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Studies by CEPAL, the World Health Organization, and others "cast dramatic light on the situation," Mexico's leading daily reports. They reveal that 15 million Central Americans, almost 60% of the population, live in poverty, of whom 9.7 million live in "extreme poverty." Severe malnutrition is rampant among children. 75% of the peasants in Guatemala, 60% in El Salvador, 40% in Nicaragua, and 35% in Honduras lack health care. To make matters worse, Washington has applied "stunning quotas on sugar, beef, cocoa, cheese, textiles, and limestone, as well as compensation laws and `antidumping' policies in cement, flowers, and operations of cellulose and glass." The European Community and Japan have followed suit, also imposing harmful protectionist measures.9
The environment shares the fate of those who people it. Deforestation, soil erosion, pesticide poisoning, and other forms of environmental destruction, increasing through the victorious 1980s, are traceable in large measure to the development model imposed upon the region and U.S. militarization of it in recent years. Intense exploitation of resources by agribusiness and export-oriented production have enriched wealthy sectors and their foreign sponsors, and led to statistical growth, with a devastating impact on the land and the people. In El Salvador, large areas have become virtual wastelands as the military has sought to undermine the peasant base of the guerrillas by extensive bombardment, and by forest and crop destruction. There have been occasional efforts to stem the ongoing catastrophe. Like the Arbenz government overthrown in the CIA-run coup that restored the military regime in Guatemala, the Sandinistas initiated environmental reforms and protections. These were desperately needed, both in the countryside and near Managua, where industrial plants had been permitted to dump waste freely. The most notorious case was the U.S. Penwalt corporation, which poured mercury into Lake Managua until 1981.10
The foreign-imposed development model has emphasized "nontraditional exports" in recent years. Under the free market conditions approved for defenseless Third World countries, the search for survival and gain will naturally lead to products that maximize profit, whatever the consequences. Coca production has soared in the Andes and elsewhere for this reason, but there are other examples as well. After the discovery of clandestine "human farms" and "fattening houses" for children in Honduras and Guatemala, Dr. Luís Genaro Morales, president of the Guatemalan Pediatric Association, said that child trafficking "is becoming one of the principal nontraditional export products," generating $20 million of business a year. The International Human Rights Federation, after an inquiry in Guatemala, gave a more conservative estimate, reporting that about 300 children are kidnapped every year, taken to secret nurseries, then sold for adoption at about $10,000 per child.
The IHRF investigators could not confirm reports that organs of babies were being sold to foreign buyers. This macabre belief is widely held in the region, however, indicative of the general mood though hardly credible. The Honduran journal El Tiempo reported that the Paraguayan police rescued 7 Brazilian babies from a gang that "intended to sacrifice them to organ banks in the United States, according to a charge in the courts." Brazil's Justice Ministry ordered federal police to investigate allegations that adopted children are being used for organ transplants in Europe, a practice "known to exist in Mexico and Thailand," the London Guardian reports, adding that "handicapped children are said to be preferred for transplant operations" and reviewing the process by which children are allegedly kidnapped, "disappeared," or given up by impoverished mothers, then adopted or used for transplants. Tiempo reported shortly after that an Appeals Judge in Honduras ordered "a meticulous investigation into the sale of Honduran children for the purpose of using their organs for transplant operations." A year earlier, the Secretary General of the National Council of Social Services, which is in charge of adoptions, had reported that Honduran children "were being sold to the body traffic industry" for organ transplant.11
A Resolution of the European Parliament on the Trafficking of Central American Children alleged that near a "human farm" in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, infant corpses were found that "had been stripped of one or a number of organs." At another "human farm" in Guatemala, babies ranging from 11 days old to four months old had been found. The director of the farm, at the time of his arrest, declared that the children "were sold to American or Israeli families whose children needed organ transplants at the cost of $75,000 per child," the Resolution continues, expressing "its horror in the light of the facts" and calling for investigation and preventive measures.12
As the region sinks into further misery, these reports continue to appear. In July 1990, a right-wing Honduran daily, under the headline "Loathsome Sale of Human Flesh," reported that police in El Salvador had discovered a group, headed by a lawyer, that was buying children to resell in the United States. An estimated 20,000 children disappear every year in Mexico, the report continues, destined for this end or for use in criminal activities such as transport of drugs "inside their bodies." "The most gory fact, however, is that many little ones are used for transplant of organs to children in the U.S.," which, it is suggested, may account for the fact that the highest rate of kidnapping of children from infants to 18-year-olds is in the Mexican regions bordering on the United States.13
The one exception to the Central America horror story has been Costa Rica, set on a course of state-guided development by the José Figueres coup of 1948, with social democratic welfare measures combined with harsh repression of labor, and virtual elimination of the armed forces. The U.S. has always kept a wary eye on this deviation from the regional standards, despite the suppression of labor and the favorable conditions for foreign investors. In the 1980s, U.S. pressures to dismantle the social democratic features and restore the army elicited bitter complaints from Figueres and others who shared his commitments. While Costa Rica continues to stand apart from the region in political and economic development, the signs of what the Guatemalan Central America Report calls "The `Central Americanization' of Costa Rica" are unmistakeable.14
Under the pressure of a huge debt, Costa Rica has been compelled to follow the IMF model of free market capitalism designed for the Third World, with austerity for the poor, cutback in social programs, and benefits for domestic and foreign investors. The results are coming in. By statistical measures, the economy is relatively strong. But more than 25% of the population -- 715,000 people -- live in poverty, 100,000 in extreme poverty, according to a study published by the ultra-right journal La Nación (one feature of Costa Rican democracy being a monopoly of the Spanish language media by extreme right sectors of the business community). A study by the Gallup office in Costa Rica published in Prensa Libre gives even higher figures, concluding that "approximately one million people cannot afford a minimum diet, nor pay for clothing, education or health care."15
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9 Excelsior, Oct. 18, 1989 (Latin America News Update (LANU), Dec. 1989).
10 For a review, see Joshua Karliner, "Central America's Other War," World Policy Journal, Fall 1989.
11 Anne Chemin, Le Monde, Sept. 21, 1988; Manchester Guardian Weekly, Oct. 2. Ibid, Sept. 30, 1990. Tiempo, Aug. 10, 17, Sept. 19, 1988. Dr. Morales, cited by Robert Smith, Report on Guatemala, July/August/Sept. 1989 (Guatemala News and Information Bureau, POB 28594, Oakland CA 94604).
13 La Prensa Dominical, Honduras, July 22, 1990.
14 CAR, April 28, 1989. For discussion of these matters, see references of chapter 12, note 58.
15 CAR, Dec. 1, 1989.