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Progress at Risk? First Annual Conference on Security, Migration, and Rule of Law in the Northern Triangle of Central America

The Latin American Program and the Seattle International Foundation hosted a conference on Central American Security and Migration, where researchers from throughout the region presented new findings and solutions to the complex issues driving migration and insecurity in the Northern Triangle.

Date & Time

Jun. 25, 2019
8:30am – 4:30pm ET


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
Get Directions


Record numbers of Central Americans have fled the countries of the Northern Triangle during the first half of 2019, giving rise to abundant questions about how to address the drivers of migration. Central to addressing the challenge of migration is the ability of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, together with the United States, to effectively reduce violence and homicides; fight corruption and strengthen the rule of law; reform the police; and reintegrate returning or deported migrants.

The Latin American Program and the Seattle International Foundation hosted a conference on Central American Security and Migration, where researchers from throughout the region presented new findings and solutions to the complex issues driving migration and insecurity in the Northern Triangle. 

Selected Quotes

Panel One - Understanding Violence and Homicides in Central America

Mario Herrera

“We need to generate policies that are sustained in time. As we have seen, some of the violence has stayed in the same territories for many years, so this is a key issue. We need to deepen the territorial focus of the security strategies. And all this sums together the need for promoting policies based in empirical information.”

“We want better data, we need better institutions, we need less corruption, and, in general, we need better democracies. Otherwise, this will not lead to a real descent in homicide rates.”

Laura Chioda

“It’s important not to forget the underlying motivation and dynamics of violence…Where we see violence peaking is exactly in those territories that are strategic for drug trafficking organizations. So what is that [about]? It’s competing for territory.”

“Crime and violence are geographically clustered…You have 15 to 25 percent of street segments in [a] city that explain between 60 to 75 percent of crimes. And this applies to Guatemala in the case of Guatemala City.”

“In El Salvador, you have 10 municipalities—3.8 percent of municipalities in El Salvador—account for between 30 and 40 percent of homicides. That means if you are able to actually target your policy at a specific municipality within a critical street segment, you can really knock down some of this violence.”

“It’s important to change the politics and discussion around prevention, [so] that it doesn’t become ‘soft’ versus ‘hard,’ but [rather] what is cost-effective. So all these data and all this evidence and causal evidence is critical to reframe this ‘either or’ [paradigm].”


The Honorable Norma Torres (D-CA)

“The real problem, is not just in our southern border. It is the impoverished villages. The gang-controlled neighborhoods of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. It is also in the halls of power in those countries—in the legislatures, in the courtrooms, in the city halls, and, very sadly to say, within the police stations.”

“Washington is the type of place that expects quick, flash results. Attention spans are very short, but the kind of change that is needed in Central America is the kind of change that takes decades, if not generations, to see through.”

"On positive rule of law stories in the Northern Triangle: “We need to identify more of these stories, and we need to tell them, bring them to light, and celebrate them. Not only to encourage members here, but also to encourage progress there. Not as a way of saying that everything is fine, and that we don’t need to pressure those governments, but to remind our colleagues that improving the rule of law in the Northern Triangle is possible. It is possible! And that these countries are not a lost cause.”

"It is critical that members of Congress understand that we are not talking about a few bad apples, or a street thug. Congress needs to understand the level of corruption in the Northern Triangle.”

“We’re at a difficult moment, but the need has never been greater. If we are committed to stopping the cries of children, and the issues that we are seeing under this government—and what is happening to the kids—then we must commit to ensuring that we work together in a bipartisan way, and move forward an agenda that we can all support.”

Panel Three – Police Reform In Honduras

David Dye

“In a matter of weeks, [the purge] removed the great bulk of the top leadership of the institution. To be exact, 2/3 of all first and second rank officials…Over a period of two years, it removed more than 5,000 total personnel from the institution, which is about 35 percent of the initial number.”

“The purge was large enough to open the door for a thorough transformation of the institution, although obviously it could not guarantee it.”

“The four underlying objectives are to prevent the re-penetration of the force by criminal elements, professionalize the force, making it more effective in everything that it does, forge a new police culture of human rights and respect for the citizens, and institutionalize civil society oversight of the reform process itself.”

“The overall contours of the new U.S. policy towards Honduras suggests that what has to date been a very strong commitment to see the police reform process through is likely to be significantly, and perhaps severely, curtailed.”

“Consolidation of the HMP reform is particularly vulnerable to changes in the constellation of political elements that gave rise to the purge process in 2016, some of which have changed in these current circumstances. As a matter of fact, they have changed since the report was completed. All of this, then, raises doubts about whether progress towards reform goals will continue. That possibility underscores the need for civil society organizations to continue to exercise vigilance over the reform process, and, indeed, the whole police model.”


The Honorable Norma Torres (D-CA)
Member of the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs

Introduced by 

The Honorable Jane Harman 
Director, President, and CEO 
Wilson Center 

Welcoming Remarks

Cynthia Arnson 
Director, Latin American Program
Wilson Center

Arturo Aguilar 
Executive Director
Seattle International Foundation

Understanding Violence and Homicides in Central America

Mario Herrera
Estado de la Región, lead author “Homicides in Central America: Toward a better understanding of the trends, causes, and territorial dynamics.   

Laura Chioda
Senior Economist, The Chief Economist Office of the Latin American and Caribbean Region
World Bank 

Erik Alda
Creative Associates

Eric L. Olson (Moderator)
Director of Policy, Seattle International Foundation
Consultant, Latin American Program, Wilson Center

Promoting the Rule of Law and Fighting Corruption

Alberto Trejos
Director and Dean
INCAE Business School

Alvaro Montenegro 
Guatemalan journalist, columnist, and coordinator of the Alliance for Reforms of the Justice and Electoral Systems

Odir Fernández
Anti-Corruption Commission of Honduras

Arturo Aguilar (Moderator)
Executive Director
Seattle International Foundation

*Lunch break (light lunch will be served)

Police Professionalization: Honduras' Special Commission to Purge and Reform the Police

David Dye
Lead author of "Police Reform in Honduras: The Role of the Special Purge and Transformation Commission"

Omar Rivera
Special Commission for the Purging and Reform of the National Police, Honduras

Adriana Beltrán
Senior Associate
Washington Office on Latin America

Temporary Protected Status What If They Return?

Mauricio Diaz 
General Coordinator

Maria Elena Rivera
Program Coordinator, Program on Public Policy Studies

Julia Gelatt
Senior Policy Analyst, US Immigration Program
Migration Policy Institute 

Eric L. Olson (Moderator)
Director of Policy, Seattle International Foundation
Consultant, Latin American Program, Wilson Center

Hosted By

Latin America Program

The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin America Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action.  Read more

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