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Honduras

Tag Archives | Honduras

Panama’s Untold Story: Security and Police Forces Step up their Game

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Xinhua
Xinhua

Xinhua

To say Latin America is not considered a safe area would be an understatement. Indeed, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime paints Latin America as the most dangerous spot in the world and the only place where homicide rates keep rising. However, is the region really to blame for its years of violence and bloodshed?

It all began with the infamous “war on drugs” announced by Richard Nixon in 1971, rooted in the belief that all drugs are evil and that we must ensure their ultimate destruction using any means necessary. More than 4 decades and some $1 trillion later, US drug policy is now more militarized than ever, focused solely on conducting army and police operations. The results are usually expressed in cold numbers linked to the area of drug crops destroyed or the unprecedented number of arrests made after each operation. But is this enough?

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America’s Goals and Opportunities in Latin America

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President Barack Obama participates in the CEO Summit of the Americas panel discussion at the Hilton Hotel, Cartagena, Colombia, April 14, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

“I know there are frustrations and that some call for legalization. For the sake of the health and safety of our citizens - all our citizens - the United States will not be going in this direction.” – President Barack Obama, speaking at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia

President Barack Obama participates in the CEO Summit of the Americas panel discussion at the Hilton Hotel, Cartagena, Colombia, April 14, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

This past December marked the 190th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine, the 1823 policy declaration by President James Monroe that essentially made Latin America the exclusive reserve of the United States. And if anyone has any doubts about what lay at the heart of that Doctrine, consider that since 1843 the U.S. has intervened in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Uruguay, Grenada, Bolivia, and Venezuela. In the case of Nicaragua, nine times, and Honduras, eight. Sometimes the intrusion was unadorned with diplomatic niceties: the U.S. infantry assaulting Chapultepec Castle outside Mexico City in 1847, Marines hunting down insurgents in Central America, or Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing pursuing Pancho Villa through Chihuahua in 1916.

At other times the intervention was cloaked in shadow—a secret payoff, a nod and a wink to some generals, or strangling an economy because some government had the temerity to propose land reform or a re-distribution of wealth. For 150 years, the history of this region, that stretches across two hemispheres and ranges from frozen tundra to blazing deserts and steaming rainforests, was in large part determined by what happened in Washington. As the wily old Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz once put it, the great tragedy of Latin America is that it lay so far from God and so near to the United States.

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The World’s Most Dangerous People: Apolitical Narco-Terrorism and the Maras

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Brazilian police patrol a favela in Rio De Janeiro. Marcelo Sayao/EPA

Where would you guess is the most dangerous place in the world. Iraq? Afghanistan? Maybe Colombia or Mexico with its spate of cartel violence?

Brazilian police patrol a favela in Rio De Janeiro. Marcelo Sayao/EPA

Actually, it’s none of the above. In fact, in comparison to the world’s most dangerous nation - Honduras - Mexico seems downright cushy. A citizen of Honduras is over six times more likely to be murdered than a Mexican national. While a young man in Honduras is roughly 91 times more likely to be violently killed than a young man in Western Europe. Even the world’s second most dangerous country, El Salvador, has only about 2/3 of Honduras’s murder rate. Why are these Central American countries so violent? As is always the case - there isn’t a single, simple answer but there are definitely some undeniable contributors. Chief among these is the increasing size and escalating violence of entrenched, drug-trafficking, cartel-connected street gangs- Central America’s “Maras.”

While more than 900 Maras reportedly operate between South America and Mexico, with anywhere between 70,000 and 200,000 members, two of them are responsible for a huge percentage of the violence- Mara Salvatrucha (aka MS-13) and 18th Street (aka Mara-18, M-18, Calle 18, Barrio 18, etc.). MS-13 is fairly well known, having received a considerable amount of press, often as a variation of “The World’s Most Dangerous Gang,” 18th St., however, is far less likely to draw the attention of media outlets, and mentions that are made usually manifest as a name in front of a bullet point on a list of big gangs. This is a strange oversight as 18th St. is at least as violent, cartel connected and organized as MS-13 and far larger- twice as big by some estimations.

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The Peace Corps, Drugs and U.S. Foreign Policy

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Porfirio Lobo, president of Honduras. Photo: Luis Echeverría

A few months ago, President Barack Obama was celebrating the “profound” relationship between the United States and Honduras.

Porfirio Lobo, president of Honduras. Photo: Luis Echeverría

This happened in spite of the fact that current President Porfirio Lobo’s rise to power was aided by a June 2009 coup. Even though Obama publicly denounced the coup, the administration’s response was timid. It did not take the Obama administration long to warm up to the ouster of democratically elected Manuel Zelaya. Sure, the US briefly halted some foreign aid (around $30 million), but the effect of that was negligible. Besides, remittances from the US to Honduras topped $2 billion that year.

Respect for human rights and the rule of law have deteriorated since Lobo took office in 2010. A lack of media freedom and the intimidation of journalists have not helped. Earlier this month, the Peace Corps withdrew all of its volunteers from Honduras because of the violence. With 158 PCVs living there, that was one of the biggest programs in the world. Since 1962, over 5,000 PCVs have served in Honduras.

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The Peace Corps and Violence in Central America

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President Barack Obama looks at a photograph of Kate Puzey as he greets her brother, David Puzey, and other guests in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

In Central America, the Peace Corps is getting leaner.

President Barack Obama looks at a photograph of Kate Puzey as he greets her brother, David Puzey, and other guests in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

The organization has recently announced that it will be pulling out of Honduras. The Peace Corps has also put a hold on sending new training groups to Guatemala and El Salvador. There is no question that these countries are dangerous. Honduras, for example, has a murder rate of nearly 82 people per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest in the world. The safety of Peace Corps volunteers has been an intensely debated topic on Capitol Hill recently. Earlier this year, the House and Senate unanimously passed the Kate Puzey Volunteer Protection Act of 2011.

This is an important bill for which Congress deserves praise, but, it does little to address volunteer safety and deals more with how the Peace Corps should respond after an incident has already occurred. Furthermore, total safety is an illusion; people need to understand that. According to ABC, “The bill requires the Peace Corps to improve the training of volunteers to reduce sexual assault risk, would protect whistleblowers, and would require the Peace Corps to hire victims’ advocates for each region the agency serves.”

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Democratic Speed Bumps in Latin America

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Supporter of Manuel Zelaya being detained by police.  Orlando Sierra/AFP

After a decade of growing popularity, democracy has hit a slump in Latin America.

Supporter of Manuel Zelaya being detained by police. Orlando Sierra/AFP

A recent Latinobarómetro poll cited by The Economist in late October underscores this point. In all but three Latin American countries, fewer people than last year believe that democracy is preferable to any other type of government. In the cases of Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, the drop in support for democracy is significant.

The 2009 removal of democratically elected Manuel Zelaya and the post-coup human rights abuses of the government of Porfirio Lobo are obvious indicators that Honduras is on the wrong track. Dozens of political murders have taken place in Honduras, and there has been little outrage from Washington. Additionally, November’s presidential elections in Nicaragua and Guatemala (and recent polling on Mexico’s 2012 election) reinforce the notion that many in the region have grown skeptical about democratic governance.

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The Truth about the Peace Corps

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Senator Boxer introduces the 'Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011'. Source: Senator Barbara Boxer

As the Peace Corps turns fifty, now is an auspicious time to discuss Peace Corps reform.

Senator Boxer introduces the ‘Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011′. Source: Senator Barbara Boxer

With annual expenses of less than $500 million, the organization costs little when considered in the broader budgetary debate on Capitol Hill. Over the past ten years, two disparate narratives have encompassed most talk surrounding the organization. The first has to do with Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) safety. The second issue has to do with inadequate funding. First, the claims that the Peace Corps is not doing enough to keep volunteers safe are, for the most part, baseless. Many of the rules designed to make PCVs safer are either ineffectual or counterproductive.

Is there risk in joining the Peace Corps? Absolutely. But people are also at risk when they drive to work, cross the street, go skiing and pass through Manhattan’s Riverside Park late at night. Bad things happen. Women volunteers are at greater risk than men for obvious reasons, but that does not mean that Peace Corps Safety and Security policies are always placing PCVs in imminent danger. Many times these rules are just annoying hoops that PCVs jump through until they start to ignore them.

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