When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Geopolitics

Curing Central America’s Crime Epidemic Is Up To Latin America, Not The U.S.

Op-Ed: Bodies are piling up in Central America’s ‘northern triangle’ of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, where drug trafficking and street gangs have made the area nearly ungovernable. The isthmus needs outside help, and it’s time the rest of Latin Am

Security forces in Guatemala (Surizar)
Security forces in Guatemala (Surizar)

SANTIAGO - Each year, tiny nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – the so-called ‘northern triangle" – have more violent murders than all of the 27 members of the European Union combined.

According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Honduras leads the world in violent killings, with 82.1 murders per year per 100,000 residents, followed by El Salvador, with 66 per 100,000. The two Central American states beat out countries in the Middle East and Africa that are in the middle of armed conflict. Guatemala comes in seventh, with 41 homicides per 100,000 (for comparison sake, the comparable figures are 1.4 per 100,000 in France and 5 per 100,000 in the United States).

The havoc wrecked by the drugs war is readily apparent in all three countries. Governments are weak, as are the police systems, and the principal state institutions are riddled with corruption. There are hordes of jobless young people who live on the fringes of society, in poverty. In short, it is fertile ground for drug cartels.

A violent death awaits those who dare oppose the drug barons. But those who join the cartels often meet the same fate. Drug lords hand out weapons to criminal gangs, creating small, autonomous armies. The gangs are then free to make "personal" use of their weapons when not on "official" cartel business. A hit costs about $500.

Private companies spend an average of 20% of their operating budget on staff security. The violence seriously discourages investment in the region, and threatens to further erode progress towards the construction of a solid, institutional democracy that the region's countries have been building since shaking off dictators and civil war. Recent surveys have shown that more than half of Central Americans would accept a coup d'etat if the new government were able to improve security.

Time for a southern solution

Politicians have been taking steps to improve the situation. For example, new (and badly-needed) tax reforms will allow the governments to fatten the public coffers. In the current system, tax revenue in the most violent Central American countries is extremely low, only about 10% of GDP. Increased revenue will allow the states to increase their security measures.

The political party system is also seriously in need of reform, since its current form leaves a vacuum that criminal groups can easily take advantage of – increasingly having direct influence on politics. Major reforms are also needed in the military, police and judiciary systems.

The problem has gotten so large, however, that to adequately address it requires far more financial backing than what these small Central American states can provide. Historically, this kind of help would come from our friend up north. But today, there are many indications that the United States is not prepared to launch another "Plan Colombia," the all-out effort to end drug trafficking and violence that began in 1999.

Right now, America's most important security threats come from outside the Western Hemisphere. And with cocaine consumption in the United States having dropped substantially in the past decade, several states toying with the idea of decriminalization, and a crippling economic situation, it hardly seems like the right moment for a new military campaign like the one in Colombia. Additionally, U.S. authorities are primarily interested in stopping drugs headed north. Much of the drugs trafficked in Central America end up being shipped east to Europe or back toward South America. From the U.S. perspective, that makes it someone else's problem.

The answer to Central America's serious problems, therefore, needs to come from inside Latin America, which as a region, has the money and the resources to solve the drug violence. Brazil, which has been increasing its presence on the isthmus, should join Mexico, traditionally an influence in the area, in taking a leadership role. The two countries should then push the rest of Latin America to get involved.

It would be an appropriate first project for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a regional block formed in February, 2010. Unlike the Organization of American States (OAS), the CELAC does not include the United States and Canada.

By taking on the Central America conundrum as its own, the Latin American states would also have an opportunity to confront the problem creatively – to not, in other words, replicate the ‘prohibition and criminalization" tactics favored by Washington. The policy should not be imposed from the outside, and should be adapted to Central American realities. But the clock is ticking. It is not overstating the case so say the situation in Central America is the most urgent topic in Latin America today.

Read more from AméricaEconomía in Spanish

Photo - Surizar

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Society

Jehovah's Witnesses Translate The Bible In Indigenous Language — Is This Colonialism?

The Jehovah's Witnesses in Chile have launched a Bible version translated into the native Mapudungun language, evidently indifferent to the concerns of a nation striving to save its identity from the Western cultural juggernaut.

A Mapuche family awaits for Chilean President Gabriel Boric to arrive at the traditional Te Deum in the Cathedral of Santiago, on Chile's Independence Day.

Claudia Andrade

NEUQUÉN — The Bible can now be read in Mapuzugun, the language of the Mapuche, an ancestral nation living across Chile and Argentina. It took the Chilean branch of the Jehovah's Witnesses, a latter-day Protestant church often associated with door-to-door proselytizing and cold calling, three years to translate it into "21st-century Mapuzugun".

The church's Mapuche members in Chile welcomed the book when it was launched in Santiago last June, but some of their brethren see it rather as a cultural imposition. The Mapuche were historically a fighting nation, and fiercely resisted both the Spanish conquerors and subsequent waves of European settlers. They are still fighting for land rights in Chile.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ