10 Facts About Economic Development in Central America
Central America, which includes Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, is a diverse geographical region housing almost 50 million people. With a wealth of natural resources, Central America has the potential for sustainable and rigorous economic growth as it seeks to mitigate political unrest and economic inequality. Within this context, here are 10 facts about economic development in Central America.

10 Facts About Economic Development in Central America

  1. Central America is an Agricultural Powerhouse: The backbone of Central America’s economy relies on agricultural exports, such as coffee, bananas and pineapples. For example, agriculture comprises 24 percent of Costa Rica’s total GDP and 17 percent of Panama’s total GDP. In 2001, agriculture employed approximately 34 percent of Honduras.
  2. Central America’s Growing Tourism Industry: Belize and El Salvador contribute to Central America’s robust tourism industry. In Belize, tourism is the most important economic sector in the country next to agriculture. In 2017, El Salvador reported a 23.2 percent annual growth rate from domestic tourism. El Salvador expects to generate $75.5 million from its tourism industry in 2019.
  3. Severe Weather and Foreign Aid: In the wake of Hurricane Nate, Costa Rica alone reported $562 million in damages, severely crippling its agricultural and transportation industries. In response, USAID provided $150,000 to support immediate humanitarian efforts. More recently, in 2018, El Fuego erupted in Guatemala affecting approximately 1.7 million people. World Vision, a non-profit organization, responded by sending 30,000 boxes of medical supplies to affected regions.
  4. Tepid Economic Growth: One of the key 10 facts about economic development in Central America that informs policy-making is an analysis of GDP growth and poverty rates. As a whole, Central America has an average poverty rate of 34.2 percent. Guatemala has the highest rate of 59 percent as of 2014. Mitigating these poverty rates is difficult since GDP growth has slowly decelerated in many Central American countries. In the case of Honduras, declining prices for agricultural exports have left its main industries struggling. People expect Honduras’ GDP to grow with the decline in poverty. The nation’s poverty rate came down to 3.6 percent in 2019, from 4.8 percent in 2017.
  5. Political Uncertainty and Economic Expectations: Since 2018, many Nicaraguans protested the political oppression of their president, Daniel Ortega. They believe he is tamping out political opposition from human rights groups and using the poor to maintain political power. This recent political upheaval has alarmed investors, who have withdrawn an estimated $634 million according to Bloomberg. In this tumultuous climate, the International Monetary Fund believes Nicaragua’s economy could spiral into recession with unemployment climbing to 10 percent.
  6. Underinvestment in Infrastructure: Due to extreme weather and political upheaval, Central America often lacks the infrastructure to mobilize its economy. Central American countries spend only around two percent of their total GDP on transportation and infrastructure. Panama is a testament to the benefits of investing in infrastructure. The revenue generated from the Cobre Panama mine and the Panama canal gave the nation an average GDP growth rate of 5.6 percent over the past five years.
  7. Maintaining Trade Agreements: One way Central American countries have greatly benefited in terms of economic development is through maintaining trade agreements like CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement). Between 2006 and 2016, Central America’s total trade with the U.S. increased by 17 percent and with the world, 20 percent.
  8. Grassroots Technology and Collaboration: Grassroots organizations have achieved economic success. For example, The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) partnered with Nicaragua and Peru to promote agricultural productivity in its host country of Colombia. The CIAT has 51 active projects in Central America and 15 projects currently in Nicaragua. Such projects include investments in innovative technology that would make the rural family’s crops more resilient and more abundant.
  9. The Future is Technical: Costa Rica has successfully created a robust medical-device manufacturing industry dating back to 1987. It now generates $4 billion in exports for the country. Even more surprising, in 2017, medical device exports surpassed agricultural products for the first time in the nation’s history. Costa Rica boasts quality human resources and manufacturing and houses 96 operating firms in the medical device manufacturing sector.
  10. The Exemplary Success of Panama: Many expect Panama’s GDP to grow at six percent compared to 3.6 percent in 2018 and the country has cut its poverty rate from 15.4 percent to 14.1 percent. Panama’s performance comes from investing in industries like mining, transportation and logistics. In order to continue to compete in the global economy, Panama must continue to invest in education. One initiative in the U.S. that is investing in education in Panama is the Environmental Education Through the Transformation of Schools into Eco-friendly and Sustainable Schools program at Johns Hopkins University. Its goal is to educate Panama’s students on how to make their public school system more environmentally friendly.

Central America has positioned itself well for future economic prosperity based on this brief analysis of 10 facts about economic development in Central America. In order to accelerate Central America’s path of economic growth, World Vision has run a program in Guatemala since the 1970s that provides sponsorships, education, health and protective rights to children. Other organizations, like CIAT, have more than 60 programs in the Central American regions.

– Luke Kwong
Photo: Flickr

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

Gang Violence in HonduasHonduras is one of the most impoverished nations in Central America. In 2016, figures showed that over 66 percent of its population lived in extreme poverty. These figures also reveal an estimated one out of five rural Hondurans is trying to survive on less than a mere $1.90 per day. Since poverty and criminal activity seem to have a close correlational relationship, it is no surprise that Honduras has held consistently high crime rates along with high poverty rates. What many may not know is that much of Honduras’s crime is due to gang violence. Below are seven facts about gangs in Honduras.

Seven Facts About Gangs in Honduras

  1. The two largest gangs in Honduras are the MS 13 and the Barrio 18. MS 13 is expanding internationally. Its scope and influence on crime in Honduras are hard to verify. In fact, since gang activity is so common in Honduras, it is hard for government officials to discern how much violence in the country is strictly due to gang-related activity.
  2. One gang runs several legal businesses. Recent investigations into the massive MS 13 gang activities in El Salvador uncovered a multimillion-dollar structure of legitimate businesses owned by the gang. MS 13 is a violent and massive gang that operates primarily in Honduras but also in El Salvador. Additionally, the gang has close ties with Mexican drug cartels.
  3. Honduras is attempting to rid its law enforcement of corruption. Since 2016, the nation of Honduras has dismissed around 4,455 police officers. This purge was an attempt to cleanse its law-enforcement from corrupted officials. These were officials who dabbled with organized crime and carried out extra-judicial killings. The country is also trying to create a new police training curriculum that centers on human rights.
  4. Ex-cops are being recruited into gangs. Despite good intentions, many of the released ex-police officers are now being hired by the vicious MS 13 gang as bodyguards and trainers for gang-related activities. MS 13 reportedly pays ex-officers 2.5 times the amount they made inside the police force. This allows the gang to become better-trained to conduct violent business.
  5. Families are leaving their homes to escape gang violence. Between 2016 and 2017, over 1,900 people fled their homes and communities because of gang-related death threats or extortions. It can be insidiously dangerous for residents of Honduras to live unaware of gang turf. Many may accidentally cross those invisible lines and put themselves in harm’s way.
  6. Homicide rates are decreasing, but Honduras still has one of the highest. Honduran homicide rates in 2018 are half of what they were in 2012. In 2012, Honduras experienced 86 murders per 100,000 citizens. In 2018, this number decreased to 42 murders per 100,000 citizens. Although making progress, Honduras still has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
  7. Honduras has increased the budget for protection from gangs. The budget for Honduran security and justice institutions has increased by over 50 percent in the last five years. In the last couple of years, the El Pozo and La Tolva maximum-security prisons were built. Some of the nation’s criminal and gang leaders are now incarcerated there. Security officials say this has limited their abilities to operate within the prison system.

These key facts about gangs in Honduras indicate that Honduras is trying to lessen the violence that plagues its streets. This is in tandem with foreign partners such as the United States. Overall, global attention and innovative thinking are necessary to provide solutions to the gang epidemic.

– Haley Hiday
Photo: Flickr

Education in Central AmericaMany Central Americans are attempting to migrate to the U.S., motivated by the prospect of finding a better life. An understanding of current conditions in Central America is key to understanding the reasons behind migration. Education is a vital component of any region. These 10 facts provide information about this vital component, giving readers a glimpse at education in Central America.

10 Facts about Education in Central America

  1. Many teens and young adults are not in school – Currently, Guatemala’s primary-school-aged population is almost fully enrolled in school. But secondary-school enrollment is not as common. About 2 million Guatemalans aged 15-24 are not in school. In 2017, 60,573 Salvadoran adolescents were not in school. In the same year, 192,262 Honduran adolescents were also not in school. Additionally, unemployment rates are high for this age group. Children in rural Guatemala are also significantly less likely to remain in school than their urban peers.
  2. There is low gender disparity – In 2017,  the number of Guatemalan adolescents enrolled in secondary school was 47.2 percent. Of these students, 47.1 percent of female adolescents were enrolled, while 47.2 percent of boys were enrolled. In 2016, 84.9 percent of girls were able to transition from primary school to secondary school. Additionally, 94.2 percent of boys were able to make the transition. Overall, the disparities between male and female enrollment were not large, indicating a positive trend in regard to education in Central America. Typically, gender disparities in education are higher in low-income countries.
  3. There are low completion and enrollment rates in secondary education – Only about half of Salvadoran children attend secondary school. Even fewer go on to graduate from secondary school. Roughly 300,000 Salvadorans between the ages of 15 to 24 are unemployed and not enrolled in school. High rates of poverty, food insecurity and violence prevent Salvadoran youth from accessing the education and vocational training that they need.
  4. Girls are more likely to complete primary school – On average, Salvadoran children spent about 11 and a half years in school. Girls were less likely to repeat grades and more likely to finish primary school. Boys were slightly more likely to transition from primary school to secondary school, with 91.72 percent of girls and 92.44 percent of boys making the transition.
  5. The Education Law seeks to improve the education system – In 2012, the Honduran government passed the Education Law as part of a major effort to reform its education system. The Education Law redefined “basic education” to extend to grades six through nine. It required preschool attendance and introduced a new system for hiring and monitoring teachers. The Education Law emphasized cooperation with rural populations in need of better schools.
  6. The average amount of schooling is ten years – On average, Honduran children spent about 10 years in school as of 2015. Girls spent an average of 10.66 years in school, while boys spent an average of 9.8 years in school.
  7. Enrollment rates are increasing – From 1999 to 2009, preschool enrollment increased in both Honduras and El Salvador. During the same period, primary school enrollment increased in Guatemala and El Salvador. The first decade of the 21st century saw a significant decrease in child labor, with more and more children in school instead of working.
  8. Literacy is high – As of 2015, 81.5 percent of Guatemalans were literate. As of 2016, 89 percent of Hondurans were literate. As of 2015, 81.5 percent of Salvadorans were literate.
  9. U.S. Congress is now involved – In 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation to address education in Central America. The legislation has an emphasis on the Northern Triangle region of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. 70 percent of migrants from the Northern Triangle claims to have received no education beyond primary school. This is a factor that contributes to their desire to migrate with their families. The U.S is currently providing data to the Northern Triangle countries about their educational systems in order to show them the areas that are most in need of attention.
  10. Central Americans are migrating for better education – Current migration rates from Central America to the U.S. are fueled in part by parents’ desires to access better education for their children. Central American public schools are underfunded, and the private schools in the region are too expensive for many families. In some cases, Honduran parents spend over half of their income to send their children to private schools, a practice that is not financially sustainable. They see more opportunity and safety in American public schools.

Improving Education in Central America

Overall, poverty greatly hinders educational progress in Central America. Many adolescents, especially in the Northern Triangle, are not in school and are unprepared to enter the workforce. Fortunately, there are many positive signs as well, such as nearly universal primary school enrollment and low gender disparities in secondary school enrollment. Education drives migration. As a result, aid programs prioritizing education initiatives could decrease migration and improve the lives of countless children. Improving the quality of education in Central America is vital to the future of the region and its people.

– Emelie Fippin
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

Children in HondurasHonduras is located in the heart of Central America with coastlines running along both the Atlantic and Pacific. Honduras’ population is nearly 9,750,000 according to World Bank. However, the country has seen a significant dip in population in recent years due to increased gang violence. The country is also recovering from the Presidential election of 2017 in which voter fraud and voter misgivings paved the way for the reelection of Honduras’ unpopular President, Juan Orlando Hernandez. One U.N. report determined that the number of people fleeing Honduras, as well as other Central American Countries, has risen by nearly 60 percent as a result.

Children in Honduras and their struggling families are often overlooked as a demographic. Helping Honduras Kids (HHK) is dedicated “to improve the level of dignity, education, opportunity and health for orphaned, abandoned, abused, and/or neglected and special needs children, single mother and families on the North Coast of Honduras.” Their mission statement alone alludes to the significant impact HHK has on these children’s lives.

Programs to Empower Children

Based in the Honduran city of La Ceiba, HHK’s central focus is helping children grow and develop through encouragement, counseling and education. Several programs help, like the Hogar de Amor (Home of Love), which cares for more than 20 children at a time. Though the first Hogar de Amor opened its door in 2007, HHK moved to a new location in 2010 due to pressure from local gangs. Their new home has been going strong for more than six years.

Another key program is the Jungle School. Founded in 2007, the Jungle School is an eight-classroom facility whose 10 teachers instruct over 200 hundred students in grades K-8th. HHK provides uniforms, school supplies and books along with a meal five days a week. The school also staffs a volunteer nurse who provides the students with medical and dental checkups. The nurse provides regular checkups to single and pregnant mothers. HHK subsidizes a Stay in School Outreach program that encourages kids of all ages to remain in school. 62 percent of the poorest children in Honduras will drop out of school by age 16. Programs like the Jungle School offer children the possibility for a brighter future in Honduras.

Aid and Impact

In 2007, gangs drove residents of the Campesino village off their land. HHK, along with Amigos of Honduras, purchased land for the displaced villagers in response. In addition, HHK has donated fortified rice, soup and truckloads of ripe bananas to the village. They have also constructed a central building for the village with a concrete floor and roof which will be used for meals and care of the roughly 350 children living in the village.

In a country plagued by gangs, drug violence, and political corruption, HHK is making a real difference for children in Honduras. The Honduran government does not allow adoptions from private orphanages like HHK. This means that many of these children will have the opportunity to take what they’ve learned from HHK and build a better Honduras for tomorrow.

Henry Burkert

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

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

10 Facts About Violence in Honduras

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

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

Grace Arnold
Photo: Flickr