My good friend of many years, Ash Eames of Wentworth, New Hampshire died recently. But for a good part of his life, Ash was involved in community development work and the peace and justice movement in Nicaragua. And I believe that his legacy - along with that of countless others - could be instructive in helping us respond to the plight of thousands of unaccompanied children now streaming across the Texas border. They come from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras - but not, as it happens, Nicaragua.
According to a new U.S. Department of Homeland Security document, poverty and regional violence are the main reasons for this mass exodus.
With an annual rate of 92 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, Honduras has the highest rate in the world. El Salvador isn't much better at 69. Guatemala's rate is 30 and Costa Rica, considered to be very stable, has a rate of 10.3. Meanwhile, Nicaragua's homicide rate has dropped to 8.7.
Apparently, Nicaragua, despite being one the poorest countries in Central America, is the least violent. Its population enjoys more security, the lowest homicide rate, no death squads, and little gang activity.
And that's significant, because in the late 1990s, thousands of youth from the Central America countries of Guatemala, Honduras , and El Salvador traveled to the U.S. where some became gang members in Los Angeles. Many were jailed, then sent back home where they formed new gangs.
In the 1980s, the U.S. prevented popular revolutions by training and funding Salvadoran and Guatemalan military and police. More recently the U.S. supported a coup against President Manual Zelaya in Honduras. Today these three countries have corrupt armies and police forces - while Nicaragua's successful 1979 revolution got rid of Somoza's brutal National Guard and formed a new type of model with community policing and shared responsibility and prevention.
In the 1990's Ash Eames helped to produce a film called, "Deadly Embrace," a documentary about the history of U.S. involvement in Nicaragua. It was all about the privatization of resources like the water supply and the control of banks and monetary institutions. The film reveals the devastating effects that relief can have on third world countries in economic decline. But to some extent, Nicaragua has achieved a different outcome and today this small country of six million people is one of the five fastest growing countries in Latin America - largely because of its investment in poverty reduction, education and health care.
I believe our government should do likewise - support education, health care, and small farmers instead of sending military equipment to fight the "war on drugs" - and repeal the disastrous trade policies that are making the rich richer and the poor ready to run for the border.