Guatemala Fights Against CorruptionThe April 23 decision by Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina to renew the mandate for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, creates substantial inroads for poverty reduction in the country.

CICIG is an effort by the United Nations to “eradicate illegal groups and clandestine security structures that operate in Guatemala.” CICIG has been working in the country since 2007 to strengthen institutions that can successfully challenge illegal criminal networks and bring an end to the fraudulent governance practices that plague the country.

Otto Pérez Molina — who back in March was reluctant to extend the CICIG mandate into 2017 — made his decision amidst a tax scandal that sparked protests across the country. The U.S. State Department officially welcomed the President’s change of heart, and for good reason.

Inept institutions and corrupt officials seriously hamper with a country’s development machinery. Poor investment climates, macroeconomic volatility, mismanagement of public funds and the struggles of doing business, just some of the repercussions of corruption, impede growth and contribute to poverty. A 2005 study put the cost of global corruption at around $1 trillion annually.

A great poverty reduction target then, for the $25 million the U.S. Government has contributed to CICIG since 2008. These funds have supported the UN prosecuting body in the investigation and litigation of over 50 high-level cases ranging from embezzlement to drug trafficking and murder. CICIG’s involvement has been crucial in subverting the power of criminal groups, as Guatemala’s institutions are incapable of tackling corruption on their own.

Without extra-judicial assistance, an incapable government and organized crime would continue to distort markets, deliver desperately needed public services inefficiently and restrain the potential for human capital led growth. In a country with such high rates of poverty and income inequality, this is a shame. In 2011, the World Bank put the percent of Guatemala’s population living below the national poverty line at 53.7 percent. The most recent data, also from the World Bank, ranks Guatemala as the second most unequal country in Latin America with regards to income—a reflection of its high level of corruption.

However, Guatemala is not unique in the region. Honduras and El Salvador also experience entrenched corruption, which has created a breeding ground for violence in the so-called Northern Triangle, a region comprised of the three aforementioned States. Experts believe the violence has been fueling the flow of child migrants from the Northern Triangle to the United States.

Ending impunity and building capacity for public institutions in Guatemala will curb violence, unlock growth and reduce poverty. If success continues, this approach can be a model for the whole Northern Triangle.

In the context of a proposed $1 billion aid package for the Central American region in 2015 and the Obama administration’s request for $3.7 billion in border security measures, the continued presence of CICIG in Guatemala represents a small but powerful way for the United States to fund development in the region.

– John Wachter

Sources: CICIG, CICIG Center for Strategic and International Studies Immigration Impact Tico Times Tico Times Tico Times U.S. State Department World Bank World Bank World Bank World Bank
Photo: Flickr

unaccompanied minors
Members of the GOP have insisted that President Obama’s $3.7 billion immediate spending demand to curtail the flow of children across the U.S. border is too costly.

Republicans want to pass legislation that would accelerate the deportation of unaccompanied minors. Since the end of 2013, more than 40,000 children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have turned themselves over to officials at the border.

Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, insists that the best way to stop the flow of children is for them to be returned to their families in their homeland. He stated that it would discourage families and traffickers from sending children to the U.S. border.

While McCain agreed that many of the children are escaping danger and violence at home, he also claimed, “We cannot have an unending stream of children, whether it’d be from Central America or any place else, to come into our country with all of the strains and pressures that it puts on our capabilities.”

The legislation that Republicans want to introduce would allow Central American minors to be deported more quickly. Unaccompanied minors from any country would be able to have a hearing within seven days of their processing by the Human Services and the Department of Health and Human Services. An immigration judge would rule within three days whether the child could stay or would have to be deported.

The Obama administration has agreed to give support for laws that will speed up deportation proceedings, even though prominent congressional Democrats are against it.

Representative Mike McCaul, R-Texas, Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, stated that Republicans are contemplating a limited emergency funding bill that would supply aid through the end of the fiscal year.

Representative Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky and House Appropriations Chairman, told reporters that the current bill was excessive, but did not comment on what funding level the committee seeks.

A new poll reported that there is broad public disapproval of both President Obama and Republican congressmen’s handling of the flow of unaccompanied minors at the southern border. In fact 58 percent of Americans, including 54 percent of Latinos, disapprove of Obama’s management of the situation.

66 percent disapprove of the GOP’s handle on the crisis of unaccompanied minors.

The administration’s attitude towards this crisis is also facing opposition from Democrats and immigrant rights organizations who are afraid that deporting the children will put them at risk of returning to dangerous conditions in their home countries.

– Colleen Moore

Sources: USA Today, The Washington Post
Photo: ABC News

drug policy
Over the past year, an influx of children has been immigrating to the United States. This has been connected to the increasing violence in Central America, which in turn, has recently been linked back further to the drug trade based in the areas of emigration. This drug trade seems to be fueled by markets in the United States.

Since October 2013, about 57,000 unaccompanied children have illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Three out of four of these children are from Central America, and most from Honduras.

Honduran President Juan Hernandez spoke out about the link between drug trafficking violence and children fleeing the country. “Seven out of nine children who venture on the dangerous journey toward the United States come from the most violent areas of Honduras. Those are also the regions where the drug cartels are most active,” he stated.

The President then requested the United States to aid the drug problems continuing in Central America, as the United States fuels the market. After a group of Hondurans were deported back to San Pedro Sula, Honduran first lady Ana Garcia de Hernandez spoke out about the issue, stating:

“The countries consuming drugs need to support and take joint responsibility because if there wasn’t demand, there wouldn’t be production and we wouldn’t be living like we are.”

While the cartels were mainly in Mexico and Colombia in the past, large operations were carried out to minimize the illegal drug trade there, which pushed much of the trafficking to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Hernandez suggests that the United States fund similar anti-drug programs in Central America that have been carried out in Mexico and Colombia in order to curb violence. This, in turn, would lead to less emigration.

While Honduras is hopeful for aid from the U.S., they are still making other plans to address the crisis. The Honduran government requested Mexican officials to add four new Honduran consulates to the U.S.-Mexico border in order to provide humanitarian aid to those who need it.

It is predicted that without U.S. aid directed toward alleviating the drug problem, more than 150,000 unaccompanied minors could leave Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras for the United States border.

Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program, states that one of the biggest challenges for the U.S. will be creating a balance between responding to the influx of immigrants humanely without encouraging more to cross over illegally.

The current U.S. fiscal plan announced by the Department of State is to slash $285 million in aid to Latin America and place it toward military training, drug policy and social programs. Central America is hopeful that this will change.

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: BBC, Huffington Post, The Telegraph, Fox News
Photo: Yahoo

It’s no secret that the U.S.-Mexico border sees thousands of illegal immigrants attempt and succeed to cross the border over the Rio Grande into the U.S. However, it is not always who border patrol expects to find. Children, solo or in small groups, and as young as 5 years old, have become more common in the past few years.

These children hail from all over Central America and Mexico, attempting to be reunited with their families. Often, parents make it across the border then send money home to their country until they can afford an escort, or coyote, to bring their kids to the U.S. In some cases, families rely on other family members due to lack of funds. What’s more concerning is the differential treatment the children receive based on where they run from and how they are treated in detainment facilities if caught.

In the cases of Central American countries — El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — children receive more accommodating treatment from U.S. guards. Mexican children are deported almost immediately, while Latin American children are held and then reunited with their families in the U.S., joining the 11 million other undocumented immigrants.

The reason for this preferential treatment stems from the causation of the children fleeing. Often they are escaping drug trades, gangs and extreme violence, and see the U.S. as their only hope for solace. Some 47,000 children entered the U.S. from Central American countries last year in hopes to avoid their dim futures in the home countries.

However, the U.S. does not directly support the influx of illegal immigrants. Currently the U.S. is offering $40 million to Guatemala, $25 million to El Salvador and $18.5 million to Honduras to fight domestic violence in their homes.

Should these children find themselves in U.S. processing and detention centers, Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson expresses deep concern. Johnson spoke to CNN, saying, “A processing center — and a number of us here have seen them ourselves — are no place for children, and to put a child into the hands of a criminal smuggling organization is not safe either,” referring to the South Texas location where many child immigrants find themselves.

Furthermore, once a child has been detained it could be years before they achieve a level of citizenship due to the severe backlog. The Washington Post reports that the backlog at the federal immigration court system of pending cases is nearing 360,000. This absurdly high number leaves families on their own to struggle. As of last October, U.S. Border Patrol has detained 52,000 children attempting to cross the border and while the U.S. is trying to help these children feel safe in their own homes, it’s clear that more work is necessary to see an improvement in quality of life in Central American and Mexican homes.

– Elena Lopez

Photo: PBS

sala negra
Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez is pushing the bounds of traditional media in a project called Sala Negra that seeks to shed light on violence and instability in Central America. His project is an offshoot of digital San Salvador-based media outlet El Faro (,) which claims to be the first exclusively online newspaper in Latin America.

Sala Negra has quickly become the center of investigative crime reporting in Central America. Martínez, the project’s director, says that the reality of Latin America is so complex that in order to get to the bottom of what is happening there, every rule of the traditional media must be broken.

The digital venture, which began in 2010, digs up information on violent events in the region in the hopes of reaching a more thorough understanding of why 2 million Central Americans leave their homes for the United States every year, crossing through Mexico’s treacherous territory and enduring countless other difficulties.

Sala Negra is staffed by five reporters, three photographers and one documentarian. Martínez jokes that the fast food industry would never approve of the project’s pace, as each member of the team works on only five in-depth reports each year. The site is driven by quality rather than quantity.

In 2013, Sala Negra released a book called “Crónicas Negras.” The publication is a compilation of 18 of the best investigative pieces from Sala Negra’s first year. Topics revolve around the gang activity, deportations and civil wars that have caused so much turmoil in modern-day Central America. It thoroughly examines the weak states and strong organized crime networks that cause havoc in the most violent countries in the region – El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala.

The strategy of Sala Negra is to move away from fast, sensational news and toward in-depth, investigative reporting. Martínez articulates that this kind of reporting is desperately needed in the region as profound, investigative journalism is extremely scarce, especially in Central America.

In the introduction to “Crónicas Negras,” Sala Negra admits that there are no reliable numbers for those killed in the everyday war being fought in Central America. There are no formal borders, nor does the war have a name. Yet, the text laments, it is the worst war because the people who fight in it have forgotten the value of life for being so in love with death.

Journalists like Martínez and his colleagues at Sala Negra embody honorable, responsible journalism. Their mission is to uncover the truth behind violence and migrant flows in and out of Central America in order to know how to move forward and bring a bit of justice to such a tumultuous area.

— Kayla Strickland

Sources: Sala NegraEl Faro
Photo: Starmedia

According to a report by the journal Science, drug smuggling is linked to a rising rate of deforestation in Central America.

To ease the process of illegal drug transportation in Honduras and Guatemala, landing strips are built in remote forests. As a result, the report argues that there is a correlation between the recent increase in drug activity and the deforestation rate in these locations.

“In Honduras, the level of large-scale deforestation per year more than quadrupled between 2007 and 2011, at the same time as cocaine movements in the country also showed a significant rise,” states the BBC while covering the report published in Science.

In many cases the governments of Guatemala and Honduras have less control over the forests and people of the countries than drug dealers. Now that Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, people within the indigenous communities are too intimidated to report any activity involving drugs.

The researchers assert that declaring a “war on drugs” causes traffickers to expand their activities into rural areas, which ultimately harms indigenous communities and ecologically important forests.

“Once you start fighting them, you scatter them into more remote locales and greater areas become impacted, more people get involved and you raise their profits as they put a risk premium on their products,” said Dr. Kendra Mcsweeney, the lead author of the study.

As strange as it may sound, building illegal landing strips for drug-transporting planes in remote areas is actually a common practice. According to an InSight Crime article, the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense revealed, “92 landing strips had been decommissioned during the first six months of Enrique Pena Nieto’s presidency.”

Unlike Honduras and Guatemala, the Mexican government is more successful in shutting down illegal landing strips. However, the demand of drugs from the United States is too strong for the drug cartels to discontinue their operations. It was not long until the cartels began coming up with new ways to transport their product into the U.S.

“Planes have been modified to be able to take off on very short runways, or land on rocky terrain. Meanwhile, ultralight aircraft, which are hard to detect and can use runways less than 100 feet long, are now being increasing used for very short flights across the U.S.-Mexico border,” the article states.

Deforestation is a problem not only for Guatemala and Honduras, but also for the rest of the world because it contributes to global climate change.

Juan Campos

Sources: BBC, InSight Crime
Photo: UWW

Palmetto Medical Initiative (PMI) — a global health nonprofit — announced its $1.5 million Revolutionizing Global Health campaign, which aims to build five medical centers in East Africa and Central America by 2015. $1.2 million has already been pledged from lead donors Darla Moore, Seacoast Church and others. The group of donors are counting on individuals and corporations to raise the remainder before Dec. 31, 2013.

Founded in 2009 by Dr. Ed O’Bryan, a physician at MUSC, and Matt Alexander, an entrepreneur and nonprofit executive, PMI was created as a permanent health care solution for impoverished regions.  In 2011, PMI opened its first hospital in Masindi, Uganda. Within 13 months of opening, the hospital achieved self-sustainability and has served more than 50,000 patients. The typical doctor visit costs patients $2, making it possible for more than 98% of all patients to cover the entire cost of their care.

“I invite our community to join me and support PMI’s campaign,” said Darla Moore, financier, philanthropist and one of the lead contributors to the current campaign. “On a mission trip with PMI in 2009, I saw firsthand the desperate health care needs of so many people. PMI has proven its ability to provide the same quality health care we value in the U.S.”

The regions selected by PMI for the Revolutionizing Global Health campaign lack basic quality health care and, all in all, are some of the poorest corners of the world. These areas have exceptionally high mortality rates, widespread disease and low life expectancy rates. With the contribution of generous donors, the campaign will be up and running for the new year, and represent a prominent step forward for the growth of global health.

– Sonia Aviv

Sources: Post and Courier, Moultrie News, ABC News

When the topic of global poverty arises, most people’s thoughts first turn towards addressing the food shortages that plague developing countries. What these people may not realize, however, is that the lack of access to safe and affordable drinking water is an equally dangerous and imminent issue as the global hunger crisis.

The Millennium Water Alliance (MWA) arose to tackle the water safety issue head-on as a response to the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development’s as the United States’ commitment to “reduce the proportion of people without access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation” by 2015.

Since 2003, the MWA has founded major field programs in Africa and Central America that instate integrated approaches to water resource management in impoverished developing countries. In Kenya, for example, the MWA tries to provide safe water, improved sanitation and hygiene education to areas of rural Kenya that have been impacted and threatened by drought and climate change.

Water safety initiatives can be a springboard for solving many other health and economic crises in developing countries. The MWA’s initiatives impede the spread of water-borne illness, which in turn decreases the community’s health costs. Meanwhile, the same initiatives promote integrated water resource management that can employ members of the community and increase economic efficiency.

Many organizations believe that the challenge of alleviating global poverty must start from the bottom and work its way up. MWA takes this idea to the next level as it limits its scope solely to water safety, recognizing the domino effect that access to clean, safe water can have on a suffering nation.

– Alexandra Bruschi
Source: Millenium Water Alliance, Global Giving
Source: Millenium Water Alliance

How Bono Got Interested in Global Poverty

Nowadays, Bono’s face is synonymous with activism. The lead singer of U2 is known as much for his humanitarian work as for his music, if not more. Known for his charisma and tirelessness, Bono has been championing causes such as poverty reduction and AIDS relief for decades. He is the celebrity face of activism and has had incredible impact in garnering momentum for the movement of international aid.

Bono got his start in activism after he performed at Bob Geldorf’s groundbreaking fundraiser, Live Aid, in the late eighties. The performance spurred a month-long trip to Ethiopia with his wife, Ali Hewson, where they worked on a famine relief project. The two said they were stunned by the conditions, and Bono walked away determined to change what he’d seen. He repeatedly tells the story of the end of his visit, when a man asked the singer to take his son with him. As Bono explains, “He knew in Ireland that his son would live and in Ethiopia, his son would die…At that moment, I became the worst thing of all; I became a rock star with a cause.”

After that, his humanitarian work began in earnest and has only increased in intensity and scale. The early 90s saw tours around Central America and campaigns with major organizations to rally support for development work. As U2’s fame grew, so did Bono’s influence. He is a key player in a number of powerful advocacy organizations including DATA (Debt, Aid, Trade, Africa), the ONE campaign and the Make Poverty History movement, as well as launching an ethical fashion campaign and promoting the RED campaign. He’s famous for using his celebrity star power to draw attention to emergency causes throughout the world and has become a regular at political events. He’s been credited with the implementation of the US’s massive and incredible AIDS program in Africa and been awarded an honorary knighthood for his efforts.

– Farahnaz Mohammed

Sources: TED – Bono’s Call to Action for Africa
Photo: Andpop

USAID Helps At-Risk Youth in Central America
The program administered by USAID called “A Ganar” (“To Win”), will be branching out to include support for at-risk youth throughout Central America. The program, funded jointly by USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank, currently operates in 15 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The program aims to increase education and training for youth in Central and South American countries as a way of preventing violence and crime and to encourage youth to participate in activities and training that will allow them to have meaningful careers.

Partners of the Americas, who are tasked with putting this program into practice, will administer a four-step process with young adults aged 16 through 24, which includes math and reading courses, participation in team sports, career training, and linking youth with private companies.

Although the program will be new to Central America, it has already been in practice in other countries since 2005 and has achieved great results. Since 2005, 11,000 young people have participated with 5,000 of those involved with a job, furthering their education, or starting their own enterprises.

Christina Kindlon

Source: USAID