Crime and prevention
Andres Oppenheimer, the Miami Herald columnist who writes about Latin America, recently wrote about the crime problem in El Salvador and where the policies of El Salvador and the US should focus:
El Salvador's homicide rate of 68 killings a year per 100,000 inhabitants -- the world's highest after Iraq -- is followed within the region by Guatemala with 45 homicides, Colombia and Honduras with 43, and Venezuela with 41. By comparison, the U.S. homicide rate is 5.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, the study says.
And from what I heard from international experts and government officials during a visit here last week, a major increase in the number of U.S. deportations of undocumented migrants with criminal records is swelling the ranks of the unemployed in Central America, and further driving up crime rates.
''A friend of mine was robbed at gunpoint on a bus three times within one week,'' Acevedo told me. ``I've been luckier: I have only been robbed once, also at gunpoint, when I stopped my car at a red light.''
More than 17,500 Salvadorans -- including 5,500 with criminal records -- have been deported from the United States back to this country since the beginning of the year, a 10 percent increase from last year, government figures show. Many of the deportees are gang members who later return -- illegally -- to the United States.
What should the Obama administration do, I asked several law enforcement experts here. Most agreed that Central America is getting too little of the $400 million Mérida Initiative U.S. aid package to help combat violence in Mexico and Central America. They also complained that most of the U.S. aid is focused on anti-drug equipment such as speedboats, rather than on crime prevention.
The most effective way to combat the gangs is through education and prevention, by sponsoring activities such as nightly sports games that keep young people off the streets, most of them said.
My Opinion: In a May 23 campaign speech in Miami, Obama rightly stated that ``The Mérida Initiative does not invest enough in Central America, where much of the trafficking and gang activity begins.''
I agree. But it's also time to step up transnational anti-gang efforts, take stronger actions to prevent U.S. arms trafficking, and change the focus of U.S. anti-crime measures toward more education and crime prevention programs. Increasingly, crime in Central America has become far more than a local issue. Increasingly, it's a U.S. problem.