Central America’s Northern Triangle – encompassing El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – is one of the most violent regions in the world outside of a warzone. Transnational gangs or maras have proliferated in the wake of decades of civil war and are largely responsible for a per capita death rate that rivals that in Syria.
The humanitarian impacts have become increasingly obvious over the last two years as more and more people, many of them unaccompanied children, have fled the violence and sought protection, mostly in the United States. An estimated 10 percent of the Northern Triangle’s population of 30 million has already left. For those forced to remain, weak and corrupt state institutions have failed to improve their access to health, education, and justice in city neighborhoods that have been carved up into “territories” by rival gangs, and where schools have become places of recruitment and kidnapping.
Gangs in the Northern Triangle are financed by a range of organized criminal activities, from more localized extortion and smuggling rackets to the trans-regional trade in narcotics, much of it bound for the United States.
Robert Muggah, director of the Igarapé Institute, a Brazil-based think tank that focuses on security issues, noted there has been a general decline in aid to Latin America in the last five to 10 years and that many donors view the situation in the Northern Triangle as in “the US’s backyard” and therefore something American donors should be addressing. The Igarapé Institute’s projections suggest that homicide rates in the Northern Triangle will continue to rise over the next 20 years, even as they fall in other parts of the world.