Officially, Peace Corps has not terminated its Honduras program, but all currently serving volunteers have been sent back to the United States until further notice. No new volunteers are being sent to El Salvador and Guatemala, though the volunteers currently serving will remain. The reason commonly cited for Peace Corps’ leaving Honduras and the draw down in El Salvador and Guatemala is an upswing in violence due to rising drug cartel related crime in the three countries.
My Peace Corps service was in Honduras. My site was a remote village in the mountains near el Lago de Yojoa (Yojoa Lake), and I was the first volunteer to serve there. The village didn’t have electricity at the time and occasionally the rain would flood the road to town. Yet, despite my feelings of being cut off from the world, the world often crept in. And at least three times, it crept in violently.
Violence is nothing new in Honduras, and violence there takes many forms. During my service five villagers died, two naturally, and three violently. The three violent deaths were middle-aged men murdered over familial disagreements. These deaths had nothing to do with me or anyone else not related or originally involved. A recent Christian Science Monitor article reports that Honduras had the highest homicide rate in the world in 2010, with 82 murders per 100,000 people. How many of these deaths were family related? How many were cartel related? What has gone wrong that Peace Corps had to leave? What is the history of violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala? (Also, aren’t we living in the least violent period in history?)
Honduras is not particularly special in this respect, the developing world is violent. But is this not part of the reason why “development” exists? What will be the effects of Peace Corps leaving Honduras (and possibly Guatemala and El Salvador)? I am not under the impression that any one Peace Corps Volunteer is essential (other than me, of course). Nevertheless, our incremental work – quietly organizing locally initiated and supported projects – mean something to the communities they serve: the projects are theirs.
In the past, development was colonialism, a rapid push for resources and an attempt to create countries in the image of European states. Now, development aims not to be hierarchical, but inclusive: to be ethnically, and culturally cautious, locally initiated, and environmentally sustainable. The APA ECPA Urban Planning Initiative represents this type of development too: its purpose is to increase (locally based) Urban Planning capacity throughout the Americas and create equitable, economically robust communities that are resilient to climate change. It’s unlikely that these communities will look like communities in the United States, but they are not communities in the United States. Violence takes many forms. Poverty, corruption, and Hunger are just a few of these forms. Of course, development organizations are not perfect, but at the very least organizations like Peace Corps (or APA), seek to fight this violence.