El Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal, organización civil radicada en México, dio a conocer recientemente los resultados de su investigación “Las 50 Ciudades más Peligrosas del Mundo." El estudio calcula el promedio de homicidios entre la población total de cada ciudad, y persigue un fin mucho más que académico. De acuerdo con el Consejo Ciudadano, “lo que perseguimos es contribuir al reclamo que los diferentes pueblos del mundo hacen a sus gobernantes para que cumplan con su obligación de proteger los derechos de los individuos a la vida, la propiedad y la libertad.” Los resultados del estudio no deberían sorprendernos. Sin embargo, arrojan indicios de variables que hasta el momento, al menos en Centroamérica, no se daban a conocer.
Dentro de las 50 ciudades más violentas del mundo figuran 39 ciudades latinoamericanas—sin contar el Caribe. El resto se encuentra en Sudáfrica o Estados Unidos. San Pedro Sula, Honduras ocupa el primer lugar, llevándose el indecoroso reconocimiento como la ciudad más peligrosa del mundo. En cuarto lugar figura Tegucigalpa, Honduras, seguida de Ciudad de Guatemala, en doceavo lugar, y San Salvador en el puesto 44 detrás de ciudades como Baltimore, Nueva Orleans, Oakland y Detroit en los Estados Unidos.
Pero, ¿de qué sirven los rankings de este tipo? Los centroamericanos conocen de primera mano los retos a la seguridad ciudadana que afrontamos, pero información como ésta aporta lecciones valiosas que no podemos ignorar.
The aftershocks from Guatemala’s largest earthquake since 1976 continue to reverberate around the country, causing a halt to governmental efforts to introduce constitutional reform.
In August, President Otto Pérez Molina went to Congress with a list of 35 proposed constitutional reforms covering everything from the mining industry to educational reform. This prompted countrywide protests, leading to the deaths of six civilians in Totonicapán.
On a visit to San Marcos, the area most affected by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake on November 7, Pérez Molina announced that the Q200 million ($25.2 million) that was to be spent on constitutional reform will be set aside to help with the earthquake recovery.
The sheer scale of the earthquake is only just being felt, with 3.4 million people affected by it and 225 aftershocks ranging from 3.5-6.1 on the Richter scale in the past three weeks. At its peak, over 30,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
The arrest of eight soldiers in connection with the Totonicapán incident on October 4—which resulted in the deaths of at least seven Indigenous protestors—heralds the first test of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina’s mano dura (iron fist) approach to restoring law and order.
Pérez Molina campaigned for office promising to use the army, from which he is a retired general, to help combat narcoterrorism and the associated random violence that pervades the country. Instead, the remilitarization of Guatemala, with mixed army and Policía Nacional Civil (National Civil Police—PNC) roadblocks a common sight, has brought back memories of the 36-year civil war where state brutality was a daily occurrence.
Events in Totonicapán, an Indigenous-majority department in the west of the country, are especially poignant on Día de la Hispanidad, which is a day to commemorate Indigenous resistance against Spanish conquerors. Hispanity Day, which is celebrated in the U.S. as Columbus Day, also saw a heavy police presence in Guatemala City as authorities feared a backlash by Indigenous groups.
Colonel Juan Chiroy Sal has been charged with extrajudicial murder as the commander of a detachment of the honor guard sent to Cuatro Caminos, an intersection that links Totonicapán with Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango and Guatemala City. It is a frequent spot for demonstrations and the October 4 protest against rising electricity prices in the area saw other community members join in to complain about proposed changes to the Constitution and other education reforms.
In the mid-1990s, the Inter-American Development Bank published various reports indicating that El Salvador and Guatemala had the highest homicide rates in Latin America. Fast-forward sixteen years later and these two countries form, along with neighboring Honduras, the most violent region in the world by all accounts.
With a combined population of 28 million, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador constitute the northern triangle of Central America; a sub-region that has experienced almost twice-as-much violence as Mexico has since 2006, when Calderon’s war on drugs started. According to official data, approximately 50 thousand people have been killed in Mexico since 2006. In contrast, the northern triangle, with a population four times smaller than Mexico, has endured nearly 90,000 murders during that same period. But while Mexico, with an annual homicide rate of 18 deaths per one hundred thousand inhabitants, is a tragedy, the northern triangle, with average homicide rates surpassing 60 per one hundred thousand, is a catastrophe.
Many believe that the appalling rates of violence in the sub-region are the result of the penetration of Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. According to this argument, in their effort to control the drug routes from South America to the United States, criminal organizations are not only bringing unparalleled violence to Central America, but also taking over highly fragile public institutions. The logical extension of this argument then is that this relentless assault of transnational gangs can only be addressed with greater police and military force.
Although the presence of criminal cartels has undeniably contributed to the skyrocketing violence in the northern triangle, the fundamental problem of security in Central America does not have to do merely with drug traffickers—or social conditions, for that matter. It has to do with government institutions. It has to do with local political and criminal-justice organizations that are extremely corrupt. It has to do with institutions that have been historically pervaded by local criminal lords, death squads, crooked politicians, and vicious paramilitaries who were present long before the Mexican Zetas or the Colombian syndicates began crowding the illegal enterprises of the region.
As the global marketplace becomes increasingly competitive, the pressures of manufacturing costs have risen to the forefront. These challenges drive the locations of manufacturing, where products are transported and where investors look to spend their capital. It seems that the days of faulty, substandard major projects in Central America are over as individual governments take seriously the attractions for businesses to manufacture in other world regions.
From Guatemala to the end of the isthmus at Panama, Central American nations have all realized that the only way their countries can be competitive in the modern global economy is by building a first-class infrastructure. These outputs must offer sufficient capacity to handle the demands of the movement and delivery of goods, people and services in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Every country is pouring significant funds into infrastructure, with Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica leading the pack.
Panama, which is often considered to be the “hub of the Americas” in terms of maritime and aviation, has spent over $3 billion in projects related to the widening of the Panama Canal, and another $3 billion in the construction of a metro-rail transportation system, among other initiatives. Meanwhile, Costa Rica has posted an impressive growth rate in recent years due primarily to tourism and producing high-value products. However, Costa Rica has been criticized for its lack of infrastructure and for the bureaucratic delays that surround the approval of any major project. With hopes of sustaining its current growth, Costa Rica has responded to this criticism by reforming its concessions law to further attract investment as well as signing a historic free-trade agreement with China, aimed at attracting heavy infrastructure-related foreign direct investment as it recently did.
Por primera vez en 26 años de incipiente democracia, llega un militar a la presidencia de Guatemala. La oferta política del General Otto Pérez Molina se enfocó en una mano dura hacia la delincuencia y narcotráfico. Curiosamente los estratos sociales y étnicos que sufrieron la mayor cantidad de abusos de derechos humanos durante el conflicto armado por parte del Ejército se decantaron por el General.
El mismo día el General Omar Halleslevens fue electo vice-presidente de la Republica de Nicaragua como compañero de fórmula del Presidente Daniel Ortega. Halleslevens habría sido instrumental en modernizar y profesionalizar las Fuerzas Armadas de Nicaragua después del conflicto armado.
Apenas unas semanas antes de que ambos militares en retiro fueran electos el General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, ex jefe castrense de Honduras durante la crisis política del vecino país en el 2009, se menciona como candidato a la presidencia hondureña. De lograr llegar a la silla presidencial sería el primer militar en hacerlo desde 1982.
¿Qué valoración se debe hacer a lo que pareciera una tendencia en la región? Está claro que hay algunas diferencias obvias entre los tres casos. Por ejemplo, en Guatemala Pérez Molina fue electo bajo un proceso de elecciones libres, justas y democráticas mientras que en Nicaragua el proceso electoral estuvo plagado de irregularidades, ilegalidades e incoherencias. Y en el tercero de los casos Vásquez Velásquez aun ni siquiera entra en la contienda electoral formalmente.
¿Debemos interpretar estos hechos como un síntoma o es una consecuencia de la situación de inseguridad en la región?
Severe flooding has claimed the lives of more than 80 people and displaced thousands in the wake of some of the region’s heaviest rains since Hurricane Mitch ravaged Central America in 1998. After rainfall totals reached nearly 40 inches in 72 hours in the hardest-hit areas of El Salvador and Guatemala, officials in both countries declared states of emergency and issued mandatory evacuation orders to residents of low-lying areas.
According to Salvadoran emergency management office director Jorge Melendez, the downpours in El Salvador have left “27 people dead, the majority of them from mudslides that hit their dwellings.” A total of 13,874 people have been moved to 209 shelters, said Melendez. In neighboring Guatemala, 28 people have died and the death toll is expected to rise.
The immediate response of governments in the region has focused on search and rescue operations, particularly in rural areas. Already, however, analysts are predicting billions of dollars in economic losses as a result of the storm. Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes yesterday launched an appeal for international humanitarian aid. Thus far, Venezuela has pledged support and Spain has responded by sending 20 tons of supplies, including tents and hygiene kits.
Mexico’s immigration commissioner announced yesterday that overall migration (based on figures around the unauthorized) from Central America bound for Mexico and the United States decreased by nearly 70 percent over the past five years. Commissioner Salvador Beltrán del Río of Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración, or INM) came to this conclusion by comparing the number of detained, undocumented Central American migrants in 2005 versus that in 2010—433,000 versus 140,000. He observed that the downward trend has continued thus far in 2011.
Commissioner Beltrán pointed out that Central Americans crossing into Mexico face grave risks of violence, kidnapping and extortion due to the increased association of organized crime with migrant trafficking. The International Organization for Migration’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Michele Klein Solomon, has concurred, adding that Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, or CNDH) estimates the number of annual migrant kidnappings to be around 22,000. Between April 2011 and September 2011, CNDH has placed that figure at 11,333.
However, some in Mexico dispute INM’s methodology. Rodolfo Casillas, a professor at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, contends: “What’s dropping is the number of people detained by immigration agents, which is different from the Central American migration flow that goes through Mexico.”
Mexico’s government has taken action to address issues around the treatment of migrants. In May, President Felipe Calderón approved a new migration law that aims to better protect migrants through such measures as punishing migration authorities for any unlawful acts committed toward migrants.
No longer can policymakers ignore the grim reality of the level of violence in the seven countries that comprise the Central American isthmus. The situation today evoke comparisons of the homicide rates that many countries experienced at the height of their armed conflicts—a time of violence that all had hoped would remain in the past.
The numbers are staggering. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Central America’s homicide rate tops 33 murders per 100,000 people, making it the most violent area of not just Latin America, but also the world. In fact, the region’s homicide rate is more than four times the global average. The situation is particularly troubling when it comes to the region’s youth; 39 of every 100,000 young people age 15 to 24 years old will fall victim to murder each year.
Increasing international attention and assistance to the region is certainly a very welcome development. Last week, Central America's heads of state along with the presidents of Mexico and Colombia and other international observers decamped to Guatemala City for the International Conference in Support of the Central American Security Strategy organized by the Central American Integration System (SICA). In a region where divisions often bubble to the surface, the leaders’ resolve to jointly tackle insecurity was perhaps one of the conference’s biggest achievements.
In a meeting with diplomats from various Central American countries yesterday, Mexican Senate president Manlio Fabio Beltrones promised to draft new immigration legislation that will protect and guarantee the human rights of undocumented migrants in Mexico. The new legislation proposes to resolve issues not yet addressed by current law including protections for migrants who witness crimes, higher penalties for human trafficking and increased access to health, legal and financial services. These changes are directed toward undocumented immigrants who have already settled in Mexico as a means of normalizing their status.
Estimates are that approximately 300,000 Central Americans travel through Mexico on their way to the United States annually. Mexican authorities apprehend and deport less than a third of those undocumented migrants. At the same time, the systematic abuse of undocumented migrants is on the rise in Mexico with reported assaults and kidnappings increasing in recent years including the most recent murder of 72 undocumented migrants last August by drug cartels.
Mr. Beltrones’ proposal was met with praise by the ambassadors and consuls from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Costa Rica. Speaking on behalf of the Central Americans, Ambassador Hugo Roberto Carrillo of El Salvador thanked the Mexican authorities for their efforts on behalf of undocumented migrants while noting that transgressions against migrants were being perpetrated by both Mexican authorities, in overly aggressive efforts to control the flow of immigrants, and by organized crime. Despite this announcement, human rights activists and the United Nations demanded that the disappearances of migrants and past abuse of migrants to date be investigated and resolved.