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Youth-Driven Engagement In Central America


Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero looks on after meeting Guatemala's President-elect Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala City, Wednesday Nov. 30, 2011.

“Civil society and youth-driven engagement are absolutely essential in combating crime and building more resilient communities."

“Civil society and youth-driven engagement are absolutely essential in combating crime and building more resilient communities,” wrote U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero in a blog about her recent trip to Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras.

During the trip, Ms. Otero met with senior government officials, civil society leaders, women entrepreneurs, and youth activists. She discussed bilateral cooperation on citizen security, trafficking in persons and human rights.

“Many of these issues are interconnected and require an integrated approach,” she noted.

In Honduras, she met with a group of 16 university students who told her how their lives had been affected by violence. Most knew someone who had been killed, and they told how violence affected everything from job prospects to whether they left their homes on a given day. This group of young people, however, is looking for solutions and, starting organizations such as the Youth Against Violence Movement. The students found that since youth are most often targeted for gang recruitment, and are susceptible to a multitude of risk factors, involving young people in building community assets and proposing solutions is critical.

Under Secretary Otero also visited community outreach centers in Guatemala and Costa Rica that offer vocational training and recreational activities for youth who are at risk. The programs build self-esteem, offer a safe space, increase employability, and reduce the possibility that these youth will engage in criminal activities.

“These people are not just bettering themselves; many of them have in turn become leaders and role models for others in their communities who are struggling to find their way,” wrote Ms. Otero.

Under Secretary Otero called on the governments of Central America to support these kinds of organizations and others.

“Central American governments must work directly with civil society and the private sector to address their nations' challenges,” she wrote.

Through the Central America Regional Security Initiative, the United States is working throughout Central America to strengthen law enforcement and security institutions, combat impunity and corruption and invest resources to protect the human rights of every individual, especially those who are most vulnerable.

A significant effort is being made to focus on the region’s youth, particularly those who live in marginalized, high-crime communities and who have limited access to employment and educational opportunities.

“The United State is and will remain a steadfast partner,” wrote Ms. Otero, “With the people and governments of Central America as they work toward a safer, more resilient region.”

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