WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
28 Aug 2014 | Video

Violence in Central America and Community-Based Responses


José Miguel Cruz
Research Director at the Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC) and Visiting Assistant Professor at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Florida International University

Louis-Alexandre Berg
Justice and Conflict Specialist, Governance and Inclusive Institutions, Governance Global Practice, The World Bank

Adriana Beltrán
Senior Associate for Citizen Security, WOLA

Moderated by 

Geoff Thale
Program Director, WOLA

The recent surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America arriving at the southern border of the United States has focused new attention on how crime, insecurity, and violence in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras play a role in the decision to migrate. Along with new interest in the problem of lack of opportunity in migrant-sending communities, there has been renewed discussion about the impact of organized crime and drug trafficking on communities, and on the impact of gang violence on young people and communities. There are new debates and proposals about what governments, civil society, and donors can do to control the wave of violence that the region has experienced in the last few years.

The panel will focus on youth gang behavior as one of the major sources of insecurity, discussing the origins and character of gang violence in Central America, and addressing some of the misperceptions about gangs. The discussion will also draw on the findings of a recent research study on the relationship between levels of violence and community organization in selected communities in Honduras, and the role of the United States and other donors, in conjunction with governments and civil society, in reducing violence and insecurity.

José Miguel Cruz is the Research Director at the Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC), at Florida International University in Miami. He is also visiting assistant professor at the Department of Politics and International Relations in the same university. From 1994 to 2006, he served as director of the University Institute of Public Opinion (IUDOP) at the University of Central America (UCA) in San Salvador. Cruz has conducted several survey-based research projects on political behavior, criminal violence, and human rights. He has been working on Central American gangs since 1996, and has published numerous articles about violence in the region. He has worked as a consultant for the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Pan-American Health Organization, and the United Nations Development Program, among other institutions on the issue of Central American violence, gangs, and governance.

Louis-Alexandre Berg works with the World Bank’s Governance Global Practice on justice and security in violence-affected settings and is a Research Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. He has conducted research on the politics of security and justice sector reform and the local dynamics of crime and violence and published widely on these topics. He previously served as an adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Security Sector Governance Program and as a Rule of Law Adviser at the U.S. Agency for International Development, where he designed and managed justice sector development and conflict mitigation programs.

Adriana Beltrán leads WOLA’s Citizen Security Program, focusing on violence prevention, and police and judicial reform in Central America. In addition to her work on citizen security, Beltrán has worked extensively on human rights and organized crime, particularly in Guatemala. She is currently managing a pioneering project with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to map and analyze international security assistance to Central America with the aim of enhancing donor coordination and aid effectiveness. She also monitors U.S. security assistance to Central America through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).

Geoff Thale is WOLA’s Program Director and oversees WOLA’s research and advocacy on Latin America policy and human rights issues. In conjunction with WOLA’s work on citizen security, he follows police reform issues in Central America and works with Central American counterparts on community-based responses to youth violence. Before coming to WOLA in 1995, Thale was the founder and Executive Director of the El Salvador Policy Project in Washington, D.C., which followed the negotiations to end El Salvador’s civil war and the construction of post-war institutions.