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Human Rights in Central America
Central America, which includes Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, has a history of human rights violations. The three northern countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) are considered the most dangerous countries in the region for vulnerable communities. The United Nations defines human rights as rights thought to be inherent no matter any status. Violations of these rights include violence, discrimination and injustices.

Vulnerable Communities

Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community, women and children are the most prone to violence and discrimination in Central America. Violence against LGBTQ people is severe and spread far throughout the region. In northern Central America between 2014 to 2019, 243 LGBTQ people were murdered.

The northern region is also the most dangerous for women. This is because El Salvador has the highest rate of gender-motivated killing in the world. Guatemala follows closely behind at third-highest while Honduras is sixth. In 2017, 2,559 cases of gender-motivated murders were reported in Latin America and the Caribbean with Central American nations making up a majority of the countries with the highest risk for women. El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua are included within the top 10.

Another highly vulnerable group is children. Children suffer from gangs, sexual violence and poverty. Many are forced to flee from Central America to the United States in the hopes of living safer lives, but this journey is often dangerous due to the drug-trafficking gangs. In addition to violence, poverty is also a significant driving force for children and families fleeing Central America. More than two-thirds of children live in poverty throughout El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In El Salvador alone, 86.8 percent of children live under the poverty line. However, families who do make it to the U.S. border are detained and often separated.

Human Rights Defenders

There is constant work to expand existing organizations and encourage a public environment that allows human rights defenders, local civil society groups and individuals to carry out their vital work without fear of violence. The people on the ground doing research, providing aid and services and protesting injustice are the foundation of the cause.

OutRight Action International, founded in 1990, works to improve the lives and protect LGBTQ people in Central America. In Guatemala, OutRight hosted a security training for LGBTQ activists in 2016. They document abuse and work towards creating a more tolerant society.

Journalists and activists that carry out such work are often detained or arrested for speaking out against the violation of human rights. 87 human rights activists were murdered or died in detention in Central America in 2016. The Latin America Working Group (LAWG) recognizes the importance of activists in the fight for human rights and has launched many campaigns advocating for laws protecting human rights defenders. In many cases, the violence and crime against activists are ignored by law officials and in response, human rights organizations have implemented devices, such as contact buttons and emergency plans, to keep people from being punished for speaking out.

Furthermore, the Pan American Development Foundation, based in Washington D.C., is currently 4 years into a 5-year plan to strengthen human rights in Central America. The project began in 2016 and has provided help to at-risk communities and has established protection systems for civil society groups and human rights defenders.

Moving Forward

Human rights in Central America are challenged every day. These rights are often abused due to the ineffectiveness of government intervention efforts and gang-related violence. Central America has a long way to go in providing a safe and enriching society for its citizens, but with the continued efforts of activists and community groups, there is a possibility for improved safety and livelihoods.

Taylor Pittman

Photo: Flickr

Farming Methods in Central America
Many Central American countries suffer from droughts and forest fires due to hot temperatures and inconsistent rainfall. Without adequate water, agricultural workers are unable to consistently produce adequate goods each year. They are often forced to rely on crops that don’t need as much water but are less nutrient-rich, such as corn.

Planting crops during the dry season, between December and April, is extremely difficult and even the rainy season between May and July presents a challenge, given inconsistent rainfall patterns. In addition, staple crops like corn do not yield the profits of higher-value crops such as squash, beans, zucchini and watermelon, which not only increase income and quality of life in the region but also improve the diets of farmers, families and locals. Fortunately, a number of local and international organizations are implementing programs aimed at improving farming methods in Central America.

USAID

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been combating unreliable, inconsistent weather patterns via a Honduras-based rainwater harvest program, aptly named Harvest. This consists of a reservoir that gathers rainfall in the winter, providing farmers with a backup water supply during dry months. Crops are watered through a low-pressure drip irrigation system, enabling farmers to plant and harvest three times a year instead of only once.

As a result, farmers have been able to grow and expand their repertoire of crops. Many other organizations have been involved in this initiative, including Development Innovation Ventures, Global Communities, SAG (Secretaría de Agricultura y Ganadería) and local governments.

AGRI

AGRI is a similar Honduras-based project under development that utilizes small drip irrigation systems spanning roughly 10 hectares. It works by locating surface-water sources that can be used for rainwater harvesting and uses water pipes to share water sources between various groups of farmers.

AGRI is also generating deforestation analyses using its terrain Digital Elevation Model (DEM) and other spatial analysis frameworks that analyze drainage basins and upstream areas. Its remote sensors can collect and predict weather patterns while enabling digital soil mapping and hydrologic analysis to estimate water runoff and water balance.

While AGRI hasn’t been formally introduced to Honduras, invest-H (Investment in Honduras) managers and the government are working to expedite its implementation. AGRI is supported by the U.S. initiative Feed the Future as well as Zamorano University, a Honduran university that is currently researching and refining the field validation of AGRI in preparation for its official launch.

MásRiego

MásRiego, meaning “more irrigation” in Spanish, is a Guatemala-based initiative that works to increase water supplies through drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, reduced tillage, mulch use and diverse crop rotation. The project team provides training and partnerships to Guatemalan farmers to improve farming methods while offering access to microcredit financing and irrigation equipment. As rainfall patterns become more unpredictable, new methods of farming such as conservation and rainwater harvesting must be introduced. Conservation improves moisture retention, soil structure and soil health, while also reducing weeds, manual watering and preparation time.

MásRiego’s goal is to connect 9,000 rural Guatemalan households through these smarter farming methods. They also plan to use local schools to teach students about these new methods as well as inform them about agricultural job opportunities. As a result of unpredictable rainfall patterns and increased competition, farmers entering the field must be educated on the tools needed for success. MásRiego also focuses on helping women and youth grow high-value crops on smaller plots of land to increase the incomes of Guatemalan farmers and the nation as a whole. The program is supported by the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative.

Moving Forward

Using the latest farming methods, these organizations are helping to support Central American farmers’ incomes and improve quality of life. The diets of both the farmers and local communities are already being enriched as improved farming and irrigation methods allow for a broader variety of crops to be planted. The Harvest program has also found that more young people are choosing to remain in their countries as new and improved methods make farming a viable lifestyle.

With the technology that AGRI plans to introduce and the conservation methods that MásRiego is implementing, farming will become less of a financial and physical burden. These organizations and others like them will continue to improve farming methods in Central America, with an eye toward expanding into other arid regions in the future.

Nyssa Jordan

Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in GuatemalaGuatemala spent close to three centuries under Spanish rule before gaining independence in 1821, according to the CIA. The latter half of the 20th century saw the small nation experience various military and civilian governments and a guerrilla war that lasted for 36 years and killed more than 200,000 people. The government signed a peace treaty in 1996 but Guatemala still has problems to solve.

CNN reported in 2012 that gender-based violence is highly prevalent in Guatemala and the country ranked third in femicide worldwide. There are two women killed each day in the small country making women’s empowerment in Guatemala an important issue.

During Guatemala’s civil war there was a great deal of violence committed against women. This left a legacy of violence that still plagues the country today. The military and paramilitary personnel that committed these crimes with impunity were integrated back into society. Many of these men remain in positions of power and have not changed their thoughts about women, because of this women’s empowerment in Guatemala is an issue that must be discussed.

Just over 20 years after the end of the civil war violent crime is higher than it was during the conflict. Although the homicide rate is high, the UN estimates that only two percent of cases go to court. Women are especially prone to violence because of gender bias. Many women are brutally killed because of their gender. The methods used include rape, torture and mutilation which were also common during the civil war. This culture of gender-based violence makes women’s empowerment in Guatemala difficult to accomplish.

Drug cartels from Mexico and other criminal groups help contribute to the excessive violence that plagues Guatemala which leaves fewer recourses for authorities to investigate femicides. Many cases go unreported because women fear retaliation which further hampers women’s empowerment in Guatemala.

The Central American nation is deeply rooted in machismo culture which is one of the greatest obstacles for women’s empowerment in Guatemala. Around 80 percent of men believe that women need permission to leave their home and 70 percent of women believe the same. Ideas like this make life difficult for women in Guatemala.

Despite the problems women face in Guatemala, there are signs of progress. According to PCI Global, the Asociación para el Desarollo Sostenible de la Juventud (ADESJU) was created by a group of young Guatemalans in 2004. In 2014, ADESJU began to apply the Women Empowered Initiative (WE) with the help of PCI. This has helped around 2000 women become economically and politically empowered. ADESJU has organized 94 WE groups with 1839 participants. WE wants to encourage women to become economically independent and active members of their communities. Women’s empowerment in Guatemala faces many obstacles but organizations like these are doing what they can to advance it.

– Fernando Vazquez

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Guatemala
Guatemala is known for its government’s immense crimes against humanity during the 20th century. While there have been efforts to improve human rights in Guatemala, the country had not seen much progress until very recently.

The nation has been plagued by powerful criminal organizations and gangs for many years. They commit violence and extortion, terrorizing local communities and instilling fear in the citizens, and ultimately pushing many Guatemalans to emigrate from the country. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is still incredibly corrupt, making it difficult for human rights activists to do work on the ground because they face the threat of violence and intimidation from corrupt government officials and local criminal organizations.

In 2013, retired military general Efrain Rios Montt was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison. General Montt led a military government from 1982-1983 and carried out heinous massacres of unarmed civilians. This conviction would have been a huge step for Guatemala, but the sentence was overturned by the Constitutional Court and Montt was set free. This was a major failure in the eyes of human rights activists because it demonstrated that the government would continue to pardon those in power even when they have committed a crime.

That being said, thanks to the aid of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), there have been a few successful prosecutions in cases of violent crime and corruption. In May 2014, General Montt was re-tried and was once again convicted. This time, however, the conviction remained in place, signaling a win for the Guatemalan people.

In February 2017, the Guatemalan courts made a conviction regarding crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence and sexual slavery. This was the first prosecuted case of sexual violence that related to the country’s 36-year internal conflict. It has been incredibly difficult to get convictions for the crimes and massacres committed during the conflict because of the level of corruption in the nation, but this was a huge step towards justice.

Through continued assistance from CICIG and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Guatemala is on the right track to being a safe country for its citizens. Continued foreign aid can help reduce violence and poverty and increase economic opportunities and good governance. There is a lot of work to do regarding corruption in the government and atoning for past crimes against humanity, but the future for human rights in Guatemala is looking fairly bright.

Liyanga De Silva

Photo: Google

Librarians Without Borders
Founded in February 2005, Librarians Without Borders (LWB) addresses the vast information resource inequity existing between different regions of the world. The group’s vision is to build sustainable libraries and support the librarians who keep these institutions running.

LWB is a nonprofit organization that endeavors to improve access to information resources notwithstanding language, geopolitics or religion by forming connections with area industries in developing regions.

Information Freedom and Literacy
Information literacy connects a library and its users. To that end, the Academy be designed to help users navigate the resources, services, and space, Librarians Without Boundaries it is incumbent upon the LWB to enhance information literacy skills in the region by devising curricula for trainees and by providing practical materials for educators for student application. LWB is creating a framework and presenting practical ideas, beyond basic literacy that is embedded in the Asturias curriculum.

Librarians serve an essential position as champions of intellectual freedom. They must grant equitable means to approach information. Access to information is vital in supporting learning and literacy, reducing poverty, empowering citizens, and building healthy, active communities.
Open access is critical in supporting education and literacy, reducing poverty, empowering citizens, and building healthy, vibrant communities. Librarians Without Boundaries does not draw cultural or linguistic boundaries; LWB embraces diversity; The organization will work with our partners in their cultural context and their languages.

Programming
One of LWB’s partners in Guatemala is the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy.

Through an association formed in 2009, LWB and Asturias act in tandem to promote literacy and learning by focusing on development and operation of a school and community library. By creating a community library in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Every Spring since 2010, Librarians Without Boundaries travels to the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala to accomplish remote work on the ground, to discuss emerging needs with LWB partners, and to reconnect with the students and school staff.

Lending of Library Materials
LWB is working to implement a library loan system for local students and staff. The program is a significant milestone for the Academy since many students do not have books at home. By implementing specialized software to track and guide to the borrowing of materials a uniform library cataloging model is instituted and training library staff to use and maintain the library loan systems and equipment.

Implementing a borrowing system extends access to information resources not only for students and families but also the community-at-large. Increased borrowing privileges create opportunities for students and their families to engage in reading activities at home and during after school hours. LWB fosters strong literacy skills and a love of books in the community.

The 2017 Service Trip
The most recent program occurred this year from April 22 to May 12. LWB members performed such duties as:

  • Cataloging, processing, and supplementing the library’s collection with new materials.
  • Programming targets all students and levels through multi-day library events.
  • Professional development workshops for teachers promoting library integration into the curriculum.

The 2017 spring’s commitment at the Academy included ongoing collection development activities. LWB works with Miguel Angel Asturias Academy to provide opportunities for volunteers to engage in activities that will help nurture a thorough understanding of libraries, education and culture in Guatemala. The 2017 Miguel Angel Asturias Librarians Without Borders team brought with them to Guatemala over 200 books in their luggage!

Librarians Without Borders has thus made a massive difference in this community. Providing materials and education for libraries provides students with a more well-rounded education, and the communities most definitely prosper.

 

Heather Hopkins

Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in GuatemalaEach day, 33 people become entrapped by human trafficking rings in Guatemala. Nearly 60 percent of the 50,000 victims of human trafficking in Guatemala are children, according to a report by UNICEF and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). The report estimates the industry to be worth $1.6 billion a year – this number represents 2.7 percent of Guatemala’s gross domestic product.

Guatemala’s pervasive culture of gender inequality – coupled with extensive sexual abuse in the home – promotes trafficking. Often, human trafficking affects families that have already experienced domestic and sexual violence by fathers and stepfathers. The violence they experience prompts boys and girls to run away from home, leaving them prey to sexual exploitation by traffickers. Mothers who sell their children into the sex trade are often victims of trafficking or domestic abuse themselves.

In Guatemala, very few sex trafficking cases are actually detected each year – about 3 percent. Although Guatemala has adopted numerous programs and laws to tackle human trafficking, only two prosecutors work on sex trafficking cases across the country. Therefore, the number of trafficking convictions in Guatemala remains low, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In 2014, the Guatemalan authorities convicted only 20 human traffickers, according to the 2015 U.S. Department of State report on human trafficking.

Education is a key factor in eliminating human trafficking; in Guatemala it occurs largely due to the absence of family education. Illiterate or uneducated children and adults are more vulnerable to abuse. Traffickers target poor, uneducated and unemployed women and girls, luring them with promises of earning money as a waitress or model. Girls as young as 12 work in brothels and are forced to have sex with up to 30 customers a day.

Just as it plays a large role in preventing human trafficking, education also plays a critical role in helping survivors of human trafficking to escape the trauma they experience after victimization. Instruction and counseling are immense steps toward rehabilitating the survivors and reintegrating them into society. When survivors are provided with education, they gain an opportunity to “reprogram” their lives by increasing their knowledge.

All members of society in Guatemala being more educated and knowledgeable on human trafficking is essential for the defeat of traffickers. Every avenue must be explored on how to raise awareness about the nature of the crime, its causes and the damage human trafficking inflicts on its victims.

Heather Hopkins

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in Guatemala
The poverty rate in Guatemala is high by most standards. Guatemala is a country in Central America which is bordered by El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Mexico. It is known for its massive Lake Atitlán and ancient Mayan ruins. It is home to 16.5 million, people making it the most populous country in Central America. Although Guatemala’s official language is Spanish, 40 percent of its inhabitants speak Indigenous languages.

The poverty rate in Guatemala is very high. According to the World Bank, 59.3 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. In addition, 23 percent live in extreme poverty.

The indigenous people in Guatemala are most affected by poverty. In fact, 79 percent of them live in poverty, while 40 percent of them live in extreme poverty. Eight in ten indigenous children suffer from chronic malnutrition, a condition that weakens their immune system and does not allow their bodies to fully develop.

The indigenous population also suffers from discrimination and exclusion in Guatemalan society, which makes it difficult for them to rise out of poverty. The country’s topography also keeps indigenous people living in rural areas isolated from the rest of society, making it more difficult for them to receive help.

Income inequality is high in Guatemala. According to a study conducted by the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS), 260 Guatemalans own 56 percent of the national economy. This means that 0.001 percent of the population owns more than half of the country’s wealth.

Agriculture is a very important source of revenue for Guatemala. It accounts for 20 percent of the GDP and employs more than 40 percent of the population. Main food exports include sugar, bananas, coffee and vegetables. However, due to the country’s susceptibility to natural disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and landslides, many citizens are in a constant struggle to survive and make a living.

Many NGOs stepped in to help improve the poverty rate in Guatemala. For example, The World Food Programme (WFP) delivers emergency food supplies to Guatemalans and teaches farmers how to grow more crops and better market the food they harvest. The NGO Food for The Poor brings food, medicine, and education supplies to needy communities in Guatemala.

Anna Gargiulo

Riecken FoundationThe need for educational opportunity in Central America has not gone unnoticed. The Riecken Foundation was established to address this need.  Since building its first library (the first of 65), the organization has paved the way for literacy and access to knowledge in Honduras and Guatemala.

For nearly 20 years, the Riecken Foundation has been building a network of community libraries across Honduras and Guatemala in often underserved, rural areas. Following a unique organizational model, the foundation has found long-term success by establishing libraries under strong community governance.

The foundation was born in 2000 out of the efforts of Susan Riecken and Allen Anderson. In the 1960s, Anderson worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, and his experiences in Honduras stayed with him over the years. Upon his retirement from venture capitalism, Anderson partnered with Riecken to address the educational needs of Honduran and Guatemalan villages and to promote literacy in developing parts of the world.

Educational opportunity is limited in Honduras and Guatemala and contributes to poverty in both countries. Nearly one in five Hondurans live in extreme poverty, and, for many Honduran students, the chance of dropping out of school or repeating a grade is high. In Guatemala, 23 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty. Educational quality is poor, and, as a result, fewer than half of students meet national standards by sixth grade.

The Riecken Foundation exists to address these issues and much more. A Riecken community library provides a village with access to books and other free resources, such as technology, youth programs and technical workshops that would otherwise be unavailable.

While other rural libraries might suffer as a result of mismanagement or neglect, a Riecken community library is strengthened by leadership from engaged volunteer citizens who are supported by their municipal government and the Riecken Foundation. It is this collaboration that often ensures the success of a Riecken community library.

For those in rural areas, the library becomes a place to explore diverse ideas and develop community projects. The community is directly involved in the success of their library, and their active engagement in its success creates a sense of prideful ownership over it.

The Riecken Foundation has found that the libraries promote literacy and a better understanding of local government institutions and transparency. It is with this understanding, along with greater access to knowledge and resources, that rural villages in Honduras and Guatemala can begin to move away from poverty and toward a stable environment that fosters growth and prosperity.

Jennifer Faulkner

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in Guatemala
Out of a population of 16.3 million, 59 percent of Guatemalans live in poverty, and 23 percent live in extreme poverty. However, efforts are being made to improve living conditions for the country’s people. Here are some organizations that are setting examples of how to help people in Guatemala.

7 Organizations Helping People in Guatemala

  1. The World Food Program (WFP) has worked in Guatemala for 43 years and supports the country’s residents with essential services. In 2016, they provided food to 627,400 people and aid to 16,875 drought-affected homes. WFP also advocates for a country strategic plan that focuses on overcoming Guatemala’s food security and nutrition challenges.
  2. SOS Children’s Villages offers counseling and training programs to Guatemalan families. They also provide children with nutritious food and housing if they cannot live with their families. For young people who are victims of poverty and violence, SOS supports and trains them to accomplish their goals.
  3. ActionAid helps Guatemalans access education, health, and other necessary services. Since the country’s rural area has few schools above the primary level, the organization’s distance learning program allows students to hear class lectures on the radio. ActionAid also runs disaster workshops that prepare Guatemalans for earthquakes, fires and other natural disasters.
  4. Children International utilizes various tactics to help Guatemalans. They teach residents the fundamentals of proper nutrition, provide school uniforms to poor families who cannot afford them and teach Guatemala’s youth important life and job skills. As a result, Guatemalan teenagers now score 85 percent on leadership knowledge assessments (above the global average) and 89 percent on management skills.
  5. Mayan Families uses education and community development programs to help the impoverished communities of Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán region. In 2015, they operated six centers that focused on bilingual fluency, early childhood literacy, parental education and nutrition. The nutrition programs have also improved Guatemalan children’s weight, oral hygiene and scholastic performance.
  6. Habitat for Humanity has supported 75,605 Guatemalan families since 1979. In 2016 alone, they helped 1,718 families. In addition to helping reduce Guatemala’s housing deficit by 4.6 percent, Habitat for Humanity is planning a nine-day trip to teach volunteers how to help people in Guatemala. A professional construction leader will supervise the volunteers while they lay block foundations, dig for septic tanks and perform other tasks in building and improving homes for residents.
  7. Water For People (WFP) collaborates with Guatemala’s local community and government to ensure that 95 percent or more of the country’s residents can access sanitary water. WFP also works with Guatemalan microfinance institutions to support loans for community water projects. Guatemala’s local government and community provide finances for school and water sanitation systems, relieving underfunded schools of those expenses.

With these organizations and their efforts, Guatemalans could live better lives in the near future. Additionally, programs dedicated to education and learning facilities will make many job opportunities available to the country’s youth. As these organizations continue their work, they show others how to help people in Guatemala.

Rhondjé Singh Tanwar

Photo: Flickr

Fighting Common Diseases in GuatemalaCommon diseases in Guatemala include malaria, bacterial diarrhea, and HIV/AIDS. These diseases are common throughout this area of the world. Malaria spreads through mosquitoes, which are common in Central American countries, putting inhabitants at a greater risk for the disease. People in these countries may live in areas without proper sanitation, consequently causing a high prevalence of bacterial diarrhea. HIV/AIDS is common in Guatemala partially due to a lack in sexual education programs.

In certain areas of Guatemala, malaria rates are higher than in other countries. In 2015, there were 6,834 cases of the disease. Since 2005, the government has been fighting the disease with additional funding from the Global Fund. The goal is to nationally eliminate malaria by 2020. In order to avoid bacterial diarrhea, doctors advise individuals to practice good hygiene when using the restroom, maintain clean water, and properly clean food.

Lastly, Guatemala created a comprehensive sexual education plan to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. However, a survey in 2015 showed that only 7 percent of students learned all of the intended points in the program. Another issue with this program is that out of classrooms that taught students about condom usage, 43 percent did so incorrectly. Since STDs and STIs are a common problem in Guatemala, people are pushing for improvement of the sexual education program through better instructor training or a complete reconstruction.

These are a few of the most common diseases in Guatemala. Travelers are warned against malaria and bacterial diarrhea. Additionally, HIV ranks number nine in the top 10 causes of death in Guatemala. Through better education and prevention, the prevalence of these common diseases in Guatemala can significantly drop and the well-being of the people will improve.

Helen Barker

Photo: Flickr