St. Vincent’sDespite appearing to be a tropical paradise to prospective tourists, St. Vincent’s population faces a harsh economic reality. Its population is currently experiencing a 30 percent unemployment rate while more than 90 percent of the people there don’t have healthcare insurance. The U.S. doesn’t have to sit on the sidelines while conditions fail to improve for those struggling to escape poverty. By reversing these statistics, The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Drug Trafficking in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ high unemployment and low health insurance rates are primarily consequences of its economic downturn during the global recession of 2008 (St. Vincent had a 0.6 percent decline in GDP) and its subsequent sluggish recovery. In combination with this, the country has experienced difficult agricultural seasons over the years, particularly due to hurricanes, that have resulted in fluctuating yields with a -3 percent growth in 2015 up to a record 14.5 percent in 2016 then down to 1.7 percent GDP growth in 2017.

This is how drug trafficking gained more ground within St. Vincent’s borders. Faced with uncertain incomes year to year, an increasing number of desperate islanders have sought work growing marijuana, participating in the narcotics trade from Venezuela or both. So much so, that The U.S. State Department’s 2018 International Narcotics Reports claims that “St. Vincent continues to be a primary source for cannabis in the Eastern Caribbean.” Faced with no income or health care, illicit trafficking has become a necessary means for survival.

The drug trade has become a serious foreign policy issue for The United States along its southern border. Drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana, not only enter The U.S. through Mexican land routes but now increasingly so through Caribbean countries like St. Vincent. Drug traffickers rely on yachts, “go-fast” boats, fishing vessels and cargo ships for transporting illicit drugs up The Caribbean to The U.S. or Europe.

US  Foreign Aid in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The U.S. Department of State and The U.S. Agency for International Development have both implemented foreign aid projects meant to improve conditions in St. Vincent while simultaneously strengthening U.S. security. This is one example of how The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has embraced a youth-centered strategy that employs the use of programs such as the Skills and Knowledge for Youth Project (SKYE), The Community, Family and Youth Resilience Program (CFYR) and the Liberty Lodge Boys Training Center. All of these U.S. sponsored programs provide funding and training for youth to get an and education and to find employment while also receiving healthcare benefits.

In particular, SKYE provides 2,000 youth in The Caribbean with counseling, employment skills training and rehabilitation services. Similarly, CYFR intends to seek out evidence-based solutions to local issues through community involvement, greater access to employment and a reformed law enforcement system. The Liberty Lodge Boys Training Center, funded and supported by USAID, has recently been re-established in order to ensure that young men will have access to education and employment and be able to provide for their families.

While these programs and initiatives are fairly young, they do have the potential to have a significant impact on the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. All utilize local resources with the goal of strengthening local authorities and leaders to become self-sustaining.

Another way that The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to St. Vincent and the Grenadines is through a more secure Caribbean. The U.S. Department of State has teamed up with The Department of Defense to build and maintain a stronger government and create more security in The Caribbean. This joint venture between The U.S. and The Caribbean nations is known as The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). The CBSI demonstrates an overlap between U.S. humanitarian and U.S. security policies.

Since 2010, The U.S. has committed $437 million in funding to the CBSI with three significant goals in mind.

  1. Reduce illicit trafficking through programs that focus on counter-narcotics to stemming the flow of illegal arms sales.
  2. Increase public safety and security by improving law enforcement and judicial institutions.
  3. The promotion of social justice through justice reform, anti-corruption reform and increased educational, social and economic opportunities for youth.

The DEA reported seizing 658.18 kg of cocaine and 267 metric tons of marijuana during the first 9 months of 2017 thanks to efforts to upgrade security measures in the area. Furthermore, they have seized $1.3 million in drug proceeds, which is used on programs to further support the country’s efforts to stamp down on drug trafficking. The funding provided by the CBSI has also led to the building and funding of new rehabilitation clinics throughout St. Vincent in order to help reduce drug addiction.

Here, poverty and security have become one in the same. U.S. foreign policy advocates are utilizing security policies and funding to better protect the people in The Caribbean while, at the same time, protecting those at home in The States. Moreover, creating better living conditions for the citizens of St. Vincent, especially the youth, is viewed as a necessity to securing The Caribbean from illicit trafficking within and outside the region.

The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to St. Vincent and the Grenadines precisely because of the fact that it strengthens regional security in the Americas. Initiatives, such as the CBSI and CFYR, demonstrate that foreign aid and poverty reduction are vital tools within U.S. foreign policy. St. Vincent and the Grenadines may be a tiny blip on the map, but with U.S. foreign aid, it could have a substantial impact on the Americas.

– Tanner Helem
Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in El SalvadorEl Salvador is a country about the size of New Jersey, with a population of just over six million. In the past decade, poverty levels in this Central American country have dropped significantly. But 36 percent of rural Salvadorians still live in poverty. Why? These are three of the biggest causes of poverty in El Salvador:

1. An Unproductive Economy
Levels of poverty in countries are nearly always tied to the vitality of that country’s economy. And while El Salvador’s economy has made strides in recent years, it still suffers from stagnation. This is particularly evident in the agricultural sector. Salvadorian coffee crops have been damaged by coffee rust, a fungus that kills coffee beans. As coffee exports decreased, the economy suffered. Many rural Salvadorians were plunged into poverty. This sluggish economy is particularly detrimental for youth populations, who struggle to find employment. Fortunately, organizations like the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) are offering help. Between 2015 and 2021, IFAD plans to invest 41 million US dollars into El Salvador’s agriculture community. IFAD’s strategy is a community-based approach, another sign of their commitment to Salvadorians. In short, IFAD’s intentional aid is helping eradicate the causes of poverty that plague El Salvador.

2. Crime
El Salvador is the most violent country in the world. Much of El Salvador’s crime is attributable to rampant gang violence and drug trafficking. According to World Finance, “approximately 70 percent of businesses in El Salvador are subject to gang-related crime.” This extortion stunts the El Salvadorian economy, leading to widespread poverty. The World Bank estimates that in 2011 alone, crime cost El Salvador’s government over two billion US dollars, 10.8 percent of the country’s GDP. By 2014, the cost of crime increased to 4 billion US dollars, 16 percent of El Salvador’s GDP. These levels of crime lead to massive instability and cripple the economy. These outcomes inevitably increase poverty levels.

3. Climate Change
Climate change is the most silent of all the causes of poverty in El Salvador, but is just as dangerous. El Salvador is highly susceptible to changes in weather due to its location. As the Earth’s temperature’s rise, El Salvador’s crop yield is expected to drop by 30 percent by 2050. Salvadorians are already beginning to feel the effects of climate change. Drought has affected over 80,000 people. As climate change continues, farming in El Salvador will become harder and harder. Agriculture accounts for 17.3 percent of total employment. As farming becomes less viable, more rural Salvadorians will find themselves in poverty.

Understanding the causes of poverty in El Salvador is vital for discovering routes towards change. Organizations like IFAD and Salvadorians themselves have already begun the work of development. But more needs to be done, and you can help! All it takes is a phone call or email to your representatives. Urge them to support aid and investment in developing countries, including El Salvador.

Adesuwa Agbonile

Photo: Flickr

10 Disturbing and Terrible Facts About Mexican Drug Cartels
Continual and sensational news coverage of Mexican drug cartels may have desensitized people to the realities and sources of the violence. It is easy to forget how long the crisis imposed by the cartel has gone on and how far it is from over. To place the issue back into perspective, discussed below are 10 facts about Mexican drug cartels and the ways through which the government has attempted to deal with them.


Mexican Drug Cartels: Facts and Figures


  1. In December of 2006, former Mexican president Felipe Calderon sent 6,500 troops into Michoacán to address the rampant gun battles, execution-style murders and police corruptions which cartel rivalry had unleashed on the community. In so doing, Calderon launched the Mexican war on drugs, a literal war which would involve more than 20,000 troops within the first two months.
  2. Since this war’s inception, 25 of the 37 drug traffickers on Calderon’s most wanted list have been jailed, more than 100,000 tons of cocaine decommissioned and almost 450,000 acres of marijuana plants destroyed, but the violent loss of life remains on the rise. Smuggling routes spread into previously peaceful areas as military involvement increased.
  3. The United States, as home to tens of millions of users, comprises the world’s largest drug market. In fact, in 2013 about 10 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 were recent users, and drug consumption remains on the rise. Mexican drug cartels are estimated to earn between 19 and 29 billion dollars annually from U.S. drug sales.
  4. As more of the United States decriminalizes marijuana, illegally-smuggled Mexican product cannot compete with the quality or price of U.S. production. Simultaneously, a prescription opioid epidemic across the U.S. has raised the demand for heroin. As a result, Mexican production of heroin rose by 170 percent between 2013 and 2015, while marijuana dealings have largely diminished.
  5. As part of the United States’ own war on drugs, the government has given at least $1.5 billion to support Mexico’s anti-drug efforts. Concerned critics believe this deluge of cash contributes to corruption in the Mexican military and among police on the frontlines.
  6. Ten years after the Mexican military was deployed to combat cartels, the nation’s top general, Salvador Cienfuegos, said the troops ought not to have been involved and were not trained to pursue criminals to begin with. On December 9, 2016, the Mexican defense secretary said troops surrogating for police was an insufficient, even damaging, solution.
  7. Violence surged across Mexico in 2016, with more than 17,000 homicides reported in the first 10 months. This is the highest death toll since 2012.
  8. Strategically, Mexico has waged its American-backed war by targeting the kingpins, assuming that annihilating cartel leadership would dissolve these criminal organizations. The recent rise in violence throughout Mexico suggests this approach is ineffective. For instance, since Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was recaptured by authorities in January, the gang has splintered and multiplied.
  9. Mexico’s decade-long war on drugs has cost about 200,000 lives to date and left 28,000 missing. Reciprocal violence from cartels, police and soldiers has violated human rights and ravaged Mexican communities.
  10. A 2015 poll on the efficacy of Mexican institutions revealed that the police, the president’s office, politicians and political parties rank among the least trusted establishments in Mexico, in large part due to the reign of violent cartels, which has cost so many lives.

By demilitarizing the war on drugs and reestablishing faith in the government, Mexico can begin to heal. The DEA recently emphasized the importance of coupling strategies: the targeting of high-profile cartel members by law enforcement and the provision of community outreach programs to end the opioid epidemic in Mexico and the United States. Long-term solutions must integrate security with social services to pursue prosperity.

Robin Lee

Photo: Flickr

Favelas in Rio
In Brazil, especially in the city of Rio de Janeiro, the wealthy tend to live closest to the sea. Favelas, or shantytowns, are slums in Brazil that are located farther away from the water on hills. They started out as an inexpensive housing option for returning Brazilian soldiers and freed African slaves in the 19th century. In Rio de Janeiro, a city of about six million people, approximately 20 percent live in favelas.

The urban phenomenon of favelas grew during the dictatorship of Gétulio Vargas, who pushed for greater industrialization within Brazil, which brought in more immigrants to Rio de Janeiro and therefore more occupants into the cheaper form of housing.

The 600 favelas in Rio de Janeiro today are mostly known for their high levels of poverty and crime, with numerous drug trafficking groups and street gangs operating within the various favelas that dot the hills of Rio de Janeiro. Favelas are also known for their relative lack of public services and government attention. Brazil is known to be one of the most unequal countries economically, with the top 10 percent of the population earning 50 percent of the national income and 8.5 percent of people living below the poverty line.

The location of favelas makes it difficult for the Brazilian government to provide proper public services, and as such makes it harder for the government to establish a positive presence in the favelas, which only furthers the cycle of violence as gangs are given more or less free reign.

This security issue within the favelas has been addressed by the introduction of a government program in 2008 that aimed to crack down on violence in the slums. Such programs are proving especially important ahead of the upcoming World Cup. The program installs permanent “police pacification units” (PPUs) throughout the favelas to deter crime and rid the favelas of the most serious gangs.

These PPUs are becoming a more widely accepted form of security control on behalf of the government. In Rio de Janeiro alone there are currently around 37 PPUs covering an area of about 1.5 million people, yet these PPUs have been criticized in Brazil for their severe tactics in dealing with local residents. Right now more than 24 policemen are facing charges for allegedly torturing a local resident of a favela.

More positive government policies have been successful in bringing 40 million Brazilians into the middle class over the last decade. Moreover, nationwide statistics indicate that 15.9 percent of Brazilians were impoverished in 2012, down from 18 percent in 2011. But Brazil is a land of contradictions, and despite this impressive decrease in poverty the South American nation remains the 12th most unequal nation in terms of income. Although Brazil should certainly be commended for its substantial decrease in poverty, policies should be implemented to ensure further social inclusion for those living on the margins.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: IRIN News, G1, BBC News, NPR, BBC News
Photo: Blog Spot


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As federal police officers and military troops stand on the street corners of small towns as guards with assault rifles at the ready, a picture of the drug cartel issue shows its true colors. Thousands of these police officials and military troops have been making arrests on suspected drug cartel members. They have also been “disarming untrustworthy local police officers.”

The compilation of troops has discouraged the vigilante groups in the Mexican state of Michoacan from fighting the Knight Templar drug cartel on their own. President Enrique Pena Nieto’s goal has been to avoid the domestic disaster that would take place if the separate groups were to collide.

Recently, the risk of social violence has been at an all-time high, considerably in the agricultural region known as Tierra Caliente. In the last month, shots were fired at the office of the federal prosecutor, injuring a 25-year-old window washer.

The residents of Michoacan interpreted the shooting as a violent protest conducted on the behalf of the allies of the Knights Templar. The city where these acts are taking place, Apatzingan, is an important base of operations.

A recent case of arson against a pharmacy in Apatzingan reaffirmed some residents suspicions that the federal government is either “unwilling or unable to stamp out the Knights Templar.” This group has been known for using terrorism and extortion to control majority of the commerce in Michoacan. The cartel has successfully infiltrated numerous local governments.

Due to the lack of action or protection on the behalf of troops who are present in Apatzingan, the residents have instilled their faith in the self-defense groups. These groups have been “staffing roadblocks alongside federal police on the outskirts of town.”

A violent shutdown between the vigilante self-defense groups and the drug cartel operatives seemed unavoidable in Nuevo Italia. These self-defense groups have declared themselves in control, and managed to disarm the local police.

According to a statement released by the federal government, police or military personnel have been assigned to every municipality in the southern portion of the state. Officials also said the arrests of Joaquin Negrete and Jorge Fabian Quezada, two alleged cartel leaders, were made.

– Samaria Garrett

Sources: LA Times, CNN
Photo: SCMP

In recent years, Myanmar has achieved a relative state of peace. The first civilian administration in 50 years has been marked by an array of golf courses, updated infrastructure, overall poverty reduction, and ethnic diversity.

Nearly twelve ethnic groups inhabit Myanmar, each with its own militia. Contrary to the suggestion of added security, the atmosphere is tense with potential violence between the various groups and drug operations in the region.

Opium production in the region has experienced an annual increase with a 26% increase between 2012 and 2013 alone. But eradication has proven impossible as each ethnic group maintains its own agenda and interest. While flare-ups between groups has decreased in the region, violence continues to erupt sporadically.

In addition, the illegal industry continues to gain profit as poor rural citizens lack means of legal financial gain. The majority of inhabitants on the country’s borders live on farms, earning income through opium cultivation. Government assistance in education and healthcare are lacking, inciting organizations like UNICEF to establish programs in the region.

Since declaring independence in 1948, Myanmar has benefited from UNICEF sponsored programs involving healthcare, nutrition, sanitation, education, and other child centered programs. The past five decades have seen increased enrollment in primary schools, longer life expediency from HIV infected women and children, an increase in literacy rates and a decrease in media censorship.

Despite the continued aid, the majority of its inhabitants continue to live in poverty in the new democratic state. Nearly 70% of rural inhabitants live in poverty while an estimated 26% of city dwellers struggle financially. Only 26% of the 59.1 million inhabitants have access to electricity, leaving many to rely on firewood.

But hope is not lost. The government hopes to reach a cease fire agreement between ethnic groups. Officials hope that peace will bring long term stability to the region and cooperation to all groups involved. With the participation of all parties, the administration aims to reach a general consensus on the future of the country and its people.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: New York TimesUNICEFUNDP
Photo: Girl Serves World

Krokodil, a flesh-eating morphine derivative intended to imitate the effects of heroin, has been attracting international intention for its devastating flesh-eating effects.

Krokodil is easily made with common household chemicals. It includes codeine and a combination of iodine, paint thinner, lighter fluid and hydrochloric acid that only need to be cooked for 30 minutes.

Although its short-term effects are pleasant – a heroin-type high sans nausea – repeated exposure causes users’ skin to become scaly, then rots their flesh from the inside out. The average lifespan of a krokodil user is 2-3 years.

The drug, a homemade variant of desomorphine, has sedative and analgesic properties similar to those of morphine. Desomorphine was originally patented in 1932 by Frederick Small Lyndon, after which it was widely distributed in Switzerland under the brand name Permonid.

Although krokodil was developed decades ago, it has only gained notoriety in the past few years – not until this past month has krokodil shown up in the United States. The krokodil trend first took off in Russia, where a stuttering economy has caused widespread clandestine manufacturing of the drug in order to meet demand for a cheap heroin substitute.

Opiate addiction is rampant in Russia, partially because of its proximity to Afghanistan. The Huffington Post reports that Afghanistan provides Russia’s 2.5 million heroin addicts with 70 tons of heroin each year – accounting for more than 20 percent of annual global drug consumption.

Many of the country’s poor, seeking an affordable way to sustain their addiction, have turned to krokodil as a heroin substitute. The drug is especially pervasive among homeless people and prostitution rings. New York’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services estimates that 1 million Russians now use krokodil, equivalent to 40 percent of the Russian population already addicted to heroin.

Krokodil is deceptively lethal. Many users falsely assume that the cooking process removes impurities from the drug. This is not true. Even after cooking, the drug retains chemicals that almost immediately cause the body to deteriorate. The drug’s use is most prevalent among poor people already addicted to hard drugs.

Because the krokodil trend is relatively new, health professionals do not fully understand the drug’s long-term effects. They continue to investigate as new victims are hospitalized. However, because krokodil is usually homemade and has ingredients that vary by manufacturer, the effects of krokodil will vary case-by-case.

– Matt Berg

Sources: Espacenet, Huffington Post1, Huffington Post2, OASAS, LA Times

Photo: The Parallax Brief

_market honduras_global_poverty_international_aid_opt (1)
San Pedro Sula, a bustling city in the northwestern corner of the Latin American country of Honduras, reportedly has the highest murder rate in the world outside of a war zone.

Lucas, a man faced with the grim task of being a mortician in the world’s murder capital said, “Satan himself lives here in San Pedro. People here kill people like they’re nothing more than chickens.”

In 2012, an average of 20 people were murdered every day in Honduras, a nation of roughly 8 million people according to the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (NAUH). That puts the murder rate at 85.5 per 100,000 residents compared with 4.78 in the United States. In San Pedro Sula, the murder rate is an unbelievable 173 per 100,000. The city is plagued by drug trafficking, gang wars and corruption.

Violence has been part of the daily fabric of the country for over a decade, in large part due to its role as a key point in cocaine trafficking routes from South America to the U.S. “Honduras is the number one offload point for traffickers to take cocaine through Mexico to the U.S.,” said a U.S. law enforcement official. And in 2011, a U.S. State Department report called Honduras “one of the primary landing points for South American cocaine.”

A shrinking police force combined with widespread corruption of those who have remained seemed to be making the situation worse. While the murder rate climbs steadily the number of police has declined from 14,000 in 2009 to 13,000 today. Many left voluntarily while 281 were fired just last year, mostly on corruption charges. Cases of theft, bribery and extrajudicial killings no longer raise eyebrows and scores of crimes are never investigated. Gustavo Irias, of the Democracy Studies Center said, “There is zero institutionality here, the police and investigators are useless and impunity generates new violence.” When the public loses faith in the authorities, people often take matters into their own hands, further exacerbating the problem.

According to the UN, Latin America is home to 42% of homicides worldwide and unfortunately, San Pedro Sula is just one example of the widespread violence that is endemic to the region. In order to shake the title of “Murder Capital”, one that is certainly bad for business, they must first build confidence in authorities to protect the public. Without it, the city will descend further into chaos.

– Erin Ponsonby

Source: The Huffington Post, The Guardian
Photo: Fonsky