The Beginning of a Central American Spring

By Bella Jones

 

The Northern Triangle, a region in Central America encompassing Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, is known to harbor some of the most notorious criminals involved in illegal drug trafficking.  Additionally, this area suffers from government corruption, rampant gang violence, weak economies, and extreme poverty.  Because of the resulting instability, citizens of countries in the Northern Triangle have fled to the United States, often illegally, through Mexico drawing international attention.  Though the Mexican government has attempted to end the flow of refugees and migrants, their methods often cause mistreatment and extortion of thousands of desperate people. Furthermore, many of these are young children fleeing danger and starvation. All these factors have contributed to4 massive social instability that may soon rock the foundations of Central American governments.

Governments of the Northern Triangle cannot address alone. Yet, influential countries and international organizations have been hesitant to get involved directly within the Northern Triangle government. This reluctance may be due to muddy involvement in civil wars of the past. Before, during, and after the Salvadoran civil war, the U.S. had been controversially involved with the right-wing leaders of El Salvador’s militaristic government. Back then the U.S. unknowingly planted the seeds for much of the ongoing violence that has plagued the small country ever since the 1992 UN-negotiated Chapultepec Peace Agreement. Today, it  is one of the most violent countries in the world in non-conflict zones, as unbridled gang violence continues to terrorize its citizens. This example show just how influential external involvement can be, whether for better or for worse. Despite the mistakes of the past, it is important to recognize a government in need when it is most crucial for the country’s development and the protection of its people’s human rights.

An increasing number of citizens in Honduras and Guatemala have been protesting the government’s injustices, raising questions of a possible Central American Spring. Without more active involvement from international organizations or external influential governments, Central American governments will be unable to handle the detrimental results of these growing revolutionary sentiments. If the  U.S. is serious about addressing immigration policy reform, it will need use a different approach than just implementing stronger border control and deportation policies. These deterrence measures do nothing to address the root of the problem, which resides in the Central American countries themselves.

Recently, the United States, along with international organizations such as the United Nations, made a step in the right direction by intervening in addressing systemic corruption in Guatemala. The initiative established the UN International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an independent corruption agency driving the force behind investigations that have rooted out corrupt leaders,such as former Guatemalan president, Pérez Molina. The CICIG has had much success compared to national anti-corruption efforts in Honduras, a nation which has had much less hands-on international involvement. If similar efforts were to be implemented in Honduras, the results could be much more fruitful than current intragovernmental efforts.  These efforts could majorly contribute to a social stabilization that could avert dissent.

Known to be the one of the most violent countries in the world, Honduras suffers from systemic corruption in government, which perpetuates unrestrained drug wars and gang violence. This unhindered violence resulted in a homicide rate of 66 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014, a rate 50% higher than that of Detroit, the most dangerous city in the U.S. The country’s high murder rates have been a major cause of the massive waves of Honduran refugees across the border into the United States. From 1980 to 2013, the size of the Central American immigrant population grew nine-fold from 354,000 to 3.2 million. Since 2011, a growing number of unaccompanied children, largely from the Northern Triangle, have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border. These issues raise humanitarian and migratory concerns that involve not only the interests of the Northern Triangle, but also the surrounding nations such as Mexico and the United States. If these nations want to address the crisis, they’ll need to tackle its cause –  the endemic violence. Efforts by the  Honduran government to address the rampant crime have been undercut by internal corruption. In June of this year, Mario Zelaya, the former head of the Honduran Institute of Social Security allegedly embezzled USD $200 million in social security funds for the luxuries and campaign expenses of the National Party during the 2013 elections. News of this injustice spurred thousands to take to the streets in protest this summer and gave rise to a movement known as the Indignados, or “The Outraged”. In July, congressional Vice President Lena Gutiérrez was accused of a medical sales scandal in which a company he owns sold government subsidized medicine at inflated prices. This spurred more protests from the Indignados, and strengthened their demands for the impeachment of President Juan Orlando Hernández.

To address corruption, Tegucigalpa created an anti-corruption commission called the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). The commission offers recommendations on justice system reform but lacks any investigatory or prosecutorial powers.  Without these features, the MACCIH cannot appease the people’s growing resentment. The Indignados have voiced their discontent with the MACCIH’s lack of muscle and continues to protest for stronger reform, instigating rio fierce riots in Tegucigalpa.

Some suggest that the Guatemalan model of a UN-supported anti-corruption agency may not be a good fit for Honduras because of the inherent and deep-rooted corruption of the overall system in Honduras’s government. There is a great need for a supranational authority to intervene when a government has become corrupt to the point that it cannot implement self-checking systems. The United States injected USD $5 million into Guatemala’s CICIG, and should pursue a similar course of action in Honduras for an effective anti-corruption solution. The country is showing signs of the beginnings of a Central American Spring. The UN and the United States, who have high humanitarian and immigration interests in the conflict, have the potential to play an integral role in how the Indignados reshape the political landscape of both Honduras and the Northern Triangle as a whole. If no solution can be found by the region’s governments to their endemic problems, then protests, dissent, and social upheaval seem inevitable.

The Pope and the Patriarch: Mending the Schism

By Isabelle Sagraves

 

On February 12th, 2016, the world watched as a historic meeting took place between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. The two leaders held discussions in Cuba in order to discuss the persecution of Christians, especially in the Middle East and Africa, by the Islamic State and its affiliates. The first meeting between a Russian Patriarch and a Pope, this was a highly controversial and much-anticipated discussion, one that the Papacy has been attempting to instigate for many years now. The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest branch of Orthodox Christianity, which broke with the Catholic Church during the East-West Schism of 1054; a schism based on theology and the primacy of the pope. Since then, there has been a great deal of tension between the two Churches, and especially in the 20th Century, specifically between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church due to the events of the Cold War and subsequent world politics. Yet this historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill marks an important transition in their policy, from one of competition to cooperation. Although hopefully their aim of defending Christianity from the Islamic State and other terrorist groups will be successful, the tensions between Russia and the West may prove difficult in maintaining this alliance.

There is little doubt that the persecution of Christians is a significant problem that should be addressed by the Pope and the Patriarch. A new report by Open Doors USA, a Christian nonprofit organization, to TRUNEWS found that last year was the most violent for Christians in modern history: more that 7100 Christians were killed in 2015 for ‘faith-related reasons’, which marks a 40% increase from the previous year. The report found that the most dangerous countries for Christians are North Korea, Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, and Pakistan. In the face of the Islamic State and of other oppressive regimes, Christians (as well as many other groups – Christians are not the only ones being persecuted) are indeed suffering. A Pope-Patriarch coalition to work towards alleviating this seems like a good step forward in creating a cooperative, unified force. This cause was the primary outcome of the meeting: “Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance,” the Pope and patriarch said in a joint declaration. “We urge the international community to seek an end to the violence and terrorism and, at the same time, to contribute through dialogue to a swift return to civil peace.”

Although this cooperation seems like a mutually beneficial one, it is complicated by the legacy of the Cold War and its lingering effects on Russian/Western relations, most importantly the current situation under Putin. Kirill is close to Putin, and it has been suggested that this meeting will be used as propaganda to boost Russia’s public image despite general Western criticism of Putin’s regime. Yury Avvakumov, an assistant professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, commented that At this moment, it would be useful for Russian leaders to have any public figure who would approach Russia with a ‘business as usual’ attitude.” Essentially, Professor Avvukamov is suggesting that the Pope’s visit with the Patriarch may be interpreted as Western approval of the Russian government and its actions that are not necessarily supported by the Papacy.

On the other hand, Patriarch Kirill has experienced backlash from more conservative voices – because of this alliance, he has been accused of cooperating too much with the West. Chad Pecknold, a theologian at the Catholic University of America, stated that “Conservative forces within Moscow have said we don’t like this reunification with the west … (it) weakens us.” This statement comes amid a fraught past of conflict between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, most particularly over the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church, which practices Orthodox rites but answers to the Pope. The two churches have disagreed over who should have more influence over this sect, and this debate is still not settled. Aside from this specific conflict, the meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis has sparked general attacks from Russian conservatives afraid of Russia’s Westernization.

It is impossible to separate the political and historical conditions surrounding Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church’s relationship with the West and the Papacy, even when the cause worth cooperating for seems clearly beneficial for all involved. Even the choice of meeting place, Cuba, has political undertones: an ex-Soviet country with a past of Western European colonization, Cuba has ties to both the Patriarch and the Pope. This further demonstrates how deeply political conflict resounds throughout this alliance, and how the conflict truly has the potential to strain it. This could be especially problematic when discussions begin about how exactly to proceed with their cause, because in order to stop the violent persecution of Christians, political support will probably be necessary in order to be successful.

From Russia with Love: Putin’s Involvement with Organized Crime

 

By Sarah Taylor

 

The Russian government has had a long relationship with organized crime and is deeply embedded in revenge killings. These actions have specifically revolved around the KGB, Russias secret service organization primed to target those who speak against the government or country. A recent investigation by British officials into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a KGB defector who died of a mysterious poisoning incident, has unearthed the revelation that the Russian government, specifically Vladimir Putin, has had a strong role in organized crime and assassinating foreign dissidents.

Vladimir Putin has had a long-standing love affair with organized crime and suspicious activities. He was a KGB agent himself before being promoted to head of the organization in 1998 by the sitting president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin. It was later revealed that his PhD dissertation in strategic planning was plagiarized from a KGB translation of a U.S. professors work. In light of this, he was still promoted to run the KGB, suggesting that he was not being promoted solely based on his work or merit. There is also evidence suggesting that Putin was involved in the murder of the Russian Attorney General who was investigating corruption in the Kremlin at the time. Four months later, he was named Prime Minister of Russia. There was much speculation over the bizarre, spontaneous promotionsthat resulted in Putin being named prime minister. In August of 1999, Putins first major action as Prime Minister was to order a carpet bombing of Chechnya and invade the country in a ploy to resurge the Russian military. The Chechen war brought into question many human rights violations by Russia against Chechnya. Following this, opposition journalists started being blatantly assassinated for reporting the conditions in Chechnya. In 2004, Viktor Yushchenko, an anti-Russian candidate for Ukraine president was poisoned by Dioxin, a chemical weapon used by the Soviets in Afghanistan. Putins history with organized crime is embedded with mysterious episodes of his enemies being mysteriously disposed of by criminals.

Alexander Litvinenko was a KGB agent before he was dismissed for making accusations of illegal Kremlin activity in 1998. He then went on to write a book titled Blowing Up Russia, in which he accused the Kremlin of masterminding apartment bombings in 1999 that were blamed on Chechen terrorists to gain support for the war against Chechnya. In 2003, 3 years before Litvinenko was poisoned, Sergei Yushenkov was gunned down for investigating Putins KGB involvement in planting the bombs in the apartments. On November 1, 2006, Litvinenko became suddenly sick and subsequently died on November 23, 2006, from an illness his doctors were unable to diagnose. Recent advances in technology led to British officials to recently declare that Litvinenko died of polonium-210 traces in his tea. Earlier in the day on November 1, Litvinenko sat down to have tea with two KGB agents, Lugovoi and Kovtun, at the Pine Bar in the Millennium Hotel in London. Later investigations have proved that there were traces of polonium-210 in the drainpipes of the Millennium Hotel. British investigators have claimed that Putin ordered the two agents to poison Litvinenko, leading to his death. Most of the evidence that has been collected on Litvinenkos death is strong, but does not prove a connection with the top Russian leadership. That said, their actions surrounding the death is more than suspicious.

Russia has refused to grant Britain the extradition of KGB agents Lugovoi and Kovtun in the murder of Litvinenko. The two agents have instead been granted immunity and a medal from Putin himself. There have been questions about the implications of the investigation into Putins involvement in the murder harming Britains relationship with Russia. The information has had no effect on the Russian publicmost of the citizens have a deep distrust of the West. Putins involvement in Litvinenkos death is a likely conclusion when considering the personal dimension Litvinenkos work has for Putin, which included denunciations of his leadership and even accusations of pedophilia.

The KGB’s killing of Litvinenko is significant for multiple reasons. First, it proves that Russia is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to silence “loose ends”, even those under the protection and on the soil of foreign governments. Second, Litvinenko made serious allegations of Putin’s connections to organized crime. While those accusations could be blown off as conspiracy theories from a disaffected exile, his death gives them merit: clearly, the Kremlin, or at least a higher official inside the KGB, viewed him as a serious threat. The question remains as to whether what Litvienko said was true, but based on the retaliation he received, the world would benefit from remaining watchful of Russia’s overseas activities, and from an EU investigation into the Kremlin’s vast connections with organized crime.

Liberia’s Post-Ebola Health Crisis

By Dustin Cai

Even though Liberia has been declared Ebola-free since May of 2015 with the last known case to occur in that November, it is no time to relax for Liberia and its healthcare system. In the wake of the Ebola virus that ravaged the country in all sectors, Liberia is left with the remains of a nation that was already in a poor place pre-Ebola. After killing over 11,000 people in West Africa since 2013, 4,800 of which were in Liberia, Ebola also destroyed much of the little healthcare infrastructure that was in place prior to the outbreak.

 

Prior to the outbreak, Liberia had a limited healthcare system. Armed with only 117 doctors and a handful of other workers such as nurses, Liberia mainly relied on international non profit organizations such as USAID and Doctors Without Borders. But, with much of this international aid withdrawing with the end of the outbreak, Liberia is left vulnerable to other acute diseases and, in the face of another outbreak, possible collapse. After Ebola killed over 8% of Liberia’s healthcare workforce with many other medical workers fleeing the country, the citizens of Liberia are now facing the full frontal force of other medical issues such as Malaria, Tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS that will be left untreated due to physician shortages. Many regular vaccinations that occurred before Ebola saw significant decreases of nearly 30% for diseases such as tetanus, hepatitis B, and measles. With such devastating effects, the entire healthcare system is faced with the very real threat of collapse.

 

So how did it get this way?

 

One of the major problems that Liberia faced was poor governance under President Ellen Sirleaf, the first female president of Liberia. The corruption of the government under Sirleaf led a lot of the Liberian citizens to distrust the government and ignore the warnings that Sirleaf gave. In a report of citizens’ reactions to the news of Ebola, one village chief explained that they believed Sirleaf had created this disease to kill people and to get free international aid, causing many villages and families to ignore the safety recommendations for Ebola. Because of Sirleaf’s many scam projects in the past, it set up a system of distrust between the people and their government, making the Ebola outbreak in Liberia worse than other countries and previous outbreaks. We will have to wait until 2017 to see if the Liberian election cycle is to bring in a better president and an improved system of government and trust. Otherwise, poor governance and distrust of government announcements will allow for the continuation of Liberia’s healthcare issues.

 

In addition, the lack of resources in Liberia set the system up for failure when the major outbreak of Ebola hit. With only one medical school in all of Liberia and the extremely low compensation for being a doctor of just $85 a month when you start, home grown doctors are hard to come by in Liberia. Because Liberia cannot keep relying on international doctors to help sustain its own health system, more funds will be needed to address this issue.

 

So what can Liberia do?

 

Well, more funds are exactly what Liberia needs. Liberia and two other countries impacted the most by Ebola, Guinea and Sierra Leone, have asked for $8 billion combined, $1.5 billion of which is dedicated to revamping their healthcare systems and building more hospitals and medical schools. While Liberia needs international funding to kick start its program, Liberia cannot simply rely on international aid to become a self-sustaining country. Already, 65% of Liberia’s spending budget comes from external donors. To start building independence, Liberia is currently looking at many different options to fund their expenditures, including sin taxes on goods such as alcohol and tobacco and also begin charging citizens for health services.

 

On top of gathering funds, Liberia might need to rebuild its entire healthcare system from scratch to remove all of the inefficiencies, build a system of medical training, and become self sustaining. For this, we can look to Afghanistan as the model for rebuilding healthcare systems. After their structural systems were wrecked by war and the Taliban regime in 2001, their healthcare system resembled that of modern day Liberia. By focusing on building hospitals, care centers, and a system of primary care, Afghanistan was able to expand its primary care coverage from 9% of the population in 2003 to 85% in 2009.
In order to achieve the similar results that Afghanistan was able to accomplish, there are many pressing issues that Liberia will need to fix. First, unclean water and food insecurity plague the nation with 68% of the nation drinking from contaminated sources. Second, the lack of physical infrastructure such as unpaved roads, lack of modern day technology, and the poor condition of many buildings and facilities threaten the failure of any healthcare system developments. Finally, Liberia as a whole will need to restructure, which encompasses the training of more physicians, the building of better schools, the stabilization of their economy, and improving communications between government agencies and the people of Liberia. While these issues do not cover the entire range of concerns in Liberia, they provide a strong starting place in the rebuilding of a health system.

Britain’s EU Negotiations

By Daria Berstell

The United Kingdom’s future membership in the European Union has, in recent years, come into question, with “Brexit” – Britain leaving the EU, becoming increasingly probable. In 2013, in a bid to appease the Euro-skeptics in the UK, David Cameron, Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister, promised that if his party was reelected, he would renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership in the EU and hold a referendum regarding the UK’s continued membership in the EU by 2018. The referendum is expected to be held in June or July of 2017 assuming a deal is reached by the EU Summit in February 2017. Since the Tory’s reelection in 2015, Cameron has been working to renegotiate the terms of the United Kingdom’s membership in the EU. Cameron laid out his main objectives in a letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council in November of 2015. Cameron’s main objectives in his negotiations are protecting the single market, competitiveness, immigration, and sovereignty.

Regarding economic governance Cameron is lobbying for recognition of multiple currencies within the European Union in an effort to safeguard the UK’s use of the pound, to protect the single market, and to prevent the UK from being forced to use the euro or assist in bailing out eurozone countries. Cameron also hopes to increase competitiveness by reducing excessive regulations. In addition, in response to the high levels of immigration that Britain experiences as well as the recent rise in refugees seeking asylum in Europe, Cameron hopes to restrict welfare payments to EU migrants until those individuals have been a UK resident for at least four years. Finally, Cameron is also negotiating to allow Britain to be exempt from forming an “ever closer union” with the rest of Europe, in a bid to resist further political integration, opting out of one of the founding goals of the European Union.

Cameron’s negotiations to reduce regulations on the UK come on the heels of the Conservatives lobbying to free businesses from interference and to remove trade barriers on the service and digital sectors. The Tory’s goals are the creation of a true single market, however, one with protections for the City of London, the UK’s trading and financial industries. While Cameron’s goals include limiting welfare payments to workers who have recently arrived in the UK, he and his party do support the enlargement of the European Union, as long as there are restrictions in place to prevent unlimited travel within Europe. The overarching goal of Cameron’s EU negotiations is to reclaim some of the power that the EU has over UK law. Cameron’s party is also planning to attempt to repeal the Human Rights Act which requires the UK to use the European Court of Human Rights as legal precedent rather than the British Bill of Rights. Cameron has stated that if necessary he would support a law to assert the power of the UK Parliament over that of the EU. The overall angle of the reforms involves divesting power away from Brussels and back to London.

Cameron’s negotiations to prevent recent migrants to the UK from receiving welfare payments and social support is mostly aimed at decreasing the amount of EU nationals who move to the UK seeking work. In addition to delaying benefits for recent migrants, Cameron is also lobbying to restrict migrants from receiving child benefits for dependents who do not reside in the UK, removing individuals from the UK if they have not found work within six months, speeding up deportation of criminals, and restricting entry for citizens from newly joined EU countries for a period. These restrictions all affect freedom of movement within the EU, one of the founding principles of the EU. The changes the Prime Minister is seeking, if they succeed, would dramatically change the EU’s principles.

Freedom of movement also plays a key role in how the EU is meant to work as a single market. Freedom of movement is enshrined in EU treaties, however, with recent influxes of migrants to the UK, both from Eastern European countries as well as due to the Syrian civil war, the Tories are looking for ways to bypass the basic freedom of movement within the EU while still holding back welfare payments from recent migrants. This issue has received pushback from some EU leaders and nations such as Hungary and Poland who see those changes as discriminatory towards their nationals, many of whom migrate to the UK for work. While David Cameron is working to negotiate a new deal for the UK within the EU, some members of his party want more aggressive changes; such as allowing the UK to “opt-out” of some EU laws or simply for the UK to leave the EU entirely, no matter what the results of Cameron’s negotiations. With such massive pressures, securing greater freedom within the EU is one of the few compromises the Tories can offer to placate Euro-skeptic parts of the country.

On February 2nd, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, circulated a letter to the 28 EU member states regarding his proposal for a new settlement for the UK. This new deal falls short of the “fundamental reform” that Cameron originally promised his party he would accomplish. The four year freeze on benefits to new migrants has now become a four year phased introduction of benefits. The emphasis has moved to the phased in benefits rather than the curbing of migration that Cameron had originally promised his party’s MPs. Cameron will have to continue to fight for concessions ahead of the summit in February if he is to maintain the support of the many Euro-skeptics in his party.
For Cameron to secure the deal ahead of the EU summit in February, he will have to convince the countries of Eastern Europe to agree to the deal, and he must also convince his own party that his deal is a true victory for Britain. For many leaders in Eastern Europe, Cameron’s proposals, which would severely limit benefits available to recent migrants to the UK, are seen as a direct attack on their nation’s nationals, especially in countries such as Hungary and Poland. Several days after Cameron’s proposals were published, Cameron traveled to Poland in a bid to convince the Polish leadership to support his negotiations. While Cameron needs a dramatic victory to appease his party at home, the Polish government needs to show calm but strong resistance to the deal to appease the Polish public. Cameron will continue to lobby for his deal, while negotiations will continue concerning freedom of movement for EU nationals and the UK. Whether the UK can convince its partners to accept its deal will determine its future relations with the continent. 

Spray or Spay? Zika and the fight for women’s reproductive rights

By Josh Ulino

 

On Monday, February 1 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global emergency over the increasingly rapidly spreading Zika virus, calling it an “extraordinary event” and that it poses a threat to the entire world. That has never been truer than now, as the first European Zika virus pregnancy case was confirmed in Spain, nine cases were confirmed in Florida, and one case was confirmed in Texas in addition to the thousands of confirmed cases of the virus in South America.

 

At first glace, Zika doesn’t seem like a virus that should be that concerning. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zika is spread through the bite of any mosquito of the Aedes genus. The typical adult who is infected with Zika experiences fever, rashes, joint pain, and conjunctivitis for as little as a few days to as long as a week. However, the disease seems to be much more harmful than once originally thought. Since the first case of Zika was confirmed in Brazil in May of 2015, scientists have realized that there are many unanticipated and previously unknown problems associated with Zika. One such problem is directly affecting pregnant women and their partners.

 

When the Zika virus infects women who are pregnant, their babies are born with birth defects, most specifically microcephaly. Microcephaly is a neurological disorder in which the head of the child is significantly smaller than the body of the child. The disorder may lead to developmental delays, dwarfism, hyperactivity, mental retardation and/or seizures. In Brazil, more than 4,000 babies have been born with microcephaly since October. In a normal year, there are less than 200 cases of microcephaly in Brazil. Many Central and South American governments have responded in ways that can be described as no less than sexist, essentially telling women to not get pregnant and delay pregnancy for a certain length of time. These responses have started debates on abortion, birth control, and sex education, debates that will no doubt last longer than the Zika outbreak. The outbreak has not only caused pestilence, but has highlighted social tensions and gender issues.

 

The amount of time Central and South American governments are waiting for women to delay pregnancy vary. Colombia, the country with the second highest amount of cases of microcephaly behind Brazil, is telling women to wait six to eight months, while El Salvador is telling women to wait until 2018. According to medical historians, this is the first time in history in which governments have advised something like this; however, there are some people who think it could work. Dr. William Schaffer, the chief of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and other preventative disease researchers have suggested that if women can wait two years before having children, there may be a vaccine and Zika will no longer be cause for concern. While from a medical standpoint this may be an effective solution, it ignores some of the realities the women who live in these countries have to face.

 

Women’s groups throughout Central and South America are fighting back against the government’s suggestions and are using this as an opportunity to argue for greater access to birth control, more sex education, and legal abortions. Health care workers almost never provide contraceptives to teenagers or women who have not yet had a child. Sex education is essentially non-existent because of the religious foundations of a majority of these countries, and these countries have some of the strictest abortion laws in the world. In El Salvador, a place where women are advised to wait until 2018 to become pregnant, a woman is not allowed to have an abortion even if her life is at risk. Moreover, the suggestions made by Central and South American governments essentially ignore the fact that a majority of births in Latin America and the Caribbean come from unintended pregnancies. The Guttmacher Institute, a think-tank that does research on reproductive health issues, has found that 56 percent of births in this region are from pregnancies that are unintended and unplanned. Many of these unintended pregnancies are a result of teenage pregnancy, incest, and rape. In a interview with Reuters, Monica Roa, vice president of strategy at Women’s Link Worldwide, said, “In El Salvador, the recommendation to postpone pregnancy is offensive to women and even more ridiculous in the context of strict abortion laws and high levels of sexual violence against girls and women.”

 

Until the governments of these Central and South American countries legalizes abortion, improves sex education for teenagers, and makes contraceptives easily available for all who wish to acquire them, there is little to no chance that pregnancy rates will be reduced. Governments need to focus on the only viable option and follow in the footsteps of Brazil. The Brazilian government is handing out insect repellant to 400,000 expectant mothers as health workers and soldiers are traveling around the country and teaching Brazilians how to keep workers at bay. They are also going to teach women contemplating pregnancy how to avoid being bitten by a mosquito. At a time where the world is potentially going to have to face a global health emergency, the last thing governments should be doing is further suppressing women and their health. Rather, Central and South American governments should empower and teach women and men alike how the global community can get through this potential epidemic together.