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.

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