Reaching the Nations

Regional Profile - Central America and the Caribbean

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 3,190,193 square km.  Central America consists of several narrow isthmuses which bridge North and South America from Mexico to Panama that border the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.  The Caribbean is comprised of several large island groups such as the Lesser and Greater Antilles which are located between Central America, North America, South America, and the Atlantic Ocean.  Due to historical and demographic similarities, the Guianas (Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana) are often considered part of the Caribbean despite being geographically located in northern South America.  Most nations and territories in the region experience tropical climate year round.  A rugged, mountainous interior circumscribed by a narrow coastal plain characterizes the terrain of many islands in the Caribbean.  In Central America, highland areas experience semi-tropical climatic conditions modified by high elevation.  Several large lakes occupy areas of Central America, such as Lago de Nicaragua in Nicaragua, Lake Chapala in Mexico, and Lago de Atitlan in Guatemala.  In the Guianas and Mexico, several large rivers originate in highland areas and empty into the surrounding ocean.  Mexico experiences some of the greatest diversity in terrain, landscapes, and climate ranging from desert plains to alpine conditions on high volcanic peaks.  Hurricanes, tropical storms, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and flooding are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include deforestation, pollution, desertification, soil erosion, fresh water scarcity, coral reef decay, and proper waste disposal. 

Peoples

Mestizo: 48%

Amerindian: 21%

white: 12%

black: 9%

Mulatto: 8%

East Indian: 0.5%

other/unknown: 1.5%

Population: 198,745,580 (July 2011)       

Annual Growth Rate: 0.989% (2011)    

Fertility Rate: 2.09 children born per woman (2011)    

Life Expectancy: 72.72 male, 77.43 female (2011)

Mestizo are mixed white European and Amerindian and comprise the majority in most of Central America and several Caribbean nations whereas Mulatto are mixed black African and white European or other ethnicities and are found in smaller numbers throughout the region.  Amerindians are concentrated in Central America primarily in Mexico and Guatemala.  Whites generally reside in the largest cities and are of Spanish or Western European descent.  East Indians are primarily found in the Guianas and southern Caribbean. 

Languages: Spanish (71%), Amerindian languages (7%), English (6%), Haitian Creole (5%), French and English Creoles (1%), other or unknown (10%).  Languages with over one million speakers include Spanish (141.5 million), English (11.3 million), Haitian Creole (9.24 million), K'iche' dialects (2.33 million), Nahuatl (1.75 million), and French Creole languages (1.2 million).  

Literacy: 53-99% (country average 90%)

History

Amerindian peoples are believed to had settled Central America and the Caribbean  several millennia prior to the arrival of Europeans.  Sophisticated and advanced pre-Colombian ancient Mesoamerican civilizations thrived in Mexico for centuries prior to European contact.  The Olmecs, Mayas, Toltecs, and Aztecs occupied large areas of Mexico and some exerted influence into northern Mexico and Central America.  The Mayans settled and founded several populous city states in Guatemala, the Yucatan Peninsula, and nearby countries before 1000 AD.  Most cities were abandoned around AD 1000.  Arawak and Carib Amerindians populated the Lesser Antilles and coastal areas of the Guianas prior to European exploration.  Led by Christopher Columbus, the Spanish first sighted land in the Americas in the present-day Bahamas in 1492.  Spain quickly expanded its empire in the New World, laying waste to indigenous Amerindian populations.  In the 1520s, Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec Empire and established a Spanish colony which endured for 300 years.  The Spanish began exploring and colonizing the remainder of Central America in the early sixteenth century.  In the seventeenth century, the English, French, and Dutch established colonies in the Caribbean by overrunning the Spanish.  By the end of the seventeenth century, most of the Lesser Antilles were no longer under Spanish control.  The English and Spanish vied for control of present-day Belize during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as the English had a presence in many Caribbean coastal areas in Central America.  The French and British transported African slaves to the Caribbean between the late seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries, significantly altering the demographic makeup of local populations.  During this period most of the remaining indigenous Amerindian populations were wiped out by forced labor, disease, and war.  Several islands in the Caribbean were invaded and liberated by the British, France, and the Dutch during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  The Lesser Antilles became lucrative to European colonists for cultivating sugarcane, spices, and other crops due to favorable agricultural conditions. 

African slaves in Haiti rebelled against France in 1804 and gained independence, becoming the second sovereign nation in the Western Hemisphere after the United States.  Mexico declared independence from Spain in 1810 but independence was not internationally recognized until 1821.  Spanish colonies in Central America gained independence in 1821 and several efforts to unify Central America into one political entity failed in the 1820s and 1830s, giving rise to instability and revolution.  The United Kingdom abolished slavery in 1834 and relocated populations from East India to labor in the plantations in the Caribbean as indentured servants.  The Dominican Republic gained independence from Haiti in 1844.  The United States annexed Cuba and Puerto Rico in the late nineteenth century during the Spanish-American War and Cuba gained independence in 1902.  The United States assisted in Panama's independence effort in the early 1900s resulting in Panama gaining independence in 1903.  Panama signed a treaty with the United States allowing the construction of the Panama Canal, which included granting sovereignty to the United States in the Panama Canal Zone.  During the 1910s, the Mexican Revolution gripped the nation as a result of major economic and social problems and gave way to the creation of the 1917 constitution.  A single political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), dominated government and politics for the rest of the twentieth century in Mexico.  

In 1961, the United States strove to remove the communists from power in Cuba in the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion.  The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 brought the Soviet Union and the United States dangerously close to war when Soviet troops positioned nuclear warheads within striking distance of much of the United States.  Twelve nations gained independence from the United Kingdom in the Caribbean and Central America between 1962 and 1983 including Jamaica (1962), Trinidad and Tobago (1962), Barbados (1966), Guyana (1966), the Bahamas (1973), Grenada (1973), Dominica (1978), Saint Lucia (1979), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (1979), Antigua and Barbuda (1981), Belize (1981), and Saint Kitts and Nevis (1983).  Suriname gained independence from the Netherlands in 1975.  The United States provided military assistance to several Central American governments in the latter-half of the twentieth century to fight Marxist and socialist insurgencies.  Many Central American nations experienced civil war between the 1970s and early 1990s.  A communist government came to power in Grenada in 1979 and fell into chaos in 1983, resulting in military invasion by the United States and other Caribbean nations to restore order.  During the latter-half of the twentieth century, several hurricanes and volcanic eruptions devastated islands in the Lesser Antilles.  In 1998, Hurricane Mitch caused widespread destruction from flooding and landslides in Central America.  All United States' land holdings in the Panama Canal Zone and military bases returned to Panamanian control by the end of 1999.  In 2009, political instability worsened in Honduras as a military coup overthrew President Manuel Zelaya.  Several islands in the Caribbean remain under American or European control at present.  Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Monserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands pertain to the United Kingdom; French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthelemy, and Saint Martin pertain to France; Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, and Sint Maarten pertain to the Netherlands; and Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands pertain to the United States.  In recent years, Mexico has become the region's most powerful nation and has become increasingly integrated into the United States economy through free trade agreements and remittances from Mexican workers in the United States.

Culture 

Christianity is the primary influence on society throughout the region.  The Catholic Church has heavily influenced culture and society in Central America and in many nations and territories in the Caribbean for centuries although in recent years its power and relationship with governments has decreased.  Protestantism continues to thrive throughout the region.  Central American nations generally experience strong cultural similarities with other Spanish-speaking Latin American nations due to a shared Spanish colonial past, the fusion of European and Amerindian cultures, and the dominance of the Catholic Church.  Caribbean culture bares similarities with Latin American nations due to the fusion of indigenous and European cultures but most nations and territories in the Caribbean demonstrate stronger ties to their former European colonizers than Central America, have predominantly black African populations as a result of African slaves brought to labor in plantations, and a greater influence from South Asia in local culture due to the influx of East Indian workers in the nineteenth century.  Secularism is most apparent in Caribbean islands with strong ties with Western Europe and that attract large numbers of European and North American tourists such as Aruba, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Barbados.  Indigenous beliefs, practices, and customs continued to be widely followed by Amerindian groups in areas of southern Mexico, the highlands of Guatemala, and isolated regions of Central America and the Guianas.  Alcohol consumption rates are generally comparable to world averages whereas cigarette consumption rates are generally lower than world averages.  Lawlessness and illicit drug use are increasing in some nations in the region, particularly those which struggle with corruption and have few government resources to fight crime such as Belize and Jamaica.

Economy

GDP per capita: $12,700 national median (2010) [24.9% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.738

Corruption Index: 3.8

Agricultural output drives many of the economies in Central America and many countries experience low standards of living despite abundant natural resources, excellent geographical location for trade, and suitable climate for growing a variety of crops.  Corruption has serious deterred economic growth in Mexico and Central America and continues to delay greater progress.  Economies in the Caribbean are heavily dependent on tourism as many nations in the region have few natural resources but possess pristine beaches, beautiful scenery, and attractive tropical climates moderated by the surrounding ocean.  Offshore banking has attracted foreign investment in many areas in recent years.  Services generate most of the GDP and employ most of the work force in the Caribbean.  Agriculture constitutes an important but generally a non-lucrative sector of the economy.  Primary crops in Central America and the Caribbean include fruit, vegetables, sugarcane, coconuts, cocoa, coffee, rice, and cotton.  Major industries consist of tourism, banking, mining, petroleum, natural gas, cement production, construction, oil transshipment, and rum distilling.  The United States, Western Europe, South America, and East Asia are the primary trade partners with the region.

Nations and territories with close ties with the United States and Western Europe generally experience lower levels of corruption such as Barbados.  The transshipment of illicit drugs is a major challenge throughout the region which is often perpetuated and exacerbated by corruption.  Money laundering and illegal immigration are additional concerns.  A lack of government transparency and government official corruption are concerns in some Central American nations.  International aid to Haiti for decades has almost completely eliminated government self sufficiency.  Corruption in Haiti is extreme and present in all areas of society.  Marijuana and cocaine use are high in some nations and territories. 

Faiths

Christian: 85%

other (primarily Hindu and Muslim: 4%

none/unspecified: 11%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  108,285,922

Seventh Day Adventists  2,855,212  8,460

Latter-day Saints  2,050,336  3,434

Jehovah's Witnesses  1,083,104  17,785

Religion

Christianity is the predominant religion of Central America and the Caribbean as 85% of the regional population is Christian and Christians account for the majority of the population in all countries and territories in the region with the exception of Trinidad and Tobago where Christians are nonetheless the largest religious group.  64% of Christians in the region are Catholic.  Catholicism is a major cultural influence and the primary Christian denomination in Central America and the Greater Antilles whereas Protestant denominations generally claim more members than Catholic Church in the Lesser Antilles.  The size and strength of the Catholic Church has its roots in past Spanish conquest and colonial rule in Central America and the Greater Antilles and past French colonial rule in Haiti and the several French dependencies in the Lesser Antilles.  Many Protestant denominations report large numbers of devoted converts and steady church growth in the region over the past half century.  Hindus account for the second largest faith in the region and number over half a million followers whereas Muslims are the third largest faith and number approximately 250,000.  Both Hindus and Muslims are primarily concentrated in Trinidad and Tobago and the Guianas among East Indians.  Nonreligious individuals account for approximately ten percent of the regional population.  Some syncretism has occurred between Christianity and indigenous beliefs among Amerindian groups in Central America. 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution, laws, or government policies among all nations and territories in Central America and the Caribbean protect religious freedom and are upheld by the government with the exception of Cuba.  Although the governments of Central America and the Caribbean are predominantly secular, Christianity is a strong influence on government officials, policies, and laws and several countries maintain a special relationship with the Catholic Church or a specific Christian denomination.  Many Christian holidays are recognized as national holidays in the region.  Foreign missionaries serve without restrictions, proselyte freely, and in some nations are required to obtain visas and residency permits with the exception of Cuba where religious groups must obtain government permission to operate in a given location and to invite foreign religious workers or guests.  Some nations require religious groups to register with the government, especially to obtain tax-exempt status.  There have been no reports of religious groups being denied registration in the region.  Some nations permit religious instruction in publics schools which is usually optional.  Societal abuse of religious freedom has been minimal in most nations.  Rastafarians report some societal discrimination in the region and complain that marijuana use is illegal in some nations.

Largest Cities

Urban: low (Trinidad and Tobago and Monserrat - 14%); high (Anguilla, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands - 100%)

Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Santo Domingo, Puebla, Guatemala City, San Juan, Port-au-Prince, Havana, Toluca, Tijuana, San Salvador, León, San José, Ciudad Juárez, Panama City, Torreón, Managua, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, Tegucigalpa, Mérida.

All 22 cities with over one million inhabitants have an LDS congregation.  33% of the regional population resides in the 22 most populous cities. 

LDS History

The first LDS mission outreach in Central America and the Caribbean began in Mexico.  LDS Church President Brigham Young called six missionaries to begin proselytism in Mexico with recently translated Spanish church materials in 1875.  Missionaries first baptized converts in Hermosillo in 1876.  In 1880 and 1881, missionaries dedicated Mexico for missionary work on two occasions in Mexico City.[1]  In 1885, 400 Latter-day Saint colonists settled in northern Mexico.[2]  The LDS colonies were evacuated in 1912 due to the Mexican Revolution; only Colonia Juarez and Colonia Dublan were resettled and remain today.[3]  LDS missionaries returned to Mexico in 1922.[4]  Missionary efforts in central Mexico were not reestablished until 1930 when six local missionaries were called.[5]  In 1936, many local members debated about Mexican church leadership under the Third Convention and were excommunicated.  Nearly a decade later, many of these members who separated themselves from the Church returned and stabilized local membership and leadership.[6]

The Church organized the first congregation in Panama in 1941 for American military stationed in the Panama Canal Zone.[7]  The first LDS missionaries arrived in Costa Rica in 1946.  The first LDS missionaries arrived in Guatemala in 1947,[8] El Salvador in 1949,[9] Honduras in December 1952, and Nicaragua in 1953.  The Church received official recognition in Guatemala in 1966.[10]  The Church was not officially recognized by the Panamanian government until 1965; the same year missionary work began.[11]  In the late 1970s, the Church experienced some of its first successes reaching the indigenous inhabitants of Central America in small, remote villages in the Guatemalan highlands, prompting translations of selections of the Book of Mormon into multiple Mayan languages in the early 1980s.  Missionaries were withdrawn from Nicaragua in September 1978 due to civil war which brought the Sandinistas to power in 1979.  In 1978, the Dominican Republic was dedicated for missionary work, the first convert baptisms occurred, and the first congregation was organized.[12]  The first convert baptisms in Trinidad and Tobago occurred in the late 1970s and the first congregation was organized in 1980.  In 1980, formal missionary work and an official LDS congregation was first established in Belize.  An LDS presence was first established in the Bahamas around 1980.  The first LDS convert baptisms occurred in Haiti in 1978 and Haiti was dedicated for missionary work in 1983.

Most nations and territories in the Lesser Antilles and the Guianas began receiving permanent LDS outreach in the 1980s and early 1990s such as Aruba, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyana, and Suriname.  The first LDS missionaries were assigned to Guyana in 1988 and the first LDS congregation was organized in 1989.  North American missionaries were withdrawn from Panama for a period in the late 1980s due to political instability.[13]  In 1990, the Central America Area was created from the Mexico/Central America Area with headquarters in Guatemala City.[14]  Trinidad and Tobago was dedicated for missionary work in 1990.[15]  Although Central America as a whole was dedicated for missionary work in 1952, Guatemala and other individual Central American countries were dedicated for missionary work in 1991.[16]  The LDS Church was formally recognized by the Mexican government in 1993.  North American missionaries were withdrawn from Haiti in the mid-1990s and again in the mid-2000s.

Mexico became the first nation outside the United States to have over one million nominal members in 2004 and in 2009 became the first nation outside the United States to have over 2,000 congregations.  The Caribbean Area was formed from a division of the North America Southeast Area in 2006 and today includes nearly all nations in the Caribbean.  Dominica had its first LDS missionaries arrive in 2006 and the Turks and Caicos were opened for missionary work in late 2008.[17]  The first LDS congregation on Saba was organized in the mid-2000s but was discontinued in 2011.  In September 2009, the Guyanese government requested the Church to remove foreign missionaries serving in the country who were claimed to have expired missionary visas.  The Jamaica Kingston Mission president began making visits to Cuba for church business in the early 2010s.  By June 2011, all nations and territories in Central America and the Caribbean had an independent LDS congregation operating except Anguilla, Monserrat, Saba, and Saint Barthelemy.  In the past 130 years, international Church leaders have repeatedly suggested or declared that indigenous Central American peoples have some ancestry from Book of Mormon peoples.[18] 

Missions

Organized in 1879, the Mexican Mission became the first LDS mission to be organized in the Western Hemisphere outside of the United States.  The mission closed in 1889 and reopened in 1901.  In 1952, the Church organized the Central American Mission from the Mexican Mission with headquarters in Guatemala City.  In 1965, the Central American Mission divided to organize the Guatemala-El Salvador Mission and the Central American Mission was relocated to San Jose, Costa Rica and later renamed the Costa Rica San Jose Mission.  Additional missions were created in Mexico before 1970 such as the Northern Mexican Mission [later renamed Mexico Monterrey] (1956), the West Mexican Mission [later renamed the Mexico Hermosillo] (1960), the Southeast Mexican Mission [later renamed the Mexico Veracruz Mission] (1963), and the Mexico North Central Mission [Mexico Torreon] (1968).  There were seven LDS missions headquartered in Central America by 1970. 

In the 1970s, additional missions were organized in Mexico Guadalajara (1975), Mexico Villahermosa [relocated to Merida in 1978] (1975), El Salvador San Salvador (1976), Guatemala Quetzaltenango (1977), Mexico Mexico City North (1978), and Puerto Rico San Juan (1979).  The Puerto Rico San Juan Mission became the first LDS mission headquartered in the Caribbean.  In the 1980s, additional missions were organized in Honduras Tegucigalpa (1980), Dominican Republic Santo Domingo (1981), the West Indies Mission [headquartered in Barbados until 1994 and relocated to Trinidad and Tobago] (1983), Haiti Port-au-Prince (1984), Jamaica Kingston (1985), Dominican Republic Santiago (1987), Mexico Mexico City East (1987), Mexico Mazatlan (1987) [relocated to Culiacan in 1995], Guatemala City North (1988), Mexico Chihuahua (1988), Mexico Tuxtla Gutierrez (1988), Mexico Puebla (1988), Mexico Tampico (1988), El Salvador San Salvador East [relocated to Santa Ana in 2011] (1989), Mexico Queretaro (1989) [relocated to Leon in 1992], Nicaragua Managua (1989), and Panama Panama City (1989).  In the 1990s, additional missions were organized in Honduras San Pedro Sula (1990), Mexico Oaxaca (1990), Mexico Tijuana (1990), Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East (1991), Trinidad and Tobago [discontinued in 1994] (1991), Mexico Monterrey South (1992), Guatemala City Central (1993), and Honduras Comayaguela (1997).  In the 2000s, additional missions were organized in Mexico Mexico City West (2001), Mexico Guadalajara South (2003) [renamed Guadalajara East Mission in 2009], Mexico Cuernavaca (2006), and Puerto Rico San Juan East [discontinued in 2010] (2007).  In the 2010s, additional missions were organized in Guatemala Retalhuleu (2010), Mexico Mexico City Northwest (2010), Mexico Villahermosa (2010), Nicaragua Managua (2010), Mexico Mexico City Southeast (2011), Mexico Puebla North (2012), and Mexico Xalapa (2012).  The number of missions in the region increased to 25 in 1987, 37 in 1993, 37 in 1997, 37 in 2000, 39 in 2005, and 47 in 2012. 

Most nations and territories in the region have no LDS missions and are administered by a mission based in another nation or territory.  In addition to Trinidad and Tobago, the West Indies Mission administered Anguilla, Barbados, French Guiana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Martinique, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Maarten, and Suriname in 2011.  At that time the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission administered Antigua and Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Monserrat, Saba, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and the United States Virgin Islands; the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission East Mission administered Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao; the Jamaica Kingston Mission administered the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Cuba, and the Turks and Caicos Islands; the New York New York South Mission administered Bermuda; and the El Salvador Santa Ana Mission administered Belize. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 2,046,035 (2010)

There were approximately 40,000 Latter-day Saints in Central America and the Caribbean in 1973.[19]  Membership reached 326,124 in 1983, 528,125 in 1987, 1.067 million in 1993, 1.291 million in 1997, 1.473 million in 2000, 1.731 million in 2005, and 2.046 million in 2010.  Between 2000 and 2010 LDS membership grew most rapidly in Guyana (384%), Suriname (182%), Guadeloupe (119%), and Nicaragua (107%) and grew the most slowly or declined in Puerto Rico (-11%), Costa Rica (23%), and Panama (25%).  Regional church membership increased by 39% between 2000 and 2010.  Among countries with a known LDS presence, LDS membership comprises the greatest portions of the population in El Salvador (one in 56), Honduras (one in 57), and Guatemala (one in 61) and smallest portions of the population in Cuba (one in 110,900) and Martinique (one in 1,959).  Of the 41 nations and territories in the region, only 15 had over 1,000 Latter-day Saints in 2010.  In 2010, one in 97 was nominally LDS.

Congregational Growth

Wards: 2,345 Branches: 1,089

There were 1,579 LDS congregations in Central America and the Caribbean in 1987.  The number of congregations increased to 2,366 in 1993, 2,783 in 1997, 3,171 in 2000, 3,290 in 2005, and 3,434 in May 2011. 

The first stake to be organized in Central America was the Colonia Juarez Mexico Stake in 1895 whereas the first stake to be organized in the Caribbean was the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Stake in 1986.  Other countries and territories which have stakes at present provided with the year the first stake was organized include Guatemala (1967), El Salvador (1973), Costa Rica (1977), Honduras (1977), Panama (1979), Puerto Rico (1980), Nicaragua (1981), Haiti (1997), and Trinidad and Tobago (2009).  There were ten stakes in Central America and the Caribbean in 1974.[20]  The number of stakes increased to 127 in 1987, 183 in 1993, 254 in 1997, 294 in 2000, 322 in 2005, and 345 in May 2011.  Provided with the number of new stakes organized, between 2000 and mid-2011 new stakes were organized in Mexico (44), the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua (8), and El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad and Tobago (1).  Since 2000, five stakes have been discontinued in Guatemala and Mexico (2) and the Dominican Republic (1).  There were 71 districts in Central America and the Caribbean in 1987.  The number of districts totaled 112 in 1993, 127 in 1997, 124 in 2000, 85 in 2005, and 99 in May 2011.

Activity and Retention

The number of active members per congregation varies widely from only a couple dozen in the smallest branches to over 200 in the largest wards.  Member activity and convert retention rates vary widely by country and subregion, with the highest member activity rates occurring in the Lesser Antilles (generally 30-50%) and the lowest member activity rates occurring in Central America (13-23%).  Member activity rates are varied in the Greater Antilles and range from 19% in Puerto Rico to 75% in Cuba.  Member activity rates range from 20-37% in the Guianas.  In Central America, Mexico (23%) and Belize (23%) are the nations which appear to have the highest member activity rates whereas Panama (13%), Nicaragua (16%), and Honduras (18%) appear to have the lowest member activity rates.  In the Caribbean, Cuba (75%), the Turks and Caicos Islands (75%), and Saint Lucia (70%) are the nations which appear to have the highest member activity rates whereas Curacao (20%) and the Bahamas (20%) appear to have the lowest member activity rates.  Past Mexican censuses have provided valuable data on member activity rates in Mexico.  In the 2000 census, only 205,229 persons identified as a Latter-day Saint,[21] just 23% of the number of members reported by the LDS Church at year-end 2000 whereas in the 2010 census, 314,932 persons identified as a Latter-day Saint,[22] or 25.5% of the number of members reported by the LDS Church at year-end 2010.  Active membership in Central America and the Caribbean is estimated at 440,000, or 22% of regional church membership.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Spanish, English, Haitian Creole, K'iche', Dutch, French, Kaqchikel, Mam, Q'eqchi', Maya, Tzotzil, Papiamento, Hindi

All LDS scriptures are available in Spanish, Haitian Creole, Dutch, French, and Q'eqchi'.  The Church recently translated an LDS version of the Bible into Spanish with full LDS footnotes, bible dictionary, and topical guide.  The Book of Mormon in full has been translated into Papiamento and Hindi.  Only select passages of the Book of Mormon have been translated into Kaqchikel, K'iche', Mam, Maya, Tzotzil, and Kuna.  Most church materials are available in Spanish, Haitian Creole, Dutch, and French whereas limited numbers of church materials are available in K'iche', Kaqchikel, Mam, Q'eqchi', Maya, Tzotzil, Papiamento, Hindi, Sranan, and Kuna. 

Meetinghouses

There are approximately 1,100 LDS meetinghouses in Central America and the Caribbean.  Most congregations in Central America and the Greater Antilles meet in church-built meetinghouses.  Many congregations in the Lesser Antilles meet in renovated buildings or rented spaces.  Smaller congregations throughout the region generally meet in renovated buildings or rented spaces. 

Health and Safety

In 1990, two full-time missionaries from the United States serving in Guatemala drowned in Lake Atitlan when their boat capsized.[23]  In 1993, the president of the Guatemala City North Mission and a mission counselor perished in a plane crash upon returning from a district conference in the remote Flores Guatemala District.[24]  Homicide rates in Central America are among the highest worldwide and present safety and security threat for LDS missionaries.  Illegal drug trafficking also poses safety concerns.

Humanitarian and Development Work

LDS humanitarian and development work has occurred in the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Dominica, the Dominica Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname,[25] and Trinidad and Tobago.[26]  Most projects have consisted of providing neonatal resuscitation training, completing clean water projects, teaching effective agricultural practices, and donating furniture, clothing, appliances, school supplies, hygiene kits, wheelchairs, clothing, emergency relief, children's toys, and medical equipment.  The Church has provided extensive, long-term assistance and development work in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The LDS Church experiences full religious freedom throughout Central America and the Caribbean to worship, proselyte, and assemble with the exception of Cuba.  Foreign missionaries serve regularly in all nations in which LDS missionaries are assigned with the exception of Cuba.  In Cuba, the government has not granted registration to the Church, but has given permission for some church activity.  Christian groups often openly proselyte in Cuba without government interference.  No legal restrictions appear to prevent the introduction of full-time missionaries to Cuba from Caribbean nations.  The LDS Church remains unregistered in only a handful of nations largely due to bureaucratic issues and pending changes in registration requirements such as in Saint Lucia.  Delays in obtaining visas to some nations in the region has interrupted planned departures for North American missionaries destined to several nations and territories. 

Cultural Issues

The high correlation of family and religious affiliation appears one of the greatest cultural obstacles encountered by LDS missionaries in the region.  Many Catholic families do not regularly attend mass or other religious meetings, which challenges full-time and local missionaries in their efforts to develop regular church attendance among former Catholic investigators and new LDS converts.  High underemployment rates in many areas are added stressors to families and create economic challenges for Latter-day Saints to faithfully pay tithing.  Many previously receptive individuals have been shepherded into other highly active Christian denominations, becoming less interested and willing to meet with missionaries, join the Church, and remain active.  Most of the church-going population is socially entrenched into their respective congregations, creating societal challenges for full-time missionaries to address when finding, teaching, baptizing, and retaining new converts.  Greater emphasis on local member-missionary efforts will be needed for overcome these issues and maintain self-sufficiency.   Poverty, few opportunities for education, low literacy rates, and challenges developing economic self-sufficiency in rural areas remain obstacles to long-term church growth in Central America and the Guianas.  The large range of cultures found in the southern Caribbean in Trinidad and Tobago and the Guianas complicates efforts to unify members in congregations, as converts come from a wide range of religious and social backgrounds.  Religious harmony typically prevails but segregation often occurs on a societal level.  Religious plurality among Christians has fostered church growth prospects for decades in the Caribbean, but increasing materialism and wealth attributed to the growth of the tourist and banking industries have decreased the devotion and activity of many Christians.  Latter-day Saints in some Caribbean nations receive greater prejudice and intolerance than other nontraditional Christian denominations, resulting in the marginalization of the Church and its members and dissuading many interested individuals from learning about the Church and meeting with missionaries. 

National Outreach

Central America and the Caribbean experience moderate levels of mission outreach as a whole as 54.5% of the regional population resides in a city or location with an LDS congregation.  75% or more of the population is reached by LDS mission outreach in the United States Virgin Islands, Curacao, Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Bonaire, and the Turks and Caicos Islands primarily due to the populations of most of these nations and territories concentrated in a single city.  Among these seven nations or territories, only three have more than one LDS congregation (the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas).  Sint Maarten, Saint Martin, Bermuda, and Cuba receive some of the most limited LDS mission outreach in the region as indicated by less than 20% of the population residing in cities with LDS congregations.  15 of the 41 nations or territories in the region have only one independent LDS congregation.  Territories which do not appear to receive LDS outreach at present all have fewer than 20,000 inhabitants and include Anguilla, Monserrat, Saba, and Saint Barthelemy. 

For countries with over one million inhabitants there is a correlation between the number of inhabitants in a country and the percentage of the population reached by LDS mission outreach as the larger the population, the higher percentage of the population residing in cities with LDS congregations.   This finding suggests that the LDS Church has devoted greater mission resources to more populous nations such as Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras than nations with smaller populations such as Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. This trend does not hold true for Cuba, Haiti, and Puerto Rico as Cuba and Haiti receive limited LDS outreach due to political, governmental, and societal conditions whereas Puerto Rico has a highly urbanized population thereby maximizing LDS outreach with a smaller number of congregations.  The correlation between the size of the population and the percentage reached by LDS outreach becomes less apparent for nations and territories with fewer than one million inhabitants as geographic size, the percent of the population residing in urban locations, and receptivity are better predictors for the allocation of LDS outreach resources than the nominal number of inhabitants in a given nation or territory.  The LDS Church has better appropriated mission outreach resources to needs and population sizes in Central America and the Caribbean than in most regions in the world.  This is evident in Mexico, the most populous nation in the region, accounting for 57% of the regional population and 24 of the 45 missions (53%) in the region and Guatemala, the second most populous nation in the region, accounting for 7% of the regional population and 11% of the missions in the region. 

Opportunities for expanding national outreach appear most favorable in Mexico and Central America due to high receptivity, large populations, self-sufficient full-time missionary forces, and established LDS outreach centers in many administrative divisions in these nations.  Vast areas of Mexico have no LDS congregations and have no LDS missionaries assigned as over 68 million Mexicans reside outside of cities with LDS congregations (34% of the regional population).  Most of the unreached Mexican population resides in cities with fewer than 40,000 inhabitants or in rural areas.  The LDS Church has faced logistical challenges in expanding national outreach with full-time missionaries to rural areas throughout Central America and the Caribbean due to small populations spread over large geographical areas located far from the nearest LDS outreach center.  Opening many small cities and towns in Caribbean island nations and territories is impractical for the LDS Church due to limited receptivity, stagnant numbers of full-time missionaries serving worldwide in an era of increasing opportunities for outreach, and the tendency of LDS congregations overstaffed with full-time missionaries to become dependent on foreign missionaries for administrative and missionary duties.  Many island nations or territories with small populations of less than 200,000 such as Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Turks and Caicos Islands nonetheless hold meaningful opportunities for the Church to expand outreach and achieve noticeable, real growth if proselytism and church planting  are appropriately and carefully approached.  Holding cottage meetings and encouraging member-missionary proselytism activities and programs appear the most effective methods to expand outreach in Caribbean nations with fewer than one million inhabitants as they require few full-time missionary resources and develop greater local members self sufficiency.

LDS internet resources are limited in the region and are concentrated among Central American nations and nations and territories with larger populations.  Utilizing social networking sites on a local congregational level for larger nations and a national or island level for less-population islands may enhance efforts to expand national outreach in coordination with missionary efforts centered on involvement of local members in the finding, teaching, and fellowshipping process.  

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Low member activity and convert retention rates have occurred principally from inconsistent convert baptismal standards that often vary from mission president to mission president and have historically focused on meeting arbitrary baptismal quotas by providing minimal pre-baptismal teaching and inadequate or nonexistent fellowshipping and support following baptism.  Consequently indicators of real church growth and member activity have exhibited little improvement over the past two decades as most converts have not been retained.  Membership growth far outpaced congregational growth between 1987 and 2010, indicating poor convert retention and a shortage of capable local priesthood holders as the average number of members per congregation nearly doubled during a 23-year period from 334 to 597.  If the average number of members per congregation for the region were 334 in 2010, there would be an additional 2,700 LDS congregations operating in Central America and the Caribbean in 2010.  Congregational decline occurred between 2000 and early 2011 in Guatemala (-35), Panama (-32), Puerto Rico (-11), Belize (-3), Costa Rica (-1), and French Guiana (-1) primarily as a result of member activity issues.  Additional factors which have worsened member activity and convert retention rates in nations and territories in the region include the emigration of active members and leaders, increasing secularism, counter-proselytism efforts, cultural influences encouraging limited individual participation in organized religion, and poorly adapted LDS teaching approaches to cultural conditions. 

Requiring or strongly encouraging youth and young adult converts to enroll and attend seminary and institute classes to be baptized could significantly improve long-term convert retention rates for the LDS Church in the region as seminary and institute provide additional doctrinal instruction, teach self-sufficient gospel study and learning skills, and provide socialization opportunities.  LDS mission leadership in some nations or territories in the region have focused on seminary and institute outreach and appear to have achieved higher member activity and convert retention rates compared to other nations and territories in which the efforts of mission and local leaders have been less coordinated or nonexistent. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Many nations in Central America and the Caribbean experience considerable friction between Mestizos, blacks, or East Indians and indigenous Amerindian peoples although missionaries report few challenges at church.  Guatemala experiences considerable friction between Mestizos and indigenous peoples.  However, geography generally separates these groups and reduces conflict in everyday living.  Areas along the peripheries of larger cities in Guatemala are likely most prone to these issues affecting missionary work and member activity, as both Mestizos and indigenous peoples may interact and attend the same congregations.  In the Guianas, Amerindian peoples are generally isolated in interior regions and have little contact with other ethnic groups, reducing potential conflict.  East Indians, blacks, and whites socially segregate themselves in many Caribbean nations due to differences in religion and culture, reducing conflict but creating challenges for Latter-day Saints from differing ethnic groups to assimilate into the same congregations.  Socio-economic differences among members appears the greatest challenge for integrating members into a single congregation in the region. 

Language Issues

As many as 95% of the regional population has LDS materials translated into their native language, one of the highest percentages in the world.  The widespread use of Spanish, English, French, and Dutch has facilitated LDS proselytism efforts once a church presence has been established in nations and territories throughout the region.  Efforts to speedily translate LDS materials into Amerindian languages in Guatemala and areas of Mexico has also contributed to the excellent capability and mobilization of LDS language and mission resources.  Consisted and coordinated efforts to reach speakers of Amerindian languages has been primarily limited to Guatemala however.  Several Amerindian languages without LDS materials at present merit the translation of LDS scriptures and materials due to sizeable numbers of speakers as well as Latter-day Saints who speak these languages.  Nahuatl, Mixtec, Zapotec, Tzeltal, and Miskito appear to be in the greatest need of translations of LDS materials.  With the exception of Haitian Creole and Papiamento, no Creole languages in the Caribbean have LDS materials translated.  Prospects for translating materials and scriptures into additional Creole languages is poor due to the fluency of many in standard English and French and the informal use of these languages in daily life. 

Missionary Service

Local full-time missionary manpower in Central America is among the most self sufficient outside of North America and Oceania largely due to high receptivity of the LDS Church in the region and focus on missionary preparation classes and programs for youth and young adults.  Two missionary training centers operate in Central America in Guatemala City, Guatemala and Mexico City, Mexico providing additional long-term support and administration for newly called missionaries.  The Central America Area leadership indicated that the Central America Area became potentially self-sustaining in its full-time missionary force in late 2009.  North American missionaries nonetheless serve in large numbers and often account between a quarter and a half of the total missionary force.  Central American missionaries regularly serve in South America.  In Mexico, approximately two-thirds of the full-time missionary force is staffed by local members, with most of the remainder filled by North Americans.  The Mexico Missionary Training Center receives only local missionaries, which usually number over 100 at a time.  In the past decade, Mexico appears to have increased self-sustainability in supplying full-time missionaries.  Despite self sufficiency or close to self-sufficiency in local members meeting missionary needs, the percentage of youth and young adult Latter-day Saints serving missions is a small percentage.  Increasing the number of members serving full-time missions would provide for greater availability in missionary manpower to open additional areas and cities to missionary work which at present are unable to open due to insufficient numbers of missionaries serving in the field.

In the Caribbean, LDS missionary manpower relies on outsourced foreign missionaries to staff local missions despite few LDS missions in the region.  There is one missionary training center in the Caribbean in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and the Dominican Republic and Haiti appear to be the only nations which are self-sufficient in meeting their full-time missionary needs with local members.  By October 2009 the number of Dominicans serving full-time missionaries had increased to about 500, close to the size of the missionary force in the Dominican Republic.  There were 74 Haitian members serving full-time missionaries in Haiti in early 2010.  The number of youth in Trinidad and Tobago serving missions has steadily increased in recent years and has potential to provide for greater numbers of prepared local leadership in the years to come as returned missionaries remain in their home country.  Many Caribbean nations have had only a handful of local members serve missions if any at all.  For example, Saint Lucia had never had a local member serve a full-time mission as of late 2008.

Leadership

Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Puerto Rico have supplied regional and international church leadership for a couple decades or more.  Dozens of Mexican Latter-day Saints have served as mission presidents, regional representatives, area seventies, temple presidents, and general authorities.  Fewer numbers of local members have served in regional or international church leadership positions from Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica and only a couple local members have served in these positions from other nations and territories in the region largely due to the small number of members. 

The Church in Central America and the Caribbean appears self-sufficient in supplying administrative and ecclesiastical leadership on a regional level although low member activity rates and few active male members prevent greater sustainability and self sufficiency in nearly all nations and territories in the region.  Inadequate numbers of active male members with the priesthood prevent the maturation of many groups and dependent branches into independent congregations.  Full-time missionaries in some Central American nations report that there must be 10 active priesthood holders for a group to become a branch.  Establishing groups prior to branches has provided a more flexible approach to developing additional native leadership that depends less strongly on full-time missionaries for administrative duties.  Inadequate numbers of active priesthood holders in many districts in Central America and the Caribbean where there are sizeable Latter-day Saint populations has prevented the establishment of stakes.  Additional congregations often cannot be organized within the largest cities due to leadership development challenges.  These issues have been less severe than in South America as only five stakes have been discontinued since 2000 compared to approximately 50 in South America, but ongoing leadership challenges threaten additional stake consolidations in some areas such as Guatemala City. 

Temple

The Mexico City Mexico Temple was the first LDS temple constructed in Central America and was completed in 1983 to service members throughout the region.  Additional temples were constructed in Guatemala City Guatemala (1984), Colonia Juarez Chihuahua Mexico (1999), Ciudad Juarez Mexico (2000), Hermosillo Mexico (2000), Oaxaca Mexico (2000), Tuxtla Gutierrez Mexico (2000), Tampico Mexico (2000), Villahermosa Mexico (2000), San Jose Costa Rica (2000), Merida Mexico (2000), Veracruz Mexico (2000), Santo Domingo Dominican Republic (2000), Guadalajara Mexico (2001), Monterrey Mexico (2002), Panama City Panama (2008), San Salvador El Salvador (2011), and Quetzaltenango Guatemala (2011).  In mid-2011, the Tegucigalpa Honduras Temple was under construction and the Tijuana Mexico Temple was still in the planning stages.  The number of operating temples increased from two in 1985 to 13 in 2000 and 16 in 2010.  Temples in Mexico City, Guatemala City, and Santo Domingo appear the most utilized as evidenced by endowment sessions scheduled every hour or half hour on Saturdays and between seven and thirteen sessions on weekdays in 2011.  The remaining eleven Mexican temples generally operate far below capacity, schedule only a few endowment sessions on weekdays, and are only moderately attended on Saturdays.  Temples in Costa Rica and Panama are poorly attended although the number of endowment sessions scheduled at the San Jose Costa Rica Temple have increased in recent years suggesting that temple attendance has improved.  Prospects appear favorable for the construction of additional temples in the region over the short, medium, and long terms.  Several cities in Mexico appear likely candidates for future LDS temples in the near future such as Puebla and Cuantla or Cuernavaca as the Mexico City Mexico Temple is well utilized and these cities have sizeable LDS populations.  Other Mexican cities such as Coatzacoalcos, Juchitan, and Culiacan appear likely candidates for prospective LDS temples over the medium or long term as they pertain to temple districts in which the temple is underutilized but are located a significant distance away from the closest temple and have sizeable LDS populations.  Managua Nicaragua appears highly likely to have an LDS temple constructed in the near future.  Over the medium and long term additional temples may be constructed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.  

Comparative Growth

Central America and the Caribbean supports one of the largest LDS populations in the world and overall experiences moderately high rates of LDS mission outreach which is less than Oceania and South America but higher than other world regions.  Member activity rates as a region are low and comparable to South America and East Asia.  The duration of an LDS presence in Central America has been slightly longer than most world regions whereas the duration of an LDS presence in the Caribbean has been among the shortest compared to other world regions.  The LDS Church in Central America is one of the few world regions which is self-sufficient in staffing its regional missionary force whereas the local full-time missionary force is only partially sufficient in the Caribbean.  The region as a whole supplies sufficient regional leadership manpower that is comparable to most world regions but like other world regions often lacks a sufficient number of local leaders to organize additional congregations and expand national outreach.  Congregational and membership growth rates have outpaced most world regions but lag behind sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.     

Other missionary-minded Christian groups have reported greater growth than the LDS Church in the region and higher member activity and convert retention rates.  In 2010, Seventh Day Adventists reported 800,000 more members than the LDS Church and operate more than twice as many congregations as Latter-day Saints.  Jehovah's Witnesses report half as many members as Latter-day Saint but maintain five times as many congregations.  Pentecostals, evangelicals, and Adventists claim substantial numbers of adherents in the Lesser Antilles and the Guianas, often numbering among the largest Christian denominations.  Most Christian groups have operated in the Caribbean for decades longer than the LDS Church, have self-sufficient local leadership, and operate a large number of congregations to service tiny island populations whereas most Christian groups have operated in Central America for as long as Latter-day Saints but have extended more penetrating outreach and have achieved higher convert retention for decades longer than the LDS Church. 

Future Prospects

Improving prospects for future LDS Church growth in Central America and the Caribbean will be strongly linked to outreach efforts emphasizing member-missionary work to reduce dependence on full-time missionaries for finding and fellowshipping, improving consistency in convert baptismal standards to safeguard against convert attrition, sustaining self-sufficiency of local missionary forces in Central America, continuing focus on expanding seminary and institute outreach, and adapting LDS teaching approaches to nominal Catholics and church-going Protestants.  Secularism in some areas of the Caribbean, nominalism in the Catholic Church in Central America, low living standards in many locations, and high crime rates pose ongoing challenges for church growth.  Due to their large populations and sizeable numbers of Latter-day Saints, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador will strongly influence LDS growth trends in the region as each nation has at least five million inhabitants and 100,000 nominal Latter-day Saints.  Increasing the stability of the Church over the long term in these nations will require greater resources which encourage members to remain in their home countries and marry within the Church.  Establishing church schools and universities in Mexico, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic deserves serious consideration by regional and international church leadership to meet this objective.  Nations and territories will fewer than one million inhabitants will likely experience no noticeable expansion of LDS outreach in the coming years unless the number of full-time missionaries assigned to these nations and territories increases commensurately with the opening of additional congregations, greater self-sustainability from local leadership is achieved, and augmentation of the number of local members serving full-time missions occurs.  The first stakes may be organized in Guyana, Jamaica, and Belize within the next decade and the creation of additional LDS missions appears most likely in Mexico and Central America.  A separate mission for the Guianas may be forthcoming in the coming years due to the high administrative burden placed on the West Indies Mission.  The first full-time missionaries from Latin America and the Caribbean may be assigned to Cuba in the foreseeable future.  Several districts in nations with LDS stakes may become stakes in the coming years once they reach the threshold of 120 active, tithe-paying Melchizedek Priesthood holders; nearly all districts which may become stakes are located in Central America and the Dominican Republic.  Districts may be organized on some Caribbean islands once at least three, self-sufficient branches are organized.  The translation of some LDS materials in Amerindian languages without LDS materials may be forthcoming, especially for Miskito and Nahuatl.   


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