[Hpn] STREETKIDS in Guatemala: Casa-Alianza crusades (FWD)

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Sat, 10 Feb 2001 07:35:23 -0800 (PST)

Do police in your country murder homeless people?
If so, are they ever tried, convicted and sentenced?

"Rejected by society as thieving ragamuffins, the children suffer
not just hunger and neglect, but are abused and sometimes killed
in the streets, according to Casa Alianza, and the perpetrators -
in some cases police - are rarely brought to justice."

FWD   REPLY TO: <owner-rapid-response@Casa-Alianza.org>
      Casa Alianza/Covenant House Latin America

FWD  Christian Science Monitor - 02/08/2001


     by Catherine Elton

GUATEMALA CITY  --  Each night, once all the street vendors have
cleared out of Guatemala's 18th-Street market and only the rats
remain, Jose Cordero climbs onto a wooden crate and tries to sleep.

Fourteen years old and in his third year of street life, Jose sniffs
glue, smokes crack, and survives on whatever food he can beg or

"It stinks living in the street, because the police hit you," Jose
says. "You could get killed for robbing. And some people abuse you
when you beg for money."

While no exact figures are available, Casa Alianza, the Latin
American office of Covenant House, an international Catholic
organization working with street children, estimates there are
35,000 homeless kids in Central America - up from around 15,000 to
20,000 five years ago.  Guatemala's number - some 6,000 - is rising
because of refugees pouring in from nearby countries - including
victims of Hurricane Mitch from Nicaragua and Honduras.

Rejected by society as thieving ragamuffins, the children suffer
not just hunger and neglect, but are abused and sometimes killed
in the streets, according to Casa Alianza, and the perpetrators -
in some cases police - are rarely brought to justice.

But now, in Guatemala, there are signs that the government may be
ready to do something about the plight of these children.

Prodded by Casa Alianza, the government has agreed to accept
responsibility and pay compensation to the relatives of two slain
children and to a surviving victim of brutality in cases from the
early 1990s. Street-children advocates hope the Guatemalan government's
actions will serve as a model for the rest of the region.

"The fact that Guatemala has recognized violations of human rights
by the state itself is a big step forward, and I think it will help
Guatemala to be recognized within the community of nations that
recognizes the most fundamental human rights of its children," says
Bruce Harris, the regional director of Casa Alianza.

"I think this can be an example for the region and serve as a basis
... breaking the walls of impunity and heeding the cries of the
victims of human rights violations," says Oswaldo Enriquez,
Guatemala's presidential adviser on human rights issues.

Casa Alianza won the compensations, totaling about $29,000, in a
friendly settlement before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission
of the Organization of American States.

Although Casa Alianza maintains that the perpetrators of the three
crimes were police or military, the settlement refers only to the
government's accepting responsibility for human rights violations
in general without specifying state involvement in the crimes or
failure to serve justice in the cases.

In 1993, police killings of Brazilian street children focused
international attention on so-called "social cleansing" of homeless

Difficult to count because of their varying situations, the world's
street children range from those who live with or have contact with
their families but work on the street, to homeless children completely
on their own.

Honduras' situation appears particularly grave. According to Casa
Alianza's research, 601 Honduran street children were killed in
the past three years. Casa Alianza alleges that police were involved
in more than half of these cases. But according to the crime-
prevention unit of the Honduran police, these numbers are "totally
exaggerated," and it denies any police involvement in deaths of
street children.

In Guatemala last year, eight street children were killed, double
the number killed the year before, according to Casa Alianza. But,
in what Casa Alianza sees as an important change, no uniformed
police were involved in any of these cases. According to the
Guatemalan national civil police force, there are no records of
police abuse of street children since the police force was restructured
in 1997.

At the same time, police say they are being criticized by the public
for not doing enough to clear the streets of the children, who
often rob passersby. But it is the children who are the real victims
in these robberies, Mr. Harris says. "While there are no programs
for homeless children and no social services for them and they are
hungry, they are going to steal."

Guatemala and Honduras both fail to prosecute those responsible
for slayings, Casa Alianza says. In Honduras, Harris says, 67
percent of the 601 cases have not been investigated.

In Guatemala, none of the three OAS-settled cases alleging police
involvement have been brought to trial, and in only one have charges
been filed, and they are being challenged.

In one of the cases, from 1990, dogs were set on Juan Jose Mendez,
severely injuring the 14-year-old. In another, Sergio Fuentes, 17,
was shot dead. In the third, Marcos Quisquinay, 12, was given what
appeared to be a bag of warm chicken while begging outside a fast-
food restaurant in Guatemala City. He died when the bag exploded.

According to Harris, there are 400 cases of human rights violations
against street kids that languish unresolved in Guatemala's judicial

Guatemala's recent settlement includes an agreement by the government
to take steps toward treating street children humanely. Mr.  Enriquez
says the program, set to begin this year, will include opening
state-run children's shelters, mounting a publicity campaign to
raise public awareness about the plight of homeless children, and
educating judicial system workers and police on children's rights.

Though specifics remain undefined, the program's long-term goals
are to enact labor, education, and health policies that will combat
forces that drive children into homelessness. These long-term
changes are the most crucial, Harris says.

Casa Alianza, which brings about 700 kids a year to its refuge,
knows better than anyone that once children are on the streets, it
is hard to save them.

After 10 days undergoing drug rehab and sleeping in a real bed,
Jose Cordero said he was happy to be off the streets. But a few
days ago, during an outing with other kids from the Casa Alianza
refuge, Jose ran away.


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PO Box 025216, Miami FL 33102-5216 USA

Tel. in Costa Rica: +506-253-5439 or 253-6338
Fax in Costa Rica: +506-224-5689

Home page address: http://www.casa-alianza.org

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