Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are facing acute challenges when it comes to confronting the weak institutions, corruption, and lack of accountable government that has long imperiled the region’s response to crises of violence, migration, and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic. Through extensive data gathering, the updated Central America Monitor project is publishing data and findings that will help evaluate the level of progress on efforts to strengthen the rule of law, reduce violence and insecurity, tackle corruption, and protect human rights in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
The result of four years of baseline research, including hundreds of freedom of information requests, the Central America Monitor is an ongoing project that is the result of collaboration between the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Myrna Mack Foundation in Guatemala, the University Institute of Public Opinion (Iudop) of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) of El Salvador, and the University Institute on Democracy, Peace and Security (IUDPAS) in Honduras.
The project provides a space for policymakers, journalists, investigators, and researchers seeking a deep and complex analytical approach to progress—and opportunities for improvement—in strengthening the rule of law, improving accountability, and reducing insecurity in Central America. The ongoing initiative includes infographics and in-depth reports that, based on a series of qualitative and quantitative indicators, evaluates the measures and policies that Northern Triangle countries are taking in eight critical areas. Initially covering a four-year time period (2014-2017), the datasets will be updated on an annual basis.
“As the debate continues over how to improve governance and ensure greater security and prosperity in Central America, the Central America Monitor collects and analyzes data that can help make this discussion less partisan and more evidence-based,” said Adriana Beltrán, Director for Citizen Security at the Washington Office on Latin America. “The datasets compiled by the Monitor provide critical information that can inform strategic rule of law investments in the region.”
“In Guatemala, public officials continue to commit flagrant actions to subvert the rule of law, undermine the independence of the courts, and weaken anti-corruption efforts,” said Lisette Vásquez of the Myrna Mack Foundation in Guatemala. “Data and analysis published by the Monitor help highlight the numerous obstacles that must be confronted, so that Guatemala can better guarantee its citizens more effective policies of security, justice, and good governance.”
“The Bukele administration needs to take responsibility in developing policies that strengthen the justice system, expand transparency, facilitate corruption probes, and protect human rights,” said Laura Andrade of Iudop in El Salvador. “By making it easier for anyone to access baseline research about the capacity of El Salvador’s security and justice sectors, the Monitor marks a new chapter in how citizens can better hold the government accountable for making progress in these areas.”
“The Monitor allows for a more data-based discussion about what the Honduran government specifically needs to do to better protect human rights defenders, investigate corruption, and establish a more capable, effective justice system,” said Migdonia Ayestas of IUDPAS in Honduras. “The need for a more informed, less partisan debate is especially critical right now, given the ongoing efforts to wind back the clock in Honduras and return to the days when massive corruption scandals never came to light and were never investigated.”
Some of the findings of the Monitor include:
Data collected and analyzed by the Monitor reveal the specifics of how justice systems in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are understaffed and overworked. In Honduras, the government employs two prosecutors for every 100,000 people; that’s compared to 10 prosecutors for every 100,000 people in the United States. Across the region, justice sector personnel are facing heavy workloads: in Guatemala, judges were assigned on average nearly 430 cases per year in 2017, according to the available data.
Monitor data also breaks down what countries across the region are investing into their justice systems, and how much of that money is actually being spent, allowing users to compare, contrast, and identify broader trends. The Monitor shows that of the three countries analyzed, Honduras is the country most lagging in investing in its justice sector: only 1.7 percent of its national budget was allocated to justice institutions between 2014 to 2017.
In El Salvador, the oldest law on the books governing illicit enrichment by public officials is outdated: it still levies fines in colones, a currency that El Salvador hasn’t used since 2001. In Guatemala, the adoption of new mechanisms and creation of new units within the Attorney General’s Office that have facilitated corruption probes—of these, the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (Fiscalía Especial Contra la Impunidad, FECI) has helped lead multiple high-profile cases, and has established practices for investigating complex cases that other prosecutorial offices would do well to adapt. In Honduras, a particular area of concern is the new criminal code, set to become effective this year, which significantly decreases penalties for corruption-related crimes.
El Salvador lacks legislation that would more effectively guarantee protection for human rights defenders—this means that killings and threats of human rights advocates usually end up being treated as “common” crimes in the justice system, often stymying the investigation. In Guatemala, significant progress had been made in strengthening the special unit in the Attorney General’s Office that deals with human rights crime—but while this office opened 6,248 investigations into human rights crimes between 2014 to 2017, the office registered only 99 convictions. In Honduras, while the government created a special office to prosecute human rights crimes, it’s under-resourced: at the end of 2017, it employed only 17 prosecutors.
The Monitor will continue to be updated periodically, allowing users to evaluate trends over time within and between the countries of the Northern Triangle.
“The data and findings of the Monitor can help inform the policies being implemented on the ground, so that policymakers, donors, and others can better identify areas of progress and opportunities for improvement across the region,” said Beltrán.