By Youri A Kemp
How has it gotten so bad in Central America to the point where nearly every country is either gripped with a severe crime and murder rate, or has migrants flowing outward towards Mexico to the north, headed to their final destination of America in what has been coined as the “Migrant Caravan”?
Not since the height of the Cold War and prior to the fight for independence has the region of Central America: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama gone through so much but most attention has either been focused on the growth of Mexico, their neighbour to the north, and Venezuela, the oil-rich country to the south.
People in the region have not forgotten you. We cannot forget you. Fact of the matter is, you are us. We are brothers, and sisters.
We know full well what stresses are causing some of your issues, but until the international community takes the region seriously as not just another set of small countries beneath the United States of America, we have to continually ask for help and for concerned citizens to keep talking, keep tweeting, keep the light on and voices heard.
The crime gripping Belize is absolutely appalling, essentially brought about by a vicious drug trade and lack of resources in education and training, which leads to opportunities for young men – the persons most at risk for violence.
Belize ranks in spot #7 for highest murder rate per 100,000 by the United Nations.
At one of the highest murder rates in the world, Belize, the only English speaking country in the group, faces the same fate as some of its Spanish speaking neighbours.
To the south and southwest of Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras rank 15, 1 and 2 in the world with the highest murder rate per 100,000.
According to the United Nations, the Migrant Caravan is made up of men, women and children mostly from Honduras, though some are Guatemalan and others are from El Salvador.
These people are not only escaping economic hardships in their respective countries, but also the high crime and violence rates and many are asking for asylum in the United States from the ravages of violence in their countries.
The UN had estimated the caravan at more than 7,000 when it left Honduras. Mexican officials say about 4,500 people are still headed north, after thousands sought asylum in Mexico.
The UN, in the Crime and Violence reports from at least 2010, has designated these countries, as well as a few other Caribbean countries, as “conflict zones” despite not really having declared a civil war or an international war with any of their neighbours.
Aside from a “cold” border conflict between Belize (formerly British Honduras) and Guatemala and to some extent Honduras, there is no Central American conflict between any of the countries in the region with any of its neighbours.
The only country gripped with political turmoil and what some may classify as a civil war is Nicaragua, with the bulk of the turmoil happening in early to mid-2018, resulting in protests against Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, and his economic policies.
Ortega was re-elected in a landslide with over 70 percent of the popular vote, despite polls suggesting that some 70 percent of Nicaraguans wanted him to stand down and not run again for re-election.
Observers, of course, said the elections were rigged in his favour. Ortega, a throwback to the days of the Nicaraguan revolutionary fighting between the Sandinistas and the Contras, with the latter backed by the United States in the infamous “Iran-Contra” scandal, first won presidential elections in 1984 and has never truly been out of Nicaraguan politics and government for the better part of the last 35 years.
No doubt, with most of the countries in the Central American region, the cold war has taken its toll and the fight for ideals on how to shape economies has turned bloody and desperate. The effects of the broken hearts and lives still linger on to this day.
As we move south to the countries left on the list, Costa Rica and Panama, the former has historically been the bright spot in the region, having had little to no political or social unrest and upheaval.
On the other hand, Panama had its strong-man dictator, Manuel Noriega, ousted by a US led invasion in 1989 on the grounds that he was trafficking narcotics into the United States and was wanted by US authorities.
Since the invasion, Panama has slowly and surely built itself up as an economic success, despite being labeled as a tax-haven and international financial center of ill-repute – something Caribbean countries can relate to – and has used the Panama Canal to its advantage, having had massive benefits in turning ports in Panama into “Free-Trade Zones”, boosting international trade and commerce.
While crime and violence is still a part of Panamanian society to an unwanted degree, it is not as dire as some of its Central American neighbours to the north at this time.
While we look at the migrant crisis, conflict and violence-led turmoil, the fight of political and economic ideals between socialism and free-market capitalism, US interventions, economic blight and the scourge of drugs and narcotics, remind ourselves that things can get better if we look at all of our brothers and sisters across the region and take their best and make it ours. But, never forget to look and help!