By Ivy Epstein
In 2019, 3.8 million immigrants from Central America were known to be living in the U.S., and 86% of those were born in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador – commonly known as the Northern Triangle. Poverty, violence, climate change, and political corruption drive people from the Northern Triangle to leave their homes and travel to the U.S. seeking safety. This journey is never easy, but those who migrate feel they have no choice but to try it. They cross into the U.S. through the southern border. People from Mexico also make their way to Maine. At this time, limited data – other than that in the census – exists on numbers of Spanish speakers in Maine. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 27,000 people in Maine (2% of the population) are Hispanic or Latino.
Corrupt governments – such as that of President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador – lead many citizens to flee their country, leaving everything behind. Widespread violence in Honduras and Guatemala force others to seek refuge abroad, most commonly in the U.S. Extortion and threats of violence – including in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, this June – drive people to seek safety. Drought and climate change, as well as natural disasters, also cause people to flee. Addressing the root causes of corruption, violence, and the pressing issue of climate change is essential to curbing migration. When people face danger in their own homes and communities, they seek safety elsewhere.
These summaries of articles help shed light on why some people travel across the southern border from certain Spanish-speaking countries. Most of the articles originally were written in Spanish, however the article from Mexico News Daily was published in English.
Amnesty International records at least 18 deaths in Salvadoran prisons under emergency regime
El País, June 2, 2022
President Nayib Bukele imposed a state of emergency in El Salvador on March 26, 2022, and led the country into a human rights crisis, according to a report by Amnesty International. The president says the purpose is to target and arrest suspected gang members. In June 2022, more than 35,000 individuals had been detained since the beginning of the state of emergency. While gangs and organized crime do pose a threat to the community, Bukele’s arrests have led to deaths and torture. Citizens can be arrested without evidence, often just on suspicion of gang related activity, or even for having many tattoos, or somehow appearing gang-affiliated. The arrests deny detainees of their right to due process and violate their human rights, and many are held for 15 days before appearing in front of a judge. At least 18 people have died in state custody; prisons are overcrowded and conditions are poor, and many fear that more deaths will take place at the hands of the authorities. In June 2022, 1.7% of the adult population was in prison, and at least 1,190 children under 18 had been arrested. Under the state of emergency, the Salvadoran Congress approved a change to the constitution that allows children under 16 who are charged with gang-related activity to be imprisoned for up to 20 years. This is not the only change to the constitution Bukele has led. Often, when loved ones disappear, families are unaware of where they have been taken. Bukele claims total power over the nation and denies citizens their rights outlined in the constitution of El Salvador. Journalists are censored and not allowed to share stories that document what is happening. According to the article, Bukele’s aim is to ensure his re-election and remain in power.
El País (elpais.com/america/) features news from San Salvador, including international relations.
Prensa Libre, June 8, 2022
Gangs consolidate in 3 districts of Guatemala
Disconnection, a 2019-2020 study on gang life in Guatemala from Salvadoran political scientist Jose Miguel Cruz, released this year, found that gangs were mainly concentrated in the regions of Guatemala City, Villa Nueva, and Mixco. However, there was also some gang presence in Pedro Ayampuc, San José Pinula, and San Pedro Sacatepéquez. The study involved the participation of 57 ex-gang members and 48 experts on Guatemala, concluding that the prominent gangs Barrio 18 and MS13 were controlled by rueda del barrio, “neighborhood circles,” run by imprisoned gang leaders. As the government has tried to crack down on gangs by transferring dangerous, imprisoned gang leaders to different maximum security prisons and disrupting the structure, gangs have rearranged themselves and become more violent. The study found that prominent gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 28 blend into neighborhoods, making them hard to track. The gangs compete to gain control over a neighborhood, and gang members use extortion, drug trafficking, and violence to move up in the hierarchy. Bodies of victims, some as young as 15, have been found dismembered in neighborhoods where conflict is rife. The study also found that most gangs were concentrated in poor, metropolitan areas that face a lack of social services. Youth in Guatemala are attracted to gang life due to a lack of material resources and opportunity, emotional neglect at home, and/or a longing for friendship, community, and a sense of belonging. From January to May 31, 2021, 382 arrests were made in connection to the Barrio 18, MS 13, and Whitefence 13 gangs. Of those arrests, 84% have been in metropolitan areas and related to involvement with murders, extortion, and drug sales.
Prensa Libre (prensalibre.com) of Guatemala is a local newspaper published in Guatemala City and circulated nationwide. It has the second-widest circulation in the country.
La Prensa, June 6, 2022
Mortal decade for 2,646 Honduran children
Between January 2013 and December 2021, there were 2,646 violent deaths of minors in Honduras, including suicides. These deaths were concentrated in the Central District and in the municipalities of San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, and Comayagua. The Central District and the San Pedro Sula district reported 56.2% of these deaths, while La Ceiba and Comayagua reported 5% and 3%, respectively. The highest incidence of homicides during the nine-year period was in 2012 and 2013, with between 509 and 513 cases each year. From 2008 to 2018, there were 4,048 homicides of children in Honduras, about one per day. Of homicides, 85.3% occurred against children aged 12 to 17. Recently, the trend of homicides has been downward. In the past three years, the number of homicides has generally decreased, which may be at least partially attributed to the impact of pandemic lockdowns.
Central to these homicides are underlying problems such as a lack of access to education, unemployment, poverty, housing shortages, and general violence. Youth try drug and gun trafficking as a means to make money, survive, find community, and try to access a better future. However, the world of trafficking and gangs is unsafe, and contributes to the high number of adolescent homicides. Children are captured, tortured for information, and killed. In addition, children are sometimes indirectly involved in the criminal world of gangs, due to parent or sibling involvement. This can end in their own deaths. The reporter notes that adolescents require secure home and school environments to provide positive alternatives to joining gangs. In addition, better public policies and governance are needed.
La Prensa (www.laprensa.hn/) has the widest circulation of any publication in Honduras and covers a range of issues.
Mexico News Daily, June 3, 2022
Extortion threats shut down tortilla shops and transit in Zihuatanejo
Threats of violence and attempts at extortion from organized crime groups forced tortilla shops, schools, and public transportation in Zihuatanejo to close in early June. Businesses received calls demanding that owners pay large sums of money or else their buildings would be set on fire. Some stores that refused payment were burned down. Nearly all of the 50 tortilla shops in Zihuatanejo were forced to close. The violence and threats caused a wave of panic throughout the city, as residents rushed to gas stations and grocery stores in preparation for closures. The mayor urged frightened residents to remain calm. The closure of businesses and schools, the threats of violence, and the organized crime that occured created major disruptions to the safety and freedom of Mexican citizens in the city.
Mexico News Daily (mexiconewsdaily.com) compiles and edits articles from Spanish news sources in Mexico and publishes in English.