The CAMEXCA region—Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean—has a population of approximately 150 million people and an area of about 2.5 million square kilometers (1.55 square miles). The population is culturally and linguistically diverse, with over 100 indigenous groups, Afro-Caribbean, Caucasian, and mixed races. Political instability and poor governance, economic inequality, social disintegration and violence, and environmental vulnerability characterize the region’s socio-political and economic context.
Political instability and poor governance
Although armed conflicts in the region (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua) have ended with peace accords, many of the causes of these conflicts remain. A lack of credible state institutions and political parties, high levels of corruption and the penetration of organized crime and drug trafficking in wide sectors of society, generate continued political polarization and confrontation. Centralized development models heighten this problem and result in the abandonment of the rural areas. The region also suffers from low levels of participation by war-weary citizens, many of whom opt for migration instead of local struggles for real and profound change.
Economic inequality and increase in poverty
According to macroeconomic indicators, Central American countries have generated moderate growth over the past decade. Much of this economic growth can be attributed to economic models prescribed during the 1980s and 1990s. These have included privatization of public services, accelerated trade liberalization, and promotion of export-oriented growth. The result: a decrease in coverage and rise in the cost of public services, increased vulnerability of small agricultural producers with subsequent crisis in the rural areas, and isolated growth in assembly production (maquilas) with few benefits to local economies. This trend, aggravated by unfair international Free Trade Agreements, is likely to continue into the future and bring about further inequality and more poverty.
Social disintegration and violence
Crime and insecurity in Central America increased significantly during the 1990s, as societies moved from authoritarian regimes to democracies. El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala have become the most insecure countries in the Western Hemisphere. The generalized climate of violence disproportionately victimizes women, children and the indigenous population. The case of over 300 killings of young women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico has brought international outrage, yet the killings continue.
Inequality, poverty, lack of economic options, and violence induce massive migration, disrupting families and distorting demographic figures and national labor force. Roughly one tenth of Central America's population lives abroad, sending remittances back home. El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua are heavily dependent on these remittances, which account for over 15 percent of GDP.
In the past decade, the region has been hit by a long list of natural disasters:
- In 1998, Hurricane Mitch left 20,000 people dead or missing.
- In 2001, two earthquakes in El Salvador caused 1,500 deaths.
- In 2004, three hurricanes caused approximately 5,000 deaths in the Caribbean.
- In 2005, Hurricane Stan provoked a mudslide that buried an entire Guatemalan village and left more than 1,000 people dead.
But these disasters are not all-powerful events over which we have no control. Deforestation, lack of regulations to protect fragile areas, and sub-standard construction practices contribute greatly to the region's vulnerability. The effects of climate change and large-scale open-pit mining projects penetrating the region further aggravate the situation.
Challenges for Oxfam America
Within this context, Oxfam America faces four fundamental challenges that are core to our programs in the region:
- Creating space for the voices of the poor and calling for more just policies.
- Finding economic alternatives for marginalized and vulnerable groups.
- Strengthening civil society movements to work for social justice.
- Upholding the rights of people most vulnerable to disasters.