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Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

Guatemala’s 24-Hour Courts: Changing the Way Women Access Justice

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. In observance, this week USAID is profiling brave individuals and dynamic programs focused on addressing gender-based violence around the world. 

The nightmare began when she was thirteen. For two years, Cindy was the victim of repeated rape and sexual abuse by her uncle. The details of the case are heart-wrenching; she also suffered death threats against her mother and grandmother if she reported her case.

Cindy’s happy childhood was interrupted by a sexual predator; her life of play was replaced by horror and shame, and later by courtrooms and lawyers. The last time Cindy was raped was two months ago, just before her uncle was formally charged for rape and sexual abuse.

This case underscores the ongoing tragedy of gender-based violence in Latin America. Many women and young girls like Cindy are afraid to speak out because they are threatened by their attackers and fear being stigmatized by their family and communities. Hence, official statistics do not reflect the true scale of the problem.

Guatemala has long been seen as one of the worst examples of crimes against women in the hemisphere. In the past decade alone, nearly 4,000 women were killed. Some of the victims had sought help but were rebuffed by local authorities. Less than four percent of these cases were solved.

Mounting pressure pushed authorities to pass legislation outlawing gender-based violence. In 2009, a law for femicide, violence, sexual abuse, and trafficking was enacted, but only three men were convicted and sentenced even though in the first two weeks of that year 26 women were killed.

In Guatemala, as in other Latin American countries, cases of gender-based violence fall in the lap of an overburdened criminal justice system with no specialized services for women victims. Most women simply opt for dropping charges.

Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg (far left) and Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz (center) visit the 24-hour Femicide Court in Gerona in October 2012. Photo credit: USAID files

Local leadership and donor cooperation

Recently, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz and former President of the Supreme Court, Thelma Aldana identified the need for a specialized court for cases related to violence against women, exploitation, sexual violence and human trafficking.

USAID Guatemala responded to their request and provided technical assistance, training, and equipment to operationalize a new specialized 24-hour court located in the Attorney General’s Office. The new model opened in October 2012 and includes a criminal court, a public defense office, a police substation, and a forensic clinic, and is staffed by prosecutors, psychologists, doctors, and lawyers. The integrated approach ensures victims receive the assistance they need and strengthens criminal investigation by using scientific evidence. The 24-hour court also includes a special Gesell Chamber that allows judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to observe interviews with minors conducted by psychologists.

This court, one of the first in Latin America, represents a fundamental change in Guatemala’s justice system. Since the 24-hour court opened its doors, 846 protection measures for women and 307 arrest warrants have been authorized. In total, 125 people have been sent to prison for violence against women and sexual exploitation. Although Cindy is forever marked by the horror she endured, justice for women in Guatemala is finally within reach.

Helping Haiti Recover Three Years Later

This originally appeared on the USDA Blog.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack met with Haiti’s Minister of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development, Thomas Jacques, today to emphasize USDA’s ongoing commitment to help the Haitian agricultural sector recover from the devastating impact of the 2010 earthquake.

The visit is part of Minister Jacques’ weeklong trip to the United States to meet with various U.S. government agencies and other U.S. organizations about Haitian ministry priorities. Minister Jacques is traveling with a delegation that includes Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture members as part of the U.S.-Brazil Trilateral Initiative on Cooperation.

On Monday, March 4, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with Haiti’s Minister of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development Thomas Jacques who outlined his three year strategic plan for revitalization of the Haitian agriculture sector. Photo credit: USDA

During the visit, Secretary Vilsack and Minister Jacques discussed food security and topics on trade. The minister also received a presentation on USDA’s market information systems capacity building in Haiti, just one example of USDA projects initiated after the earthquake.

Haiti was already a fragile and poor country when the massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit. The devastation killed more than 300,000 people and greatly reduced economic activities. In the aftermath of the disaster, USDA gradually transitioned from response to recovery efforts.

USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service currently has several food aid projects in Haiti that are funded by the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition and the Food for Progress programs. Two ongoing McGovern-Dole projects in Haiti are supporting a nationwide school feeding program that includes rehabilitating schools, training teachers and school administrators, developing school gardens and providing take-home rations for children. USDA has donated commodities such as milled rice, pinto beans and vegetable oil to support the project. The Food for Progress program is building Haiti’s trade capacity in food safety standards and improving farmers’ access to credit through microcredit lending activities.

FAS is also working with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to help strengthen Haiti’s agricultural ministry’s ability to deliver essential services to farmers. The continued effort to help rebuild Haiti is an example of USDA’s long history of helping those in need.

For more information on USDA food aid and capacity building programs, visit the FAS website.

Video of the Week: Empowering Women in Haiti

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with partner Heartland Alliance International has been strengthening the leadership of grassroots women in Haiti to engage in and advocate for redevelopment with the vision of a country where women participate in home, public and economic life free from the threat of harassment and violence.

Over the past two years, Heartland Alliance, through its Women Empowered to Lead and Advocate for Development (WE-LEAD) project’s women’s center, has provided skill and knowledge building activities to over 1300 women and nearly 30 women’s organizations.  Through their advocacy and close collaboration with the Ministry of Women in Haiti they have put gender equality on the development agenda and into Haiti’s development policies.

Watch this video with WE-LEAD center users to see the impact of this project on the lives of Haitian women.

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Guatemala

In this next installment of the USAID Pounds of Prevention series (PDF), we travel to Guatemala. Many people in Guatemala live in areas prone to natural hazards. Earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, floods, and landslides have all challenged the population and spurred the country to take action to prepare for and lessen the effects of disasters. Photo by USAID.

Q&A with the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte

U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte. Photo credit: State Department

This afternoon, USAID and five Salvadorian foundations today announced a partnership to combat citizen insecurity and strengthen municipal responses to crime and violence in 50 dangerous communities in El Salvador. This public-private partnership is the largest in USAID history with local partners and ever in Latin America. The Impact Blog Team interviewed U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte, for more information about the partnership and what it means for both American and Latin American citizens. 

Madame Ambassador, we know you are very passionate about crime prevention. How will the new program SolucionES(Solutions) help raise the profile of this issue in El Salvador?

Like people everywhere, Salvadorans want peace and security in their lives and a better future for their children.  I have had the privilege of meeting hundreds of Salvadorans who are working hard to make their country safer and more prosperous, and opening up new economic opportunities for everyone.

I am very proud to see the government, civil society organizations, and the private business sector come together to form the SolucionES alliance to help prevent crime in El Salvador. This new project brings together five leading Salvadoran non-profit organizations and foundations to share their expertise in education, health, research, and community and economic development in order to help prevent crime and violence in El Salvador. These organizations, supported by USAID and the Salvadoran private sector, will implement $42 million dollars in crime and violence prevention programs throughout the country.

Do citizens in El Salvador have an active voice at the crime prevention table?

This project would not possible without the expertise from Salvadoran civil society.  Salvadorans play a vital role in crime prevention and it is in fact their contributions, knowledge, willingness, and most importantly their commitment to crime prevention that give this project its oxygen. The five partners who have formed this alliance have signed up to help implement an ambitious five-year program because they believe it will make a real change in the lives of Salvadoran citizens.

Working closely with municipal councils and local residents, SolucionES will provide assistance for crime prevention plans and activities that include: training for youth and families on conflict prevention, leadership programs for youth, job training and entrepreneurship, after school clubs, and the provision of psychological counseling in schools traumatized by violence.

How does crime and violence in El Salvador affect both Salvadorans and Americans?

Salvadoran citizens are obviously the ones most directly impacted by El Salvador’s crime and insecurity, which is why every Salvadoran citizen has a vested interest in making sure that youth do not join gangs or become involved in criminal activities. The United States recognizes that El Salvador’s gangs and criminal activities have had a negative impact on the country’s ability to grow, while also supporting the growth of gangs in the United States. By implementing crime prevention programs that eliminate the ability for gangs to recruit young people, we not only help El Salvador become a more secure and prosperous country for its own citizens, but we reduce the footprint of transnational gangs in the United States.

As Ambassador to El Salvador, what are your top priorities?

My priorities in El Salvador are laid out in the Partnership for Growth (PfG) Joint Country Action Plan, which was signed by both governments in 2011. PfG is our joint, five-year strategy for expanding broad-based economic growth in El Salvador under an overarching commitment to democracy, sustainable development, and human rights. The Action Plan identifies insecurity as one of the binding constraints to El Salvador’s productivity and competitiveness. Crime and insecurity have had an incalculable effect on the potential growth of El Salvador’s business sector. They have also negatively affected the legitimacy of El Salvador’s institutions of government. The limitations of the state to combat and prevent crime can erode the confidence of the people and can undermine good governance. Crime and insecurity pose a threat to institutional and development advances and the Government of El Salvador and the Unites States are committed to advancing joint efforts under Partnership for Growth.

We know you constantly praise USAID’s work; do you have a favorite USAID project in El Salvador?

The work USAID does in El Salvador is exceptional. They have a great team of talented individuals who work every day to help countries such as El Salvador become stronger societies. They work hard at making sure every project achieves expected results and they represent the United States so well. All of their programs are incredible—from empowering women, to increasing education and economic opportunities, and preventing crime, they are achieving positive and sustainable results. I recently visited a USAID-sponsored initiative called “Youth Committed—I make a difference,” which is a strategic alliance between employers and is designed to enhance employment opportunities for youth in at-risk communities. The program, so far has 4,498 graduates from all over the country who now have the job skills they need for productive employment. Projects such as these and many others are what we as the United States Government try to achieve through the fantastic work that USAID does here.

Trilateral Development: “We” Is Much Bigger Than “Us”

Mark Lopes is Deputy Assistant Administrator for Latin America and Caribbean

This originally appeared on Chilean International Cooperation Agency’s website

Success for Latin America and the Caribbean means that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) must work itself out of a job.  Our goal is to set the stage for people to prosper – economically, independently, and institutionally.  We want to support governments and civil society to make this a reality.  Maybe the biggest change in the Latin American and Caribbean region in the last decade, is that we is much bigger than us, and our ability to help is therefore greater than ever.

In the era of scarce expertise and few resources, USAID may have worked alone.  Today, with public and private resources flowing faster and farther in every direction, and governments in the region with broad evidence of success, USAID has adjusted what we mean by we.  Now, it means everyone with a stake in the outcome and anyone with something to offer.  After all, isn’t it better to learn from those who have succeeded through similar challenges?

Enter Chile, Colombia, and Brazil –trendsetters in the region in many respects.  In terms of development progress, they have much to offer. Through trilateral cooperation, if a country has expertise that other countries in the region can benefit from, USAID is happy to be a connector, contributor, and facilitator in that process.

In recent years, Chile, in partnership with USAID, served as a trainer for counterparts at the Paraguayan customs agency, showcasing the Chilean experience as a model.  The three countries worked together to strengthen the internal controls of the agency.  Similarly, the three partnered to help Paraguay improve its export promotion agency: USAID supported the development of a registry of exporting firms; Chile shared its export promotion capability by providing training; and Paraguay implemented a web-enabled database for the export registry and data from Customs.

This year, Chile and the United States will improve livestock health and food safety in El Salvador.  Similar arrangements in areas ranging from violence against women to agricultural technology are evolving with Brazil in Haiti and with Colombia in Guatemala.

USAID wants to exhaust the ability of every country in the Americas to learn from any country in the Americas.  When we do that, and when people can thrive on their own, USAID programs can shut down.  When this happens, we all have a reason to celebrate.

Public, Private, and Civil Society Partnerships in Action

This post originally appeared on the Save the Children Blog.

We like to think of development as a team sport requiring all players to work together toward the same goal. The game gets particularly exciting when you add new players to the team at half time.

Save the Children has served children and families in Nicaragua for almost 80 years. Three years ago, we began partnering with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. (GMCR), based in Vermont, on a project to increase the income and food security for families of workers on coffee farms. By helping families to diversify their crops, improve storage techniques, and bring crops to market, they can better withstand periods of food scarcity during the months between coffee harvests.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) joined the partnership two years ago, adding an ambitious health component through their regional “4th Sector Health” project. Implemented by Abt Associates, 4thSector Health develops public-private partnerships and supports exchanges between countries to advance development through health in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Nicaragua, 4th Sector Health is working with Save the Children and GMCR, along with local civil society partners, to boost maternal and child health and nutrition for the same coffee-growing communities.

USAID’s 4th Sector Health also recently funded an experience sharing trip for Save the Children staff from five Latin American countries, who were involved in implementing GMCR-funded projects. The participants learned from each other’s experiences and are replicating best practices in their own programs, serving to increase their impact and sustainability.

Save the Children visits neighborhoods in Nicaragua to monitor child health and nutrition, and treat sick children. Photo credit: Gerardo Aráuz

The alliance between USAID, Save the Children, and GMCR is intended to maximize the use of resources and help identify new solutions to challenges affecting these communities. Sometimes the alliance organizations face challenges of their own — coordinating work plans, reporting on technical outcomes, and carrying out their separate missions.

Public-private partnerships, otherwise known as the “Golden Triangle,” are a hot topic in the field of international development. Donors like USAID have invested millions of dollars in partnerships with the private sector, yet some development experts have questioned the development impact of such partnerships in achieving real benefits for the poor and marginalized in developing countries.

As part of its recent reform efforts, USAID has put more attention towards improving its public-private partnership model. For one, USAID is including technical experts in health and nutrition such as Save the Children in some partnerships, recognizing that U.S. civil society groups lend valuable expertise in maternal-child health and other technical areas. Moreover, USAID is steering the private sector towards achievement of concrete development targets through their partnerships, as well as ensuring that companies are held to certain standards, such as respect for workers and environmental stewardship.

From my perspective, this alliance between Save the Children Nicaragua, USAID, and GMCR, is having a transformative impact on the communities in which it operates.

Martha Lorena Diaz is one of many enterprising women working with us,whose partner, Jose Manuel Benavidez, is a coffee farmer on a cooperative that sells to GMCR. Martha was initially given five hens and now keeps 40 in her small business, earning about one dollar a day from selling the eggs and chickens. Save the Children project training sessions have helped Martha to identify nutritious sources of food for her three children, particularly during the lean months when she struggles to provide enough food for them. Martha now makes a corn flour drink to boost her childrens’ daily vitamin intake. Moreover, health promoters, trained by Save the Children, visit her neighborhood and others to monitor child health and nutrition and treat sick children in their communities, which are often far from the closest health center.

Successful partnerships, such as the one between USAID, GMCR, and Save the Children Nicaragua, are critical to achieving lasting results in the communities that we all serve. With an increase in USAID’s partnerships with private sector and NGO players, who are committed to making a real difference in the lives of families in Nicaragua and elsewhere, I believe our team will prevail.

FrontLines Year in Review: Beyond Port-au-Prince

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines March/April 2012 issue.

The United States and Haitian Governments aim to develop areas outside the country’s overcrowded capital, catalyzing growth in the north.

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti – group crowds around an instructor for an urban gardening lesson in this northern city in Haiti. They laugh as the man perches a plastic bucket on his head and demonstrates how to use drip irrigation technology to grow tomatoes.

Workshop participant Manola Lamy was excited to try growing vegetables on her roof, but also enjoyed the camaraderie. “Before, I hadn’t experienced a union among Haitians,” she said. “Through the workshop, I experienced a union among others trying to make a better life here.”

Students are expected to share their knowledge, and instructors empowered them to take charge of their own food security. Such sustainability is the aim of USAID’s work in Haiti.

Vendors sell their wares March 24, 2011, at a market in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti. Photo credit: Kendra Helmer, USAID.

“Cap-Haïtien is one of the most important cities in the Government of Haiti’s plan to increase access to services outside of the overcrowded capital,” said USAID/Haiti Mission Director Carleene H. Dei.

After the catastrophic January 2010 earthquake, about 100,000 displaced Haitians sought refuge around Cap-Haïtien. The city is now one of three geographic corridors that the U.S. Government is targeting to catalyze economic growth outside of the overcrowded capital of Port-au-Prince.

Consistent with the Government of Haiti’s action plan, the United States is focusing its investments in infrastructure and energy; economic and food security; health and other basic services; and governance, rule of law, and security.

USAID’s dozens of wide-ranging projects in the north, most implemented by the Agency’s Office of Transition Initiatives, include supporting an NGO that develops nutritional peanut butter to fight malnutrition; rehabilitating roads and the Sans Souci Palace, a World Heritage site; assisting families who host those displaced by the quake; leading human rights trainings with community-based organizations; and rehabilitating community centers and health clinics.

In an ambitious project announced by former President Bill Clinton, the United States is also collaborating with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Government of Haiti to develop the 617-acre Caracol Industrial Park in the North—future home to the Korean textile giant Sae-A’s new garment-making operation. The park has the potential to support 65,000 permanent jobs in a country that has an estimated 40 percent unemployment rate.

USAID is funding the construction of an associated power plant, which will supply electricity to the park and surrounding communities. The Agency is also supporting housing for 5,000 households (25,000 beneficiaries) close to the park as well as infrastructure improvements in neighboring communities and Haitian cooperatives to jump-start training for industrial sewing…[continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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FrontLines Feature: Community Members and Police Take Back Jamaica’s Streets

This originally appeared in FrontLines, November/December 2012 issue.

As a community-based policing project comes to a close after more than six years, the partnership between police and citizens offers a crime-crushing model for the Caribbean.

Paulette Simpson vividly remembers the days of terror. With a grimace, she recalls one of her darkest moments—when she was bombarded with the piercing sounds of gun shots, the shrieking of women and children, and the smell of blood filling the air in her small community of Gravel Heights, in Spanish Town, Jamaica.

“I was afraid,” she said. “Every day I lived in fear that my life would be taken away from me. I did not want to go out and work. I did not want to die.” In 2010, that fear drove Simpson to pack her bags, close her small grocery shop and seek refuge in a safer community.

After closing her shop and fleeing her community of Gravel Heights, Paulette Simpson was happy to return home and reopen her grocery shop, confident in the ability of the Jamaica Constabulary Force to keep her safe from gangs. Photo Credit: USAID

Two years later, the terrible violence has now relented. In July, total major crime decreased by 49 percent over the previous year in the St. Catherine North Police Division where Spanish Town is located. Anthony Castelle, the division’s senior police superintendent, attributes community-based policing for the reduction. Homicide rates have been reduced, gang activities have been disrupted, and law enforcement officers are regaining the trust and confidence of the people they are sworn to protect, rekindling a partnership that had been badly tarnished.

The newfound security can be partially attributed to the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) fight against crime and violence, with support from the USAID-funded Community Empowerment and Transformation (COMET) project (PDF). COMET focuses efforts on bringing together members of the community and the police in a new community-based policing partnership.

An Island Battleground

Gravel Heights is just one of many communities in Jamaica where criminal gangs caused many to fear for their lives. Gang members would often compete violently for resources and turf in the weapons and drugs trade. They extorted local businesses, and ran neighborhoods as their own fiefdoms. The crime and violence became overwhelming from the mid-90s through 2010, and citizens lost faith in the police. During the most intense periods of violence, five murders a week were reported in Spanish Town. Like Simpson, many left their homes to save their lives.

In 2006, at the height of the violence, USAID began working with residents, the JCF, the Government of Jamaica and civil society groups to come up with solutions. USAID’s COMET project launched community-based policing (CBP) programs, which required intense interaction between community members and the police. Neighborhood watches were set up; youth clubs came together to stand up against the violence; advertisements went up on buses and bumper stickers encouraging people to work with the police; and community consultative boards met regularly to discuss issues and activities with the police.

One of the greatest challenges was the distrust that had built up between the police and community members after many years of violence. People didn’t feel like they could trust the police to protect them and the police did not feel that they could depend on members of the community to give them the information they needed on criminals in the area.

“Prior to the program, there was a time when we, the police, could not walk within a number of high-risk communities without being shot. We would have to venture in armored vehicles to protect ourselves, and today it is much different,” said Stephanie Lindsay, deputy superintendent of the JCF. “The key element is engaging community members, finding out what their issues are and how we can go about resolving them as they are the ones who know best.

“We started this by taking the time to regularly walk into the communities and speak with the citizens on the streets or within their homes in an informal manner as our friends, as our neighbors. This simple gesture spoke volumes and started the process of building our relationship. Yes, some members were reluctant at first to speak with us. However, we have a new generation of youngsters that decided enough is enough with the crime and violence.” [continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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FrontLines Feature: A USAID Legacy in Latin America: Smaller Families and Better Health

This originally appeared in FrontLines, November/December 2012 issue.

Trinidad Hernández lives in a wood-panel house with a zinc roof and a dirt floor in La Patriota, Nicaragua, a small rural village near the center of Nicaragua. The 39-year-old is a cattle farmer and volunteers as a health promoter. He enjoys the respect his community gives him as a person of authority who helps solve some of the health problems they face. He is part of a community-based family planning program that has been supported by USAID since 2003 and has been integrated into the Nicaraguan Government’s national health strategy.

Maryuri Arellano gives a health talk on adolescent pregnancy prevention. Photo Credit: Kimberly Cole, USAID

Today, more than 1,000 men and women like Hernández are involved in the country’s ambitious community-based efforts to improve health by helping parents decide the size of their families. These community health promoters educate and supply contraceptives to their neighbors who live in the most remote villages. Buttressing the approach is a USAID-sponsored 2011 study (PDF) indicating that, when men are involved as partners and community members, there are lasting improvements in reproductive health.

The number of male family planning promoters in Nicaragua has grown dramatically since 2006. Hernández reports that “the women in my community have confidence in me because I offer all of the [family planning] methods that are available and I give them enough information so that they can choose the method that is right for them. And then I make sure to always have their next supply ready.”

Programs like this, which are part of the USAID graduation strategy in countries like Nicaragua, gradually prepare them for the Agency’s departure. The goal is to maintain the successes achieved with assistance both during and after graduation. Nicaragua is an especially successful case in a region where improved education for women, greater economic opportunity and increased availability of family planning have reaped enormous benefits overall, say USAID/Nicaragua officials.

In Nicaragua, specifically, increased use of family planning has coincided with a reduction in maternal mortality by almost a third since 1980.

From Six to Two

In the 1960s, the average woman in Latin America had six children and many died in childbirth. Back then, most women in remote areas didn’t have access to family planning or know that they could space or limit their pregnancies.

Today, most women have between two and three healthy children.
Infant mortality has fallen faster in Latin America and the Caribbean than anywhere else in the world, declining by 70 percent since the 1960s. Child mortality has declined by 57 percent and the region’s maternal mortality ratio has dropped by 41 percent since 1990.

According to Marianela Corriols, USAID/Nicaragua’s project development specialist for health, this is not a coincidence. “There is strong evidence that the dramatic expansion of family planning services during this period was a major factor in saving these lives, by giving couples the ability to space their children’s births, and limit their family size, according to their own desires,” says Corriols.

While USAID has been the world leader in family planning funding since the 1960s, Corriols notes that the Agency was mostly an outside facilitator of country plans. “It is the leadership of host country governments and civil society that have led to these stunning results,” she says…[continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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