US security aid to El Salvador shows few results

The New York Times has an extensive article today on US involvement in the battle against gangs in El Salvador titled A Conflicted War: MS-13, Trump and America’s Stake in El Salvador’s Security.  The article describes recent US security aid: The United States has stepped up its engagement in the country over the last two years, dedicating hundreds of millions of dollars and dozens of law enforcement and military personnel to fighting the violent gangs that send so many Salvadorans fleeing to the American border. The goal is to create a self-sufficient Salvadoran justice system. But the consequences of the effort are difficult to assess.  American advisers are training the police officers who arrest gang members. American dollars are building the prisons that hold them. At an American facility in San Salvador, detectives are learning how to investigate crimes. It is part of a plan to send $750 million into Central America’s violent Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and Hondu…

El Mozote massacre trial

Next week will mark the 37th anniversary of the massacre of children and others at El Mozote and surrounding communities.  From December 10-12, 1981, US-trained forces of the Salvadoran military massacred close to 1000 civilians in and around El Mozote in Morazan department in northeastern El Salvador.  In this atrocity, more than half of the victims were children and 477 were age 12 and under.

Commencing in October 2016, there is finally a legal proceeding in a court in El Salvador which seeks to provide justice for the victims.  The process in the case is slow but steady.
This past year more victims got to tell their stories in the court room.   Expert forensic anthropologists from Argentina testified concerning the actions of the perpetrators revealed by the recovery of hundreds of massacred bodies.

This is also a year in which the military continued to stonewall and claim that it has no records concerning the events of December 1981.

In a blog post for the European Journal of Inter…

Remembering North American churchwomen

Sunday, December 2, marked the 38th anniversary of the 1980 murder of the four US churchwomen by Salvadoran troops in El Salvador.  Their murder marked another atrocity from a bloody year which earlier saw Oscar Romero assassinated and in which thousands of civilians were killed by the military and death squads.  While there is some movement towards a legal proceeding after the reopening of the Romero assassination case, those responsible for ordering the murder of the churchwomen have never been prosecuted.   

I have been remiss on this blog in not earlier pointing readers to Eileen Markey's excellent biography of Sister Maura Clarke titled A Radical Faith: The Assassination of Sister Maura.   In this biography, Markey offers us an intimate look at the faith and conviction which led a young woman from Queens, New York, to take religious vows and eventually immerse herself in the struggles of oppressed peoples in Nicaragua and then El Salvador.   She became a martyr for her faith…

Military found guilty of "disappearing" Salvadoran youth in 2014

There was progress against impunity in El Salvador this week as a court handed down sentences against soldiers involved in "disappearing" three youth in the town of Armenia, El Salvador.

The events in the case took place in February 2014 and arose from the military's role in patrolling El Salvador in support of the police in battling the country's gangs.  A group of youth were talking in front of their houses in the municipality of Armenia. Six or seven soldiers on patrol approached the group and at gunpoint forced five of the boys to accompany the soldiers.  They were taken from a zone controlled by the Barrio 18 gang to a zone controlled by MS-13.   Two of the youth were released, and they went off to wait for their three remaining friends.  Their friends never appeared, and to this date have never been seen again.

Parents of the youth, including one father who was a member of the police, immediately began questioning the military, petitioning the police, prosecuto…

Black Friday

Call me crazy, but I am completely annoyed by the arrival of "Black Friday" in El Salvador.   Starting a few years ago and exploding this year, Black Friday (or Black November or Black weekend) is all over the retail shopping space in El Salvador.
After all, this shopping day originated in the US as the day after Thanksgiving, a holiday which does not exist in El Salvador.   Only the English word "black" is used to describe the sales.  In El Salvador Black Friday is purely a copycat marketing event of an equally annoying US marketing event.  
There is a Wikipedia article on Black Friday which offers more information than anyone would care to know about this marketing event.   According to Wikipedia, Black Friday has increasingly been adopted by retailers across the world since 2010, with the shopping date recognized from Romania and Latvia to New Zealand.  Just an example of the growing homogenization of global consumer culture.  

Justice system developments

El Salvador finally has a functioning Supreme Judicial Court once again.  At the end of last week, the parties in the National Assembly reached agreement and elected four new magistrates to the court's Constitutional Chamber and one new magistrate to the Civil Chamber.  Apparently the breakthrough occurred when the FMLN and GANA stopped insisting on Sonia Cortez' appointment to the Constitutional Chamber and instead she will be a back-up magistrate ("magistrado suplente").  This ends a four month delay after the date the court was supposed to be filled.

El Salvador will wait to see what kind of court the new Constitutional Chamber will be. The preceding court was an independent voice with decisions rewriting how legislators are elected and challenging impunity.     The outgoing magistrates overturned the postwar amnesty law and often blocked initiatives of the current FMLN government.

Now attention turns to selection of the country's next attorney general ("…

Leaving the gang and finding God

On  this blog I have written several times about the complicated relationship between evangelical churches and El Salvador's gangs, including the fact that religious conversion is one of the only ways that gangs may permit a pandillero to leave active participation in the gang. (My posts included God and the GangsLeaving gang life for church, and  Gang member conversions).  Important insights into the role of religion in the gangs was provided by the 2017 report The New Face of Street Gangs in Central America, led by José Miguel Cruz, Ph.D of Florida International University. 

Two new articles in The New Republic and The Intercept offer additional insights into the complicated intersection of evangelical Christianity and the life of a gang member.

In her article in The New Republic titled Can Megachurches Save El Salvador?, Molly O'Toole takes a broad look at gangs in El Salvador and whether churches have, or can have, a role in addressing the gang problem.  Her article appr…