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Violence in Central America: Not Just an Urban Issue

This post was written by Rebecca J. Williams from the University of Florida.

“At least here in my community, there is no crime. We sleep securely. In the city, the things I hear on the radio make me afraid. I am worried that the whole country is being destroyed. In the towns close by there is always crime and violence. Both men and women are afraid to go to the city.”- Gloria

The quote above is from one of my dissertation study participants who lives in a rural community an hour bus ride from the nearest city of La Esperanza, Honduras. My dissertation is not about crime and violence in Honduras. In fact, I did not even ask any direct questions about crime and violence unless my participant brought it up—which they did, often. Violence in Honduras has become so severe that it is has taken center stage in conversation no matter the context. It has become so prevalent that it is a palpable part of the social fabric. Even children are not immune to the fears of violence. This includes Celio, a fourth grade student who wrote in a letter for our fundraiser to build a school library in his rural community, “I want a library for our school because I do not want to grow up and join a gang or get killed in the city.”

Map of Honduras with major cities identified. Source: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ho.html

Violence is undeniably a significant, if not the most pressing, development challenge facing Central America. As Heinemann and Verner (2006) state: “evidence shows that violence consistently undermines development efforts at various levels and that it drives the depreciation of all forms of capital, i.e. physical, human and social. Most importantly, violence disproportionately affects the poor and erodes their livelihoods and assets” (p. 7). Violence in the cities is a well-known issue. As Gloria mentions, it is constantly taking center stage in newspapers, television newscasts, and on the radio. However, violence is not just an urban phenomenon. There also are significant violence issues facing the rural population that are both directly tied to the urban issues and that are completely independent.

Violence is undeniably a significant, if not the most pressing, development challenge facing Central America. As Heinemann and Verner (2006) state: “evidence shows that violence consistently undermines development efforts at various levels and that it drives the depreciation of all forms of capital, i.e. physical, human and social. Most importantly, violence disproportionately affects the poor and erodes their livelihoods and assets” (p. 7). Violence in the cities is a well-known issue. As Gloria mentions, it is constantly taking center stage in newspapers, television newscasts, and on the radio. However, violence is not just an urban phenomenon. There also are significant violence issues facing the rural population that are both directly tied to the urban issues and that are completely independent. 

Similarly, Gracias a Dios, a department in Honduras that is almost entirely a biosphere reserve, is known to be a dangerous and violent passageway for narcotraffickers. As the 2016 Honduras Crime and Safety Report states, “[Gracias a Dios] s a remote location where narcotics trafficking is frequent and where infrastructure is weak, government services are limited, and police/military presence is scarce.”

Within the home, intra-familial violence (IFV) and alcoholism are frequently a topic of development concern in rural areas of Honduras. Accurate statistics divided by rural and urban are difficult to find and are aggregated statistics are known to be inaccurate from the stigma associated with reporting IFV. Despite this, NGOs and aid agencies are recognizing the issue of IFV and have begun including IFV prevention programs in their development projects. For example, in a recent scoping trip to Honduras, the USAID-funded Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Services (INGENAES) program received independent requests for gender-based violence interventions from five separate organizations working in rural western Honduras. The focus on IFV is not surprising given that femicide is the second leading killer of women in Honduras, a crime that the UN finds is at least 50 percent perpetuated by intimate partners. While IFV may seem at first glance to be independent of the growing tide of male-on-male youth violence, they are interlinked gender-based issues. The pervasive cultural influence of “macho” masculinity has resulted in males associating violence with their maleness. The “macho” aspect of gender-based violence is tied the cultural perception of men as strong, dominant, and superior.

While my participant Gloria feels safe in her community, many of the participants in my dissertation study commented on domestic violence and alcoholism in the communities. In fact, it became an unexpected theme of my study. Several of my participants experienced violence firsthand from a spouse or a parent. As Adriana said to me, “There is still violence in homes in [my community]. There are some men that do not change – that think women are garbage. It is a shame that they treat women like animals.”

With the overwhelming breadth and depth of violence in Central America, what is the role of agricultural education and training (AET)? Violence is not just an urban issue facing gang members and narcotraffickers. It also has profound impacts on rural farmers, access to markets, movement of products, use and ownership of land, access to inputs, and more. How can AET work with other institutions, preventatively and responsively, to reduce the impacts of violence on the livelihoods of my study participants, Gloria, Celio, and Adriana? Just as violence touches every aspect of life in Central America, it also touches every aspect of the agricultural value chain.

Rebecca J. Williams is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Florida in the School of Natural Resources and Environment. Her specialization is in Tropical Conservation and Development with a focus in gender and development. From 2009-2011 she served as a volunteer in the United States Peace Corps in Honduras in the Water and Sanitation Program. Her dissertation research was conducted in Honduras on women’s time poverty. She also researches youth violence and masculinities in Central America. 

References

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  5. Heinemann, A., & Verner, D. (2006). Crime and violence in development: A literature review of Latin America and the Caribbean (No. 4041) (pp. 1–26). Washington, D.C.
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