Forty people were killed in gun violence last weekend in one major city. The dead included an eleven-year-old girl attending a birthday party. This followed another weekend where 17 persons were killed and dozens more wounded throughout the city.
In another part of the country, police shot and killed a known gang member during a robbery. The gang responded by declaring war on the local police. Their members are travelling from all over the country to help their “brothers” kill as many local police as possible.
How is this possible? Could you live like that? Obviously, that country is out of control. The government has probably been corrupt for years, stealing assistance from other countries and lining their own pockets while drugs and gangs rule the street.
The police are probably under-trained and running scared. The people probably live in such poverty that drugs and violence are the only way to live. Maybe we should just build a wall around them until they figure it out.
Where did this happen? Was it in the Honduras? Maybe it happened in Guatemala or El Salvador?
Actually, the shooting sprees occurred in Chicago. And the American street gang “Bloods” has declared war in response to a shooting in New Jersey. One would be hard-pressed to say the police or politics in either of those locations created the violence or that the police are poorly trained or too corrupt to manage the issues.
But when we hear of violence in Central America, everyone immediately blames the victims and their government. Granted, the governments here are somewhat weak and very poor. Surely there is history of shady dealings, often in cahoots with past US administrations. It’s difficult to trust that things are better now.
But something has changed recently. Tens of thousands of parents didn’t suddenly decide they couldn’t handle it anymore. Tens of thousands of parents didn’t put themselves in years of debt at exorbitant interest rates because they just learned there is a place called the USA. No one is trusting shady characters to negotiate their young child’s way past human traffickers, snakes, extortionists, rapists and pedophiles because they hope the kid lands a job in Texas. Something changed.
Violence has long been part of life in Central America. Bloody civil wars, alcoholism, crime and domestic violence have long histories here. After what some described as a bit of a respite, violence is making a hard comeback. You would think the people would be used to dealing with it, but something changed. This violence is different.
The United States spent billions of dollars in anti-drug and anti-gang campaigns in Mexico and Colombia over the past decade. They have been largely effective, if you believe what the governments tell you. Yet drugs continue to enter the USA at a record pace. So if the programs in Colombia and Mexico are so successful, where are the drugs coming from? Where else?
The gang activity in the countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador is largely Mexican. The operations have simply moved south, where coastlines, hidden mountain pathways and most importantly- plenty of poor and defenseless people provide ripe ground for drug traffickers to build their fiefdoms.
Extortion, human trafficking, murder, and worse are all part of the operation. They work in the poorest neighborhoods where people have little money and no options. We see extortionists where we run our feeding programs. We have seen families leave suddenly because of their threats. We’ve seen too many children shot and killed.
There is usually no local police department. The national police are over-extended and really don’t have much concern for the neighborhoods where squatters and the unemployed live. Their advice to people being extorted is to move away. The thought of staking out a location or running an undercover operation is unheard of.
So this week, the presidents of these three countries will be asking the USA for help. They feel largely that the USA and Mexico helped create this situation. The only response to previous requests for help has been extremely limited army training and a call for a new fence at the Guatemala border to keep refugees crossing into Mexico.
The presidents will probably request some millions of dollars for jobs, education and security operations in some of the more rural towns. Undoubtedly, many Americans will scream and yell and make disparaging remarks about Latin governments and tell malicious lies about the history and status of Central Americans.
Then Obama will reiterate his request for 3.7 BILLION dollars for more judges and immigrant detention camps. Congress will spend tens of millions on a special inquiry as to who they can blame for the current immigration crisis. The USA will continue to send hundreds of millions of dollars to Mexico to build state-of-the-art immigration control centers that illegal immigrants walk past on their way to the US.
Congress will send billions to Ukraine; billions more to Israel and Iraq and Afghanistan. They will spend billions more on subsidies to oil companies and banks whose single-year profits could run Guatemala’s government for years.
And the INS will spend millions to send children and their parents back to Central America to face more threats and possible death.
Last week, the US returned a mother and child to the Honduras. The mother’s son was already killed by gang members for refusing to run drugs for them. The mother borrowed $8000 from the wife of a local gang leader at 15% interest to pay a coyote to lead her and her daughter to the USA.
Six weeks later, they were home. Within two hours, the woman who loaned her the money stopped by to remind her that she still has to honor the debt. The mother works as a waitress and makes $280 per month. She is sure she will be dead soon and prays her daughter will be, too, before the gang takes her for prostitution or worse.
Multiple government, non-government and faith-based organizations are working tirelessly to make a difference in Central America. But we are badly out-gunned and out-spent by the cartels. We need help.
We need our friends and neighbors in the USA to care for some of our kids for a while. We need the American agents and dollars running all over Colombia and Mexico to follow the narco-traffickers into our countries. We need the bad guys captured, not chased next door.
We need some relatively modest business ventures to allow communities to support themselves and make it feasible for the children to stay and thrive.
Any human being with a heart and a brain to understand has to feel some sense of compassion and concern for the tragedy unfolding in the USA’s backyard.
But as Christians, we MUST feel concern and we MUST do something about it. We are commanded to reach out to the persecuted, the underprivileged, and the forgotten. These are God’s children, too and they need help. Standing idly by is not an option.
If you are not in a position to help financially or with some time to come and work with us, please send a note to your congressmen and the president. Encourage them to spend just a fraction of what they send to countries half a world away to improve the future of our neighbors to the south.
The people are not looking for a handout. They are looking for new business opportunities and sustainability. They want to be treated like part of the world community. They want to be able to contribute back to that community.
These are a wonderful and loving people. They are God’s children. Please don’t discard them.
...You are to help your brothers until the LORD gives them rest, as he has done for you... Joshua 1:14-15