreach programs have arisen to intervene in this cycle of violence. Here are a few anti-violence success stories from within Honduras.

The Association For a More Just Society

The Association For a More Just Society (AJS) is a nonprofit that works to create strong community bonds to dissuade violence in Honduras. In terms of working against corruption, AJS investigates and publishes reports about the health care and education sectors. Additionally, they hold youth services in small Honduran communities.

AJS has had remarkable success in terms of reporting cases of corruption by the government and wealthy elites in Honduras. In the public health sector, AJS found that the government purposely overpaid connected businesses for medical supplies and ignored cases of theft. Its reports led to the arrest of 13 officials and increased access to life-saving medication in public hospitals.

The organization also reported corruption in education as teachers who were not showing up to work were being paid and the average student only had 125 school days available to them. The Honduran government had the highest spending budget on education in the region, yet its test scores were still very low. AJS has reduced the percentage of non-working paid teachers from 26% to 1%. Additionally, many schools now hold an average of 200 days of school.

Skate Brothers

Skate Brothers is a community outreach program that was started by the Honduras local, Jessel Edgardo Recinos. He was shot at the age of 16 after being accused of stealing a cell phone from a prominent gang member. This near-death experience inspired Recinos to create a community youth program that taught kids about skateboarding instead of violence.

The group provides a place for Honduran youth to gather after school with friends while learning fun skills like skateboarding, BMX bike riding and rollerskating. Additionally, Slate Brothers provide counseling services to prevent youth from joining gangs. The group performs in parades and street fairs as well as volunteers for the community.

Recinos has convinced members of his youth group to leave gangs and join his community outreach group instead. His goal is to create a supportive community that serves as an alternative to gangs and does not mandate illegal activity. Skate Brothers is one of 64 outreach programs created by USAID’s Honduran Youth Alliance, which now serves 34,000 youth around the country.

Looking Ahead

While gangs in Honduras is still a major issue, nonprofits and community support programs like AJS and Skate Brothers have been instrumental in stopping gang violence. The cycle of violence, poverty and corruption is beginning to break because of the dedication of AJS and the Honduran Youth Alliance. Reciono’s creation of Skate Brothers shows how people in impoverished communities can inspire their peers to join them in stopping gang violence.

– Olivia Welsh
Photo: Flickr

Homeboy Industries“Homeboys has given me hope. It’s given me a better understanding of myself. Before, I just never gave myself a chance. So it’s encouraged me to change my life.” Latisha Valenzuela is one of the thousands of Angelenos and persons worldwide that Homeboy Industries impacted. Founded by Father Greg Boyle in 1988, Homeboy Industries has become the world’s most extensive program that works at least with those involved with gangs and jailed. Recently, an international jury chose the nonprofit organization as the 2020 recipient of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Humanitarian Prize, the world’s largest yearly humanitarian award.

Homeboy Industries is a thought leader and innovator in the area of criminal justice. Its model is fundamentally based on context: standing with the demonized and marginalized, healing them and investing in their futures; it involves a culture of compassion, tenderness and kinship.

Poverty

In its 2018 annual report are the words: “For most, a criminal record is a life sentence to poverty.” Gang violence is an outgrowth of something more profound: deprivation or trauma that an individual experiences. These cause pain and insecurity, which youth (between 12 and 25 years of age as outlined in the report) who are gang members do not or cannot properly deal with, and instead of causing themselves and others pain. Their actions as youth affect their lives as adults.

Not only are gangs and crime a product of poverty, but gangs and corruption contribute to it. It is a cycle. Gangs, crime and poverty must be dealt with together.

Whether or not the following relates to poverty, Director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (SVRU) Niven Rennie said concerning the rise in gang and knife crimes that the “main driver” is poverty. Although there may not be a universal definition of “gang,” it is at least possible that there are potential connections between poverty and gang membership and gang violence:

1. Gangs usually exist in areas where there is a lack of opportunities and social exclusion.

2. Marginalized persons, such as those in poverty, are specifically targeted for recruitment, violence and pressure (p 4); however, gang activities even affect ordinary persons.

3. Gangs exist in developed countries, such as Scotland (at least the U.K., which comprises Scotland) and the U.S., and developing countries, including those in Latin America.

Actions, Not Only Words

Not only are compassion, tenderness and kinship important, so too is providing for those involved in gangs or jailed or are susceptible to becoming involved. Homeboy Industries offers tattoo removal, education, substance abuse support, legal assistance and solar panel training. It also has its very own social enterprises, job training for homeboys and homegirls. Businesses include a bakery and electronics recycling.

Additionally, the nonprofit has a global network, which launched in 2014. Over 400 organizations have emulated or engaged with it to whatever degree. Representatives from countries such as Denmark and Scotland, Nicaragua and El Salvador are part of the network.

In an interview with Devex, a social enterprise connected to the global development community, Boyle is attributed as saying, “Everything is about something else. … The trick in any country is to find the ‘something else.’… Try to find a lack of connection and kinship.” In Scotland, Boyle worked with “the VRU” (as seen in a BBC article) in Glasgow. Braveheart Industries is a charity based on the manifestation of his work in Los Angeles; it has a social enterprise located in Glasgow that employs people with convictions.

El Salvador has seen reductions in levels of poverty and advances in human development. Nevertheless, gangs are active in the country. After he visited Homeboys Industries, Jaime Zablah founded La Factoría Ciudadana in the country. As examples, it offers therapy and tattoo removal.

Hope

International Youth Day was on August 12. Not all youth become gang members; some are “fundamental drivers and critical partners” concerning work concerning conflict-prevention and peace-building. Poverty can hinder the potential of young people: the World Programme of Action for Youth recognizes that basic needs such as education and sustainable livelihoods are crucial for youth social development.

Homeboy Industries has been there for the youth, launching the Summer Youth Program in 2018 as part of its “expansive approach to putting an end to the cycle of incarceration and poverty.” As youth need compassion, tenderness, and kinship, so does the world need youth with great aspirations, such as helping those involved in gangs or jailed.

– Kylar Cade
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Honduras
Honduras is a large, scenic country located in Central America with a population of nearly 10 million people. Historically, its abundance of natural resources has staked it as a vigorous player in many international economic industries, namely agriculture and mining. The country has also grown in many statistical categories; its population, global rank and GDP growth rate have increased steadily in the last five years. Ostensibly, Honduras has a strong foundation for economic prosperity, which should be encouraging for all of its citizens and leaders. However, a closer examination reveals that these improvements mask poverty issues that the country continues to struggle with. This struggle leads to poor quality of life for the average citizen of Honduras. Here is some information about poverty in Honduras.

Economic Problems

The main problems that cause poverty in Honduras are wealth distribution and low income. These issues impact an alarmingly high percentage of the country’s population. According to the World Bank, about 48% of the population lives below the poverty line, which includes over 60% in rural areas. Urban areas exhibit a lower percentage of impoverished citizens, but it remains high among global standards. Honduras frequently ranks high globally on the GINI index, which calculates the level of economic disparity among classes, and hosts a diminutive middle class, making up a mere 11% of the population.

Employment rates are dismal as well, with unemployment/underemployment around 40% as of 2015. Underemployment manifests itself in two different ways: when a person is working a job not commensurate with their skills due to a lack of opportunity (invisible) and when a person is working insufficient hours at a job or receives insufficient pay to support their family (visible). An example of invisible underemployment is a local man who has the requisite talent and education to be a lawyer. A scarcity of opportunity in his area leads him to a mining job that pays less and is much more physically grueling. Underemployment is rampant in Honduras and contributes to a working-class that has low morale and scarce opportunity to excel in their field of choice.

Other Factors Affecting the Economy

Violence is the largest internal factor in punctuating the nation’s economic problems. Honduras is among the deadliest countries in the world, according to the World Bank. The high rates of homicide and violence are detrimental in many ways including how they impact education. According to a U.N. agency report, more than 200,000 children stopped attending school between 2014 and 2017, due to the prevalence of gang violence in and around the school environment. The report also gathered that teachers were the third-most displaced group between 2016 and 2017. The Honduras government documented 83 murdered teachers between 2009 and 2014. Additionally, there were over 1,500 student deaths due to gang violence between 2010 and 2018. The expansion of gang culture makes education secondary to survival. This problem has stunted the system for years, translating to a lack of skilled labor and vibrant industry.

Another antecedent to structural poverty in Honduras is political instability. The Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Report labeled Honduras as a hybrid regime, which is where a country holds elections that are susceptible to voter fraud and manipulation. As recent as 2017, the country endured an election crisis that led to nationwide unrest, rioting and dissension on the premise of suspicion that the voting had been rigged. Tenuous leadership has let corruption run rampant, economic disparity worsen and access to food decline.

The Solution

Organizations such as Proyecto Mirador and CARE/Cargill are working diligently to quell poverty in Honduras. The former is a project that provides stove-building jobs for families. This initiative creates an easy and profitable venture for lower-class people who have no other options. Its website reports that builders have constructed and installed over 185,000 stoves in Honduras. Meanwhile, CARE and Cargill partnered in 2008 to create an initiative that supports women in agriculture, both nutritionally and economically. The program is investing $10 million over three years in Village Savings and Loan Associations. It also employs advocacy strategies designed to ignite agricultural policy change that benefits the lower-class farmer. The partnership originated in Honduras and has now expanded to reach 10 countries in total, directly impacting nearly half a million people as of 2018.

The United States has intervened in many Central American countries to mitigate gang violence with Project GREAT, a police-taught gang violence prevention program. The program aims to teach young people how to avoid gang life and to repair the fractured relationships that many of these communities have with local law enforcement. Project GREAT gathered 87,000 student participants in 2017, hoping to breed a sense of optimism among the young community. By doing so, Project GREAT seeks to dissolve the presence of gangs in the future.

Beating poverty in Honduras requires systemic change initiated from the top. It takes resources, both internal and external, to silence gang culture, restore safe education and uproot government corruption. Once the lower-class of Hondurans begins to escape the cycle of poverty, that is when economic industries will begin to thrive. The future of Honduras relies on the viability and strength of its youthful working-class.

Camden Gilreath
Photo: Unsplash

Venezuela’s Rum
Extended hyperinflation continues to cripple Venezuela’s economy with prices of basic groceries skyrocketing to five times the monthly minimum wage from 2015 to 2017. Estimates determined that extreme poverty in Venezuela in 2016 was 82 percent. Yet, there is a shimmer of light with potential economic growth through Venezuela’s rum industry.

Fall in Whiskey Sales

For a long time, people have seen Scotch as a status symbol in Venezuela and often only for the upper-class to enjoy at home or for middle-class friends to have on a night out. In 2007, Venezuelans consumed over three million boxes of whiskey, fifth in consumption worldwide and priced at nearly $151 million in imports. In 2009, imported Scotch whiskey outsold Venezuela’s rum sales nearly two to one.

However, with hyperinflation setting in, reaching over 60,000 percent in 2018 and almost 350,000 percent in 2019, imports experienced restriction and the tightening of currency controls, putting whiskey out of reach for many. At the black market rate, a bottle of Chivas Regal 18-Year-Old Whiskey costs $31, more than the country’s monthly minimum wage.

Rise in Rum Sales

The popularity of whiskey began declining in 2013, with a 29 percent drop in sales. At this point, the country had only recently crossed the hyperinflation threshold of 50 percent, while Venezuela’s rum sales increased by 22.6 percent. During that same time period, domestic rum production increased from 15.8 million to 21.8 million liters.

In addition to the rising cost of imports, the government’s recent introduction of relaxed regulations and loosening price controls has bolstered domestic rum production. This has led to Santa Teresa, one of Venezuela’s rum distilleries, to become the first in the country to release a public offering in 11 years, selling one million shares on January 24, 2020. With banks hesitant to lend, public offerings provide alternative forms of capital that can allow businesses to grow and become more competitive in the global market.

Project Alcatraz

Project Alcatraz, a recreational rugby initiative, launched as a means of rehabilitation and to serve as a deterrent for gang violence after gang members broke into the grounds of the Santa Teresa rum distillery. Now, Project Alcatraz includes vocational training, psychological counseling and formal education, reaching roughly 2,000 adolescents and a few hundred inmates.

Additionally, experts believe that the project has led to a drop in the murder rate of the local municipality. In 2003, the year the project originated, there were 114 murders per 100,000 people; as of 2016, that number had dropped to 13 per 100,000 people.

Cocuy

Venezuelan rum has not been the only liquor that has seen recent success in the country. Cocuy is a liquor similar to that of Mexican tequila because it comprises of fermented agave plants. Cocuy has a long history in the country, with indigenous groups originally making it 500 years ago. The country reportedly outlawed the drink prior to 2006 to boost Venezuela’s rum and beer production and sales. Cocuy production companies regained licensure, resulting in the drink gaining popularity throughout the years. This once stigmatized drink meant for the poor and less refined is now one of choice primarily because of its low price point.

While the rise in domestic liquor sales may be seemingly insignificant, the growth of any domestic industry can play a critical role in the reversal of the economic climate of an impoverished nation. Venezuela’s rum revolution in the past decade could turn the country’s economy around.

– Scott Boyce
Photo: Pixabay

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

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

5 Facts About Organized Crime in the Northern Triangle

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

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

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

– Rob Sprankle
Photo: Flickr

Violence on Honduras Youth

Honduras, a Central American country located on the Carribean Sea, borders El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Honduras has a population of 8.3 million people, but corruption, poverty and crime continue to plague it. The city of San Pedro Sula boasts the second-highest murder rate in the world after Caracas, Venezuela. As a result, violence on Honduras‘ youth has become an issue.

Poverty in Honduras

The World Bank estimates that 5.5 million people live in poverty. That is two-thirds of the population, amounting to one in every five people. Honduras has the highest level of economic inequality in Latin America; its system “only benefits an elite minority” with close political and economic ties.

The average Honduran lives on $120 dollars per month. The country seems to be making advances in protecting its citizens, and the murder rate is down from 60 people per 100,000 in 2015 to 48 per 100,000 in 2016. However, many Hondurans say the authorities achieved this through excessive force and human rights violations.

Gangs in Honduras

This corruption and poverty lead the way for gangs to take over the streets of Honduras and rule where the government does not. With the expansive poverty and gang activity that runs rampant throughout the country, children facing violence in Honduras is commonplace. Street gangs, known as “maras,” control cities like San Pedro Sula. Drug traffickers use the Carribean coast to smuggle cocaine from South America to the United States.

Gangs often pressure children to join them, making them feel that they will be murdered if they do not. Gang members force young girls to be their girlfriends, and the girls fear rape or murder if they do not agree. Most children start elementary school but quit before they turn 12. Only one out of four go to high school, while the others quit school to support their families.

Most members are under sixteen and feel the loyalty to their friends tested by not joining or wanting to protect themselves and their families from other gangs. These children become sick of fighting the corrupt police on their own and find a way to fight back.

The pressure from these gangs and the violence that they embody drives Honduras’s youth to migrate to places like the United States, even if that means leaving without their families. These children fear for their lives, so they travel across Central America alone in an attempt to live a freer life.

Women in Honduras

Women in Honduras face the highest levels of violence, particularly young girls. In 2015, 417 women were killed because of their gender. They face a high level of domestic abuse with 89 killings in San Pedro Sula being from domestic violence. According to the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights, 90 percent of these killings will go unpunished.

While violence and gangs are an everyday part of life in Honduras, women and children face the brunt of this force. They often choose to migrate because they have to flee the dominant gang in their area, such as when their place of work has been shut down by impossible extortion quotas that they cannot meet. Children face pressure from a young age to join a gang.

Helping Honduras

Attempting to alleviate the impact of violence on Honduras’ youth starts with many organizations dedicated to helping its citizens lead better lives. HELP Honduras is a program aimed at spreading health, education and literacy in Honduras. It wants to educate children so that they have better economic futures and can lead productive lives. This organization builds school and desks while sponsoring children to attend them. It teaches women and mothers marketable skills so that they can work and provide for themselves and their families.

With the help of such organizations, Honduras is starting to make strides to keep its young safe. But, if no one stops the violence rampant in their cities, they will continue to migrate to other countries in an attempt to escape the seemingly perpetual discord.

– Michela Rahaim
Photo: Flickr

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

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

Gang Culture in Central America

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

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

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

Extortion and Human Trafficking

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

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

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

Helping Central America

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

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

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

Marissa Pekular
Photo: Flickr