United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act
On July 15, 2019, the United States House of Representatives unanimously passed the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act. The bill, announced by New York Representative Eliot L. Engel and Texas Representative Michael McCaul, seeks to provide greater safety and security for the Northern Triangle countries. The highest volume of immigrants from South America come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. It is the hope of the United States Congress that increasing aid and promoting a stronger economy and sense of security in these nations will address the root causes of the current migration crisis. This bipartisan legislation outlines several ways the United States may assist the Northern Triangle nations.

Details About The Bill

Firstly, the bill details a five-year program which focuses on economic development, the strengthening of democratic institutions and anti-corruption efforts. Because the insecurity of these countries’ economies is driving so many to seek refuge in foreign nations, enhancing market-based internal solutions for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala is a priority of this plan. Furthermore, it will implement institutions and programs that will allow these places to remain resilient in the wake of frequent natural disasters.

In order to support the integrity of the democratic institutions of the Northern Triangle, this bill intends to provide support to ensure free, fair elections and the continuation of an independent media. This measure is to prevent the spread of political propaganda and to make the democratic process accessible to all.

This bill includes many measures to support and fund anti-corruption efforts, which is so important when so many migrants from these countries are leaving to escape the prevalent gang violence. It provides support for such efforts as faith-based organizations for at-risk youth. Many young people have no choice but to engage in violent gang activities in order to protect themselves or their families.

Funding From The United States

The United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act is allotting $577 million dollars in monetary aid to these three countries for the 2020 fiscal year but includes strong conditions as to how the countries must use the funding.

The bill also includes measures to protect the safety of not only those native to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador but also the many American people who have concerns regarding immigration into the United States. The act calls for visa bans and asset freezes for corrupt individuals in an effort to halt some of the corruption in government and drug trafficking which are making these nations unsafe.

This bipartisan legislation will also provide increased support for development efforts in southern Mexico. The hope is that there will be more peaceful relations between Mexico and the Northern Triangle nations to diminish some of the reasons for the mass exodus from these countries.

Lastly, Congress has mandated that the State Department and USAID provide reports regarding the root causes of migration in the Northern Triangle countries after the implementation of the United States’ aid. The bill mentions some of the root causes including drug trafficking, human trafficking, extortion, corruption, gender-based violence, gang activities and the forcible recruitment of children into gang activities. These reports will allow Congress to determine how aid from the United States and the implementation of social services has altered the social and political climate of the Northern Triangle.

A Promising Victory

With so much ever-heightening concern regarding the immigration crisis, the unanimous, bipartisan passing of the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act, which the Borgen Project supports, is a victory for the current state of poverty amongst immigrants. If this bill officially becomes law, it is the hope of Congress that the United States’ assistance and aid to the Northern Triangle countries will target the many causes of immigration and allow people to remain in their homes with a sense of security.

– Gina Beviglia
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Mortality Rate in GuatemalaAs of 2015, the maternal mortality rate in Guatemala was 88, and three-quarters of these maternal deaths occurred in women of indigenous ancestry. The maternal mortality rate among indigenous women is thought to be more than 200. Since midwives or comadronas primarily care for pregnant indigenous women in Guatemala, investments from the World Bank and UNFPA have been focused on training midwives and connecting them with hospital services when necessary. More than six million indigenous people inhabit Guatemala and comprise a large portion–estimated at 45 to 60 percent–of the population. Further, 21.8 percent of the indigenous population live in extreme poverty compared to only 7.4 percent of the non-indigenous population.

Improving Mortality through Training

In 2006, UNFPA, a U.N. agency focused on sexual and reproductive health, began to offer obstetrical emergency training to local comadronas and family planning methods. The agency also teaches the importance of a skilled attendant being present during births in order to improve the maternal mortality rate in Guatemala. Estimates suggest that a well-trained midwifery service “could avert roughly two-thirds of all maternal and newborn deaths.” Statistics show that from 2009 to 2016, UNFPA has trained more than 35,000 midwives.

The Department of Sololá in the western highlands of Guatemala is home to more than 300,000 people, most of whom are indigenous Maya. Only one in four rural births occurs in a hospital, compared with over two-thirds of urban births. In Sololá, comadronas attend more than 63 percent of births mainly outside of a hospital. Some estimates put this figure at more than 90 percent.

The Improving Maternal and Neo-Natal Health Initiative has a three-pronged approach and funding from the World Bank’s Youth Innovation Fund in 2017. The initiative has established a visually-based curriculum to help comadronas recognize dangers and risks during delivery, two-week long training workshops conducted in local healthcare posts, and endowment of “safe birthing kits” for all comadronas containing tools such as latex gloves and gauze pads. Unlike previous initiatives, these trainings have been conducted in local languages rather than solely Spanish. Rosa, a comadrona in the city of Santiago, said this simple change made her “feel more respected” and gave her an increased desire to participate because she felt empowered to save “more lives in her community.”

In collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health and the government of Guatemala, the Maternal Child Survival Program (MCSP), an international program with national and subnational branches, implemented a Midwifery Training Program in February 2018 to improve the maternal mortality rate in Guatemala. Their model uses a competency-based skills training approach. Working with the University of San Martin Porres, MCSP established a coursework protocol for certification.

Discrimination Against Indigenous Peoples

Maternal mortality rates among indigenous populations in Guatemala face particular hurdles. In addition to access to care and infrastructure challenges, indigenous populations face heavy discrimination. They are often evicted from their ancestral lands only to face abuse within the criminal justice system. One young indigenous man reported abuse at the hands of a local gang to police. He believed that “the police don’t listen to us as indigenous people–they do not care about us.” A U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, says she is very worried about “the grave situation of indigenous peoples” in Guatemala.

Guatemala has made consistent strides in reducing the national maternal mortality rate from more than 200 in 1990 to less than 100 today. However, the maternal mortality rate among indigenous populations remains high. Indigenous populations should be heartened by these improvements, but their unique struggles must not be lost in the larger narrative of maternal mortality in Guatemala.

– Sarah Boyer
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in Central AmericaThe ability to consistently access nourishment is vital for all people. In regions affected by poverty, like Central America, many families lack this ability. These 10 facts will provide a glimpse at food insecurity in Central America, how it affects the lives of the people who live there and what has been done to address it.

10 Facts About Food Insecurity in Central America

  1. More than 10 percent of Guatemalan children are underweight. About 46.5 percent of Guatemalan children suffer from stunted growth caused by malnutrition. Indigenous children are more likely to suffer from stunted growth; 58 percent of Guatemalan indigenous children under 5 suffer from this condition. Indigenous children are also more likely to suffer from anemia and vitamin deficiencies.
  2. Food insecurity fuels migration to the U.S. Severe droughts, crops destroyed by fungus and persistent poverty all play a role in preventing families from thriving in their home country. USAID and U.N. reports find that poverty and food insecurity in Central America motivates migration more than other factors.
  3. From 2015 to 2018, food insecurity in Central America increased annually. Indigenous populations and women were the groups most impacted by chronic hunger. Poor and rural communities were also likely to suffer from hunger and malnutrition.
  4. USAID’s response to food insecurity is focused on agriculture. USAID funds studies that create solutions to agricultural problems. USAID works with many groups, including governments, universities and American farmers, to bring agricultural solutions to regions affected by food insecurity. USAID also implements initiatives like Feed the Future that directly address food insecurity. Guatemala and Honduras are two of the 12 countries that receive specially targeted assistance through Feed the Future.
  5. Between 2013 and 2017, USAID’s initiative Feed the Future provided assistance to 215,000 Guatemalan children. During this period, Guatemalan agricultural production created $47.8 million worth of profits for the Guatemalan economy. Feed the Future worked to improve agriculture in Guatemala by providing resilient seedlings, higher-quality pesticides and training to prevent the spread of disease among crops. Guatemalan agriculture also became more diverse thanks to the introduction of new crops. In cooperation with USDA, Feed the Future helped Guatemalan farmers learn new methods of planting crops and tracking their growth electronically.
  6. In 2014, USAID implemented new programs in Honduras to fulfill the goals of the U.S. Global Food Security Strategy. In cooperation with the Honduran government, USAID works to decrease rates of stunted growth by 20 percent by 2020. USAID is also working to move 10,000 families out of extreme poverty by 2020. To combat food insecurity in Honduras, USAID is promoting crop diversity, improving infrastructure connecting rural areas to urban areas and improving child nutrition.
  7. The Dry Corridor is experiencing drought. The region referred to as the Central American “Dry Corridor” consists of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. During the summer of 2018, the Dry Corridor was hit by low levels of rainfall and above-average temperatures. The unusually severe drought of 2018 came after a previous two years of drought that lasted from 2014 to 2016, which required food relief for millions of people.
  8. Food insecurity in Central America has been worsened by severe droughts. For the past year, there has been a severe drought in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. 290,322 families in the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were affected by the 2018 drought. $37 million worth of corn was destroyed in El Salvador alone due to lack of rain.
  9. The Central American drought was caused by the effects of the 2015-16 El Niño Event and by the results of global climate change. After the drought, about 3.6 million people required food-related aid. 50-90 percent of the region’s agricultural production was destroyed.
  10. After the 2014-15 droughts and the following spike in food insecurity, the Central American Dry Corridor received an influx of humanitarian aid. Efforts were made to conserve soil, more closely track data about nutrition and hunger and better prepare for future droughts. In the midst of the 2018 drought, data collection was prioritized in order to maintain stable food prices, combat food insecurity within particularly vulnerable populations and relocate rural families away from the regions most severely affected by the drought.

Central America, a region already affected by poverty, reached the brink of crisis after nearly 5 years of severe droughts. By 2018, food insecurity in Central America had spread throughout the countries of the Dry Corridor. But regional governments, with the assistance of relief agencies, implemented agriculture-based solutions to ensure that future droughts would not have the same disastrous consequences. These innovative solutions pave the way for a more secure future in Central America.

– Emelie Fippin
Photo: Flickr

In March 2019, President Trump announced wanting to cut U.S. aid in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. These three countries are known as the Northern Triangle of the U.S. government’s Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity (A4P) Initiative.

This is a U.S. strategy to address the security, governance and economic prosperity of these regions. The effectiveness of the A4P initiative and the numerous benefits it presents to both the Central American region and the United States has led to bipartisan support in the U.S., and to cease the aid to the northern triangle would be counterproductive to both the interests of the United States and Central America as a whole.

Since the 1980s, Central America has seen a decline in armed conflict and has become politically stable. Additionally, in the past decade has become a strong economic partner to the United States. While all of this implies significant progress in the region, the region remains stagnant with high crime rates and nearly half of the population currently lives in poverty.

Honduras: History, Plans, and Benefits

Honduras has received over $3 billion from USAID since 1961. The bulk of this aid impacts sustaining economic growth and establishing economic stability. Some efforts to obtaining these goals are increasing access to health services, expanding exports, improving education infrastructure and strengthening the nation’s democratic systems. In sum, these initiatives address threats to Hondura’s stability.

That being said, included are high crime and violence rates and widespread poverty and food insecurity.  Additionally, there is a presence of government corruption and ineffectiveness. According to the U.S. Department of State, Honduras reliance on foreign assistance, provided by the U.S. is crucial to there development and safety.

El Salvador: History, Plans, and Benefits

Over the past 50 years, USAID assistance in El Salvador has provided economic opportunity. It aids in improving educational and health care systems and supporting disaster relief and economic development.

Specifically, the bulk of assistance in health care is targeting infant and maternal mortality. With the assistance of USAID, the mortality rate in El Salvador has dropped from 191/1000 to 16/1000 between 1960 and  2008. Access to education and literacy rates have steadily increased over the years as well.

Again, with the assistance of USAID, two key organizations for analyzing the major problems facing El Salvador have been developed. These are the Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUSADES) and the Business Foundation for Educational Development (FEPADE).

Guatemala: History, Plans, and Benefits

Guatemala is experiencing population growth and has become the most populated country in Central America. The Guatemalan government and USAID have been working together to strengthen security for citizens and stimulate economic growth. The efforts of USAID have had a significantly positive impact on addressing some of Guatemala’s security concerns.

For example, there has been an 18 percent decline in robberies, 50 percent decline in the illicit drug trade and a 50 percent decline in blackmail in communities. In order to stimulate economic growth, USAID has focused on agriculture, education, and health. This development has created 8,734 jobs and the country has seen an increase in coffee sales and implemented widespread reading programs.

Importance of Continued Support

The Northern Triangle’s future development and prosperity are heavily reliant on the continued support of the United States. Eliminating U.S. aid in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala would be counterproductive to both the goals of the U.S. and the Northern Triangle. U.S. aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala will be able to improve the overall quality of life of Central Americans.

– Randall Costa
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Corruption in the Northern TriangleThe Northern Triangle, consisting of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, is home to some of the highest levels of political and economic instability in the world. The nations of the Triangle (Or NTCA, Northern Triangle of Central America) are characterized by high rates of poverty and gang violence. Subsequently, this is exacerbated by rampant corruption, from local to national levels. This instability, along with the hazards of living in a poverty-stricken region, has led to an increase in the outflow of migrants from the Northern Triangle into the United States.

Nevertheless, things are getting better. With the Northern Triangle having received more international attention in recent years and immigration issues leading American political discourse, the underlying problems of the region are coming to light. Some U.S. and United Nations’ programs are successfully circumventing government channels to provide aid directly. However, other initiatives are attacking the problem of corruption at its source. Fighting corruption in the Northern Triangle requires a longterm method addressing the economic insolvency of these countries. Here are five ways the world is fighting corruption in the Northern Triangle.

5 Ways the World Is Fighting Corruption in the Northern Triangle

  1. Guatemala and the CICIG
    Guatemala hosts one of the most effective and successful anti-corruption NGOs in the region. The U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity (known as CICIG, per its Spanish initials) was implemented in the early 2000s to address the rampant corruption sprouting up in the wake of Guatemala’s civil war. The commissioner, Iván Velásquez, is a distinguished veteran of Colombia’s criminal justice system, where he worked to expose links between paramilitary groups and public officials—an identical background to the types of corrupt practices that burden Guatemala’s public sector.
  2. Identifying Criminal Ties to Government Officials in the NTCA
    In a list released in early May 2019, the U.S. Department of State has named over 50 senior government officials in the NTCA as guilty of corruption. This list includes officials in the orbit of all three countries’ presidents, some of whom are direct relatives. Representative Norma Torres (D-CA) noted that the release of the list was a step in the right direction, forward progress for the Trump administration recognizing the severity of corruption in the Northern Triangle. While many of the anti-corruption bodies operating in the NTCA need international backing to be as effective as possible, the State Department’s list indicates the U.S. has not completely voided its assumed role as stabilizer in the Western Hemisphere.
  3. Slow but Steady Progress in El Salvador
    Like the rest of the NTCA, El Salvador ranks low in global measures of corruption and impunity for government officials. However, the country’s most recent attorney general, Douglas Melendez, made it his mission to attack the systemic and embedded corruption permeating the government. While he was recently forced out of office by the national legislature, Melendez successfully prosecuted three former presidents and his own predecessor as attorney general. His failure to secure reappointment reflects both El Salvador’s closed-door (and thus inherently political) process of selecting an attorney general, and a backlash of the country’s political elite against his progress fighting corruption.
  4. Experts Discuss Corruption and Human Rights in the NTCA
    In May 2019, a panel of experts led by the nonprofit, Inter-American Dialogue, discussed the current initiatives fighting corruption in the Northern Triangle, and how they could benefit from expanding their focus to include human rights. Guatemala’s CICIG was brought up, as was the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). A major point of emphasis was the commonalities across all three countries, specifically the way in which corrupt kleptocratic networks are indirectly committing human rights violation by embezzling money earmarked for public services. The discussion lauded the work of CICIG and MACCIH in Guatemala and Honduras, respectively, and emphasized the need for a similar external agency in El Salvador.
  5. MACCIH Brings its Twelfth Major Case to Court in Honduras
    The Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) has been operating since April 2016, presumably inspired by the success of CICIG in Guatemala. Unlike CICIG, which is a U.N.-backed Commission, MACCIH is organized by the Organization of American States, an international charter that was created in the late 1800s. Through the OAS, MACCIH can share investigation data with other member states, which is particularly effective when investigating transnational organization—namely, drug cartels. In May 2019, MACCIH brought forward its twelfth integrated case, this time addressing a federal-level scheme to launder millions in cartel money.

Fighting corruption in the Northern Triangle is not linear. Pushback from political and business elites has been a significant problem both for MACCIH in Honduras and for El Salvador’s nascent anti-impunity work. This is to be expected of any anticorruption initiative, however, as it deals with the removal of power and resources from officials that abuse them. Flagging programs within the member states of the Northern Triangle only emphasize the need for robust foreign support, which the U.S. continues to provide.

Rob Sprankle
Photo: Flickr

U.S. foreign assistance to Central AmericaRecently, there has been an ongoing debate regarding U.S. foreign assistance to Central America with an emphasis on the countries in the Northern Triangle. The countries include Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. This topic has gained recent attention due to the ongoing border crisis at the U.S.-Mexico Border. Some government officials believe cutting aid will improve the crisis while others believe it will enhance the problem.

Foreign Aid

President Donald Trump announced in April 2019 that he would cut aid to countries in the Northern Triangle. President Trump believed that this decision was an appropriate response to limit the number of refugees from these countries who seek asylum in the U.S. He used this tactic as a punishment directed at Central American governments for allowing record levels of displaced persons to migrate to the U.S. border.

On the other side of the debate, U.S. foreign assistance to Central America may actually be what is necessary to curb this problem. In Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador there are multiple factors that contribute to why people are leaving their homelands. People are seeking asylum in the U.S to escape crime, poverty, corruption and violence.

What Does U.S. Assistance Do in Central America?

The U.S. funds in the Northern Triangle assist a variety of programs. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supports increasing security and economic development, ensuring human rights and working towards a more self-reliant population among other projects.

  • El Salvador: In El Salvador, the State Department and USAID projects aided 50 towns by integrating the police force with a community-level crime prevention plan. In these areas, homicide rates shrunk by an average of 61 percent from 2015 to 2017. The El Salvadorian government expanded its yearly revenue by $350 million with the help of a $5 million investment from the U.S. that helped to reform El Salvador’s tax system.
  • Guatemala: In Guatemala, USAID leveraged more than $7 million in private investment, which in turn, helped more than 230,000 children with nutritional support. In the agricultural sector, USAID helped promote the advancement of sales for rural farmers by 51 percent. This aid also helped to create 20,000 new agricultural jobs.
  • Honduras: USAID, in collaboration with Feed the Future, helped lift 89,000 people out of extreme poverty. They also convinced the Honduran government to invest $56 million into the program. USAID and the State Department also helped to drastically reduce homicide rates in dangerous neighborhoods. Through community policing and youth programs backed by the U.S., murder rates dropped by 78 percent between 2013 and 2016 in at-risk communities.

U.S. Strategy for Central America

The U.S. plan for Central America is a bipartisan, multi-year plan that promotes institutional improvements and sparks conversation about developmental challenges. There are three different facets to this strategy.

  1. Promoting prosperity: In the Northern Triangle, USAID projects helped to create nearly 30,000 jobs in 2017 and more than 18,000 in 2018. Furthermore, the U.S. helped facilitate more than $73 million in exports and domestic sales. U.S.-led projects also fostered comradery and interconnectivity between different countries, which led to the formation of new organizations. In May 2016, the Mexico and Central America Interconnection Commission was established. This organization will help to advance power market integration, which will decrease power costs in the territory and increase economic activity.
  2. Enhancing security: U.S. backing makes it easier for regional governments to stop illegal narcotics from reaching the U.S. In 2018, Honduras seized almost 45,000 kilograms of illegal narcotics. U.S. foreign assistance to Central America also helps countries outside of the Northern Triangle. With the help of the U.S., Costa Rica seized more than 35,000 kilograms of illegal narcotics. The enhanced security also got dangerous gang members off the streets. In September 2017, U.S. support helped coordinate an operation that led to the arrests of nearly 4,000 gang members in the U.S. and Northern Triangle countries.
  3. Improving Governance: The U.S. projects help support the improvement of tax collection and fiscal transparency in the countries in the Northern Triangle. This leads to improved effectiveness of public spending and helps professionalize the civil service. In Guatemala, this service limited the number of steps needed to submit a customs and tax complaint, which made it easier to prompt an investigation.

Many politicians believe that it would be a bad idea to cut funding to Central America. “We will work with our colleagues in Congress to do everything in our power to push back on the President’s misguided approach to Central America,” said House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY). Across the aisle, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted, “Reducing support to CentAm and closing the border with Mexico would be counterproductive.”

U.S. foreign assistance to Central America currently remains a controversial issue in the U.S. But, the statistics don’t lie. Foreign aid has helped the countries in the Northern Triangle. Cutting that aid will not slow the stream of immigrants trying to enter the U.S., but making improvements to the countries through continued aid might.

Nicholas Bartlett
Photo: Flickr

op Seven Facts About Poverty and Oral Health in Latin AmericaIndividuals living in poverty face disparities. Picture-perfect smiles are often out of reach for those living in impoverished conditions. This is due to various socio-economic factors like food insecurity or lack of dental coverage. The Pan American Health Organization found Latin Americans suffer from twice as many cavities as U.S. citizens. The top seven facts about poverty and oral health in Latin America are discussed here.

Top 7 Facts About Poverty and Oral Health in Latin America

  1. Oral health literacy is a neglected topic of research in the Latin American region. A correlation between the levels of oral health literacy in parents and a child’s oral health is present. This demonstrates the importance of furthering research. The Journal of Oral Research states the lack of oral health research is worrisome for the region. Oral health status is unique to each country and region.
  2. A 2016 report found Brazil’s dental market ranks third behind the United States and China. As a nation with one of the fastest-growing beauty markets, Brazil’s oral hygiene market is amongst the world’s leaders. Products such as toothpaste and mouthwash have seen an increase in recent years. A rising population, an emerging middle class, changes in consumer preferences and investment in promotions are causes of the growing market.
  3. In Latin America, there is a shortage of oral health personnel. Most of the dental systems are limited to pain relief or emergency services. In developing countries, such as those in Latin America, individuals are insufficiently covered for oral health care. This is a result of deregulation or privatization of care. A World Health Organization report indicates Chile has a 1.6 dentist-population ratio (one dentistry personnel per 10,000 people). On the other hand, Brazil sits at 12.3 density. The top seven facts about poverty and oral health in Latin America are revealing Brazil to be a dominating country in dental hygiene.
  4. However, the lack of government funding is a barrier for sufficient oral health care in Latin America. Often, government agencies are more likely to provide adequate funding to health care programs aiming at more serious diseases. Recent health surveys in Mexico investigated heart disease, addictions, immunization, chronic disease as well as violence against women. However, these surveys did not investigate oral diseases. Mexico spends approximately 6.2 percent of its budget on healthcare, a statistic below the 9.6 global average. Mexico’s healthcare system reform is projected to focus on prevention. It will reduce healthcare inequality through social factors and impose a new sales tax on sugared foods and beverages.
  5. In 2015, two dental students from Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine partnered with the U.S. International Health Alliance, a non-profit organization working to advance global health, to bring dental care to children in Guatemala. Nearly 1,000 children received toothbrushes and lessons on oral health care and prevention of disease. The two dental students mentioned the local diet and lack of access to medical or dental care as two causes for the severe dental decay they witnessed.
  6. The Latin American Oral Health Association held a regional symposium to address the periodontal disease and its effect on general health in Latin America in January of 2019. Eighteen countries were represented as the aim of the symposium was to develop a regional plan to address gingival health issues. The symposium focused on the global burden of periodontal diseases on health, problems associated with diagnostic of the condition, problems associated with the treatment of the condition and possible solutions within Latin America.
  7. The University of West Florida’s College of Health studied the impact of social determinants of health, availability of oral health services, drug use and oral hygiene practices in Ecuador. The surveys conducted found participants had a low level of education, high levels of carbohydrates in their diet, poor feeding and prevention practices. The researchers reported their findings to the local authorities and community officials. They also plan to work closely with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a device to reduce fluoride levels in the community water system.

Though many countries struggle with oral health, these top seven facts about poverty and oral health in Latin America reveal the strides taken in minimizing the problem. Oral health is at the focus of various organizations both within and outside of Latin America. Researchers aim to look into oral health and increase education in the region. While certain countries like Ecuador and Guatemala struggle with oral health, Brazil acts as a model of what those nations can strive to become.

– Gwendolin Schemm
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Gangs in Guatemala
Guatemala is a Central American country, home to volcanoes, rainforests and gang violence. Guatemala is ranked as one of the most violent countries in the world, sitting alongside Honduras and El Salvador. These three countries have been named the Northern Triangle, known specifically for their gang violence. Here are 10 facts about gangs in Guatemala.

10 Facts About Gangs in Guatemala

  1. Origin of Gang Activity
    After Guatemala’s civil war in 1996, there were a plethora of retired and unemployed men with easy access to weapons. The most notable groups to emerge from the postwar era became known as illegal clandestine security apparatuses (CIACS). CIACS are composed of several ex-generals and former high-ranking intelligence officers. The CIACS are still operational, assisting in drug trafficking, the making of false passports and contraband. CIACS are especially powerful gangs because of their close connections to the government. CIACS members are typically former war veterans with connections to government officials. This allows CIACS to corrupt the government to get away with federal offenses.
  2. Persistence of Violence
    Corruption and a weak, underfunded institution lend their hands to the persistence of violence. Tax revenues in the Northern Triangle are among the lowest in the world. Guatemala’s gross domestic product stood at 12.4 percent in 2016, which was straining public services such as police resources and health care facilities.
  3. Immigration
    Gang violence is one of the main reasons Guatemalans flee their country. With violence, forced gang recruitment and extortion, the Guatemalans are seeking asylum in Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. The four countries have seen an increase in asylum seekers since 2008, but most migrants hope to settle in the United States. In 2015, more than 80 percent of immigrants who settled in the United States fleeing from violence.
  4. Police Involvement
    In any society, police are expected to assist in the maintaining of public order and are responsible for handling criminals. In early 2000, Guatemalan laws defined the word “gang” in broad terms. This ultimately resulted in the mass incarceration of anyone fitting the description. A 2014 article from InSight Crime states Guatemalan prisons are at a “280 percent capacity.” The massive overcrowding epidemic makes prisoners susceptible to control the prison. According to the Public Ministry, 80 percent of Guatemala’s extrusions are perpetrated by incarcerated prisoners.
  5. U.N. Involvement
    In 2007, the United Nations enacted the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). The organization investigates and prosecutes criminals believed to have infiltrated state institutions. Proving successful, the U.N. met with Guatemala’s attorney general in 2015 to investigate corruption schemes in Guatemala.
  6. U.S. Involvement
    Because of the surge in migrants in 2005, the Bush administration enacted Operation Streamline. This was a zero-tolerance policy that would criminally prosecute and deport anyone crossing the border illegally. In its last year, the Bush administration passed a security package for Mexico and Central America known as the Merida Initiative. Mexico then left the Merida Initiative, and it was renamed the Central America Regional Security Initiative. Through CARSI, the U.S. was able to funnel money into Central America and up to $1 billion was provided to improve governance and police force.
  7. Gang-Related Homicides
    According to a recent U.N. Development Programme report, Latin America and the Caribbean saw a 12 percent increase between 2002 and 2012. These two places are the only regions in the world that saw an increase in homicides. Homicides became categorized as an “epidemic.” There are three working theories as to why homicides have increased in Guatemala. One theory identifies street gangs as a cause, which is the case for Guatemala’s capital, Guatemala City. A study done by the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop in Guatemala found 40 percent of those polled in Guatemala had concerns with extortion. The UNDP examined the violence in Guatemala between 2004 and 2007. They noticed the victims changed their phrasing from “gangs” to “common thieves” mainly due to media coverage of the issues.
  8. Youth Gangs
    In 2017, the 18th Street gang was involved in a riot that killed three police officers. Thirteen suspected gang members were detained for possession of firearms, including a grenade launcher, an assault rifle and several small-caliber weapons.
  9. Gang-Affiliated Crimes
    Aside from the extortion and possession of firearms, Guatemalan gangs are also involved in poppy cultivation to meet the demand for heroin in the United States. Moreover, they are involved in human trafficking and kidnapping, among other criminal offenses.
  10. Gang Hotspots
    A great deal of gang activity takes place in Guatemala’s capital city, Guatemala City. In 2016, the Guatemala National Police reported approximately 4,500 homicides, 5,800 aggravated assaults and over 3,500 missing people.

With gangs in Guatemala continuing to plague and terrorize the country, Guatemalan residents are forced to flee to other countries for safety. Although a vast majority make it to their destination, the threat of eliminating asylums poses another obstacle for Guatemalans seeking safety.

Andrew Valdovinos
Photo: Google Images

Rural Development in Guatemala
According to the CIA, 79 percent of Guatemala’s indigenous population lives under the poverty line. Guatemala suffers high rates of malnutrition that are disproportionately experienced among indigenous, Mayan communities. One organization, Qachuu Aloom, is working to improve conditions for Mayan communities by empowering Mayan women to spearhead rural development in Guatemala.

A History of Farming in Guatemala

Ending in 1996, Guatemala’s civil war lasted for 36 years. A report by the United Nations-backed truth commission found that Guatemalan security officials committed multiple acts of genocide against the Mayan population. More than 200,000 people died during the civil war, 83 percent of which were Mayan citizens. Mayan villages and families were torn apart, and Mayan corn plots and gardens were destroyed by the Guatemalan military.

In the years following the end of the civil war, agricultural development projects carpeted the area, distributing a development model that disseminated American and European hybrid seeds. The foreign development projects introduced high-input agriculture, requiring chemicals, fertilizers and expensive hybrid seeds. These projects were rarely successful in rural villages because the farmers could not save seeds from the hybrids and were instead forced to buy new seeds after every harvest, which were they could not afford.

The introduction of modern agriculture to Guatemala brought the accelerated loss of native seeds. Farmers were no longer applying organic fertilizer but using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This practice not only damaged good soil but also translated to a loss of identity, knowledge and heritage for the Mayan people. It has also been the antagonist that has kept Mayan communities in poverty.

In 2013, stunting due to malnutrition was rampant in rural areas, with some Mayan communities experiencing rates as high as 75 percent. The life expectancy in indigenous Mayan communities is shorter than in other communities in the country by 13 years, with an infant mortality rate is more than doubled. Poverty affects indigenous Mayan women even greater. Mayan women have limited access to health facilities and proper healthcare, which explains the high rates of maternal and infant mortality. The maternal mortality rate among Mayan women is estimated to be five times the national average at 190 women out of 100,000 live births.

Qachuu Aloom in Guatemala

For the last 15 years, the organization Qachuu Aloom (The Garden’s Edge) has been working with farmers from 25 Maya Achí communities in Guatemala. Out of Qachuu Aloom’s 500 associated members, 80 percent are women. Qachuu Aloom positions women in leadership roles, making Mayan women the spearhead for rural development in Guatemala. Qachuu Aloom was established to help families rebuild their lives after decades of civil war.

More than 60 percent of the people living in the Qachuu Aloom partnered communities are rural workers and producers. Qachuu Aloom has set up networks to improve the commercialization of organic products and medicinal plants so that its members can increase their economic health. In the gardens, members produce amaranth flour, pigeon pea flour and salted squash. The products give members an alternative income stream so they can reinvest in their communities, farms and families. Qachuu Aloom also couples its development measures with the preservation of native seeds. The organization built a seed bank in the municipality of Rabinal that ensures food sovereignty, promotes ancient ancestral knowledge and contributes to food security for its members.

Mil Milagros in Guatemala

Mil Milagros, another community-led development organization, has been empowering Mayan women to be the spearheads for rural development in Guatemala. Since its inception in 2007, Mil Milagros has been equipping mothers and teachers with skills and resources to improve the lives of children and families in rural Guatemala. In regions of Guatemala where primary school completion was as low as 40 percent, Mil Milagros partner schools have raised this percentage up to 97 percent. The organization has also helped combat malnutrition. Through Early Childhood Development workshops and by providing nutritional supplements and vitamins to Mil Milagros mothers, malnutrition has decreased by half.

Development projects that enlist women as the agent of change and power are successful in rural regions because when women are given opportunities to extend their economic margins, that money gets reinvested in their children, their household, and their community. Organizations like Qachuu Aloom and Mil Milagros recognize women’s potential and work to empower Mayan women to be the spearheads for rural development in Guatemala.

Sasha Kramer
Photo: Flickr

Factors affecting Guatemala’s Life Expectancy
Guatemala, a small country located in Central America, is striving to decrease its deaths among the population and to improve its quality of life.

This is being done by focusing on health care, safety and disease prevention since these are the main causes affecting Guatemala’s life expectancy in the country.

In the text below, 10 facts about life expectancy in Guatemala are presented, and the special attention is given to problems that affect women and children in the country.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Guatemala

  1. According to the latest WHO data published in 2018, life expectancy in Guatemala is 70.4 years for male and 76.0 for female. The total life expectancy is 73.2. This places Guatelama in 94th place in World Life Expectancy ranking.
  2. According to the UNICEF data, four out of 10 children under the age of 5 suffer from poor nutrition. This issue is even worse for the indigenous population since eight out of 10 children, or double more than the average, suffer from the same problem. Health-wise problems at an early age can affect growth, both cognitively and physically.
  3. The Guatemalan government has stepped in by providing more health coverage through the Extension of Coverage Program. The program teaches Guatemalan citizens about nutrition as well as preventative measures. As a result, the percentage of children under the age of 2, who had previously been undernourished, dropped by 13 percent, starting at 73 percent and ending at 60 percent.
  4. The serious problem in the country is the rate at which babies are dying. According to the World Bank, in the early 2000s, only one out of five pregnant women received proper care. This resulted in low birth weights and respiratory infections. The Extension of Coverage Program has strengthened 40 subsidiary level facilities in order to ensure safer births. The program has made it possible for mothers to get care during their pregnancy and while in labor. As a result, the death rate of pregnant women in Guatemala has fallen by almost 2 percent. In June 2006, the rate was 3.2 percent compared to 1.24 percent recorded in December 2012.
  5. Violence in Guatemala is another serious issue that affects life expectancy indirectly. Peace Women reported that 22 percent of women’s deaths are connected with organized or gang-related activities, 24 percent are related to domestic violence, and 23 percent are attributed to blackmail. Most of the sexual and physical abuse of women goes unnoticed.
  6. The Presidential Commission against Femicide established in 2009, has a goal to address the factors that are causing women to lose their lives. They have put new laws into effect that allow police to enter a home without a warrant if they fear that a woman is in danger.
  7. Another law, that was passed in 2007, has now made it a criminal offense to injure or kill a woman. The sentences run from 25 up to 50 years for homicides, and five to 12 years for physical violence or sexual assault. Guatemala’s female deaths have plummeted from 720 to 651.
  8. Gang-related crimes affect Guatemalan children as well. Girls are sexually assaulted and boys are recruited. According to UNICEF, there are about 46 children, most of them adolescents, murdered each month. While most of the deaths are caused by guns, the others are related to sexual assault, kidnapping and missing person reports, among others.
  9. The reason that gang violence is one of the causes affecting Guatemala’s women and children is that Guatemalan gangs operate on their own terms. In the Global Post, Rodriguez talks about how Guatemalan gangs are similar to L.A. gangs when they first started out. Rodriguez recalls, “In the early days of gangs in L.A., raping a woman was a good way to develop your reputation. I knew a guy who raped dozens of women.”
  10. Guatemalan authorities have arrested leaders associated with various gangs, but it does not seem to stop them. Most of the leaders just continue their operations from inside the jail, making it difficult for them to put an end to this vicious cycle.

The 10 factors about life expectancy in Guatemala for women and children can be solved through consistent use of better health care methods and stricter safety regulations.

With the help of more developed nations and various nongovernmental organization, the development in the country can be easily achieved.

Photo: Flickr