the northern triangle crisis

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Americans had a lot on their minds in the late 1970s and the 1980s. The Cold War, the Reagan Revolution and rise of Reaganomics, and considerable shifts in popular culture (think the rise of the “yuppie”) dominated both the news and dinnertime conversations. While everyday Americans were starting to think more about everything from Soviet geopolitics to new sitcoms like Roseanne, they failed to notice that some of the most profound shifts in Central American politics were happening right under their noses.

Enter El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, three Central American countries collectively known as the Northern Triangle. While the world focused on rising tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union during the late ‘70s and ‘80s, the Northern Triangle was experiencing its own upheaval that would have intense political ramifications for decades to come. Conflicts and revolutions were breaking out left and right, and even though the American government offered these countries some development assistance, the post-conflict recovery process was lackluster at best. Legal institutions were broken, crimes were not being adequately prosecuted, and corruption permeated the highest levels of government. The violence simmered ever so slightly, but was back as soon as the early 2000s - and it has gotten unimaginably worse since then.

In recent years, the Northern Triangle was ranked as being home to some of the world’s most dangerous countries. In fact, in 2015, El Salvador was labeled as the most violent state not currently at war. In an environment where state institutions are weak, security forces are under-resourced, and authorities do not have the capacity to adequately prosecute crime, brutal non-state actors are able to rise up and fill in power vacuums. In El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, these non-state actors are often violent gangs (these gangs are frequently motivated by drug sales, considering the Northern Triangle’s unfortunate geographical reality of being sandwiched between the world’s largest drug producers in South America and the largest drug consumers in the United States). These gangs utilize extortion and coercion to keep their ranks full; anyone who resists them is subject to homicide.  

Gangs and organized crime syndicates have turned a beautiful area of the world into one where families fear for their lives. Many individuals are targeted by gangs for refusing to comply with their demands and they often seek refuge in the United States, precipitating a tremendous influx in migration. Importantly, things have changed since the ‘70s and ‘80s, because this time around, Americans know what is happening overseas. The 24-hour news cycle is no longer filled with political pundits making predictions about nuclear war or a Cold War arms race. Instead, they are intensely analyzing the situation in Central America. We now know that countless Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Guatemalans find themselves under threat daily. Violent gangs have overrun their communities, and the state either ignores them, or is virtually unable to eradicate crime. Up until recently, the United States had a steady aid package going to the Northern Triangle, which allowed El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to coordinate the arrest of more than 3,800 members of the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs. However, that aid has now seen the chopping block. The lack of financial resources means similar efforts - ones that could make a real difference in people’s lives - will be put on hold.

We need not make the same mistake of ignoring this part of the world as we did in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Kansas Citians have the unique ability to shape the course of history in Central America as it is unfolding. There is now growing support at home for sending aid packages to the Northern Triangle, particularly from Representatives Wagner, Brooks, and Miller. While they are doing an amazing job lobbying on behalf of Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans up in Washington, they have indicated they cannot win this fight alone. It is time we help our friends in Central America.

Global Ties KC is excited to share that you have direct ways to do that this summer. From June 1st-23rd, Global Ties KC, in partnership with the US Department of State, will be bringing in 20 Scouts from El Salvador to Kansas City. These Scouts will spend three weeks learning about disaster preparedness and emergency response management. Through this US government supported program, students will gain valuable skills that they can apply back home. They will also participate in a homestay experience, making it the perfect time for you to open your hearts, minds, and doors for these students. During a time when violent crime plagues the Northern Triangle, it is more important than ever that Kansas Citians do their part in shaping a brighter future for Central American youth.  Contact Sarah Martin at smartin@globaltieskc.org to make a tremendous difference in the lives of these young leaders by hosting one or two of them during their stay in the Heartland.

Stay connected to Global Ties KC social media in the coming weeks for additional opportunities for involvement. We are more committed than ever to bringing the world to you, so that we may shape a better world for all.