As far as tech trends go, the topic of drones is one of the hottest and most controversial. Their military use is infamous and quite tragic in some cases, but this one understanding of drones shouldn’t totally taint the public’s perception of their potential uses.

The concept of drone technology should still be viewed as exciting, actually, considering what they’re capable of. As remote aerial tools, drones have the capacity to vastly improve lives and simplify important tasks.

Companies like Google and Amazon are already in talks of starting a drone delivery service for goods ordered online. However, it is actually illegal to use drones to make money in the United States, at least until laws are in place to regulate their use and safety.

Countries like El Salvador are taking full advantage of the technology’s positive uses, having recently launched drones for news coverage. Salvadoran newspaper, La Presna Grafica, bought three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), also known as drones, back in January. Since then, they’ve joined other Latin American countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Peru in using drones to enrich the news coverage of the area.

What’s interesting about the use of drones in Latin American countries is that there aren’t any regulatory laws concerning the technology. Meanwhile, commercial drone usage won’t be allowed in the U.S. for a least a few more years.

Drones used in modern warfare and those used to take aerial footage (or make deliveries) are vastly different. Still, the experimental airspace countries like El Salvador is creating has attracted concern about privacy and spying.

A unique security issue for El Salvador is rooted in the 12-year civil war that took place in the country 20 years ago. Some worry that biased news stations will use drones to spy on political opponents – or be urged to do so.

The bottom line is that laws protecting the privacy rights of citizens in El Salvador simply don’t exist. The airspace is unregulated and, for many people, this will invite fun and exciting experimentation with the fairly new drone technology. Yet, as history and even modern events show, there is always the possibility that a good thing will be used for bad purposes.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Global Post, Knight Center, Business Insider
Photo: La Prensagrafica

Education in Nicaragua

Many children in Nicaragua attend school for a few hours in the morning or evening, and work during the remainder of the day. Children must attend school in shifts in order to accommodate other students and to contribute financially to their families according to The Tico Times article, “Is Nicaragua’s education system failing?”

Abbreviated school days combined with student and teacher poverty has resulted in poor education in Nicaragua. UNICEF estimates that only 55 percent of children complete primary school and enter into secondary school. During secondary school the rate of completion continues to drop. While attendance rates have increased in the past ten years, university entrance exams demonstrate a continuous pattern of poor education quality in schools.

At the center of the quality issue, Nicaraguan teachers have very low salaries, earning an average of only $266 per month. The teachers also have a limited amount of supplies and facilities for students, forcing them to limit their curriculum. In The Tico Times article, José Treminio, Nicaragua’s education vice minister, exhibited concern about teacher’s salaries, stating, “We are determined to solve educational problems. We have a commitment to make a leap in the quality of education.” As a result, government has promised a small salary increase for teachers in 2014.

However, in a Nicaragua Dispatch article, “Impoverished teachers, poor schools”, Tim Rogers describes the financial struggles and government promises involved in Nicaragua’s education system. He states, “Nicaragua’s cash-strapped school system is delivering a poor quality of education.” Rogers maintains that the Nicaraguan government has not produce promised education results.

Rogers explains that the government, under the leadership of President Daniel Ortega, expresses a strong interest in improving national education. The government, however, only allots a small amount of the budget towards education, sending the public mixed messages about their endeavors. The amount does not provide enough money for adequate teachers’ salaries, student supplies, or school facilities.

The International Development Association (IDA), a division of the World Bank, offers aid to impoverished countries, providing loans or grants to promote economic growth. In 1995, the IDA partnered with the Nicaraguan government through the First Basic Education program. From 1994 to 2004, this program increased enrollment in primary schools in Nicaragua.

The IDA reported that, “The project contributed to an increase in the enrollment coverage of pre-schools and primary schools, particularly in targeted poor and indigenous communities.”

Even though Nicaragua now has a high primary school enrollment rate, school exams still show low student performance. In response, the IDA acknowledged that the quality of education still remained very low and initiated a similar program to strengthen the education system overall. IDA’s programs combined with an increase in government funding suggests that a sustainable system of education in Nicaragua is possible.

– Jaclyn Ambrecht

Sources: Tico Times, NICA, Nicaragua Dispatch, Child Info, World Bank
Photo: Compassion Internation

Latin American youth are finding it increasingly difficult to find gainful employment. Of the region’s 108 million people in the 18 to 24 year age bracket, 21.8 million of them are known as NEETs – not in employment, education or training. In Spanish they are called NiNis – ni estudian ni trabajan (they do not study, nor do they work). NiNis are a stigmatized group, pegged as lazy, unmotivated and apathetic.

To make matters worse, many Latin American youth who do find jobs end up working in poor conditions and lack the protection of labor rights. Six in every 10 young people in Latin America work in unlawful labor conditions, according to a recent International Labor Organization report.

The ILO study, titled Trabajo decente y juventud: políticas para la acción (Decent Work and Youth: Policies for Action), also reported that the youth unemployment rate is three times as high as that of adults and twice as high as the overall rate. Young people are unable to find decent jobs even though the current generation is better educated than any previous cohort.

In Guatemala, 78 percent of NiNis work informal positions doing housework and other menial chores. Yet the hard core of NiNis exists in Paraguay and Uruguay, with 48 and 45 percent of young people respectively neither employed, nor enrolled in an academic institution.

Several causes for youth unemployment exist. Education is key – if the education system is not in sync with an area’s labor market, graduates will not leave their educational institution with the necessary skills to break into and thrive in the workforce. Population growth has also contributed to the existence of such high numbers of unemployed youth around the globe. Additionally, during times of economic hardship, employers are more likely to lay off younger workers who do not represent as significant of an investment as their older, better trained counterparts.

The fundamental problem, outlined by the ILO report, is that not enough opportunities exist for Latin American youth. Guy Rider, director of the International Labor Organization, says that the “lack of access to opportunities for decent work generates frustration and discouragement among youth. There are 108 million reasons why we must act now.”

The good news is that some organizations are acting. Work4Youth, a collaborative project between the ILO and MasterCard Foundation, seeks to match underprivileged youths aged 14 to 24 with local businesses in order to give young people the resources they need to break into the workforce. W4Y has operations all around the globe, and it maintains a presence in Brazil, Peru, El Salvador and Colombia.

The young generation currently entering the workforce is a valuable resource. Some estimates hold that if unemployment among young people were halved, the global GDP would experience an increase of 4 to 7 percent. In the words of 21-year-old Astrid Estefanía Garibay of Mexico: “People think ‘young’ and ‘NiNi,’ and they think about drug addicts and bums.” These young people simply need help connecting with opportunities rather than being stigmatized for their employment status.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: IB Times, ILO, Pravda.ru, Press TV
Photo: Work4Youth

Over the past decade, Latin America’s economy has improved due to the rising quantity of exports. At the same time, rapid growth of urban centers has created socioeconomic problems like an increase in prostitution and sex trafficking. One of the consequences of the urbanization of Latin America is a rapid increase in population, which in turn results in a larger number of unemployment and homelessness. The high population outnumbers the amount of jobs available for people, especially women. The consequence is that more women living in these urban slums resorting to commercial sex work. These women then become vulnerable to diseases and to violent environments.​

In Brazil, over 40,000 women have murdered for simply being women in the past 10 years. And Honduras is labeled one of the most dangerous places to live for a woman. There, the violent killings of women there have tripled. Unfortunately, only 5 percent of these crimes have been investigated and the murderers prosecuted.

Columbia is facing significant gender-based violence because of military conflict within the country. Women are often attacked who take part in activism to encourage political and social reforms for more representation and rights.

The third most violent place in the world for women is Guatemala. The county ordered a new law to prevent violence against women in 2008, making it the first Latin American country to do so. Yet since the law was implemented, not much has been done to support the new reforms. Women continue to have problems finding prosecution for the culprits.

Not only does violence cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of women in Latin America, but it decreases the region’s social and economic development. The killings are preventing these women from contributing to the economic growth of the country. Seven Latin America countries rank in the top 10 countries in the world for most domestic violence against women.

One answer to this matter is the program U.N. Women, which helps to strengthen the representation of women in government and politics. New policies are developed for women’s economic development; particularly, women in isolated and rural regions in Latin America. These policies aim to create equal and fair workplaces for all women who are seeking or already have employment and to create job opportunities.

UN Women is helping to end gender based violence against women in Latin America by creating services for victims and survivors. This will help by implementing laws to protect women and provide justice for those in need.

— Rachel Cannon

Sources: CSIS, UN Women 1, UN Women 2
Photo: UN Women

Since 2007, when several South American nations led the push for a gay rights charter in the United Nations, a wave of change has been sweeping through the region concerning the rights of the LGBT community. A handful of Latin American leaders have been leading the charge against same-sex discrimination, staking out new territories of human rights as they go.

Costa Rica

President Luis Guillermo Solis of Costa Rica observed the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17 by raising the gay pride flag over the Presidential Palace. The ceremony marked the day in 1990 when the United Nations World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its official list of mental illnesses.

On May 16 President Solis declared via tweet that “we are going to fight vigorously against every form of discrimination. We will pursue without rest an inclusive and respectful society.” The post was accompanied by a picture of the rainbow banner flying alongside Costa Rica’s own national flag above the Casa Presidencial.

President Solis made the significant gesture in solidarity with the LGBT community not even a month after beginning his first term as President of the Central American state. At this point Costa Rica has not legalized same-sex marriage, but President Solis is seeking to eliminate barriers to medical benefits for same-sex couples.


In April of 2014 Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner became the godmother of Umma Azul, the newborn daughter of a lesbian couple. Through this formality the new mothers wanted to thank President Fernandez de Kirchner for her progressive policies concerning same-sex unions — in 2010 the Kirchner administration passed a marriage equality law which legalized same-sex marriage and allowed gay and lesbian couples to legally adopt children.

Another Argentine in the world spotlight is Pope Francis. The new papacy’s “who am I to judge” demeanor, accompanied by messages of compassion and loving acceptance, have placed him in high esteem with many in the LGBT community, even landing him a spot on the cover of the gay interest magazine The Advocate.


Brazil legalized same-sex marriage in 2011 under President Dilma Rousseff. Brazil is the largest country in Latin America, has the world’s largest Catholic population and, as recently as December 2013, held the world’s largest communal gay wedding. A total of 130 gay and lesbian couples entered into legal unions at the event.

The city of Sao Paulo also boasts the largest gay pride parade in the world. Organizers of the event claimed that the May 2014 parade was enjoyed by 2.5 million people.


24-year-old Daniel Zamudio died on March 27, 2013, three weeks after being beaten by a group of anti-gay assailants in Santiago. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera successfully pushed lawmakers to pass an Anti-Discrimination Law following Zamudio’s death, which clearly defines and denounces all forms of discrimination.

Since 2012, several openly gay and transsexual politicians have been elected to office in Chile. Jaime Parada Hoyl was the first, elected as a councilman in Providencia after becoming well known for his gay rights activism following the Zamudio incident.

Other nations seeking to reduce discrimination in Latin America include Uruguay, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, and Mexico, where same-sex marriage has been legal in the capital city since 2010.

Amid seemingly endless news streams of natural disasters, political unrest and corruption scandals throughout Latin America, the fight for equal rights spreading through the region is a breath of fresh air. Less systemic discrimination in Latin America could mean less homophobic violence. Less violence means more productivity within communities. Strong communities, after all, are built on the respect shared among their members.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Freedom to Marry, Huffington Post, Twitter
Photo: Huffington Post

The 2013 Global Study on Homicide released by the United Nations has listed the Americas as the world’s most violent region, accounting for 36 percent of the world’s 437,000 homicides in 2012. In particular, one of the world’s most violent sub regions is the so-called “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. Honduras remains the world’s most violent country by far, with 91.4 murders per 100,000 people in 2012.

Organized crime has played a key part in the uptick in violence in Latin America and accounts for about 30 percent of all murders in 2012, up from 25 percent in 2011. The report contrasts this figure with the region of Asia, where gang activity accounted for only about 1 percent of murders. This does not mean that there are fewer gangs or less gang activity in other parts of the world, only that they are more firmly established and therefore do not need to fight amongst each other and the government for territory.

Importantly, the report notes that the conviction rate for murder in Latin America is a paltry 24 percent, way below the 48 percent figure in Asia or the 81 percent figure enjoyed in Europe.

Gender also plays a role in the murders; the murder rate for males between 15-29 years of age in Latin America is four times higher than in the rest of the world.

Although the UN report stated figures that were widely expected, the report also mentions some policy reforms that could mitigate the rate of violence in Latin America. Cracking down on police corruption is one method of ensuring a decreased murder rate, as is allocating more funds and resources to police forces in the region, which are severely underfunded.

Overcrowded prisons within Latin America are also a problem, as criminals often end up committing violent crimes after being released from prison. Strengthening alternatives for at-risk youth in the region, such as education programs would also help to reverse the systemic causes of the violence.

–Jeff Meyer

Sources: Insight Crime, UNODC, Latin Times
Photo: Fun of Art

Infrastructure Latin America
Good infrastructure plays a critical role in the development process. When it is well developed, it offers a method to improve economic growth and financial inclusion, thereby reducing poverty. However, when infrastructure is poorly developed, it exacerbates the situation of many poor countries and introduces a cycle of poverty. Infrastructure development is particularly important for Latin America, which has a relatively low quality of infrastructure development when compared to similarly developed countries.


Why Infrastructure in Latin America Matters

On the other hand, infrastructure can have a positive impact on a country’s economy. A diverse body of literature suggests that improved transportation infrastructure may stimulate free trade in any given economy as a result of many factors. For example, better infrastructure translates to a more efficient economy: it becomes easier to move goods and services within countries and across borders and decreases transportation costs involving inventory and logistics, therefore expanding the size of the potential market. A further incentive for improving regional infrastructure is the increased attraction by foreign investors, who tend to invest in countries with well-built roads and developed supply chains. Lastly, developed infrastructure can reduce social and economic inequality, particularly in rural regions where poorer infrastructure lends itself to difficulties in transporting goods to market.

In fact, there are suggestions by the World Bank that there is a correlation between the quality of infrastructure assets and a lower Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient measures levels of inequality, where a score of 1.0 translates to perfect inequality where one person owns all the wealth, and a score of 0 translates to perfect equality, where incomes are the same across the board.

There are two types of infrastructure—“hard” infrastructure and “soft” infrastructure. Hard infrastructure is the durable and tangible assets that make up a network of transportation such as roads, railways, canals and airports. Soft infrastructure, by contrast, refers to the set of institutions that facilitates the movement of goods and services, such as health and law enforcement, or to the level of regulation regarding trade, such as the number of documents required by governments for import or export.

Issues involving hard infrastructure need to be addressed across the entire region. For instance, LAC countries spend almost twice as much to import goods by freight than does the U.S., mainly due to poor hard infrastructure development. In order to raise this hard infrastructure gap to a competitive level, the region should boost its investment in infrastructure at a rate equivalent to 4 to 6% of its GDP per year.

To reduce poverty in Latin America and promote financial and social inclusion, infrastructure development is a factor that must be included in the policies of governments.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: Peterson Institute, The World Bank, Harvard University, The World Bank
Photo: Latin Trade

When people are asked to picture Latin America, an image of poverty usually comes to mind. Yet while it is true that Latin America has historically been a region of high rates of poverty and income inequality, income inequality has in fact declined in 13 of 17 countries as measured by the Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient is used to determine the level of income inequality in a country wherein a score of 0 is given to countries with complete equality (countries whose citizens have the same income) while a score of 1 is given to perfectly unequal countries (those in which one person owns all the income).

Recent data by the World Bank suggests that there has been a successful push to reduce poverty in the region, with the number of people living in extreme poverty (defined as those living on less than $2.50 a day) halved to 12.3 percent between 2003 and 2012. The largest proportion of the population, at 38 percent, includes those that are most vulnerable to falling back into poverty. This last part includes those making between $4-$10 a day. The middle class in Latin America is growing extremely rapidly at 34.3 percent of the population and is set to overtake the most vulnerable to become the largest segment of Latin America. The middle class is defined as the number of people who earn between $10-$50 a day.

Yet these numbers are a bit misleading. There continues to be a large degree of inequality between Latin Americans of different ethnicities. In Brazil, 76.4 percent of primary school children who are descended from Europeans are enrolled in school, while only 65.3 percent of indigenous or African children are enrolled. Similarly, in Chile 97 percent of families of European descent are enrolled in school, while 74.4 percent of children of indigenous or African descent are enrolled.

This is significant because as the middle class expands, it’s going to be able to expend more money on disposable goods and fuel economic growth. It will also be interesting to see what happens as the middle class demands more of a stake in the political process.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: World Bank, IARIW
Photo: Not Adam and Steve