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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 HondurasHonduras is a country in Central America that borders the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, according to the CIA. In 1821, Honduras gained independence from Spain. A freely elected democratic government came to power in 1982 after 25 years of military rule. Despite this achievement, Honduras still has obstacles to overcome.  In a May 2017 report, ABC news said Hondorus had been called the most dangerous place to be a woman. This makes women’s empowerment in Honduras an important issue.

Honduras is a country steeped in machismo culture which helps fuel gang violence and violence against women. Every 16 hours a woman is murdered in Honduras making the country’s femicide rate one of the highest in the world. Violence against women is an increasing problem in Honduras and many women are either afraid of going to the police or feel that it does not help their situation. Women are afraid of going to the police because they fear that it will only make matters worse for them or because, in some cases, their abusers are gang members and going to the police would mean retaliation from the gang.

Around 95 percent of crimes against women go unpunished in Honduras. This includes domestic violence, murder and rape. Despite this, there are women who gather enough courage to leave their abusive relationships which is an important step towards women’s empowerment in Honduras. Trócaire discusses Calidad de Vida (Quality of Life) in a December 2014 article. Calidad de Vida is a women’s refuge located in the capital of Honduras which supports women who have experienced sexual and physical violence or emotional abuse. They encourage them to leave abusive relationships and to learn to be independent.

Calidad de Vida is making strides towards women’s empowerment in Honduras. Women have access to legal help, psychological support from women who have had similar experiences and participate in occupational therapy. There is space for up to 30 women and children who have nowhere else to turn to when leaving an abusive relationship.

A number of women who have benefited from this refuge have, in turn, helped other women who are victims of violence to seek help. They participate in the DENMAH project (for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents) which Calidad de Vida is a part of. This project promotes women’s rights and violence prevention. It works with women in rural and urban areas to promote women’s empowerment in Honduras.

– Fernando Vazquez

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in Honduras
Honduras is one of the poorest, most vulnerable countries in the world. The poverty rate in Honduras is 66 percent. In rural Honduras, approximately one in five lives in extreme poverty; this means a salary of less than 1.90 U.S. dollars a day.

It is difficult to build businesses and add jobs in Honduras. A World Bank report ranked countries by ease of doing business and successful enforcement of contracts. The report ranked Honduras 125th and 179th out of 185, respectively. Violence has been one of the main obstacles to development and poverty reduction in Honduras. In 2011, the United Nations labeled Honduras the murder capital of the world. As of 2014, the homicide rate was still one of the highest in the world, at 67 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

The country is also vulnerable to national disasters such as hurricanes and droughts. The country struggles to mitigate these shocks and lacks risk management mechanisms and social safety nets.

Honduras faces the high levels of economic inequality. In rural areas, homes are small and dilapidated and animals and humans frequently live in close quarters. Many families do not have toilets or access to clean water, and access to medical care is limited.

The World Bank has implemented a new framework for aid in Honduras for the years 2016-2020. With a current portfolio of more than 990.5 million U.S. dollars, the World Bank Group is seeking to expand social programs, improve rural productivity, strengthen institutional capacity, strengthen resilience to natural disasters, increase access to financing and build the capacity of local governments to prevent crime and violence. Though the violence in Honduras shows no signs of ceasing, the international community will continue doing what it can to decrease the poverty rate in Honduras and provide people with essential resources. International aid could be pivotal to lowering the poverty rate in Honduras.

Hannah Seitz

Photo: Flickr

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

Why is Honduras Poor?
The statistics regarding poverty in Honduras tend to speak for themselves. With a population of nearly nine million, more than half of Hondurans live in poverty. Many of the poor live in rural areas, outside of the two most populous cities, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro. Not only do a majority of Hondurans live in poverty, but a third of them also face underemployment as a result of an economy that is not growing quickly enough. With these statistics, it is important to pose the question: why is Honduras poor?

By nature, the cycle of poverty is difficult to break. But, in particular, rampant violence and a lack of education in Honduras contribute to poor living conditions for many.

Honduras has long been considered one of the most violent places to live, not only in Central America, but in the world. A majority of this violence is the product of drug trafficking and related gang behavior, with which police are often complicit. Since 2014, when Honduras boasted the highest murder rate in the world, homicide rates have been in decline but remain high nonetheless. In 2016, the murder rate accounted for 59.1 deaths per every 100,000 people.

 

Poverty in Honduras

 

Although in recent years Honduras has become safer, violence—regardless of its magnitude—breeds instability, and those who live in extreme poverty are the most vulnerable to that conflict. Violence in poor areas only serves to perpetuate poverty and increases the difficulty of escaping from it, answering in part the question of why Honduras is poor.

Violence also fosters an environment that is not particularly welcoming to potential business investors. In a country where un- and underemployment contribute to both income inequality and poor living conditions, extreme violence further hinders the ability of those living in poverty to improve their quality of life.

The Honduran economy has achieved some recovery recently; however, violent disturbances and a lack of economic opportunity leave much to be desired. Honduras faces challenges attracting business—the World Bank ranked it 125 out of 185 countries in regards to ease of doing business—but the current dependence on agriculture also poses economic complications.

The livelihoods of many Hondurans depend on agriculture. Agricultural success relies on factors outside of human control, such natural disasters, which can render a poor family without food or means to support themselves. Over time, the agricultural sector in Honduras has lost its value and is now only two-thirds of its former revenue, as the price of Honduran exports has decreased.

Violence and agriculture are not the only answers that can be pointed to in regards to the question of why Honduras is poor. Although many Hondurans have access to education and primary school enrollment is close to 100 percent, the quality of education is poor. Once students move past primary school, there are simply not enough secondary school facilities, and the dropout rate skyrockets.

For many, an education is the first step to a life spent outside of poverty. The quality and accessibility of education in Honduras must be improved, especially in rural areas, in order to improve the lives of the poor.

While the answers to the question of why Honduras is poor are multifaceted, the solutions to these issues lie within those answers. By focusing on reducing violence and improving education within Honduras, improvements can be made to alleviate poverty.

Jennifer Faulkner

Photo: Pixabay

Education to the Children of Honduras
Honduras ranks poorly in terms of education among its counterparts in Latin American and the Caribbean. Currently for education to the children of Honduras, the country spends the highest percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP) on education of all countries in the region but has the second-lowest test scores. Huffington Post notes that in many classrooms, girls and boys alike sit on dirt floors with no blackboards, no desks, no electricity and latrines that serve as unisex bathrooms.

The Foundation for Education in Honduras, or FEIH, is a charitable organization committed to giving education to the children of Honduras. “The first step in restoring hope in Honduras is to invest in the children’s futures and livelihoods… Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), along with charitable foundations whose efforts are dedicated to improving the state of education, are slowly but surely promoting the necessary changes to make social transformations a reality,” writes Gina Kawas, FEIH’s director of Corporate Relations.

Although the Honduran Constitution formally specifies that minors must have their education taken care of, many enter adulthood without knowing how to read or write at all. Lack of public resources and the extreme poverty that encompasses Honduras is much to blame.

In order to change the status quo, the organization partners directly with local Honduran businesses and groups to renovate rural school buildings and provide school supplies to the children and teachers. In addition, FEIH aims to engage the school in cross-cultural activities in order to foster positive educational outcomes in the community.

More often than not, the necessity of increasing the family earnings forces many Honduran children to leave school for work, usually permanently. FEIH’s approach to this predicament is simple and extremely effective. The organization invests all the money it raises into school construction and educational programs. It helps to build sustainable, community-owned education projects, thereby giving education to the children of Honduras.

FEIH requires 20-25% of local labor building these schools to be volunteered by members of the community where the school is being built. This cultivates potential job opportunities to members of the community while simultaneously providing new schools for the communities’ children.

If Honduras is to prosper and provide its children with the education they deserve, it must realize and address how significant the relationship between increased time spent in school and a reduction in criminal activity truly is. Marked as the “most violent country in the world” by the U.N. back in 2012, Honduras needs to place focus on its younger generations and invest in their futures. FEIH is slowly helping the country tackle one of it’s biggest issues at its root one school at a time.

Keaton McCalla

Photo: Flickr

Central American Refugee Crisis
Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, commonly referred to as the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA), have seen drastic increases in the numbers of migrants fleeing to nearby nations, creating the present Central American refugee crisis. Since 2012, pending asylum cases in the U.S. and Mexico have reached 109,800.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), large-scale violence, poverty and unemployment motivate men, women and children to flee. Classifying the increase as a ‘protection crisis,’ the UNHCR recently stated that it is “particularly concerned about the rising numbers of unaccompanied children and women on the run who face forced recruitment into criminal gangs, sexual- and gender-based violence and murder.”

In a study conducted by the UNHCR, 64 percent of the women interviewed included direct threats and attacks by members of criminal armed groups as a primary reason for their flight. These attacks corresponded with increased violence against women and minimal police protection.

In an attempt to escape the violence, Central American refugees and asylum seekers most often flee to the north. Mexico experienced a 164 percent increase in asylum seekers between 2013 and 2015. Currently, the majority of Mexico’s 3,448 refugees arrived from Central America.

Mexico accepts less than one percent of NTCA child refugees, despite their escape from violence. In 2015 alone, Mexico apprehended more than 35,000 Central American migrant children, a 55 percent increase from the year before.

The Human Rights Watch determined that authorities in Mexico often complicate processes of seeking asylum, forcing thousands of children to return home.

To further complicate the NTCA refugee’s plight, women who flee often face heightened risks. High smuggling fees, rape and extortion threaten women throughout their journey, especially near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Despite these obstacles, more than 66,000 unaccompanied children fleeing NTCA countries reached the U.S. in 2014. An additional 66,000 NTCA families entered the U.S. in the same year.

Data from 2015 shows the U.S. continuing to be the main country receiving asylum applications from Central America, registering almost twice the number in 2014.

In response to the Central American refugee crisis, the UNHCR has been working with governments and civil society partners in the region to develop heightened refugee screening capacities. They are also aiming to build stronger assistance programs for asylum seekers, including greater reception capacity in neighboring countries.

Asylum Access, an international organization that works with local governments and the UN, helps refugees assert their rights in first countries of refuge. Asylum Access has operated in Ecuador since 2007 and expanded to Panama and Mexico in 2015.

Asylum Access provides Latin American refugees with legal assistance, community legal empowerment and advocates against deportation and arrest. Through establishing the Hospitality Route initiative, Asylum Access Mexico helps refugees from Central America avoid detention, deportation and arrest by providing access to safety and rights.

The UNHCR and Asylum Access are leaders in Central American refugee assistance and resource provision. With programs and policies that provide desperately needed and powerful aid, the Central American refugee crisis and its dangers will hopefully lessen.

Anna O’Toole

Photo: UNHCR

Hunger in Honduras

It is estimated that 1.5 million people will face hunger in Honduras at some point every year. Honduras is the third poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean, with over 62 percent of the population living below the poverty line.

Rural areas of Honduras are even more susceptible to issues of hunger due to higher poverty levels and a lack of food security. Chronic malnutrition levels can reach up to 48.5 percent in the poorest rural areas.

According to the World Bank, Honduras is ranked 9th among countries with high-risk of mortality from exposure to two or more hazards. It is one of the most vulnerable countries to extreme weather conditions. Hunger in Honduras, therefore, is largely due to the reoccurrence of natural disasters such as flooding, drought, and hurricanes.

For small-scale subsistence farmers living in rural areas of Honduras, exposure to the disasters aforementioned can both decrease production and ruin crops and further prevent access to food and nutritional security.

Things, however, are looking up. Numerous global organizations, including the World Bank and World Food Programme (WFP), are initiating projects to alleviate Hunger in Honduras:

World Bank

The Corredor Seco Food Security Project is projected to lift 50,000 Hondurans out of poverty and reduce chronic malnutrition among children under the age of five by 20 percent. In order to achieve this goal, the World Bank is supporting small-scale farmers in one of the most drought-stricken areas of Honduras. The project will support the introduction of high-value crops, improve access to new markets, and increase food production.

In a recent press release, World Bank Representative in Honduras Giorgio Valentini stated, “This project is of vital importance because it aims at fighting poverty in rural areas, where most of the poor are concentrated, and to boost agriculture, one of the key sectors of the country’s economy.”

World Food Programme (WFP)

The School Meals Programme in Honduras is implemented in the poorest schools to provide funding for children’s meals and increase access to education. Thanks to such program, 1.4 million Honduran students in over 17,500 preschool and primary schools are able to receive a meal. The Programme in Honduras is WFP’s third largest school meal initiative worldwide.

In 2009, the School Meals Programme joined with WFP’s Purchase for Progress (P4P), which has been supporting agricultural production for small-scale farmers through connecting them to the local markets.

Two years later, nearly half of the maize and beans for the school meal rations were bought from smallholding farmers participating in P4P. In turn, the farmers’ yearly income was estimated to have increased by $500 and their crop yields by 50-80 percent.

With the support of global organizations like the World Bank and World Food Programme, farmers increase crop production, children receive adequate nutrition, while poverty and hunger in Honduras continue to decrease.

Kristyn Rohrer

Photo: Flickr

Honduras 2020

Multiple growth and development plans for Honduras 2020 are going into effect this year. Although poverty in Honduras has decreased since 2012, 62.8 percent of the population is still living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

Honduran President, Juan Orlando Hernandez, announced a five year growth and development plan dubbed “Honduras 2020.” The two major focuses of the plan are to reduce poverty levels and decrease child migration to the U.S.

In order to benefit both of these areas the plan is looking to generate 600,000 new jobs by expanding textile, manufacturing, tourism and business service industries.

Nearly 200,000 of the new jobs are expected to come from boosting apparel exports to the U.S.

“One of the things I like the most about the 2020 plan is the job generation component because that is the main reason why people go to the U.S.,” said Hernandez in a Fox News Latino article.

Honduras’ net migration rate is -1.22 migrant(s)/1,000 population, resulting in more people leaving the country than coming in.

Compared to the other developing nations in Latin and the Caribbean who receive less than two percent, Honduras receives 18.2 percent of their GDP from personal remittances.

The 2020 plan aims to cut child migration to the U.S. by 50 percent in order to combat these challenges.

The Honduran government is not alone in working to promote economic stability and reduce poverty rates.

In December 2015, the World Bank Group endorsed a partnership strategy with the Honduran government for 2016-2020. The strategy, the Country Partnership Framework, aims to strengthen conditions for growth, reduce the country’s vulnerabilities and promote social inclusion.

Three of the seven major objectives of the Country Partnership Framework are:

  1. Improving key infrastructure, such as energy and road networks, beneficial to both national and international trade. According to the World Bank, on a scale of one to five (1=low and 5=high) the quality of trade and transport-related infrastructure in Honduras is only 2.24 and decreasing.
  2. Increasing access to financing for both companies and individuals. Only 32 percent of Honduran adults have a bank account, while barely 31 percent of companies in Honduras have access to credit.
  3. Enhancing rural production in order to improve conditions for Hondurans living in poverty and depending primarily on agriculture. 65 percent of rural Hondurans live below the poverty line, as reported by the World Bank.

Both the World Bank and Honduran government’s growth and development plans will go into effect this year.

Kristyn Rohrer

Photo: AHM