Tinkering with ‘sustainable or eco-tourism’ hides the real face of tourism

By Anita Pleumarom (Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team) and Chee Yoke Ling (Third World Network)

Reproduced here by kind permission of Anita Pleumarom, Chee Yoke Ling and the Third World Network – www.twn.my

The United Nations committed a substantial error when it proclaimed 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.  Despite its pronouncements of tourism being a positive force for economic development and poverty eradication, tourism is inept at meeting the challenge of implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Like no other industry, tourism promotes – and glamorizes – a hyper-mobile and hyper-consumeristic lifestyle, rendering sustainability elusive. In fact, most tourism development is fraught with negatives including gross inequalities, human rights violations, cultural erosion, environmental degradation and climate instability (1).

Recent research is particularly alarming in terms of tourism’s contribution to climate change, primarily due to the high energy use for transport such as air travel. Based on a new global tourism emissions model, global tourism is set to emit some 300 gigatonnes of CO2 between 2015 and 2100, which is 30 percent of the global carbon budget for sustainable development (2). It is preposterous to allocate so much of this budget to tourism, instead of meeting the acute energy needs of billions of people around the world. Meanwhile, tourism alternatives such as ‘green’ or ‘eco’-tourism can also be problematic. Not only do they usually depend on long-haul flights that drive climate change, they also tend to penetrate fragile ecosystems and Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral lands, triggering both biodiversity loss and culture loss.

Tourism as a major source of financial leakage is well documented (3). Since it is frequently large foreign companies that either initiate or take over commercially successful tourism projects, the domestic retention and distribution of tourism benefits has a very poor record; profits are generally repatriated to corporate headquarters and shareholders abroad. A particular characteristic of tourism in this age of neoliberal globalisation is that it is closely intertwined with the finance and real estate industries. Ground evidence shows that vast tracts of public land are being privatized and acquired by foreign investors for luxury tourism – plus tourism-related residential, commercial and mega-infrastructure developments (e.g. ‘aerotropolis’, or airport cities) – resulting in displacement and disempowerment of local people. The radically de-regulated business environment spawns price hikes and speculation, posing high risks to local economies, ways of life and community social structures.

The nature and conceptualisation of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) does not allow for it to adequately deal with the unsustainable and unjust patterns of tourism. Originally formed as a business organisation, the UNWTO remains industry-controlled and industry-oriented, and its critics do not regard it as a responsible UN agency acting for the common good. In synchrony with the global tourism and travel industry, it continues to aggressively campaign for further tourism growth despite the fact that much of contemporary tourism is antithetical to sustainable development and most of the tourism-related goods and services are luxuries that can only be enjoyed by the world’s minority. Even if some improvements can be achieved in tourism through better regulation and management as well as increased incentives for ecologically sustainable activities (alleged ‘eco’-tourism among them), it is clear that the gains made will be negligible in the context of the continued growth of the tourism industry at large, as forecast and aspired by the UNWTO. Instead of down-scaling the inflated tourism sector and effectively engaging in harm avoidance, the UNWTO sends a wrong message to the public: that ‘sustainable (eco)tourism’ is the solution and needs to grow without barriers for the benefit of us all.

Actually, steering tourism policy and practice towards more sustainability requires first and foremost correcting the unjust economic structures and power relations that drive tourism development. It is also necessary to put in place laws and regulations that effectively protect local citizens and communities from harmful tourism, including mechanisms that require travel and tourism businesses to compensate for social losses and to clean up the damage they created. Clear transparent, accessible processes for accountability are needed, which empower people(s) to monitor and hold governments, financial institutions, development agencies and the private sector engaging in tourism  accountable for their actions.

Rather than aiming at further tourism expansion, other more sustainable economic activities should be developed, particularly in small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs) that heavily rely on tourism – which not only must contend with the volatility of tourism (e.g. due to international financial/economic crises, acts of violence, extreme weather events, natural disasters and pandemics), but also are endangered by tourism-induced climate change.  This is a major undertaking that the international community must assist with, for the transition of those economies and health of their populations.

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References:

(1) Third World Network, ‘Global Tourism Growth: Remedy of Ruin?’, TWR, Sept./Oct 2015, http://www.twn.my/title2/resurgence/2015/301-302.htm

(2) Sustainability Leaders Interview: Paul Peeters on Tourism, Aviation and Climate Change, 8 June 2016, http://sustainability-leaders.com/interview-paul-peeters-on-tourism-aviation-climate-change/

(3) Pleumarom, A., ‘Tourism – a driver of inequality and displacement’, TWR, Sept./Oct 2015, http://www.twn.my/title2/resurgence/2015/301-302/cover01.htm

This article can be downloaded from Third World Network’s website at: www.twn.my/tour.htm

TWN banner

 The article is based on a chapter entitled ‘Corporate capture subverts production and consumption transformation’ by Chee Yoke Ling, published in Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2016: Report by the Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 11 July 2016, pp.94-100  

The full report as well as single chapters of it can be downloaded at: https://www.2030spotlight.org/

New Salvadoran President appoints more women than ever before

A summary by Martin Mowforth

June 2019

Nayib Bukele who assumed power as President of El Salvador on 1st June 2019 has appointed more women to his government’s cabinet than have ever been appointed before in El Salvador’s history. Amongst these he has appointed an ex-mayor, an ex-guerrilla fighter, an expert on drug trafficking and a former union member with the Social Security Institute.

Bukele made almost daily announcements on Twitter in the weeks running up to his inauguration. He has now appointed seven women to top ministry posts where two previous Presidents (Francisco Flores, 1999-2004, and Salvador Sánchez Cerén, 2014-2019) had each appointed three women to cabinet positions. Those appointed by Bukele are as follows.

Ministry Appointee
Education Karla Hananía de Varela
Foreign Ministry Alexandra Hill Tinoco
Health Ana Orellana Bendek
Tourism Morena Ileana Valdez Vigil
Local Development María Ofelia Navarrate (María Chichilco)
Culture Suecy Callejas Estrada
Housing Irma Michelle Martha Ninette Sol Schweikert

Additionally, Egriselda López has been nominated as El Salvador’s Ambassador to the United Nations.

Karla Hananía de Varela.

Karla Hananía de Varela.

Minister of Education. Consultant to UNICEF 1992 – 2010. A member of the Advisory Committee to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Wants to have internet in all schools.

Alexandra Hill Tinoco.

Minister of Foreign Relations. Formerly Executive Director of the Anti Drugs Foundation of El Salvador (FUNDASALVA). Expert consultant to the OAS’s Inter-American Commission on the Control of the Abuse of Drugs (CICAD). Wants to strengthen relations with the United States and does not want to deal with ‘undemocratic governments’.

Ana Orellana Bendek.

Minister of Health. Doctor of Medicine from the Evangelical University of El Salvador. Member of the Medical Workers’ Union of the Salvadoran Institute of Social Security. She has promised to review the funding of hospitals.

Morena Ileana Valdez Vigil.

Minister of Tourism. Has experience in the promotion of exports, investments, marketing and communications. Wants to promote El Salvador like the Dominican Republic.

María Ofelia Navarrate (María Chichilco).

Minister for Local Development. Teacher of Social Sciences and Mathematics. Member of the guerrilla, 1980 – 1992. FMLN Deputy in the Legislative Assembly, 1997 – 2000. Vice Governor of Chalatenango. Vice Minister of Government in the FUNES administration, 2009 – 2014.

Suecy Callejas Estrada

Minister of Culture. A former ballerina. Formerly Culture Secretary in San Salvador City Hall, during which she was mentioned in a corruption case involving audiovisual productions associated with President Bukele.

Irma Michelle Martha Ninette Sol Schweikert

Minister of Housing. Formerly councillor and mayor of Nueva Cuscatlán. In 2003 involved in a people trafficking prosecution, but not convicted.

Egriselda López.

Salvadoran Ambassador to the United Nations. A career diplomat with experience in international relations and human rights. She has so far laid much emphasis on getting the UN to strengthen the rights of Salvadoran immigrants in other countries.

Remittances to and migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle

El Economista recently published an article based on the findings of a report entitled ‘The Future of Central America: Challenges for a Sustainable Development’. The report was produced by a collaboration between the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Latin American Centre for Competition and Sustainable Development (CLACDS, by its Spanish initials) of the INCAE Business School. Short extracts from the article are translated below.

Key words: remittances; migration; Northern Triangle countries; Temporary Protected Status (TPS);

The recent hardening of the United States’ immigration policies is putting at risk a significant ‘escape valve’ for the economies of the Northern Triangle of Central America: namely remittances.

“An important factor for these societies [El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala] is the fact that there is an escape valve for social and demographic problems, and a source of income,” said the Dean of the INCAE Business School, Alberto Trejos, to El Economista, regarding migration and remittances.

The report points out that there are at least 3 million migrants from the Northern Triangle in the United States and that their remittances represent 20 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of El Salvador and Honduras and 12 per cent of the GDP of Guatemala. Our societies in the region

According to the report, in 2017 Salvadoran migrants in the United States accounted for 23 per cent of total population of El Salvador, and the respective proportions of Honduras and Guatemala were 8 per cent and 6 per cent.

The report warns that the hardening of immigration policies in the United States could have a substantial impact on remittances and, through them, on the economies of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

The report’s estimates indicate that remittances could decline by 7.6 per cent per annum due to recent and proposed immigration policies changes and that the elimination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Honduran and Salvadoran citizens [illegally residing in the USA] could imply a further reduction in remittances of 6 per cent per annum in the medium term. It also estimates that a further 7 per cent of migrants who currently reside in the USA could decide to return to their country of origin.

Those migrants would return with savings of around 3 per cent of their country’s GDP which would generate a temporary positive effect which would be converted into an additional demand for jobs. For these jobs to be filled would require that the economies of the Northern Triangle countries would have to grow by one percentage point more than is expected or predicted.

For the INCAE Dean, remittances are an important escape valve, but the current remarkable migration has negative consequences due to the flight of humans who are at their most productive ages. “We have to stop thinking of the phenomenal migration from the perspective of remittances, even though it appears to represent the inflow of money. But we have to admit that this money flows in because we cannot provide alternative prospects to young people so that they might stay.”

“At the same time that this money flows in, the productive capacity of these people disappears. Society loses the income that these people would have generated, we lose the contributions of the skills of these migrants and that leaves us with a society that is demographically and economically different.”

For the INCAE Dean, the conditions which prompt people to migrate “are not a good thing,” and although migration may generate some positive effects on the economy, it cannot be called a good thing. Trejos warned that a mass return of migrants at this time would necessitate “a very disruptive adjustment.”

El Economista: eleconomista.net

INCAE: www.incae.edu

Thirst, crop failure and cattle deaths result from drought in Honduras

Summary report by Martin Mowforth

A 13th September report in the Salvadoran daily newspaper La Prensa Gráfica described yet another motive behind the exodus of people from Honduras: namely drought. This illustrates well the thesis in the article ‘How Climate Change Forces Central American Farmers to Migrate’ – also uploaded to this website this month,  September 2019 – that drought and the unreliability of climate are forcing many rural farmers to consider the possibility of migration as a way out of their predicament.

Several Honduran departments have been declared as emergency zones due to the scarcity of water. Some of these zones have not had any rainfall for ten months and over 50 per cent of basic grains like corn and beans have been lost, according to official sources.

In the eastern department of Olancho 1,000 head of cattle have died due to the drought. Farmers with some capital behind them can purchase alternative feeds for their cattle such as the waste products of African palm oil which are rich in protein. But for the majority the grass is simply not growing due to the drought. Some sources are suggesting that this climate trend means that in the medium and long terms farmers must adapt to raising a much smaller number of cattle on their land.

The drought has also affected urban areas such as the capital city Tegucigalpa, and residents are having to purchase tanks of water for activities such as washing as well as drinking. Clearly in such circumstances the poor are more likely to be adversely affected by the drought.

In July 2019, in Inside Climate News (ICN), Georgina Gustin produced a report entitled ‘Ravaged by Drought, a Honduran Village Faces a Choice: Pray for Rain or Migrate’. It is available at: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/08072019/climate-change-migration-honduras-drought-crop-failure-farming-deforestation-guatemala-trump  and includes three video clips of interviews with Central American farmers. We urge our readers to read and view this account of the link between climate change and migration patterns.

As if Hondurans don’t have enough to contend with: a narco-state run by organised crime; security forces whose main modus operandi is violence against the people they are supposed to be protecting; a gang culture and protection racket which pervade so many of the activities of Honduran society and economy; a system of production which displaces Hondurans from their land for the benefit of transnational corporations and local elites; and a complete lack of opportunities for Hondurans. Add climate change to the mix, and who could be surprised that so many Hondurans try to escape their country of birth to find opportunities elsewhere in the world?

How Climate Change Forces Central American Farmers to Migrate

The following article is taken from ‘Towards Freedom’, an organisation that takes “a progressive perspective on world events” – https://towardfreedom.org/  We are grateful to Toward Freedom and Edgardo Ayala for permission to reproduce the article here.

January 2, 2019 | By Edgardo Ayala

Gilberto Gómez stands next to the cow he bought with the support of his migrant children in the United States, which eases the impact of the loss of his subsistence crops, in the village of La Colmena, Candelaria de la Frontera municipality in western El Salvador. This area forms part of the Central American Dry Corridor, where increasing climate vulnerability is driving migration of the rural population. Photo Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

CANDELARIA DE LA FRONTERA, El Salvador (IPS) – As he milks his cow, Salvadoran Gilberto Gómez laments that poor harvests, due to excessive rain or drought, practically forced his three children to leave the country and undertake the risky journey, as undocumented migrants, to the United States.

Gómez, 67, lives in La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera, in the western Salvadoran department of Santa Ana.

The small hamlet is located in the so-called Dry Corridor of Central America, a vast area that crosses much of the isthmus, but whose extreme weather especially affects crops in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“They became disillusioned, seeing that almost every year we lost a good part of our crops, and they decided they had to leave, because they didn’t see how they could build a future here,” Gómez told IPS, as he untied the cow’s hind legs after milking.

He said that his eldest son, Santos Giovanni, for example, also grew corn and beans on a plot of land the same size as his own, “but sometimes he didn’t get anything, either because it rained a lot, or because of drought.”

The year his children left, in 2015, Santos Giovanni lost two-thirds of the crop to an unusually extreme drought.

“It’s impossible to go on like this,” lamented Gómez, who says that of the 15 families in La Colmena, many have shrunk due to migration because of problems similar to those of his son.

The Dry Corridor, particularly in these three nations, has experienced the most severe droughts of the last 10 years, leaving more than 3.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned as early as 2016.

Now Gómez’s daughter, Ana Elsa, 28, and his two sons, Santos Giovanni, 31, and Luis Armando, 17, all live in Los Angeles, California.

“Sometimes they call us, and tell us they’re okay, that they have jobs,” he said.

The case of the Gómez family illustrates the phenomenon of migration and its link with climate change and its impact on harvests, and thus on food insecurity among Central American peasant families.

La Colmena, which lacks piped water and electricity, benefited a few years ago from a project to harvest rainwater, which villagers filter to drink, as well as reservoirs to water livestock.

However, their crops are still vulnerable to the onslaught of heavy rains and increasingly unpredictable and intense droughts.

In addition to the violence and poverty, climate change is the third cause of the exodus of Central Americans, especially from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to the new Atlas of Migration in Northern Central America.

The report, released Dec. 12 by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and FAO, underscores that the majority of migrants from these three countries come from rural areas.

Between 2000 and 2012, the report says, there was an increase of nearly 59 percent in the number of people migrating from these three countries, which make up the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America. In Guatemala, 77 percent of the people living in rural areas are poor, and in Honduras the proportion is 82 percent.

In recent months, waves of citizens from Honduras and El Salvador have embarked on the long journey on foot to the United States, with the idea that it would be safer if they traveled in large groups.

Travelling as an undocumented migrant to the United States carries a series of risks: they can fall prey to criminal gangs, especially when crossing Mexico, or die on the long treks through the desert.

Another report published by FAO in December, ‘Mesoamerica in Transit’, states that of the nearly 30 million international migrants from Latin America, some four million come from the Northern Triangle and another 11 million from Mexico.

The study adds that among the main factors driving migration in El Salvador are poverty in the departments of Ahuachapán, Cabañas, San Vicente and Sonsonate; environmental vulnerability in Chalatenango, Cuscatlán, La Libertad and San Salvador; and soaring violence in La Paz, Morazán and San Salvador.

And according to the report, Honduran migration is strongly linked to the lack of opportunities, and to high levels of poverty and violence in the northwest of the country and to environmental vulnerability in the centre-south.

With respect to Guatemala, the report indicates that although in this country migration patterns are not so strongly linked to specific characteristics of different territories, migration is higher in municipalities where the percentage of the population without secondary education is larger.

In Mexico, migration is linked to poverty in the south and violence in the west, northwest and northeast, while environmental vulnerability problems seem to be cross-cutting.

“The report shows a compelling and comprehensive view of the phenomenon: the decision to migrate is the individual’s, but it is conditioned by their surroundings,” Luiz Carlos Beduschi, FAO Rural Development Officer, told IPS from Santiago, Chile, the U.N. organisation’s regional headquarters.

He added that understanding what is happening in the field is fundamental to understanding migratory dynamics as a whole.

The study, published Dec. 18, makes a “multi-causal analysis; the decision to stay or migrate is conditioned by a set of factors, including climate, especially in the Dry Corridor of Central America,” Beduschi said.

For the FAO expert, it is necessary to promote policies that offer rural producers “better opportunities for them and their families in their places of origin.”

It is a question, he said, “of guaranteeing that they have the necessary conditions to freely decide whether to stay at home or to migrate elsewhere,” and keeping rural areas from expelling the local population as a result of poverty, violence, climate change and lack of opportunities.

In the case of El Salvador, while there is government awareness of the impacts of climate change on crops and the risk it poses to food security, little has been done to promote public policies to confront the phenomenon, activist Luis González told IPS.

“There are national plans and strategies to confront climate change, to address the water issue, among other questions, but the problem is implementation: it looks nice on paper, but little is done, and much of this is due to lack of resources,” added González, a member of the Roundtable for Food Sovereignty, a conglomerate of social organisations fighting for this objective.

Meanwhile, in La Colmena, Gómez has given his wife, Teodora, the fresh milk they will use to make cheese.

They are happy that they have the cow, bought with the money their daughter sent from Los Angeles, and they are hopeful that the weather won’t spoil the coming harvest.

“With this cheese we earn enough for a small meal,” he said.

Copyright Toward Freedom 2018

Remittances to El Salvador and Nicaragua in 2018

El Economista (17 December 2018) reports that remittances received in El Salvador between January and November 2018 increased by 8.7% in comparison with the same period in 2017, and amounted to more than US$4,900 million [US dollars], according to the Central Reserve Bank (BCR).

In these ten months the country received remittances from 160 countries, at the head of which was the US with US$4,602.4 million, followed by the European Union and Canada with US$46.8 million and US$43.8 million respectively.

The 2.8 million Salvadorans who live in the United States sent a major part of the US$5,021.3 million in remittances which El Salvador received in 2017, this being the highest figure in history for the Central American country.


Informe Pastrán (21 December 2018) reports that remittances received in Nicaragua during the third quarter of 2018 rose to US$372.8 million, an increase of 4.8 per cent compared with the same period in the previous year. Remittances up to and including the month of September 2018 amounted to US$1,097.4 million, a 7.6 per cent increase on the same period during 2017.

During the third quarter of 2018, the major origins of these remittances were the United States (55.4%), Costa Rica (19.4%), Spain (11.5%) and Panamá (5.3%).

The department of Managua continued to be the major recipient of the remittances (35.0%), with the department of Chinandega receiving 10.3%, León 8.2%, Estelí 8.0% and Matagalpa 7.0%.

Panamá Canal Ready for El Niño in 2019

In October 2018, the Panamá Canal Authority gave notice that its lakes were ready for the possible arrival in early 2019 of the El Niño effect. El Niño is a climatic phenomenon associated with the warming and movement of ocean currents in the Pacific Ocean. In Central America the phenomenon can cause severe droughts.

The two lakes which supply the canal with water are Lakes Gatún and Alhajuela which at the end of 2018 were almost at their maximum capacity.

Experts predict that El Niño will not extend beyond the month of May in 2019 and that its effects will be light. The month of November generally marks the highest lake levels on account of the high levels of rainfall during October and November. May generally marks the end of the dry season in Panamá.

The Authority is sensitive to the levels of water and their effects on the Canal because in 2016, when the effects of El Niño were much stronger, they had to impose a limitation of vessel draught.

Around 6 per cent of world trade passes through the Canal and every time a boat passes through its locks, it requires 202,000 cubic meters of water.

A map and longitudinal section of the canal are shown as a separate item in the website immediately following this brief explanation.

Migrants’ stories: Why they flee

Anthony W. Fontes, American University School of International Service

File 20190408 2924 16ojp3p.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A man hugs his family before leaving for the U.S. border with a migrant caravan from San Salvador, El Salvador, Jan. 16, 2019. AP/Salvador Melendez


Massive influxes of Central American families seeking asylum in the United States are overwhelming U.S. immigration facilities.

The crisis along the U.S. southern border led directly to the forced resignation on April 7 of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, whom President Donald Trump believed ineffectively managed the situation.

As Trump promises to “shut down the border” and “punish” the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador for failing to stem the exodus from their countries, the question of why so many families are making the difficult and dangerous journey north appears more urgent than ever.

I have spent much of the last decade conducting on-the-ground fieldwork in this region, and along the migration paths through Mexico, seeking answers to this question.

The region’s extreme poverty and violent impunity are central factors driving this migration.

Yet every migrant’s story is unique. Some simply seek the chance to earn enough money to ensure a better future for themselves or their children. Others flee persecution at the hands of gangs, organized crime or corrupt state officials. For others, insecurity and poverty are so intertwined that drawing them apart becomes impossible.

Santos Isabel Escobar weeps beside the coffin of her 18-year-old son, Eddy Fernando Cabrera, who was executed with four other young people in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Jan. 11, 2019.
AP/Fernando Antonio

‘Falling deeper into debt’

Extreme poverty and inequality haunt the region. Today, about half of all Central Americans – and two-thirds of the rural populations of Guatemala and Honduras – survive below the international poverty line.

Meanwhile, throughout the 21st century, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have consistently counted among the most murderous nations in the world.

Many Central American migrants are simply desperate to find work that pays enough to feed their families. U.S. asylum law provides no relief for these “economic refugees.”

I met Roberto Quijones in a migrant shelter in the Mexican state of Tabasco, about 25 mile north of the Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, in late 2017. We spoke as he soaked his blistered feet and tried to mend his busted shoes with duct tape.

Roberto is from a rural town in northwestern El Salvador near the border with Honduras and Guatemala, and had been out of work for two years. For more than a year, he and his wife and their 2-year-old daughter had been living with an aunt. Their welcome had worn thin.

“She’s family,” Roberto said, “but you know you get to a moment when not paying rent isn’t possible anymore. Even if they are family.”

And even for those who can find work, extremely low wages cannot cover families’ basic needs, destroying hope for a better future.

“I can make 200 lempiras, a day working” – the equivalent of US$10 – said Marvin Otoniel Castillo, a father of three from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We spoke in late 2016 beneath a bridge in Veracruz, Mexico, waiting to hop a train to continue northwards.

“So your whole life is falling deeper into debt,” Marvin continued. “That’s why I came. So I could send my oldest child to school so he wouldn’t have to live like his father.”

A woman sells live baby chicks in central San Salvador, El Salvador. Nearly 1 in 3 Salvadorans lives in poverty.
AP/Rebecca Blackwell

Running for their lives

Other migrants have been targeted by criminal organizations that operate with stunning impunity in Central America.

Criminal organizations derive much of their power from their deep links with government agents; it’s sometimes impossible to identify where the state ends and the underworld begins. Such connections also make understanding who is responsible for any given murder difficult.

Transnational gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, play an important role in this violence. Estimates of how much they contribute to overall crime rates vary between countries and are hampered by extremely low prosecution rates and a lack of reliable data.

However, gangs are responsible for the region’s most widespread and brutal extortion rackets, which create deep psychological and economic strife for poor Central Americans while also causing countless murders.

The upshot is that many Central Americans trying to enter the United States are literally running for their lives.

That includes Pedro, whose uncle and two brothers were gunned down on a crowded Guatemala City street in 2015 because, he believed, his cousin had stolen from a drug-trafficking organization. Like others I’ve interviewed who are fleeing violent persecution, he requested anonymity to protect himself and family still living in Guatemala.

Pedro said he moved with his wife and two daughters to another part of the city to escape detection. But then police discovered his 13-year-old daughter’s body in an alleyway.

Her assailants had raped her, burned her with cigarettes and knifed her to death. Pedro said that no one would tell him who did it, but he fled with his family to ensure their safety.

Or Alejandra, from a mid-size city west of the Guatemalan capital, who told me she was in her final year of a nurse training program and spending Christmas holidays with family when she witnessed her uncle gunned down in his front yard while he strung up party lights.

The uncle, she said, had refused to pay extortion money to a criminal group run by active and former police officers. The next day, Alejandra received threatening messages on Facebook. She didn’t want to leave the country, but moved in with a friend in another town and tried to lie low.

A few weeks later, Alejandra claimed, the group sent a kid with a handgun to kill her. She escaped by throwing herself from her motorbike. That’s when she decided to give up her career and flee Guatemala.

Central American migrants being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after requesting asylum, in El Paso, Texas, March 28, 2019.
REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

The price of staying

For financial or personal reasons, many Central Americans are unable or unwilling to flee in the face of such threats. That can exact a steep price.

One evening in late 2018, a woman named Sofia said that members of MS-13 caught her when she was walking home from work in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. She’d moved to the city months before with her 12-year-old daughter, because her husband, Pablo, had fled the country to escape the gang’s threats.

Pablo had worked driving a produce truck, but then MS-13 killed his boss for refusing to pay extortion. Gang extortion is believed to be a leading cause of murder in Honduras and though the majority of the country’s extortion victims are poor, they pay about $200 million a year to protect themselves.

MS-13 told Pablo he was next.

The family’s funds were just enough to get Pablo out of Honduras. Maybe, they hoped, if he was gone the gang would leave the family alone. Once in the States, he could send money home.

The plan didn’t work. Four gang members forced Sofia into a car, drove her to the countryside, beat her and raped her repeatedly. “This is what will happen to your daughter,” they shouted at her over and over again, “if you don’t pay us what your husband owes.”

Ethics and survival

The images and stories of Central Americans caged at the border awaiting processing expose how the U.S. immigration system was never designed to deal with this many people fleeing these kinds of problems.

In the hopes of getting better treatment at the border, some migrants have resorted to pretending to be part of family units, or lying about their age.

This kind of “gaming the system” may be ethically questionable, but viewed from the perspective of survival, it makes perfect sense.

Such strategies speak most of all of collective desperation, begging a question posed by many of the Central American migrants I have met over the years: “If you were me, what would you do?”

Anthony W. Fontes, Assistant Professor of Human Security, American University School of International Service

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Stories from the Migrant Caravans from the Northern Triangle Countries

[English] [Español]

By Ricardo Flores, La Prensa Gráfica, El Salvador

28 November 2018

At the height of the migrant caravan crisis (which has not gone away) in November 2018, the daily Salvadoran newspaper La Prensa Gráfica produced an article of ‘Stories of forced displacement due to violence’ written by Ricardo Flores. There were six personal stories in the article and ENCA member Jill Powis translated them for the ENCA Newsletter (no.75) which for reasons of space could only include four of them. All of them are included here on The Violence of Development website. We are grateful to Jill for her translations.

1

Nelson was disappeared and then murdered for refusing to leave his home. The first warning came in 2014 from a neighbour, a woman who had links with members of the Barrio 18 (18th Street) gang.  She told him that he had to close down his business, which supported his family of seven, on the grounds that “he was selling the same product as her.” After that came more warnings, including death threats, to make him leave, together with his whole family. It was October 2015 when they decided to leave, to stay with relatives, but Nelson, a fictitious name to protect his [family] identity, decided to stay “to guard the house.”  His relatives believe that he was killed because, before he was threatened, he worked for a community organisation running violence prevention schemes to improve life within the community.

Prior to Nelson’s death, the family had sought protection from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos – PDDH), but this opened a case file only after his murder.  The PDDH informed the police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía), and all that happened was that some family members who gave evidence were named as key witnesses in the legal process.

Cristosal [see note below] lodged an application for protective measures for Nelson’s family with the Constitutional Court on 9 June 2017.  The application was accepted four months later, but by this time they were already out of the country. They had lost their jobs, their homes, the right to freedom of movement and the young people were forced to abandon their studies.

2

This is the story of a family 35 strong, including children and adolescents, who were victims of threats, physical attacks, sexual abuse and rape by gang members – all for being relatives of members of the armed forces. The gang attacked the family on various dates and different places.  The threats became so bad that they were forced to leave the town.

The family moved to relatives living in an area of the country without gangs. However, there they suffered violence again, but this time from the state. Police officers carried out an operation in the community, shooting “to intimidate”. A bullet hit a woman from the family, killing her instantly. This forced them to move again.

The family reported all the attacks by the gang to the authorities. The police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office solely designated them as key witnesses in the legal process so that they could testify – there was no progress on the cases. One of the victims of the forced displacement also filed a complaint with the General Inspectorate of the National Civil Police about his mother’s death at the hands of the officers who carried out the operation. The local police’s official version was that the woman died “in the context of a confrontation with gang members.”

This was the only one of the six cases where the Constitutional Court issued a final judgment in favour of a family displaced by the violence in El Salvador, following  a an application for protection measures filed by Cristosal.  However, the measures ordered by the Court benefited only a few members of the family, with the rest leaving the country under the international protection system.

3

Margarita and Luisa (not their real names) were threatened with rape if they did not leave the community. The two women, mother and daughter, had a food business which involved visiting various apartments. The threats began when some gang members came to live in the area.

In response to the threats, which were also directed at Margarita’s husband and another daughter, the family decided to move, but when they settled down in another place, they again suffered extortion from another gang.

When the family reported the gang to the Anti-Extortion Unit of the National Civil Police, it stated that its response would be limited to arresting the suspects and starting legal proceedings against them “because it does not have enough officers to provide the family with protection.”

4

Sofia was held captive and raped by a gang for being the daughter of a policeman. When the teenager disappeared, her father went to the police, but they failed to respond immediately. When they finally found her, the police accused Sofía (not her real name) of being a member of the gang.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office offered protection measures, but only for Sofia, a minor; and so the family, five people in total, preferred to move, where they remained in hiding. Despite not leaving the house, the gang members managed to find them and continued to issue them with death threats.  This meant that they were forced to move house again until they got help to leave El Salvador.

In view of the poor response by state institutions, the Constitutional Court accepted the application for protection measures for all five members of the family, but by this time they had already left the country.

5

A large family requested international protection measures in the wake of the murder of a young woman and her sister, as well as the kidnapping of a baby girl who was only months old. The investigation of the case produced evidence that the crimes were committed by gang members with the aim of “getting the baby.” The other members of the family were threatened so that they would leave, and so after the funeral for the two women, the family abandoned their belongings, homes and jobs.

Cristosal concluded that the State does not have the capacity to protect a large family.

6

Victoria, her adult daughter and two children lived in a house where they had a family business. One afternoon, an armed gang came to the store. Victoria (not her real name) was shot dead at the scene, while her daughter suffered bullet wounds to various organs. Her relatives had to take her from the hospital because the gang continued to look for her and they feared that she would be found. When she recovered, three months later, she decided to move with the two children to a house belonging to another relative. However, an informer from the gang found her and warned them to leave the area “if she did not want to have any problems”.

As a result of this fresh threat, the woman was forced to move again with her children to another relative in another region of the country. Unlike the other cases, this family did not want to take advantage of the government shelter system, but instead wanted measures that would allow them to be protected by the authorities in the place where they had relocated.

Cristosal presented their request to the Constitutional Court and it was accepted on 11 July 2018, when it ordered protective measures.

The trial for Victoria’s murder resulted in the conviction of those responsible, who are currently awaiting sentencing.

Note: Cristosal works to advance human rights in Central America through rights-based research, learning, and programming. They accompany victims of violence to provide protection when they need it most, repair the lingering effects of human rights violations, and build human rights frameworks to create conditions where peace is possible. https://www.cristosal.org/

Relatos del desplazamiento forzoso por la violencia

[English] [Español]

Por Ricardo Flores, La Prensa Gráfica, El Salvador

28 Noviembre 2018

Estos son los relatos que seis familias desplazadas por la violencia le contaron a Cristosal, la organización que documenta y atiende los casos y que ayer presentó un sistema de monitoreo del problema. Estas historias llegaron hasta la Sala de lo Constitucional de la Corte Suprema.

1

Nelson fue desaparecido y luego asesinado por negarse a abandonar su casa. La primera advertencia le llegó en 2014 de una vecina que tenía vínculos con pandilleros del Barrio 18, quien le dijo que debía cerrar el negocio del que sobrevivía la familia, conformada por siete personas. La queja de la mujer era que “vendían el mismo producto que ella”. Tras esa intimidación, llegaron más avisos que contenían amenazas de muerte para que se fuera del lugar junto con toda la familia. Corría octubre de 2015 cuando decidieron huir hacia donde otros parientes, pero Nelson, nombre ficticio para proteger su identidad, decidió quedarse “para resguardar la vivienda”. Los parientes creen que fue asesinado porque antes de ser amenazado trabajaba en una organización comunitaria que tenía proyectos para prevención de violencia para mejorar las condiciones de vida en la comunidad.

Previo a la muerte de Nelson, la familia había acudido a la Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en busca de protección, pero la institución abrió un expediente del caso hasta después del homicidio. El acompañamiento de la PDDH los llevó a la Policía y la Fiscalía, donde la respuesta fue que algunos miembros de la familia que sirvieron como testigos recibieron nombres claves en el proceso.

Cristosal decidió presentar el 9 de junio de 2017 un amparo ante la Sala de lo Constitucional. Cuatro meses después, la sala admitió la demanda y ordenó medidas de protección para la familia de Nelson. Sin embargo, el grupo ya estaba fuera del país. Los sobrevivientes perdieron el empleo, el desarraigo a su patrimonio familiar, el derecho al libre tránsito y los jóvenes abandonaron sus estudios.

El Salvador debe de reconocer el desplazamiento forzado: Médicos del Mundo

La organización internacional sostuvo que es “urgente” ese reconocimiento por lo crítico que se ha vuelto esta problemática en El Salvador.

2

Esta es la historia de una familia conformada por 35 personas, entre niños y adolescentes, que fueron víctimas de amenazas, agresiones físicas, abuso sexual y violación de parte de pandilleros. Todo por ser parientes de miembros de la Fuerza Armada. La pandilla cometió ataques contra la familia en distintos lugares y fechas. Las amenazas se agravaron hasta exigirles que abandonaran el municipio.

La familia buscó apoyo en otros parientes que residían en zonas del país sin presencia de pandilleros. Cuando lo lograron sufrieron nuevamente violencia, pero esa vez de parte del Estado: ocurrió cuando policías realizaron un operativo en esa comunidad con disparos “para intimidar”. Una bala impactó a una mujer de la familia, lo que le ocasionó la muerte inmediatamente. Eso los obligó a un nuevo desplazamiento.

La familia puso la denuncia de todas las agresiones y ataques que sufrió de parte de los pandilleros. La Policía y la Fiscalía se limitaron a asignarles nombres claves en los procesos para que atestiguaran; sin embargo, los casos no prosperaron. Una de las víctimas del desplazamiento forzoso también interpuso ante la Inspectoría General de la Policía Nacional Civil una denuncia por la muerte de su madre a manos de los agentes que realizaron el operativo. La versión oficial de la policía de la zona fue que la mujer murió “en el marco de enfrentamiento contra pandilleros”.

Este ha sido el único de los seis casos en que la Sala de lo Constitucional emitió sentencia definitiva a favor de una familia desplazada por la violencia en El Salvador, después del amparo interpuesto por Cristosal, aunque el beneficio de las mediadas de protección dictadas por el tribunal superior solo fue para unos pocos miembros de la familia, pues la mayoría salió del país bajo el sistema de protección internacional.

418 niños sufrieron desplazamiento forzado en El Salvador en los últimos 3 años

Organizaciones, como Cristosal, piden a la CIDH que intervenga y solicite a los países del Triángulo Norte de Centroamérica una mejor atención a las víctimas.

Noticias de El Salvador / La Prensa Gráfica / 19 Oct

3

A Margarita y Luisa (nombres cambiados) las amenazaron con violarlas si no se iban de la comunidad. Las dos mujeres, madre e hija, pasaban en su negocio de comida en unos apartamentos. La amenaza inició cuando unos pandilleros llegaron a vivir al lugar.

Ante la advertencia, que incluía al esposo de Margarita y a otra hija, la familia decidió cambiar de domicilio, pero al establecerse en otro sitio, volvieron a sufrir extorsión de otra estructura de pandilleros.

Cuando la familia le contó a los miembros de la Unidad Antiextorsiones de la Policía Nacional Civil lo que los pandilleros les exigían, la respuesta fue que las acciones estaban limitadas a las capturas de los denunciados y abrir un juicio “porque no cuentan con personal suficiente para brindar protección a la familia”.

4

Sofía fue privada de libertad y violada por un grupo de pandilleros por ser hija de un agente. El policía buscó ayuda de la PNC cuando la adolescente desapareció, pero no obtuvo respuesta positiva de inmediato. Cuando finalmente la encontraron, los agentes acusaron a Sofía (nombre cambiado) de ser parte de la pandilla.

La Fiscalía ofreció medidas de protección solo para la menor, pero la familia, cinco personas en total, prefirió desplazarse a otro sitio, donde permanecía en confinamiento. A pesar de no salir de la casa, los pandilleros los ubicaron y volvieron a amenazarlos con la muerte, por lo que volvieron a movilizarse hasta obtener ayuda para salir de El Salvador.

La Sala de lo Constitucional admitió el amparo del caso debido a la pobre respuesta de parte de las instituciones del Estado, y otorgó medidas de protección para los cinco miembros del grupo familiar; pero ya estaban fuera del país.

Cristosal registra un incremento del 53% de víctimas de desplazamientos forzados

Las víctimas de desplazamientos forzado atendidas por la ONG incrementaron un 53% entre 2016 y 2017. Cristosal reitera que el Estado sigue sin reconocer el problema.

Noticias de El Salvador / La Prensa Gráfica / 25 Apr

5

Una familia numerosa solicitó medidas de protección internacional a raíz del asesinato de una joven y su hermana. Además del secuestro de una niña que tenía solo meses de edad. La investigación del caso arrojó evidencia que los hechos fueron cometidos por pandilleros con el objetivo de “quedarse con la niña”. Los demás miembros de la familia fueron amenazados para que abandonaran el lugar, por lo que después de enterrar a las dos mujeres, dejaron sus pertenencias, vivienda y sus fuentes de empleo.

Cristosal comprobó que el Estado no tiene la capacidad para proteger a una familia numerosa.

6

Victoria, su hija adulta y dos niños vivían en una casa donde tenían un negocio familiar. Un día por la tarde, pandilleros llegaron a la tienda a disparar. Victoria (nombre cambiado) falleció en el lugar, mientras que su hija resultó con lesiones de bala en algunos órganos. Familiares tuvieron que sacar del hospital a la herida porque pandilleros continuaban buscándola y temían que fuera ubicada. Pasaron así durante tres meses, hasta que logró recuperarse. Luego decidió desplazarse con los dos niños por sus propios medios hacia una casa de otro pariente. Sin embargo, un palabrero de la pandilla la ubicó y les advirtió que salieran de la zona “si no quería tener problemas”.

Esa nueva advertencia provocó que la mujer se desplazara otra vez junto a sus hijos a otro sector del país con otro pariente. A diferencia de los otros casos, esta familia no quería ingresar al sistema de albergue gubernamental, sino que una medida que les permitiera la protección de las autoridades en el sitio en que se había reubicado.

Esa petición fue planteada por Cristosal ante la Sala de lo Constitucional en un amparo que terminó admitiendo el 11 de julio de 2018, cuando ordenó medidas de protección.

El proceso judicial por el homicidio de Victoria culminó con la sentencia de los responsables. El proceso en la sala sigue pendiente de una sentencia definitiva.

Combatting Vehicle Pollution in Central America

A brief summary compiled by Martin Mowforth

April 2019

In recent months both El Salvador and Costa Rica have begun to take steps towards reducing air pollution from vehicles. As all visitors to the region are well aware, there are many locations and times of day in the region’s cities where and when the air is unbreathable due to excessive vehicle emissions.

Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado has signed decrees to incentivise electric and zero emission vehicles and to promote mobility by other modes of transport. The First Lady, Claudia Dobles, who is leading the initiative, said, “We are incentivising zero-emission technologies with the aim of achieving our goal of decarbonisation whilst at the same time enabling the population to make use of more sustainable and efficient transport.”

The Costa Rican decrees also promote actions such as the provision of shower facilities at work for those who travel to work by bicycle. Bus and train travel are also promoted along with car-sharing, the use of hybrid vehicles and increased recharging locations for electric vehicles.

In El Salvador, the National Council of Environmental Sustainability and Vulnerability (CONASAV by its Spanish initials) has presented a series of reforms to the Land Transport Law. In essence the reforms aim to reduce atmospheric pollution in the country.

After establishing that current levels of air pollution have reached dangerous levels, the CONASAV reforms focus particularly on the reduction of emissions by public transport and allow the police force to confiscate vehicles which exceed specific thresholds of pollutant emissions. The reforms also recommend the replacement of public service vehicles that are over 20 years old and that this new measure should be implemented within three years.

The World Health Organisation has placed El Salvador among the Latin American countries with the highest levels of atmospheric contamination and has associated these levels especially with public transport.

Panamá is also looking for strategies to lower vehicle emissions and the Guatemalan Union of Car Importers is now seeking legislation to lower the age of imported vehicles. In Guatemala more than 2 million vehicles are older than 2008. The Union’s proposals would limit the age of imported cars to 10 years, 15 years for trucks and SUVs and 20 years for commercial vehicles such as tractors. The appropriate legislation, however, is not yet very far up the political agenda in Guatemala, where some of the buses on the streets are over 30 years old. Many of these are imported from the United States and are sometimes referred to as ‘zombie clunkers’ having been modified after import. Often the modifications reduce the effects of safety features.

Far from addressing the dangers of exporting clunkers, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Trump administration hopes to freeze fuel efficiency standards at 2020 levels. The UK also plays a role in the used vehicle market. According to the Centre for Remanufacturing and Reuse, 50% of British heavy vehicles reaching end-of-life are reused or resold in other countries after refurbishment.

Sources:

  • El Economista, 7 November 2018, ‘Costa Rica emite decretos para incentivar uso de vehículos eléctricos’.
  • La Prensa Gráfica, 8 January 2019, ‘Proponen que PNC pueda remitir vehículos por contaminación de aire’.
  • Sebastián Rodríguez, 25 February 2019, ‘Costa Rica launches ‘unprecedented’ push for zero emissions by 2050’, Thomson Reuters Foundation.
  • Martha Pskowski, 24 January 2019, ‘Zombie clunkers: has your local bus been resurrected in Guatemala?’ The Guardian.
  • Fien Van Den Steen, 6 July 2018, ‘Guatemala, the end of using cars until the end?’ Global Fleet.