In 2013, tens of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children crossed the U.S. border. Most come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and are fleeing their home countries because of poverty and violence. The rising numbers of child immigrants are bringing the issue to the forefront of Washington’s political debate.

“I am personally appalled by the staggering numbers of minors — sometimes 5 and 6-year-olds — who are left with no other choice but to cross the desert by themselves,” says Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Ted Menendez (D-NJ).

There is a growing movement of minors crossing the Mexico-U.S. border in Texas, and allowing themselves to be arrested. In 2013, the Office of Refugee Resettlement took in 24,668 unaccompanied minor immigrants, up from the average of 7,000 a year in the early 2000s. This sharp increase in numbers is explained by critical lawmakers as children taking advantage of U.S. policy on child immigrants from Central American countries. The policy allows such children to live with an adult in the U.S. from the time of their arrest until their court date.

Many more than the 24,668 taken in by the Office of Refugee Resettlement cross the border without notice by authorities. Still thousands more never make it to the border. As of June 2014, Mexico has deported 4,500 U.S. bound child immigrants from Honduras alone.

Poverty and violence are the two main factors driving people out of Honduras. Mario Aquino Vasquez is a security guard in Las Brisas, a neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, one of Honduras’ most violent cities. He describes the constant gang raids in the neighborhood: “If you were held at gunpoint and you didn’t give up everything you owned, they would kill you.” The dirt roads and shack-like houses of Las Brisas represent the 60 percent of Hondurans living below the poverty line.

James Nealon, nominee for the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, addresses the issue of unaccompanied minors fleeing a poverty stricken country. The issue stems from a complex system of narcotics trafficking and organized crime. In order to address the corruption, Nealon explains, the U.S. must assist Honduras in establishing democratic intuitions, in fostering respect for the rule of law and in the successful prosecution of criminals.

He confirms that it is in the U.S. interest to promote stability in Honduras. A stable Honduras means a stronger trading partner for the U.S. and fewer drugs making their way to the U.S. All of this will indirectly result in less unaccompanied minors making the dangerous journey across the U.S. border. Learn more about poverty in Honduras.

— Julianne O’Connor

Sources: USA Today, World Bank, CNN, U.S. Committee on Foreign Relations 1, U.S. Committee on Foreign Relations 2
Photo: America Aljazeera

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

The figures are striking: 2,594 murders in El Salvador, with a daily average murder rate of 7.11 in 2012. Since the announcement of a peace agreement between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang and Barrio 18 gangs, the murder rate has fallen slightly to 2,492 murders in 2013, only to rise once again. In December 2013, the number of murders rose to 208 compared to 168 murders in 2012.

What are some of the reasons behind this gang violence in El Salvador? After having a notoriously high murder rate in recent years, the government of El Salvador started a risky peace agreement after years of repressive anti-gang policies. The truce brokered by the government not only promised a halt in recruiting youth from schools but also promised to establish a “peace zone” within 11 municipalities in the country.

Many people have questioned the efficacy of the peace agreement, claiming that by not cracking down on the gangs they are only going to come back stronger. Furthermore, the gangs have stated that if the peace agreement fails they would begin to kill more people. This kind of pressure from the gangs against the government has only served to fuel more resentment from the public who fear the new negotiating power of the gangs.

The peace deal is also facing opposition from both sides of the political spectrum. President-elect Salvador Sanchez Cerén purposefully remained silent on the truce during the presidential elections for fear that promoting it would weaken his support-base. His opponent in the elections, Norman Quijano of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), had stated he would dismantle the agreement if he won the presidency.

Amidst this surge in crime, Church leaders in El Salvador have called on the government to renew the gang truce. Catholic Bishop Fabio Colindres has stated his desire for action on behalf of Church officials in calling for a new peace deal.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: The Economist (1), The Economist (2), Federation of American Scientists

Imprisoned for Miscarrying
Last month in El Salvador, a judge sentenced 19 year-old Glenda Xiomara Cruz to prison for 10 years. Her crime? Miscarrying.

In October of 2012, Xiomara, experiencing excruciating abdominal pain and bleeding, sought medical treatment at a public hospital. Unaware that she was even pregnant, as she’d experienced no weight gain and a pregnancy test had come back negative, doctors told her she’d lost a baby. Four days later, the teenager had been reported by the hospital to the police for suspected abortion and charged with aggravated murder. A year later, she’s been sentenced to ten years in prison by a judge who told her “she should have saved her baby’s life.”

Xiomara’s unfortunate fate is the result of El Salvador’s strict abortion law. The law is so strict, in fact, that since 1998 abortions have been completely banned without any exception, even in cases of rape, fetal deformity, or if the mother’s life is at risk.

Twenty-eight year-old Maria Teresa Rivera’s story parallels Xiomara’s and further illustrates the tragic consequences of such a harsh law. Last year, she too sought medical treatment for bleeding and abdominal pain and was reported to authorities by the hospital after suffering a miscarriage. Teresa was sentenced to 40 years in prison for aggravated murder. A textile worker and her family’s main provider, going to jail meant leaving her eight year-old son in extreme poverty.

A study done by the Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion supports the statement that this law overwhelmingly affects those living in poverty. The study found that, since 2000, more than 200 women have been reported to the police on abortion charges — the vast majority of these women were poor, unmarried and with little education. Comparatively, not a single woman has been reported from the richer private healthcare sector — where abortions are believed to be performed regularly.

More than unfairly imprisoning women and tearing apart families, the law also has devastating consequences for women’s health. Bessy Ramirez of San Salvador enunciates one of the numerous harmful effects of the law: “I would be terrified to go a public hospital as there is no benefit of doubt given to young women, we are presumed guilty and jailed.” For poor women, however, public hospitals represent their only medical treatment option.

In addition to deterring women from seeking medical treatment, the law likely also has a role in boosting the occurrences of suicide. Health Ministry figures from 2011 identify suicide as the most common cause of death for 10-19 year-old girls; half of these girls were pregnant. Further, because it is illegal for women to terminate pregnancies even in cases where the mother’s health is threatened, the inability to treat pregnancy complications is the third most common cause of maternal mortality.

Amnesty International’s El Salvador expert Esther Major calls the abortion law “cruel and discriminatory” saying that “women and girls end up in prison for being unwilling, or simply tragically unable, to carry the pregnancy to term. It makes seeking hospital treatment for complications during pregnancy, including a miscarriage, a dangerous lottery.” Unfortunately, as in innumerable other instances, it’s a lottery women in poverty are most likely to lose.

– Kelley Calkins

Sources: BCC, Slate

Photo: Vice

El Salvador Fights to Protect Water
The Central American country of El Salvador fights to protect water. Twenty-five percent of the rural population do not have access to potable water, and an estimated 90% of the country’s surface water is believed to be “heavily contaminated.” A preliminary report released last month on the effects of gold mining on El Salvador’s water supply reveals that in areas where mining was conducted, local populations experienced high rates of cancer, kidney failure, and diseases of the nervous system. A 2012 study of the San Sebastián river by a government agency showed that the river contained 9 times the acceptable level of cyanide and 1,000 times the acceptable level of iron. The river is now famous for its unnaturally orange-colored contaminated water.

Water Contamination Sparks Environmentalism in El Salvador

Much of this contamination is the legacy of large-scale industrial metal mining in the resource-rich country. Such mining both uses and contaminates large amounts of potable water. Many citizens of El Salvador also argue that multinational mining companies that claim to bring jobs and economic growth in fact extract resources but contribute little to the local economy.

These negative environmental and economic effects have galvanized Salvadorans in a grass-roots environmental movement, a fight to protect water from mining contamination. Local residents, led in part by those from the canton of San Sebastián, have teamed up with international NGOs to protest mining contamination, publicize the issue internationally, and conduct scientific studies to support their claims that industrial mining endangers the nation’s environment and people. The movement has reached to the top levels of government, with strong national and international repercussions. In 2008, then-President Antonio Saca stopped issuing new mining permits, and the government is currently debating a bill that would make El Salvador the first country to ban industrial metal mining altogether.

International mining companies are fighting back, however. Commerce Group, an American company that operated the mine near the San Sebastián river, and Pacific Rim, a Canadian company, have filed complaints against El Salvador before a World Bank trade tribunal based in Washington, D.C. The companies are suing the Salvadoran government for $400 million dollars for violating their rights as investors. Decisions on these cases have not yet been reached. In the meantime, Salvadorans continue to debate the best ways to preserve their water and devise a model of development that is both sustainable and economically beneficial to all sectors of society.

– Délice Williams

Source: The Guardian, Mining Watch, StopESMining
Photo: Mesa Nacional

Cooperative Farming Takes Off in El Salvador

Since its civil war in the 1980s, El Salvador has imported more than 90% of its fruits and vegetables from surrounding countries. Although Salvadorans enjoy quality products, very little of it actually comes from Salvadoran farmers because there aren’t many left.

José Mejía, a farmer who grows crops in the Salvadoran countryside, is one of the few. He and his father, who has owned the land for decades, have spent their lives selling to “coyotes”—middlemen who pay almost nothing for the crops and sell them at the market for inflated prices. Mejía recently learned that his squash, which he was selling for $5 a unit, was being sold for three times as much in the market an hour and a half away.

“The coyote has the advantage of knowing the market and handling large volumes,” said Andrés Bernal, who coordinates a regional Oxfam program that trains farmers on how to access the market. According to him, farmers like Mejía can only expect to keep, on average, 21% of the final price of their produce.

But farmers are finally taking action. Now, Mejía’s small community delivers its food products to the market personally every two weeks and they earn up to 50% more of the final profit. Farming cooperatives like his are sprouting up across the country making it easier for farmers to understand the market, meet the demand for their products, and earn more for their work.

Some cooperatives have even partnered with local supermarkets and restaurants to supply them with fresh fruits and vegetables directly from surrounding farms, thus benefiting both the farmers and their clients. Others have begun replacing coyotes by acting as middlemen themselves, offering fairer prices and better service.

Cooperatives like these are empowering Salvadoran farmers and setting the country on a path to reconfiguring its agricultural sector. Sometime in the future Salvadorans may be eating their own food.

– John Mahon
Source: The Guardian, IPS News
Photo: The Guardian

USAID and Qualcomm announced a formal agreement to work to expand global technology and increase collaborative efforts in development.  Qualcomm, a San-Diego based telecommunications company, has been working with USAID in recent years to improve access to technology in developing countries. The formal agreement will give Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach Division the ability to carry out projects.

Those that have already benefited from USAID and Qualcomm’s projects are fishermen in Brazil, police officers in El Salvador, and health workers in the Philippines.  In Brazil, the joint project provided small-scale fisherman with mobile devices and applications to connect with buyers, track sales, and get weather updates. Qualcomm was able to equip police in high-crime neighborhoods in El Salvador with smart phones that allowed them to connect to a database to work to reduce crime. Collaboration in the Philippines helped rural health clinics establish electronic records.

USAID commended Qualcomm for being an innovative, nimble, and strategic global technology leader.  USAID and Qualcomm share a vision of how to address the challenges in the developing world. Among the current goals of the formal agreement are to close the mobile phone gender gap, expand access to broadband, reduce the negative effects of climate change, and connect small farmers to market data.  Projects in Africa and Asia are the top priority and future consideration will be given to other areas including Latin America.

The future of technology in developing nations is changing quickly and this is just more step in the right direction.

– Amanda Kloeppel

Source: UT San Diego
Photo: CIAT News

SolucionES Will Prevent Crime, Save LivesIn the largest private-public collaboration in USAID history, USAID will be working with a group of five foundations from El Salvador in a new project, titled SolucionES, to help cut crime rates in that country. The partners include the Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development, the Salvadoran Foundation for Health and Human Development, the National Foundation for Development, Glasswing Internationa and the Business Foundation for Educational Development.

SolucionES will involve mainly preventative measures against violence, including programs for youth who have been or feel as if they are being pressured into causing violence as well as psychological counseling in schools in violent areas. Municipal Councils, local non-profits and private residents will also have a say in the direction of their communities as they work to provide “training programs on conflict prevention for youth and families, youth leadership programs, job training and entrepreneurship and after school clubs,” says the U.S. Embassy to El Salvador. The program has just launched this month in two cities: Ciudad Arce (La Libertad) and San Martín (San Salvador).

SolucionES will cost a total of $42 million dollars, with USAID providing $20 million and the five collaborating organizations contributing a total of $22 million over a five-year period.

– Nina Narang

Sources: US Embassy to El Salvador,
Photo: US Embassy to El Salvador