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Death and Christmas in Central America

Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images

There is little peace or goodwill toward men for much of Central America:

“Although Christmas is a sacred celebration in the heavily Catholic countries that make up Central America, this year, the holiday offered no reprieve from the violence and killings which plague the region.

According to reports from the Spanish news agency EFE, at least 88 people died and 241 were injured in ‘incidents of violence’ across the region on Christmas day and Christmas eve, making it one of the most violent Christmas seasons in recent memory. This estimate excludes the death toll of Costa Rica, because authorities from the nation have not yet released violence statistics for the holiday season.

A large portion of these killings occurred in the region’s most violent countries, as ranked by the World Bank: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. And many of the deaths were linked to gang violence associated with the drug trade. In El Salvador, at least 19 were reportedly killed, and 144 were injured. In Guatemala, at least 8 were reportedly killed, and 15 were wounded. And in Honduras, at least 50 were reportedly killed and another 73 were wounded. Most of the deaths were caused by firearms, according to EFE.

Violence is one of the biggest factors hampering economic growth in the region which includes Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.”

In the mind of most Americans, Latin America is little more than Mexico. Maybe they’ve heard of Puerto Rico, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, but damned if they know where those places are on a map.

Mexico is, of course, our neighbor to the south, home to more than 112 million souls, making it the second largest nation in Latin America — Brazil is home to nearly 194 million. And Mexican Americans make up more than 60 percent of all Latinos living in the United States.

But Latin America is much more than just a handful of places. It’s a vast expanse of land and water stretching from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego. Honduras, for instance — my ancestral homeland — is part of Latin America.

Still, I know my audience. I realize who I’m writing this for: a Latino readership that likely appreciates all that Latin America is, with its beauties and its pitfalls.

So maybe this is a blurb written in vexation. Maybe I’m just so tired of hearing mainstream America talk about “the drug war in Mexico,” only to read that there were dozens of people killed during the holiday in places that aren’t Mexico. It’s as though most Americans would rather contain the violence in their minds, because knowing that the carnage stretched south all the way to parts of South America would make the situation too awful to bear. Saying that the drug war is only in Mexico, or mostly there, makes the shooting deaths Americans read about in their morning paper mere misdemeanor murders.

And yet, we know where the drugs are going and we know where the guns are coming from. America is a land addicted to coke and Colt 45s, heroin and handguns. American laws make narcotics hard to get but make assault rifles easy to come by.

American guns — which kill thousands of American citizens every year, I might add — are being used to kill people in Latin America to ensure that Americans get their fix with their drug of choice. Our policies are killing people abroad just so we can kill ourselves here at home.

And again, we’re not just ravaging a single, developing country. America’s policies on guns and drugs are crippling much of the Western Hemisphere, especially Central America and Puerto Rico.

When will enough be enough? How many children have to die on their way to or from school in Honduras or Nicaragua, victims of ruthless drug-shippers making sure we Americans get our nose candy?

Central Americans — and their descendants — don’t want to see another Christmas like this one.

About Hector Luis Alamo, Jr.

Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., is the associate editor at Being Latino and a native son of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. He received a B.A. in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. While at UIC, he worked first as a staff writer for the Chicago Flame and later became the newspaper's Opinions editor. He contributes to various Chicago-area publications, most notably, the RedEye and Gozamos. He's also a cultural critic for 'LLERO magazine. He has maintained a personal blog since 2007, YoungObservers.blogspot.com, where he discusses topics ranging from political history and philosophy to culture and music.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

Comments

  1. Robert Juarez says:

    I really like the sentiment in this article and agree wholeheartedly… except for the final bit which asks “How many children have to die on their way to or from school in Honduras or Nicaragua, victims of ruthless drug-shippers making sure we Americans get our nose candy?” Having lived for a number of years in Nicaragua I can tell you that while this stereotype (sadly) does apply to Honduras, it is NOT the definitely case in Nicaragua, which has a VERY low murder rate and very FEW armed gangs. Costa Rica and Panama are quite similar to Nicaragua in their relatively safe atmosphere but of course the neighboring countries to the north– Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras– have the severe issues of violence you documented in your article. (indeed, I once spent a period of 6 weeks in El Salvador and it was long enough to be robbed on held up at gunpoint on 3 occasions.) So just as you ask Americans not to see the rest of Latin America as “Mexico”– be sure to have a certain level of specificity in your own discussion of Lat. Am. countries. Best wishes and thanks for your article on Central America.

  2. Robert Juarez says:

    Another thing to note is that the original article (then left out of the ABC piece which includes the phrase “And many of the deaths were linked to gang violence associated with the drug trade” which doesn’t quite fit the situation) makes it is clear that many of the deaths on Christmas Eve and Christmas were closely linked to atmosphere surrounding the holiday celebrations: alcohol consumption, drunken fights, DUI and car crashes, fireworks, swimming accidents. If you fast forward a few days to New Year’s Eve or a few months ahead to Semana Santa, we’ll unfortunately see a repeat of the same. It’s not simply a continuation of the violent conflict (with its maras, narcos and so on) that goes on year ’round… although there is a clear continuum between all of these forms of violence and the wider situation of guns and poverty that is recklessly unprotective of human life.

  3. Genuinesol says:

    Let me get this straight; you are pretty much saying that the appalling violence in the vast majority of Latin American and Caribbean countries are solely the blame of the USA? There is no culpability for the millions who make the personal decision and who chose to get involved in the narcotics and firearm trade?
    Wow! There is no accountability for anything Latinos do according to the staff a Being Latino whether it be racism, illegal immigration, and now wanton murder. All a person has to do it seems is speak Spanish and they are free from any accountability whatsoever.

    So by your reasoning, when drug crimes occur in the USA or any other type of violence by that matter then is it okay for the USA to blame Mexico, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, or some other country from Latin America? That seems to be the logic you are espousing unless I am wrong or should we not hold people accountable who chose to pick up a gun, sell drugs, and hereby cause the lost of millions of lives?

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