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Turmoil in Central America

- September 14, 2018
Will a wave of protests spark reforms?
Featured Report

Anti-government protests have erupted in four Central American countries in recent months, aimed at leaders of a region long plagued by political corruption, gang violence, drug smuggling, poverty and weak law enforcement. Homicide rates in the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — are among the world's highest, and the increasingly authoritarian regime of President Daniel Ortega threatens stability in Nicaragua. The demonstrations are part of a fledgling anti-corruption movement in which protesters, prosecutors and investigative commissions have recommended that dozens of officials be jailed. But strongmen such as Ortega and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales are pushing back, triggering even more dissent. Tens of thousands of Central Americans — many of them unaccompanied minors — have in recent years tried to flee to the United States, prompting the Obama and Trump administrations to crack down on undocumented immigration along the U.S. southern border. Meanwhile, the United States has become increasingly concerned about China's growing political influence in Central America.

Zero Tolerance

The administration has separated thousands of families at the border.

Ortega Prevails

Nicaragua’s authoritarian president remains in power after months of protest.

Guatemala Threatens Investigation

President Jimmy Morales has said he will end a U.N. corruption probe next year.

1500s–1850sColonial rule gives way to U.S.-influenced independence.
1930s–1940sU.S businesses, such as the United Fruit Co., influence politics in much of Central America.
1950s–1990sAn era of intense political violence takes hold in Central America.
2000s-PresentAs violence increases in the Northern Triangle region, immigration to the United States accelerates; Central Americans begin to address systemic corruption.

Should the U.S. increase aid to Central America?


Michael Clemens
Co-Director, Migration, Displacement, and Humanitarian Policy and Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development.


Thomas Dichter
Anthropologist and Independent Development Consultant to USAID, World Bank and others.


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