CIACS (Guatemala)

One of the most prevalent issues in the world, having a long history over hundreds of years, is government corruption. The group, Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad (aka. the Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses or the CIACS) from Guatemala is one group that has infiltrated the government. The Guatemalan 36-Year Civil War is the foundation for the creation of many criminal organizations. Several of these organizations spawned from state intelligence and military services. The most powerful of these groups was in fact, the CIACS.
The group originally began as a part of a government intelligence apparatus called the Estado Mayor Presidencial (EMP). This was set up in the mid-1970’s to protect the governmental powers and to dispose of all opposing forces and leftist political movements against the government, including the groups who tried to control the government. In time, the EMP formed into an intelligence gathering service. The reason for this was because many of the people involved in the EMP and the government discovered that the Guatemalan government wasn’t economically stable and began to support the idea of finding a way to turn the government into a more stable structure. In 2003, the EMP was abolished, but the CIACS emerged, certain members including active and ex-military officers, special forces operatives, and high-level government officials, many who had operated in intelligence branches such as the EMP, the G-2, or the D-2. Now, the CIACS are known as the “hidden powers” of the government and have become an example to the people how the political power works in Guatemala.
When the CIACS began as the EMP, their main goal was to get rid of guerilla groups, but now the group uses guerilla warfare tactics along with the organization of a gang. The CIACS has executed many Guatemalans for their different liberal beliefs, opposition to the actions of the government, and to gain money. In this way, the CIACS is similar to a guerilla group, but they’re closer to being a gang that uses government power to further accomplish their goals of creating a stronger government and an economically stable economy. The group has been known to transport illegal drugs, cultivate marijuana and poppies, traffic humans, kidnap, extort people, launder money, smuggle arms, create adoption rings, and be involved in eco trafficking. They also often work with groups from Mexico, Colombia, and other Central American nations in order to increase their power.
Currently, the CIACS are being countered by a newly created group known as the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). As stated in the name, the CICIG is an international group made up of many people from around the globe with the skills to prosecute the criminals in many countries, the main focus being Guatemala. The CICIG has its roots in the EMP, but after the group morphed into being the CIACS, the CICIG was created years later in 2007 to combat the crimes in Guatemala. Though the height of the CIACS power was from 1996 to 2005, the CICIG has made progress in capturing hundreds of criminals in Guatemala, reducing crime rates. Before the existence of the CICIG, for decades criminals and government officials could act wit impunity in Guatemala which was the main reason for the corruption in the government which eventually led to an even worse economic situation. Some of the cases the group has uncovered are the assassinations of many Guatemalans such as, the murder of the Bishop Juan Gerardi in 1998, and they’ve accomplished the goal of the resignation of the former president, Otto Perez Molina, his vice president, and many other government officials who were involved in bribery scandals. Though the CICIG is able to uncover many crimes that have been hidden by the CIACS because of their political power, the CICIG relies on the Guatemalan judiciary to act against the group or the criminals they uncover. If the CICIG along with the government continue to uncover more criminals and capture those involved in the CIACS, eventually the government will find a way to restructure itself and the group’s influence will drop.

A Blog About Venezuela, Corruption and Oil

Well, Venezuela seems to be in a bad spot! With all the corruption and inflation, it’s a wonder how they are still surviving at all. Then again, that could change very easily with any slight turn of events. Corruption in Venezuela in is one of its biggest problems. Some claim that $350 billion dollars were being diverted from the economy. That’s not all, there is also a smuggling business of government food (across the Colombian border) to sell at a profit, causing food shortages. Nicolás Maduro, the current president of Venezuela, avoided a referendum to oust him thanks to the government-controlled electoral authority suspending a vote. Maduro is already continuing the policies of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. With all this going on in Venezuela, it is important to remember where all this corruption started, and how Chávez perpetuated it.

Venezuela is no stranger to corruption and has a long history of being plagued with this problem. Going back to 1813, 1814 and 1824 with  national hero Simon Bolivar defining it as “the violation of the public interest”, and later, in 1875, the finance minister confessing that “Venezuela does not know to whom it owes money and how much. Our books are 20 years behind.” Historically, Venezuela’s finances have been subject to corruption. A string of corrupt dictatorships lasted until 1960. This led Venezuela to reformers and a period of high transparency with their own democratic presidents Rómulo Betancourt, Raúl Leoni, and Rafael Caldera, becoming a model for the Latin American world. This was until the mid-1970s when Venezuela found oil and hit the jackpot for it. This caused them to launch a program equivalent to Mao Tse-Tung’s “Great Leap Forward”. It was a disaster. The government put 2 billion dollars into industrial projects with little enforcement of regulations causing corruption to spiral of control and Venezuela to fall to the “Dutch Disease.” Venezuelans went into major debt with many national banks overseas. This trend continued until 1998, with over $100,000,000,000 in oil income wasted or stolen during the last 25 years.

This was when Hugo Chávez entered the picture, with the promise of political change, ultimately resulting in him trying to make himself dictator for life. When he was acting president, he had tried to push a nationalist, anti-United States narrative in order to gain more power, spending a lot of money from oil in “social programmes and handouts” in order to make himself look better in the public eye. He exacerbated the corruption problem with multiple counts of “grand corruption, derived from major policy decisions made by Pres. Chavez; bureaucratic corruption, at the level of the government bureaucracy; and systemic corruption, taking place at the interface between the government and the private sector” according to the CATO Institute. Some notable examples of each of these corruption types (in the order explained) would be his acceptance of “foreign contributions for his presidential campaign and even after his election” with the former president of the bank, Emilio Ibarra, claiming that he authorized a $525,000 deposit in Chávez’s account in 1998 and a $1,000,000 deposit in 1999. Another example is the corruption at the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with Luis Velazquez Àlvaray being accused of siphoning funds from money given to build a Court. In turn, he countered by accusing “Vice Pres. Rangel, as well as Interior Minister Jesse Chacón and National Assembly Pres. Nicolas Maduro, of running a gang of corrupt judges called ‘The Dwarves,’ specialized in protecting drug traffickers.” A final example of corruption is drug trafficking, with “Venezuela becoming a haven for Colombian guerrillas who move drugs across the country with impunity due to the absence of border controls.” With Chávez’s campaign promises to end corruption, he was less than effective at delivering on that promise

Oil is one of the only major exports of Venezuela. It is what their economy is based on, as well a source of a lot of the corruption in Venezuela. One of the reasons for this is that the state runs the oil company, making their access to the money generated very easy. One of the main reasons that Venezuela is in the predicament it is in is due to the mismanagement of funds from the oil revenue. President Nicolas Maduro has continued the disastrous policies of Hugo Chávez, and the people of Venezuela suffer every day for it.

Trade Skepticism: Legitimate or Trumped-up?

President-elect Trump ran his campaign largely on the theme that he could negotiate trade deals that would slow globalization and prioritize American interests. He has pledged that the U. S. will withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement with eleven other Pacific Rim countries that President Obama’s administration has been negotiating for the past eight years, on his first day in office.

President Obama has claimed that the TPP will increase the number of American exports to the global market, help grow and strengthen the American economy, support well-paying jobs in the United States and throughout the rest of the world, and strengthen the American middle class during this period of dramatic globalization. Still experiencing the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the TPP’s predecessor, many Americans remain unconvinced.

NAFTA went into effect in 1994, creating the largest open market bloc in the world: Mexico, Canada, and the United States. While “free” trade (already a strange term for an economy so regulated) had existed between the U. S. and Canada since 1989, NAFTA has had a significant impact in the U. S. and northern Mexico. The agreement was supposed to allow the forces of supply and demand, rather than tariff battles that hurt everyone, to regulate trade. American businesses were expected to have a much easier time than before when trading with both Mexico and Canada due to lowered tariffs, eliminated investment restrictions, and the security of intellectual property rights; the combined economies of these three NAFTA countries at the time exceeded $6 trillion, with the United States being by far the most powerful economy, an unprecedented economic powerhouse. However, Mexico continued to place extremely high tariffs (often exceeding 30%) on American imports while inefficient bureaucracy further hindered trade, making it difficult for smaller American businesses to sell goods south of the border. This meant that the flow of goods from the U.S. to our neighbors has grown at half of the rate before the deal, quite the opposite of its stated intention. Meanwhile, many American workers saw large employers setting up manufacturing facilities in Mexico, and Mexican tariffs remained on average 250% higher than American tariffs, an imbalance that placed the U.S. at an extreme disadvantage. In Mexico, poor farmers found themselves unable to compete with U.S. producers, due to huge subsidies from the U.S. for corn and other crops that the Mexican government simply couldn’t match. Both American blue-collar workers and Mexican agricultural workers, rightly or wrongly, began to blame job losses on NAFTA and establishment economics, and felt threatened by the globalization and technological advancement that NAFTA encouraged. This anger, fear, and resentment has come boiling to the surface in the past few years with the debate over the TPP, and when Mr. Trump promised to put a 35% tariff on imports from American facilities like Ford who have set up in Mexico, many Americans finally heard someone who they thought represented them.

In terms of the U.S. – Mexican relationship, the TPP is essentially a renegotiation of NAFTA that will increase the quality of living and working conditions in both of these two countries. The TPP adopts higher standards for American and Mexican businesses, governments, workers, and environmental protection. Mexico has been advancing extremely rapidly in the areas of energy, telecommunications, finance, and labor practices, and conservative lawmakers and the Obama administration hope that the TPP will only increase the many opportunities for U. S. businesses to become more competitive and to export more goods to Mexico.

There are plenty of objections to the TPP, with typically unsatisfactory excuses from the outgoing establishment. Top-secret negotiations hidden from American workers are justified as political necessity. Arbitration panels designed for giant international corporations to circumvent or even influence American regulation are “balanced out” by weak commitments from Asian governments, when these lopsided labor and environmental responsibilities are admitted at all. But these aren’t the real reasons for anger at the TPP, at least on the far-right; it’s more about a perceived “rigged system,” run by and for large corporations with no regard for the concerns of the American people. Grievances against international trade have, in fact, been boiling in the hearts and minds of Americans, with little acknowledgement or sympathy from the Republican Party, since George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton’s negotiation of NAFTA.

One of the main issues in the American debate on trade has been our relationship with China, which is notably not part of TPP. President Obama has often criticized Mr. Trump’s harsh language toward China, especially his pledge for a 45% tariff on Chinese imports and allegations of an effective Chinese trade war on the U.S. A careful, cerebral leader, President Obama has instead chosen to snub China less directly, using the TPP to forge a protective economic alliance of Pacific Rim nations in a Cold War-style attempt to check the regional influence of our rival economy. The energy put into this agreement went to waste; the President-elect and new leader of the Republican party has a stance on trade that makes Senators Sanders and Warren look restrained.

Mr. Trump is already bringing jobs back to the U.S., having convinced Carrier Corporation through tax incentives and economic threats to keep in the country at least half of the 2,000 Hoosier jobs that it had planned to move to Mexico; however, negotiating an international trade deal acceptable to foreign leaders and the American people will be a true test of his abilities.

In a time where many are searching for unity, maybe trade is a place to start, as the 2016 election saw the Democrats and Republicans unite once again on the issue—this time to oppose free trade—with Secretary Clinton, in a rare moment of independence from the men in her political circle, vowing to immediately ditch the agreement and renegotiate. The TPP’s only hope was Gary Johnson, two-time Libertarian nominee for President, who supported the trade deal because “I’m being told that [it], in fact, would advance free trade,” echoing the establishment delusion that Americans want more open markets with low-wage countries.

Opposition to the broad free trade deals currently in place has become a political necessity because of the broad perception, which the political establishment has done little to dispel, that President Obama’s administration has come to the negotiating table with a well thought-out compromise and left with little. Mr. Trump promises as President to come to the negotiating table with extreme demands (i.e., his insistence on absurdly high tariffs) and leave with a fair compromise, which seems like a reasonable expectation for the world’s most powerful economy.

Free trade is a great phrase. After all, what could be more American than liberty and capitalism? This idea isn’t just economic; our rejection of the TPP would open up the Pacific Rim, especially East Asia, not only to China’s economic influence, but to its political and military control. But free trade only works when your partners agree to follow the same rules. An ideal trade agreement would compel foreign governments to put the same economic restrictions on their workforce as the U. S. does, so that our country wouldn’t need to sacrifice competitiveness in the global market for workers’ rights and environmental responsibility.

The world this year has seen too many referendums where the people rejected free markets, from Brexit to the election of Mr. Trump, and the refusal of many policymakers to recognize these intense and legitimate concerns has led to many of their political downfalls. President Obama and the traditional wing of the Republican party seem to think that spreading economic treats around the Pacific will curtail China’s dominance of the region, despite the fact that, not being a party to the TPP, our rival is playing by a completely different set of labor and environmental rules. The President’s opposition, on the other hand, has offered no real alternative besides tougher rhetoric and a “better deal.” But until President Obama makes a serious effort to explain and defend his stance on free trade to the American people, the country will continue to see the TPP as simply an expansion of NAFTA, complete with the obligatory $40 million of lobbying by the Koch brothers, that has been more influenced by its signatories, some of the most sluggish economies in Asia, than the Unites States.

International trade is complex and confusing, far more so than either side would like to admit. They say wisdom can come from the most unexpected places, so perhaps Gary Johnson had it right all along, and we should stand aside and let the “experts” figure out what’s best for the people.

They sent “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” The Lawyers Got Rich, and the Guns Got High.

Peru is doing alright, for now. Their economy is booming, they’re relatively democratic, and next to their neighbors, they have a manageable level of terrorism. What’s to hate? Well, a report released in September by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime announced that Peru has surpassed Columbia to become the world’s number one producer of coca and cocaine.

Why is this? Well it is due it part to the efforts of the US to eradicate cocaine production in Columbia. The problem is, as the US begins fumigating coca crops in Columbia, the producers simply move back across the boarder into Peru; squeeze one end of the balloon and it bulges at the other. While the US’s war on drugs has been somewhat successful in Columbia, it has taken a large toll on the countries relations with the US, as spraying herbicides from the air inevitably damages crops other than coca, and severely endangers the lives Columbian farmers. This damage also drives many farmers to join the ranks of any of the various rebel groups fighting the Columbian government. As Peru does not allow this aerial herbicide bombardment, and is opposed to such extreme measures, the drug war in Peru must be conducted more surgically.

Another difficulty in fighting coca production in Peru, is that unlike in Columbia, where the FARC accounts for a large portion of coca farming, Peru’s “Shining Path” rebels consist of only around 500 fighters, isolated to one of 14 coca producing regions in Peru. Because of this, there is no one entity to target, as coca farmers work independently from one another. This particular problem is only going to get worse, after the arrest of Gerson Galvez, known as “The Snail”, the biggest drug lord in Peru. His arrest will likely cause the members of his operation to disperse, making them harder to find.

Perhaps the hardest problems to combat are those inside of the government. Although Peru is significantly less corrupt than many of its neighbors, it is certainly not immune. Peruvian police officers often take bribes or work with drug smugglers, and recent President Garcia is said to have sold presidential pardons to smugglers for $150,000 each. One army general was discovered to have fabricated a payroll for 620 soldiers who did not exist, which he instead collected himself. To make matters worse, many wealthy drug lords from Mexico and Central America have moved their operations to Peru, as they find themselves in the US’s line of fire.

Because Peru will not adopt the extreme measures being used in Columbia, the US and Peru will have to fight the drug war more strategically, and more carefully. The problem with this, is that the further the drug is removed from the plantation, the harder it is to track and find. Drug traffickers have a plethora of methods at their disposal to transport their product, including planes, boats, trucks, and even submarines. However, one of the most common methods in Peru is by backpack. Each year, the US estimates one third of cocaine produced in Peru is carried by backpack. This is because roughly 60% of the country’s coca is grown in remote valleys, hidden by mountains. Some of this is flown out by plane, however, the planes are expensive, and not reliable in bad weather. The rest of this coca is carried on foot, hundreds of miles over the mountains, by young hikers with little to no chance of employment elsewhere. During the hike, they must also contend with rival smuglers, corrupt police officers, and armed gunmen looking to take the drugs for themselves.

All of these problems compound themselves to make Peru one of the hardest drug economies to eliminate. Life is comparably good in Peru, so many people are content with the way things are, making them resistant to the idea of starting a drug war there. Because of the complications of fighting the war on drugs in a healthier country like Peru, the cocaine trade has been able to thrive, working under the cover of the intricate web of bureaucracy.

Cigars or Crowbars?

For the vast majority of the 20th century, the United States has had a ‘special’ relationship with the island nation of Cuba.  From the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898 to the middle of the century, America’s influence over its de facto protectorate tied the countries closely together, with famous Cuban rum and cigars flowing freely north to the United States, and tourists arriving in droves in Havana and elsewhere.  However, in 1959, the midst of the Cold War, a popular communist revolution led by the guerilla leader Fidel Castro brought down the American backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, and dramatically shifted the relationship between the two nations. Establishing a one-party republic that allied itself closely to the Soviet Union, Cuba served as the greatest thorn in the United States’ side during the Cold War.

Even today, with the Soviet Union a distant memory to many, Cuba remains as one of the few one-party communist nations, with a government led by Prime Minister and President Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel as the latter became too infirm to lead.  Raul Castro is still very much a conservative communist, and has not made many attempts to politically reform Cuba.  However, he is much more pragmatic than his idealistic brother, and has noted the shortcomings of his nation and the potential benefits that could be provided by burying the hatchet with the massive superpower located only a hundred miles to the north.

He could not have picked a better president to approach with propositions of reconciliation.  Throughout his presidency, Mr. Obama has expressed his interest in the normalization of political and economic relations with the Cuban government.  He has met with Mr. Castro several times on the subject, but there exist several major barriers standing between the two old rivals.  Though Mr. Obama has been open to the stabilization of relations, the Republican Congress is opposes any shift from the status quo, especially Congressional members with ties to the powerful Cuban expatriate lobbies  that operate in many states located along the Gulf of Mexico.  They are not the only ones opposed to many aspects of the Cuban government.  Mr. Obama, among others, has expressed his concerns over the lack of human rights in the country, along with a political system that actively stifles opposition and whose constitution contains laws specifically targeting dissidents, rather than protecting them.   Also against normalization stand the more conservative elements of the island nation, aging generals and party-members who feel the integrity of their communist republic is threatened by a thaw with the United States.

Regardless of the disagreements between any of the factions surrounding the shifting policy of the neighbor countries, steps have been made, spearheaded by Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro.   Diplomatic relations have been normalized, and embassies have reopened in both capitals.  The UN has voted annually on a resolution that called for an end to the American embargo against Cuba since 1992.  This last year, the United States abstained from voting, allowing the resolution to pass with the support of 191 countries.  However, this doesn’t change the fact that the embargo remains, with the Republican Congress set to keep it that way.

Though some progress has been made, the future does not look promising.  Raul Castro and his regime have not made any great strides in the fields of basic rights since the United States reestablished diplomatic ties, and in the last Communist Party Congress more conservative figures were given high positions in the government, while younger, more reform minded politicians have been snubbed.  The president elect of the United States, Donald Trump, has vowed to roll back any progress Mr. Obama may have made.  It seems that the hatchet wasn’t buried very deep.

Scandals and Scapegoats

Thousands of Brazilian protesters take to the streets with a sign reading “Impeachment Now”

Over the past 20 or so years, Brazil’s rapidly growing economy and global influence was a large source of national pride. In particular, the giant Petrobras was regarded as a symbol for the country’s success story as it entered into the world stage. However, last year’s revelation of a massive corruption network centered around Petrobras has left a once proud population feeling lost and cheated, and the country isin the midst of an identity crisis.” In a time of such widespread anger and confusion, many Brazilians are looking for someone to blame, and president Dilma Rousseff is falling right into their hands.

Petrobras’ Headquaters

The Scandal

The Petrobras corruption scandal, although only discovered last year with the confession of Alberto Yousseff in a plea deal, is believed to have started as long as ten years ago. With the rapid growth of Petrobras came insider deals, political manipulation, and kickbacks for officials and administrators. The extent of the graft is unprecedented in Brazil’s history, totalling to almost $3 billion in bribes and involving almost 120 of Brazil’s political and economic leaders. When it was revealed to the public, it caused an economic shock wave in the country still being felt today.

GDP Performance is the worst since 1990

The first and most prominent economic result of the scandal was the loss of international confidence in Petrobras and in Brazil in general, which greatly exacerbated Brazil’s already struggling economy. The corruption news was published amidst Brazil’s worst year for economic growth since 1990, and in a time when Brazil is trying to attract outside investors to help stimulate growth, it felt to many like a bullet to the foot.  

It’s Not All About the Money

Rousseff’s disapproval ratings after the election

Beyond the economic impact, the Petrobras scandal also caused an enormous national uproar against the government. Many Brazilians who had celebrated Brazil’s rise as an international player in the last 20 years suddenly felt betrayed by their own leaders, and took to the streets calling for change: “I’ve never seen my countrymen so angry,” said Maurício Santoro, a political science professor at Rio de Janeiro State University. “We have this sense that the dream is over.”

Pointing Fingers

Blow-up figures of Lula and Rousseff

Amidst all of the anger in the country, the disillusioned protesters have found someone to blame for both the Petrobras scandal and the economic issues striking the country. President Dilma Rousseff, who had just been reelected, now faces plummeting approval ratings and demonstrations in the streets calling for impeachment for involvement in the corruption, despite no current evidence pointing to her knowing about it. Although she started out her administration riding on the coattails of the enormously popular former president Lula da Silva, she has quickly transformed into the country’s scapegoat for their economic and political woes, and she isn’t doing a very good job of fighting that designation.

Dilma Rousseff and Lula da Silva

As soon as Lula da Silva was accused of being involved in the oil giant’s graft network, Rousseff appointed him to be her chief of staff, essentially granting him political immunity while giving the public a weak explanation for her actions. In addition, the investigations into Petrobras have revealed that “the ruling Workers Party [Rousseff’s party] had pocketed up to $200 million over the years, money that was supposedly used to finance political campaigns.” These revelations and actions have pushed president Rousseff into a prime position to be the scapegoat for Brazil’s troubles. By trying to save her former ally’s political reputation and by running a political party which accepted bribes from Petrobras officials, Rousseff has done nothing but solidify herself as the primary person Brazilians can look at to blame. If she ends up being impeached, it should not come as a surprise to her.

Abortion In Latin America

In the United States we grow used to many amenities: clean water, food, safety, healthcare, and one that most people hope they never need, abortion. Women have access to safe, legal abortion across the country, which prevents unwanted pregnancies and saves many maternal lives that are at risk. In most countries throughout Latin America women do not have the legal right to abortion or safe access to abortion. Millions of lives are lost each year when women have illegal abortions performed by untrained individuals.

 

What is the Problem?

 Latin America houses some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Three countries – El Salvador, Chile, and the Dominican Republic- allow no exceptions or extenuating circumstances to their respective laws against abortions.

LegalityOfAbortion(Chart)

 

 

Most other countries in Latin America only allow abortions to save a woman’s life or other similar reasons. These restrictive laws often leave women feeling as if they have no options, and they turn to illegal, unsafe measures to try and deal with their problem.

 

What is the scale of the problem?

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, “an estimated 2,000 Latin American women die every year from unsafe abortions.’’ Estimates by the World Health Organization say that 12% of all maternal deaths were due to unsafe abortions in 2008. The International Planned Parenthood Federation estimates that 500,000- 1,500,000 illegal abortions take place every year in Latin America. Approximately, 150,000 of the illegal abortions result in the woman needing treatment due to complications.

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What Caused the Problem?

Latin America and the Catholic Church have close ties and the Church heavily influences most all peoples’ beliefs, including many politicians. The Catholic Church has always condemned abortion as a “grave evil”. Many people wonder why Latin America never experienced a feminist revolution, because after all, they were colonized by Western Powers for years. The answer lies within Latin America’s turbulent history and its close ties with the Catholic Church. While the rest of Western Civilization went through revolutions, Latin America was held back by dictatorships and struggles for power. They have also been unsuccessful at separating church and state and this has continued to influence their strong abortion laws. Not only has the Catholic Church played a significant role in influencing abortion policy in Latin America, but also the United States has played a major role in policy, an increase of religious influence within the Republican Party increased anti- abortion sentiments within the party especially while they were in  office. It directly influences abortion in Latin America by banning funding for any NGO’s who provide abortions or advocate for its decriminalization.

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“Get your rosaries out of our ovaries”

A Numbers Game

According to research performed by the Guttmacher Institute, of the “ 4.4 million abortions performed in the region in 2008, 95% were unsafe. In the Caribbean, 46% of abortions were unsafe, as were virtually all abortions in Central and South America.” The Guttmacher Institute also found that the rates of abortion increased form 4.1 million in 2003 to 4.3 million in 2008. Low-income settings are particularly susceptible to unsafe abortion conditions. Women in low income settings are 3 times more likely to go to a traditional birth attendant who is inadequately trained (60% vs. 18%) compared to women who have adequate means at their disposal. 

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Change?

So, is there a possibility that this could all change? Yes, but it will take time. Already women are using more abortion pills, which are safer and cause fewer major medical issues that require hospitalization. Many countries are working to change their abortion laws. In Mexico, the Supreme Court found no issue with abortion in their constitution, and it is therefore legal in the country. Different districts are already opposing the law, and now it is district by district as to whether it is legal to have an abortion. Some other countries have moved to try and decriminalize abortion; so, even though it is not legal, there is no possibility of jail time if a woman is caught. And still others have moved to have abortion legalized as a whole. All in all there is progress but it is slow because, in a predominantly Catholic culture it is hard to change something that is so deeply ingrained in people’s beliefs. 

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As the need for safe, legal abortion grows, the pressure on governments across Latin America grows as well. Many countries are progressive and are trying to be proactive in dealing with the problem, but others are still too heavily influenced to move out of the past.

 

Blue, Black, and Violent

The 18th Street Gang is one of the largest gangs in the Western Hemisphere. Also known as Barrio 18, 18th Street has become the largest transnational criminal gang in Los Angeles. 18th Street was formed in the 1960’s and it consisted primarily of Latinos, but over the last decade it has recruited members, specifically targeting youth and low-income immigrants from a variety of backgrounds and races. Their colors are blue and black, and thousands of members have tattooed the number 18 on their bodies. Some experts say the 18th Street possesses the capacity to become an organized criminal and a highly successful operational gang due to their illegal activities across national borders, but others view them as no more criminally organized than other street gangs. Due to their high crime rates, hundreds of homicides, and growing drug trade operations, the 18th Street gang operates as a predatory gang.

18th Street has been identified in over 120 cities, and 37 states, including the District of Columbia, the United States, Mexico, and Central America; El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. In Los Angeles, their main grounds, 18th Street has committed over one hundred homicides. Cars are stolen, houses burglarized and assaults and robberies happen every day. Their main source of income is street-level distribution of drugs, but more illicit crimes include human and weapons trafficking, illegal immigration, kidnapping, prostitution, and copyright infringement.

Murder rates in Central America, specifically El Salvador, have sky rocketed to over 10 murders a day, due to the 18th Streets bitter rivalry with Mara Salvatrucha, (MS13). In March of 2015 in El Salvador, 18th Street and MS13 agreed to a truce after years of violence and fighting between the two gangs. An emotional Ismael Guererro said that “the time is right, and we are showing the Salvadoran people we can be peaceful. I have lost too many friends and relatives in the violence. We don’t want another war because we are thinking about our children.” Already the murder rate of this small Central American country has decreased. A big question has now emerged: can this peace last, and if so, for how long? Many Salvadorans believe that the truce only happened because gangs have been paid to participate in the truce, or that the Mexican drug cartels are somehow involved. The truce has been in place now for over eight months, and overall the murder rate has fallen from 15 a day to around five a day, which is a huge decrease.

In recent events, the 18th Street has taken excessive actions in El Salvador’s transportation systems by attacking popular bus routes and murdering any innocent victims riding the buses, including the drivers, bringing the country to a halt. Bus drivers all around the country have been encouraged to go on strike to prevent any further deaths. Due to the 18th Street’s violence, the bus companies have lost over $750,000 a day, and there has been an estimated $60 million in losses for the country’s economy. This takeover has only exposed the major weaknesses of El Salvador’s government, specifically the country’s president, Sanchez Ceren, who promised additional security forces to protect the citizens, but instead left for Cuba for his own personal needs. These instances have been the gang’s latest power play in spreading fear in a country where their presence is only increasing in power

Multiple policies have been initiated to curb 18th Street’s power. One of these has been the peace truce with MS13, but in Los Angeles, a Superior Court judge placed multiple restraints on the gang. The restraints consisted of various bans on three or more gang members from congregating, standing, sitting, walking, or driving in public together anywhere in a 17-block area of Jefferson Park, a large populated and terrorized neighborhood consisting of immigrant families. It also restricts members from possessing any tools that can be used for harassing citizens. However, a 16-year-old youth named Torrie Jackson from the Jefferson Park neighborhood said that “It’s been the same, and it’s always going to be the same. You can bring in the police, but things will never change. They’re still going to be here. It really ain’t going to stop nothing.”

The U.S has only created laws that have restricted the 18th Street, a gang that has always broken the laws in general. Instead of trying to restrain the gang, the government should create programs for low-income youths who have no place to go. They need to help the people in poverty who are forced to fall back into a gang because they have no other options in life. By creating these programs, youths will be protected from violence, and they will be further educated to make a better future for themselves. Though these programs would come off as a threat to gangs, and could further anger them, people will still begin to see that there are other options than joining a gang. They can be saved if they come to the realization that gangs only bring hardships and violence. If the U.S. could better educate low-income families, it would soon become a successful trend, and trends can change a culture dramatically.