This past summer I had the incredible opportunity to spend half of my summer working in Sololá, Guatemala. The municipality is located in the Western highlands of the country, and I was specifically staying around the beautiful Lake Atítlan in the town of San Juan La Laguna. When my intern team’s boat landed in San Juan’s dock, I remember being a bit apprehensive – I had been forewarned that the town was more in tune to its Maya roots and that it would be a much more traditional experience than the other parts of Guatemala we had visited.
Ever since the economic collapse in 2001, Argentina and the capital city of Buenos Aires have been experiencing a resurgence in poverty that hasn’t been seen since the first wave of migrant urban workers in the 1930’s. In the southern region of Buenos Aires shanty towns are expanding and engulfing private and unused land. These shanty towns are known as “villas miserias,” which directly translates into villages of misery, and share characteristics of slums all around the world.
Nací en Tucumán hace veintiocho años. Mientras cursaba mis estudios universitarios en Buenos Aires, casi diez años atrás, la conocí y me enamoré: la villa 21, en el porteño barrio de Barracas. Llegué de la mano de un cura amigo, quien al comentarle algunas inquietudes me presentó al Padre Pepe Di Paola. Él me abrió las puertas de la Parroquia Virgen de los Milagros de Caacupé de par en par, y desde ese momento, la comunidad se convirtió en mi segunda familia.
Planes land daily in San Pedro Sula, returning over 100 deported Hondurans, mostly young men, donning shackles and telling horrifying tales of US detention centers.
“There's just so many ways that we need to go about it. I know that it's often said that teen pregnancy is a cause of poverty. But I'm thinking this is something that exists before the pregnancy in many cases. And so that's something that we need to go to the root of. It's not enough to say that if we are to reduce teen pregnancy rates that it's going to solve that issue of poverty among Latinos.”1
Statistics from the UNDOC routinely rank Latin America as the most violent region in the world, and more than 150,000 people died from homicide in the Americas in 2012. In Brazil alone, more than 50,000 people were victims of homicide in 2012, more than triple the number in the U.S. (UNDOC, 2013). The crime epidemic that has arisen in the past decade in Latin America has resulted in the militarization of conflict, most exemplified by the Mexican government in its ongoing battle with drug cartels.
Since 1980, the poverty rate in Latin America has fallen 30%, a third of the decline due to progressive shifts in the income distribution.1 In 2000, a quarter of the region (25 in every 100 Latin Americans) lived on less than $2.50 a day. Today, fewer than 14 in every 100 do.2 Since roughly 2002, falling income inequality is visible in the entirety of the heterogeneous region: among commodity driven economies such as Peru and manufacturing dominant ones such as Mexico. How can one explain the common outcome given the diversity of the region’s makeup?
Speaking to a crowd in the southern state of Chiapas in February, a region with the largest indigenous population in Mexico, Pope Francis condemned what he called “the systemic and organized way your people have been misunderstood and excluded from society” (Puella and Bernstein, 2016). These misunderstandings and exclusion have created in Mexico a situation in which indigenous communities face significantly higher rates of poverty, a problem that impacts their overall quality of life and access to basic resources for 12.6 percent of the population.