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Central America: Conflict profile

The Central American countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Nicaragua face a variety of interrelated challenges.

In particular, the legacy of serious armed conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua in the late 20th century has contributed to the development of organized crime, and gang violence across the region and consistently some of the highest homicide rates in the world. This violence has fuelled a “silent refugee crisis” in which hundreds of thousands of people have fled insecurity in the infamous “northern triangle.” Many have fled to neighbouring countries and more than 161,000 people applied for asylum in the US between 2011-2016. Moreover, there are also at least 714,000 IDPs in this region.

Specifically, a child migration crisis hit the headlines in 2014 and continues today. In 2017, the issue was compounded by US President Trump’s refugee ban which halted the Central American Minors (CAM) in Country Refugee Processing scheme.

The area is also key transit route for drug traffickers, partly due to the US-led “war on drugs” in neighboring countries pushing criminal activity into the region. As of 2016, 80% of the drug trade pass through central America.

Inextricably linked to this is the region’s political instability, impeding states’ ability to combat organized crime. As evidenced by Honduras and Guatemala – both countries have endured strings of military coups - most recently for Honduras in 2009. Unrest in 2015 saw protests across both countries calling for an end to government corruption and impunity – protests briefly dubbed as the “central American spring.”

Belize and Guatemala also have an unresolved border dispute, which saw tensions renewed and blood spilt in 2016.

Last updated: October 2017

Central America: peacebuilding resources