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Why Nicaragua's Not In The Conversation About Central American Migrants


Throughout the child migrant crisis at the U.S. border we've been hearing about three countries as the main source of those migrants - Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Well, what about Nicaragua? That's the headline of a recent story on the news website "Fusion." Historically, Nicaragua has been lumped in with its neighbors as another one of the problem-children of Central America. But these days Nicaragua circumstances are different. Tim Rogers is an editor at "Fusion." He's also the founder of Welcome to the program, Tim.

TIM ROGERS: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So, one thing you report, in terms of key differences, between Nicaragua and Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala is the murder rate. We keep hearing how Honduras has the highest rate in the world right now, right? 90 murders per 100,000 people. What's going on in Nicaragua for context?

ROGERS: Nicaragua really has a fraction of that murder rate. That comes as a surprise to people who remember the Nicaragua of the 80s and have a vision of Nicaragua being a war-torn country. But Nicaragua has really been able to turn it around in the last 25 years.

CORNISH: And you've got there 11 murders per 100,000 people in Nicaragua.

ROGERS: Yeah, the Nicaraguan government, the Sandinista government, really believes that the key to their success is a different policing model that Nicaragua has implanted. Where as the countries of the northern triangle have resorted to heavy-handed policies - what they call the manadura(Ph) repressive state policies against gangs. Nicaragua has opted for more of a community policing model. They try to identify youth who are at risk and try to reintegrate them into society before they really go towards criminal life and joining gangs.

CORNISH: You mentioning the Sandinistas reminds me that I want to know a little bit more about the history here because El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua all had long and violent conflicts in the '70s and '80s. How is the post-war experience of Nicaragua indifferent?

ROGERS: The main factor that makes Nicaragua different than its neighbors is that the revolution triumphed in Nicaragua. So when the Sandinistas came to power in 1979 they really inherited a shell of a country. There were no institutions that functioned, there was no money in the state coffers - and that allowed the government to hit the reset button - to build a new police force, to build a new army. And they were very aware of trying to build something different than the repressive National Guard that they were replacing.

CORNISH: One conclusion you come to I want to note is this. You write, instead of trying to fix Central America by doing more of what's not working in the northern triangle perhaps Uncle Sam should take a lesson from what it's not doing in Nicaragua. Explain what you mean.

ROGERS: Well, in the northern triangle relations right now between the United States and the governments of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are focused almost primarily on the war on drugs, on security issues. In Nicaragua the United States has withdrawn a lot of aid since 2007 for political concerns but at the same time commercial relations between Nicaragua and the United States have increased. Nicaragua is now the country in Central America that's benefiting the most from CAFTA - which is The Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States. And Nicaragua has attracted a lot of private U.S. investment - U.S. tourism. And so it's this connection on the level of people to people that's really helped Nicaragua whereas this militaristic approach - creating relations with the countries in the northern triangle has led to an increase of violence and the exodus of children that we're seeing today.

CORNISH: That's reporter Tim Rogers of and website Fusion. Tim, thanks so much for speaking with us.

ROGERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.