The Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras have missed out on the economic growth that many other developing countries have experienced over the past decades. Despite confronting some of the same challenges faced in neighboring countries, Costa Rica’s democracy has strengthened and its economy has flourished. This disparity largely results from the pervasive violence and crime that have stifled other Central American economies, undermining growth and interfering with social development. In particular, youth gangs (maras) have wreaked havoc in the region.
Central American gangs tend to be involved in a range of criminal activities, including arms, drug, and human trafficking; kidnapping and extortion; and migrant smuggling. The toll taken by such crime is evident in the stories told by local children and adolescents. They report that their options are to join a gang, die, or emigrate.
Such entrenched, wide-spread criminality is not only a human rights issue, but one that directly impacts the United States and all countries facing a surge of migrant children from Central America. What can be done?
On September 10th, Hudson Institute’s Center for Latin American Studies hosted a discussion with noted regional experts. Moderated by Ambassador Jaime Daremblum, the panel examined the underlying social, economic, and political environment fueling gang activity, with particular focus on whether policymakers in the region have adopted the right responses to counter this crisis, or instead paid too little attention to its structural causes.
Hudson Institute is grateful to the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation for their generous support of this conference series.