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Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

Ask the Expert: Enrique Roig, Coordinator for Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) at USAID

We interviewed Enrique Roig from our Latin America and Caribbean Bureau to discuss his work on citizen security in Central America.

Enrique Roig, Coordinator for CARSI at USAID Photo Credit: La Prensa

Can you describe the security situation in Central America? Violence levels in Central America are among the highest in the world – there are an estimated 900 gangs with a total of 70,000 members in the region. The region is marked by surges in murder rates, transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, and rising levels of crime. Citizens are most concerned about security, even ahead of economic issues. Despite efforts to focus on social inclusion and anti-poverty programs, income inequalities remain some of the most extreme in the world. A great part of the region’s population lacks access to healthcare, social services, and educational opportunities. The burgeoning youth bulge is also of grave concern since unemployment is extremely high.

We often hear the term, CARSI. What is that? The  U.S. government’s Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), launched by President Obama, is the interagency approach to combat citizen insecurity and violence in the region. In particular, USAID supports community-based approaches to crime and violence prevention, as well as rule of law programs.

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Haitian President Joins in on Festivities at USAID-Rehabilitated Gymnasium Inauguration

The inaugural basketball game at a USAID-rehabilitated gymnasium drew thousands of Haitians ranging from the country’s president to pop stars to people displaced by the earthquake.

The Gymnasium Vincent in Haiti. Photo Credit: Nicole Widdersheim/USAID

The stands were packed at last week’s game at Gymnasium Vincent with dancing, cheering spectators. Most of them came from nearby neighborhoods, including a few of the remaining displaced persons from the Champs de Mars camp next to the stadium.

Jugglers and karate experts warmed up the audience, and celebrated Haitian musician MikaBen sang the Haitian national anthem. President Michel Martelly presided over the festivities, and new Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and his cabinet stopped by to check out the game, which pitted the Haitian National Police (HNP) team against Sogebank. The game marked Martelly’s one-year anniversary as president. On the court, it was the pulsating rhythms of several rara bands playing in the stands that kept the evening’s program moving.
The Gymnasium Vincent has significant symbolic value for Haitians. It served as a training ground for Haitian Olympians and is the home of national and capital sports associations. Like many other public buildings in the Port-au-Prince area, it was severely damaged by the 2010 earthquake. Following his election, Martelly advocated for reconstruction of homes, hospitals, government buildings and the Gymnasium Vincent.

Speaking at the game, Martelly said, “I am proud to have led this initiative with the support of USAID. When I remembered that years ago this place used to hold great games, I feel proud to have done all this for the benefit of the youth.”

With support from Martelly and his office, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives invested about $1 million in rehabilitating the gymnasium through a contract with the Haitian firm CEEPCO. In the future, USAID hopes an increasing number of Haitian firms win our awards competitions.

The stadium’s central location will serve as a sports hub for the community, where youth from communities such as Belair, Martissant, Turgeau and Bas Delmas can practice their favorite sports. The venue is also ideal for hosting nationally televised sports and civic events. And in a city with few large enclosed structures, it can also serve as a hurricane shelter.

See photos of the event and gymnasium rehabilitation, and read more about USAID’s work in Haiti.

Q&A with the First Lady of El Salvador Vanda Pignato

The Impact Blog interviewed the First Lady of El Salvador Vanda Pignato about development issues important to her in El Salvador. 

The First Lady of El Salvador and Secretary of Social Inclusion Vanda Pignato meets with Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean Mark Feierstein.

First Lady, I know you are very passionate about women’s rights. How are you raising the profile of this issue in El Salvador?

As Secretary for Social Inclusion, one of the main goals during my mandate is to promote public policies based on a human rights approach to ensure the realization, respect and guaranty of rights of historically excluded populations. Women make up over half of the population in El Salvadorand have been excluded from access to governmental services, as these were designed without a gender specific focus. With this in mind, the idea to create a center specifically for women to promote and enhance their fundamental human rights became an issue that needed to be addressed. Ciudad Mujer is a program that has raised awareness of the invisibility women have had when it comes to accessing state services, and has begun to change the model of government by integrating services and having a gender based approach. But what is most important is that Ciudad Mujer is changing the lives of thousands of women and they have begun to recognize themselves as right holders.

Do women in El Salvador have an active voice at the table, be it in politics, business, or civil society? What can be done to enhance the role of women?

As in most societies and countries, women’s visibility within politics, business, civil society and others is not at the same level and condition than that of men. This is the heritage and legacy of secular discrimination based on gender issues, a discrimination that figures some jobs are for men and some jobs are for women, a discrimination that figures some colors are for men and other colors are for women, a discrimination that figures some toys are for boys and some are for girls, and so on. This discrimination has created a cleavage between men and women as an irreconcilable antagonism. No society or country is free of this kind of discrimination. Many countries have developed laws to prevent and punish discrimination based on gender issues. Many societies have advanced in their awareness on women’s rights. But the world itself has a long road ahead to walk. Some countries and societies have to walk more than others, but all have to walk.

Bearing that as a starting point, many actors are responsible to enhance the role of women, as much complex work needs to be implemented. The Government has a role to play: eradicate all de jure discrimination, promote the eradication –in a progressive manner– of all de facto discrimination (even using criminal law if needed) and to take the initiative to promote women in higher seats sharing the same responsibilities as men, as in the military forces, in the non-traditional jobs, etc. But what is most important, as a part of the Government’s role is to recognize –and conduct itself consequently and coherently– that men and women are not equal, but both have the same rights that must be ensured and respected equally.

 How does the spike in crime and violence affect women?

Let me start my point with this view: if discrimination against women is a matter of unequal distribution of power, than that makes women vulnerable –women are not vulnerable per se, however they have been historically vulnerated– so the main victims of crime and violence are women. I am not saying that women are killed more frequently than men; however I am speaking about victimization that is the result of crime and violence.

Many crimes and violent behaviors committed are mainly addressed towards women. Sexual harassment, rape, and all kind of sexually motivated crimes and violent behaviors do victimize women (and children, mostly girls). Domestic violence, in addition, occurs almost exclusively against women. And many –but I think I should say most– of these crimes and violent behaviors fall under the unregistered data, I mean, the system never realizes their occurrence. From this perspective, we will never know how many of these crimes and violent behaviors really occur.

Secondly, I can understand that many other crimes and violent behaviors will victimize men directly. It usually happens with murders and assassinations, but who is the indirect victim? Women. They will alone have to attend to their children’s necessities while growing up, as a widowed mother, as an older sister, as a grandmother. What I am trying to say is that women are indirect victims as a result of crimes and violent behaviors. All the exigencies of reproductive work fall upon her shoulders.

Thirdly, the spike of crimes and violent behaviors is not only a matter of quantity (as the frequency of these events) but also a matter of quality. Violence against women is increasing daily and it is hard to pinpoint the source of it. In the past, for instance, drugs were trafficked inside devices, baggage, etc., but now, women’s natural anatomic cavities are used to traffic or hide drugs. In the past, a crime of passion usually finished in killing the lover and his or her cheater, but now, most of the time, women’s body shows high levels of unnecessary roughness and violence. In fact, this observation applies not only to crimes of passion, but to any other crime or violent behavior where the intention is to kill a woman. The situation of Ciudad Juarez speaks for itself and El Salvador, as well as many other countries, is facing similar situations.

What I have said gives me the opportunity to express something: we cannot continue the traditional approach to analyze and understand crime and violent behaviors. It is absolutely necessary to provide those analysis and understandings with a gender approach too.

As Secretary of Social Inclusion, what are your top two priorities?

It is very hard to pick two priorities, since the Secretariat for which I am responsible for works with various groups; women, children, the elderly, people with disabilities, sexual minorities. We have taken firms steps in promoting these groups’ rights and continue to seek social change to include these groups in all public policies. However, the common denominator in my work rests upon two principles: to build and enhance public policies based on a human rights approach (keeping in mind the national Constitution and the international treaties that are operative to El Salvador) and to bring down any form of discrimination. Those principles are linked with reciprocity. I cannot address my work on human rights being tolerant with discrimination; and with the same token, I cannot fight against any discrimination if my work is not supported by an approach based on human rights.

With the intention to answer your question, I must then say, that my top two priorities in my work as Secretary of Social Inclusion is the human rights based approach in public policies and the thorough fight against any form of discrimination.

We work very closely with you and your government; do you have a favorite USAID project in El Salvador?

As Secretary of Social Inclusion I have to thank all the cooperation USAID provides to Salvadoran people and Government. But obviously, I do consider as my favorite, all the aid and help you provide in the coincidence of my work, mainly, the eradication of all forms of discrimination and the promotion, guarantee, realization and fulfillment of women’s rights. I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to the contribution you have made directly to Ciudad Mujer; thousands of Salvadoran women appreciate this gesture and would love to express their gratitude.

Fighting for Justice in Colombia – One Courageous Woman’s Story

As a 26-year-old junior reporter with the Colombian newspaper El Espectador, Jineth Bedoya Lima sought out tough assignments, despite knowing the risks it could entail.  Through painstaking investigative journalism, she began to uncover an arms smuggling network between government security forces and imprisoned paramilitaries in the maximum security La Modelo prison in Bogotá.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right; and First Lady Michelle Obama, left; pose for a photo with 2012 International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award Winner Jineth Bedoya Lima of Colombia, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2012. Photo Credit: State Department

On May 25, 2000, as she arrived at the prison for an interview with a key paramilitary member, unknown men grabbed Ms. Bedoya, threw her into a vehicle, drugged her, and drove her to a farm three hours south of Bogotá.  There, the men repeatedly raped her, bound her, and left her in a garbage dump at the side of a road, where a taxi driver discovered her later that evening.  As the men raped her, they told her, “Pay attention.  We are sending a message to the press in Colombia.”  Jineth, determined to press on despite this horrifying experience, was back at work two weeks later.

Even as Ms. Bedoya’s journalistic career has continued to flourish – she is now the sub-editor for the justice section of El Tiempo, the most widely read newspaper in Colombia – she has continued to push for justice in her own case, which had languished in the Colombian courts for more than 11 years.  Early last year, frustrated by the lack of progress, she joined forces with the Colombian Foundation for Free Press and began a campaign to pressure investigation and prosecution within the Colombian criminal justice system, draw more attention to sexual violence in Colombia, and bring her case before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.  Since then, USAID/Colombia has supported Ms. Bedoya, along with the Colombian Foundation for Free Press, in her campaign for justice for herself and women who are victims of sexual violence in Colombia.

Ms. Bedoya’s efforts are bearing fruit.  The Colombian Attorney General’s office committed itself last year to making progress in the case.  After 11 years of stagnation, the pace and nature of the investigation took a decided turn.  A newly-assigned prosecutor has developed solid leads and convincing testimony concerning the perpetrators, as well as the masterminds, of her abduction and rape; the case is now taking shape and moving forward.  Evidence and testimony have also been received in proceedings currently pending before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

In addition to a test of journalistic freedom, Jineth’s case has become a symbol for widespread impunity in the Colombian justice system for crimes of sexual violence against women.  Ms. Bedoya was already a recognized figure before she began to raise the profile of her own case.  She has served as the spokeswoman of Oxfam’s campaign – “Rape and Other Violence: Take My Body Out of the War” – and now appears in TV ads denouncing sexual violence as part of that campaign.  Ms. Bedoya hopes that her efforts to investigate and resolve her own case will help end the stigma and silence surrounding sexual violence.

Journalists play a critical role in Colombia uncovering scandals, reporting on abuses committed by all actors in the ongoing internal armed conflict, and documenting how the conflict affects civilians.  Ms. Bedoya has come to view herself as a standard-bearer for women as victims of sexual violence because of the voice that she has as a journalist; she speaks on behalf of so many women in Colombia who cannot speak out, or are not heard.

In November 2011, after Ms. Bedoya testified in Washington before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, The Atlantic ran an article recounting Ms. Bedoya’s compelling story, indicating that she may be the only journalist in the world publicly seeking justice as a victim of sexual assault resulting from her work.

Ms. Bedoya continues to receive threats from paramilitaries and guerrillas alike, evidence of her effectiveness in denouncing both.  Recognizing the risks Ms. Bedoya faces, the Colombian government has provided her with an armored vehicle and bodyguards under a national protection program.  That protection program began a decade ago with USAID support and is now almost entirely funded by the Colombian government.

On March 8, 2012, International Women’s Day, Ms. Bedoya was one of ten women to receive the prestigious International Women of Courage Award from Secretary of State Clinton for her unfailing courage, determination, and perseverance in fighting for justice and speaking out on behalf of victims of sexual violence in Colombia.  USAID has been proud to support Ms. Bedoya, along with the Colombian Foundation for Free Press, in her battle to seek justice for herself, for women, and for journalists.

USAID’s FrontLines – April/May 2012

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Read the latest edition of USAID’s premier publication, FrontLines, to learn more about the Agency’s work with partnerships and in the countries that make up the Latin America and Caribbean region.

The Armenian EyeCare Project (AECP) is the brainchild of an Armenian-American diaspora-led organization, which launched its efforts in 2003 to strengthen the eye-care system and reduce preventable blindness in Armenia. In 2004, USAID and AECP joined forces. Through the partnership, USAID/Armenia helped AECP scale up its programs, which complemented the mission’s health care goals for the country. For part of that effort, AECP brought in a mobile eye hospital, which made stops in 90 percent of Armenia’s communities to provide eye exams and necessary treatments. Pictured: a man receives an eye exam. Photo credit: AECP

Some highlights:

  • Soap. Water. Tippy Tap. After answering nature’s call, some Senegalese wash up in ways both inventive and resourceful.
  • What is proving good for economic growth in post-war Sri Lanka is also providing a positive communal experience for people from all sides of the two-decades-long conflict.

Subscribe to FrontLines for an email reminder when the latest issue is posted online.

Turning the Corner on HIV and Tuberculosis Co-infection in Brazil

AIDSTAR-One is funded by USAID’s Office of HIV/AIDS. The project provides technical assistance to USAID and U.S. Government country teams to build effective, well-managed, and sustainable HIV and AIDS programs.

A patient at the CECAP Clinic in São Paulo receives his TB medication from his doctor. Photo Credit: Ed Scholl, JSI

HIV and tuberculosis (TB) affect millions of people worldwide every year. Eighty percent of the world’s cases of HIV are concentrated in the 22 countries—including Brazil—with the largest TB epidemics. Without precise and sustained treatment, HIV and TB can become a deadly combination for men, women, and children.

Adolescents like 17-year old Silvia (name has been changed) from São Paulo need access to medical services to treat both TB and HIV. I met Silvia last November, when she came to a clinic to seek medical care for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB)—a dangerous form of TB that requires special medical care and treatment.

With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which provides support to medical clinics throughout Brazil for TB and HIV services, Silvia is receiving the care she needs to lead a full, healthy life.

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Haitian Prime Minister Visits USAID

USAID Deputy Adminstrator Donald Steinberg (left) meets Haiti's Prime Minister Garry Conille on Feb. 7, 2012. Photo by Kendra Helmer/USAID

USAID officials met with a delegation from the government of Haiti on Tuesday to discuss international coordination and the pace of reconstruction following the 2010 earthquake. Haiti Prime Minister Garry Conille and other representatives met with USAID officials including Administrator Rajiv Shah, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg,  Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean Mark Feierstein and Haiti Task Team Director Elizabeth Hogan. Also participating was the State Department’s Haiti Special Coordinator Thomas Adams.

The group also discussed USAID programs in Haiti (including support to the legislature), donor coordination, women’s affairs and facilitating private investment. During his five-day visit to Washington, D.C., Conille also plans to meet with congressional members and institutions including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Haiti “A Country Undeniably on the Move”

Originally posted in The Miami Herald

It’s been two years since one of the most deadly natural disasters of the modern era devastated one of the poorest countries in the world. Even with an unprecedented international response in partnership with the Haitian government, the sheer scale of the 7.0 earthquake—which killed 230,000 people and displaced over 1.5 million—meant the country’s recovery would be a massive undertaking.

As President Obama directed, the US Government joined with the Haitian government to conduct search and rescue operations, clear streets of rubble and provide emergency supplies to survivors of the earthquake. Individual Americans have been a vital part of the effort — in 2010, more Americans donated money to Haiti relief efforts than watched the Super Bowl.

Despite daunting challenges over the last two years, today we can point to several specific results on the ground. Over half of the 10 million tons of rubble has been cleared from Port-au-Prince’s streets, more people have access to clean water today than before the earthquake, and collective efforts have mitigated the outbreak of cholera that killed thousands in the country.

In former President Bill Clinton’s words, our focus must now be on working with the Haitian government to “build back better.”

With the leadership of Secretary Clinton, we are trying to harness the transformative power of science, technology and innovation to accelerate economic progress and improve lives throughout Haiti.

For instance, instead of investing in rebuilding banks that fell during the earthquake, we worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to launch a mobile banking revolution in the country. Nearly two-thirds of Haiti’s population has access to mobile phones but only 10 percent have bank accounts. By introducing technology that allows Haitians to save money and make transactions on their phones, we’re encouraging local wealth creation. To date, nearly 800,000 Haitians have registered for mobile banking, helping Haiti likely become one of the first mobile money economies in the world.

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Indigenous Internship Program Trains Peru’s Young Adults

Darwin Mori Barbaran was born one of 10 to a school teacher and a jewelry artisan deep in the Peruvian jungle. When he was a child, both of his parents died in tragic accidents.  He was forced to confront the grim realities of the hinterlands at a young age –the tough physical labor life there would require as well as  the paltry opportunities for those who stay in the campo. As a result, he decided to do all he could to break out of the recurring cycle of poverty.

A life as a farmer, logger, weaver or a carpenter was really not interesting to him. Unlike many of his peers, he was grappling with profound questions, such as how societies develop, how governments can be more efficient with lesser resources, and how to create and sustainably run environmentally-friendly, legal businesses.

One bright, sunny afternoon, Mori’s life was forever changed by an announcement on the radio. Listening to his favorite station that broadcasts in the Shipibo indigenous language, he heard that the Peruvian government created a scholarship program for indigenous students from the Amazon to attend public universities in the capital city.

Initially, he was nervous. He would have to speak Spanish and dress in a different fashion. He would live in the chaotic city of Lima. But ultimately, he decided to pursue the scholarship. After a rigorous application process and a tense waiting period, the good news arrived: he had been accepted.

As predicted, Mori faced serious obstacles upon arriving in Lima. He was forced to share a room with four roommates, often times having to schedule sleeping in shifts, so the two mattresses would suffice for all. He picked up two jobs: one at the university library working as the bag check clerk, and the other making necklaces and another popular kind of jewelry called shakiras – a skill he learned from his mother. While some were able to take summer classes and get ahead in their studies, Mori could not, as the S/. 250 (approximately $85) per class was simply out of his budget. After nine years of struggling against the odds, and after many academic ups-and-downs, Mori graduated with a B.A. in Economics.

Recently, he began working at USAID/Peru under the mission’s Afro-Peruvian and Indigenous Internship Program. This program, founded in 2009, works to increase the number of quality professional and educational opportunities available to Peru’s Afro-Peruvian and indigenous populations. The effort aims to train recent graduates who could become their country’s next generation of leaders by providing hands-on development experience and an understanding of the U.S. Government.

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International Education Week: Early Education Sets Young Nicaraguans on the Path the Academic Success

Identifying problems in early-grade reading is crucial for development in parts of the world where the stakes are high for kids that get behind the learning curve at a young age.

Nicaragua is one country that has identified early-reading as a major area for improvement and made widespread efforts to address it. The ministry of education there has incorporated EGRA into its national assessment system, and has begun training all first-grade teachers in its implementation, and is developing tools for assisting teachers in the provision of remedial programs for students that fall behind.

Despite gender equality in access to schooling in Nicaragua, boys have higher drop-out rates than girls. Because of economic reasons, especially in rural areas, the chances of a dropout returning to school are minimal. Photo Credit: USAID

Identifying problems in reading and promoting early grade reading is crucial for development in parts of the world where the stakes are high for kids that get behind the learning curve early. While reading is one of many skills that young students must master to thrive today, it is the foundation of all other learning activities in the classroom. It also is increasingly understood as a science, not something that kids simply learn “naturally,” particularly if their homes are devoid of reading opportunities. USAID has made this one of its central concerns through its new Global Education Strategy (2011 – 2015), and is building on prior work that has aimed to set the standards for learning as well as useful measures for assessing it.

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