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2019 in Our Words

Central American News
2019 in Our Words
By Central American News • Issue #75 • View online

Hogar De Ancianos San Vicente De Paul Antiguo Cuscatlan, El Salvador. Credit to Neil Brandvold. Click to see his instagram account
Hogar De Ancianos San Vicente De Paul Antiguo Cuscatlan, El Salvador. Credit to Neil Brandvold. Click to see his instagram account
Dear Readers,
As the year comes to a close, we’ll leave the pen to our team to reflect on what happened in Central America in 2019. There will be no headlines nor good reads this week, but summaries and personal opinions of our writers. We will come back on January 13.
Before we start, we want to thank you for following our homemade newsletter. We wish you a fruitful 2020 and we hope to be able to deliver insightful, incisive, real, and encouraging news from Central America next year.
Now, let’s let our writers write…
Jonathan Peraza on Migration.
A youth stands by the border fence that separates Mexico from the United States, near a makeshift memorial for migrants who have died during their journey toward the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico, late Saturday, June 29, 2019. On the border fence at right hangs a cartoon depiction of a news photograph of the bodies of Salvadoran migrant Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria, photographed on the banks of the Rio Grande between Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, after they drowned on Sunday, June 23. (AP Photo/Emilio Espejel)
A youth stands by the border fence that separates Mexico from the United States, near a makeshift memorial for migrants who have died during their journey toward the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico, late Saturday, June 29, 2019. On the border fence at right hangs a cartoon depiction of a news photograph of the bodies of Salvadoran migrant Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria, photographed on the banks of the Rio Grande between Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, after they drowned on Sunday, June 23. (AP Photo/Emilio Espejel)
While I covered migration for the newsletter, it was disheartening to document the escalation of U.S. zero-tolerance policies that jailed and separated families and killed children.
In 2019, too, Mexican and Central American governments were recruited for the persecution of migrants, such as with the Asylum Cooperative Agreements (ACA), in which asylum seekers can be sent to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador for their refugee case.
Migrants suffer state brutality, white supremacist rhetoric and racist policy made to subjugate Central American migrants.
However, we have seen the rise of migrant justice movements to #CloseTheCamps and #KeepFamiliesTogether. With oppression came resistance with demands to #AbolishICE.
The year 2020 will determine whether the U.S. will continue to dismantle the international asylum system. Will the U.S. ever humanely respond to migrants fleeing the consequences of imperialist policy in Central America? Or will it continue its legacy of racial and geopolitical domination?
Nansi Rodríguez on Guatemala.
Soldiers patrolling the streets in Alta Verapaz north of Guatemala City Photo: AFP
Soldiers patrolling the streets in Alta Verapaz north of Guatemala City Photo: AFP
In 2019, Guatemala’s news has been centered on corruption and growing militarization. The epitome of the rise of the army was reflected in Guatemala’s 30-day state of siege that followed the killing of three soldiers by suspected drug dealers. The army then would arrest and interrogate suspects while prohibiting organized protests.
Corruption was also a prevailing theme when the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, commonly called CICIG, was officially disbanded after 12 years. This U.N. commission had helped investigate and prosecute hundreds of crooked officials in the country.
Important trials for Guatemala’s historical memory have been prevalent throughout all of 2019 as well. War criminals from the armed conflict - such Benedict Lucas García, Manuel Callejas and César Noguera Argueta - have been on trial for the genocide of Ixil peoples.
In 2020, Guatemala will be under the governance of new president Alejandro Giammattei. We can only hope that more corrupt politicians are prosecuted for their crimes and that news of justice will prevail over those of corruption.
Rachel Ketola on El Salvador.
Photo from the Instagram account of Nayib Bukele.
Photo from the Instagram account of Nayib Bukele.
In 2019, El Salvador elected Nayib Bukele as president. Bukele’s new administration was quick to prioritize cooperation with the United States, secure foreign investment, and instill a national security plan to combat gang violence. According to official statistics, homicide rates decreased significantly in 2019.
However, a rise in hate crimes against trans women and the LGBTI community sparked outrage and drew international condemnation.
President Bukele’s election in 2019 and continued popularity seems to reflect a desire among Salvadorans for modernization and a shake up of the old system. His mano dura approach to violence, attacks on the press, and defamation of his critics, however, feels more reminiscent of authoritarianism.
I am encouraged by the grassroots organizations and activists on the ground fighting for protection, dignity, and justice for women, members of the LGBTI community, indigenous groups, and the forcibly displaced.
Rachel Osorio on Costa Rica.
From The Guardian's photo essay on Nicaraguan exiles in Costa Rica. Photographs, interviews, and transcripts by Jorge Cabrera, Juan Carlos Ulate, Ana Acosta, Mees van der Werf, Diego Rivera, Alberto Molina, M Sawyer Ballance, Rafe H Andrews, Raúl Román, Joey Rosa and Nick Parisse.
From The Guardian's photo essay on Nicaraguan exiles in Costa Rica. Photographs, interviews, and transcripts by Jorge Cabrera, Juan Carlos Ulate, Ana Acosta, Mees van der Werf, Diego Rivera, Alberto Molina, M Sawyer Ballance, Rafe H Andrews, Raúl Román, Joey Rosa and Nick Parisse.
The two main themes that stood out to me for Costa Rica this year were human rights and the environment. More than 70,000 Nicaraguans have applied for asylum in Costa Rica, making Costa Rica the Latin American country with highest proportion of asylum seekers with regards to its population. It is at around 10.5%, according to Costa Rica’s administration.
This has led President Carlos Alvarado to try and find UN resources to better support asylum seekers. Recently, Costa Rica approved a one-year plan with the UN Refugee Agency to provide medical insurance to those seeking asylum.
The environment has been a key theme for Costa Rica as well. Costa Rica publicized its plan to fully decarbonize by 2050 and was subsequently awarded the UN Champions of the Earth recognition. President Alvarado has been giving interviews on his ambition to lead on climate change issues.
Rodrigo Peñalba on Nicaragua.
Belize’s first female drum-maker: Daytha Rodriguez crafting a drum | © Jessica Vincent
Belize’s first female drum-maker: Daytha Rodriguez crafting a drum | © Jessica Vincent
A sun that does not decline, a month of April that never ends. The social rebellion of April 2018 enters its third year.
In July 2019, the Ortega-Murillo government recited a verse from the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío, “a sun that does not decline,” to serve as a metaphor for its endless victory - one in which they never leave power.
The resistance counts the days since the beginning of the protests as a song, sitting on the banks of the rivers of Babylon, with the present memory that the reasons for protesting are more valid than ever.
2020 is the last year before entering the 2021 election cycle. We bear the expectation that something will happen, but no one can say what it will be.
April is a month that does not end, a sun that does not decline, the clandestine slogan written on a napkin from jail, the permanent threat of Ortega and Murillo from his presidential home in El Carmen.
Mariana Rodríguez Pareja on Panama.
"La "Operación Causa Justa" es una herida abierta en Panamá, dice el historiador Víctor Ortiz." Getty Images
"La "Operación Causa Justa" es una herida abierta en Panamá, dice el historiador Víctor Ortiz." Getty Images
In 2019, Panama elected a new president, Nito Cortizo, and became evermore closer to China, making it seem as the “entrance door” of China in Latin America. It is also the country with highest economic growth in Central America.
In November, demonstrators and police clashed in Panama City during a protest against a constitutional reform that would have banned same-sex marriage, among other changes. At least 44 people were arrested and the clause with regards to same-sex marriage was withdrawn.
Corruption issues were also at the forefront. While former President Martinelli was not found guilty of political espionage, former President Varela’s secret and controversial communications with a Public Prosecutor were leaked in what is called the #VarelaLeaks.
2019 also marked the 30 years of the “Operation Just Cause,” during which U.S. soldiers invaded Panama. Panama is still struggling to regain its historical memory as some say there were 300 casualties while another claim 3,000 victims. Truth should be sought and victims and their families should be compensated.
Jalileh García on Honduras.
"A young person holds a sign that says "Guilty," an allusion to the trial of Tony Hernandez in New York. Tegucigalpa, October 18, 2019." Contra Corriente/ Martín Cálix
"A young person holds a sign that says "Guilty," an allusion to the trial of Tony Hernandez in New York. Tegucigalpa, October 18, 2019." Contra Corriente/ Martín Cálix
In 2019, Hondurans witnessed President Juan Orlando’s brother – Tony Hernandez – being tried in the Southern District Court in New York City. Tony Hernandez was found guilty of cocaine trafficking charges. The president was also implicated in the trial, but denied all claims and allegations. The case was able to highlight how drug-trafficking has infiltrated State institutions in the country. 
Between April to July, students, health and education professionals, labor unions, and many more assembled to protest the privatization of the health and education systems. The State used excessive force to quell the protests using tear gas, shooting live rounds, and arbitrarily detaining demonstrators. Human rights defenders – indigenous and Garifuna communities particularly – continue to be targeted for defending their lands. 
In January 19, 2020, the mandate for the anti-corruption mission, the MACCIH, should expire. The future of the mission will depend on conversations between the OAS Secretary General and the Honduran government.
Ongoing issues regarding freedom of the press, the decaying penitentiary system, climate change’s effect on farmers’ crops and cattle, and violence continue to affect the daily lives of Hondurans. These are, in many ways, tied to the exodus of people leaving Honduras in search for a better and safer future.
Isabeau Belisle Dempsey on Belize.
Belize’s first female drum-maker: Daytha Rodriguez crafting a drum | © Jessica Vincent
Belize’s first female drum-maker: Daytha Rodriguez crafting a drum | © Jessica Vincent
Belize has had a dynamic year politically. Much of the government’s work has been centered around addressing the growing threat of climate change and environmental degradation - in 2019, Belize banned the use of fishing gillnets and increased the protection of its coral reefs.
But the highlight of Belize’s year was the referendum vote in which an overwhelming “Yes” result will allow the International Court of Justice to judge whether parts of Belizean territory should instead belong to Guatemala.
The referendum vote was a huge topic that I’ve watched closely all year, so I’m interested to see how this issue continues to develop this coming year and beyond as it moves closer to have an official ruling.
It’s also been great to see Belizean authorities be proactive about passing policy that address climate change and other environmental issues—I hope that this continues in the new year and that other countries feel they are able to look to Belize as an example!
Thank you, Patrons
2019 was also a year of growth for us thanks to the people who generously gave to Central American news through Patreon. A heartfelt thanks to you, our Patrons, for your support!
The Team
Melissa Vida, Founder, Editor-in-Chief
Rodrigo Peñalba, Nicaragua News, Editor
Rachel Ketola, El Salvador News
Nansi Rodríguez, Guatemala News
Jonathan Peraza Campos, Migration News
Jalileh García, Honduras News
Rachel Osorio, Costa Rica News
Natalie Leach, Social Media Officer
José Martinez, Social Media Officer
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