I'll first tell you very briefly about our organization. I'm here as the co-chair of the Americas policy group. It's a national coalition of 32 Canadian organizations that work on human rights and development in the Americas.
While some of our member organizations, such as Amnesty International, work directly on migration, most of our work is done directly in the countries of Latin America. The majority of our members focus on three regions: Mexico, Central America and Colombia.
Given that we have a fairly limited time for the presentation, I'm only going to touch very briefly on Colombia and Mexico and focus primarily on the Central American countries, particularly Guatemala and Honduras, because I believe that's the area where Canadian policy can play a role.
The focus in this presentation is primarily on the conditions that lead to migration. I think the speaker who preceded me did an excellent job of covering that, so I may jump over some of my points.
Colombia has the highest number of internally displaced people in the world after Syria, with 6.5 million people who are displaced. Despite the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia last year and an end to that part of the war, violence and displacement continue. In 2017, violence in the country generated another 139,000 displacements, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Although sometimes we have the impression that there is peace in Colombia, violence is still generating large numbers of internally displaced people.
There are a number of factors behind these displacements. They're common through all of the countries I'm referring to here. They are the impacts of free trade, extractivism, the drug trade, corruption and organized crime. It's exacerbated, as the previous speaker mentioned, by climate change.
In Mexico—and I think you've probably heard these statistics before—large numbers of displacement and violence coincided with the launching of the drug war in 2006, with a total of some 250,000 people believed to have been killed between the launching of the war and last year, while another 37,000 people have been forcibly disappeared.
In Colombia and Mexico, it's not uncommon for local government and security forces to act in collusion with organized crime, but it's in the Central American countries, in particular Guatemala and Honduras, where these networks have also deeply penetrated the national state. Organized crime operates on a number of levels in Honduras and Guatemala, ranging up from the street gangs that you've heard about in earlier testimonies, such as the Mara 18 and the Salvatruchas, who control both urban neighbourhoods and also a number of rural areas in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, often serving as the foot soldiers for more sophisticated criminal networks involved with drug trafficking, but also involved with graft in a large scale at the state level, and sometimes providing security to transnational corporations operating in these countries.
I'm not going to go in depth on statistics, but some rather stark examples have come up recently with the arrest last week of the brother of the Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández on cocaine smuggling charges, and then just last year Fabio Lobo, the son of the former president, Porfirio Lobo, was sentenced to 24 years after being convicted in U.S. courts on similar charges. In both of these cases, testimony indicates that the Honduran presidents were aware of these activities and, at the very least, did nothing.
However, the Honduran government's involvement in organized crime goes beyond links to drug smuggling. De facto President Juan Orlando Hernández, in his previous term, was forced to admit that his party looted the national public health and social security system to fund his 2013 electoral campaign.
We find similar cases in neighbouring Guatemala. In 2015, the president, vice-president and most of his cabinet were forced to resign and were indicted on corruption charges after investigations by the United Nations' international commission against impunity, CICIG, revealed a vast organized crime network within the Guatemalan state.
The president that succeeded him, current president Jimmy Morales, is now also under investigation. In recent times, though, his administration has taken steps to block the effective work of the UN body by preventing its director from entering the country.
The penetration of organized crime into government and state institutions takes place in the context of economic and ecological shifts in the region that are generating significant internal displacement. There are many different factors linked to that, which I mentioned previously.
In the Colombian case, the influx of low-priced basic grains that followed the signing of free trade agreements with North America and Europe in the past 25 years has reduced local food production and made it much more difficult for rural families to earn a living growing basic foods. This is combined with new unpredictability related to climate change, and pressure on farming communities from the expanding agro-industrial frontier—primarily sugar cane and African palm, which is, ironically, often used for the creation of biofuels.
These serve to drive the farmers from the land, either to marginalized communities in surrounding urban areas, or to take the long and dangerous migrant trek.
I know I'm running out of time already—