Business

Central America's violent Northern Triangle in Trump's crosshairs

Friday, February 02, 2018

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SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AFP) — Debate is raging in America over how to adapt the country's immigration laws — a process that will invariably affect Central America's so-called Northern Triangle.

The region, made up of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, remains one of the most violent parts of the world outside of war zones, according to national statistics for 2017.

It is a major source of migrants flowing into the US, often without legal documentation — placing the region on the frontline of policy changes pushed by President Donald Trump, who made immigration a key part of his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

A total of 13,129 people were slain in Northern Triangle countries last year — a drop from previous years, but still a very high rate given the nations' relatively small populations.

That persistent violence spurs emigration. Guatemalans, El Salvadorans and Hondurans are together the second largest group of undocumented immigrants in the United States after unauthorised migrants from Mexico, according to the Pew Research Center.

El Salvador (population 6.3 million) topped the regional ranking for the murder rate: 60 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to police data. It recorded a total of 3,954 murders, 25 per cent lower than in 2016.

Honduras (population nine million) followed with a rate of 43 per 100,000 inhabitants, for a total of 3,791— a 26 per cent drop over the previous year, police data showed.

Guatemala (population 16.6 million) saw 5,384 murders — 32 per 100,000 inhabitants — according to the National Forensic Institute. That number was basically stable from 2016.

Mario Polanco, head of the Mutual Support Group, a Guatemala-based crime tracker, said it was a “failure” that his country's murder rate had not dipped significantly.

The murder rates for each of the three countries in 2017 were far above the global average of 5.3 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to data compiled by the World Bank.

PERMANENT MOURNING

Venezuela was by far the riskiest country in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a rate of 89 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, according to regional crime monitor InSight Crime.

El Salvador came next, followed by Jamaica, then Honduras, Brazil and Guatemala.

“They should declare permanent mourning across the three (Northern Triangle) countries, because for each killing, there are five to eight relatives of the victim,” said Salvadoran analyst Roberto Canas.

Those who depended on the person killed “end up desperate, orphaned and living a profound social pain that is often suffered in silence and in private because of the fear of more violence,” he said.

In an effort to stem the outflow of people from the Northern Triangle seeking refuge in the United States, Washington has allocated US$750 million to the Central American region to boost security and the rule of law, and to increase prosperity.

So far under Trump, hardline immigration policies have been enacted, making it more difficult for Central Americans to get into the United States, and exposing them to greater risk of deportation if they are caught without permission to stay.

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