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

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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