COVID-19 status report for El Salvador

I haven't written a post about the progression of COVID-19 in El Salvador in several weeks.  That was the product of COVID fatigue, of numbness to the continuing battles between political players in El Salvador (and elsewhere in the world for that matter), and because it was hard to know with any certainty which way things were headed.It still is not any easier to know the future course of this pandemic in El Salvador and elsewhere in the Americas, but here is an update of where it stands today.The official Salvadoran government statistics for new COVID cases portray a dramatic drop off in the disease since peaking at 449 new cases in a day on August 9.   Over the next three weeks, the official daily new case totals showed a decline of more then 80%, such that cases in the first two weeks of September have been running between 80 and 100 per day.
The government's tally of persons in moderate, grave or critical condition, which is a measure of hospital demand, dropped from 4701 …

Spanish court rules in Jesuit massacre case.

The court in Spain which heard the case of the 1989 Jesuit massacre, issued its ruling today, more than 30 years after Salvadoran troops killed six Jesuit priests, their co-worker and her daughter.  The court has been trying ex-Salvadoran vice minister of security Inocente Orlando Montano for his involvement as part of the military high command in giving the orders and subsequently covering up the massacre.  The judges of the court unanimously found Montano guilty of being one of the persons who directed the massacre.   He was sentenced to 26 years in prison for each of the 5 Jesuit priests who were Spaniards.As Almudena Bernabéu, the Spanish human rights lawyer who helped build the case against Montano and get him extradited from the US, was quoted in The Guardian saying: “It’s not just a crime that happened 30 years ago, it’s about what impunity really means.”    
Montano was the only defendant in Spain because the Supreme Judicial Court of El Salvador has continuously protected the …

How El Salvador deals with gangs

This article originally appeared on the website of InsightCrime with the title 3 Dirty Secrets Revealed by the El Salvador Gang ‘Negotiations’
By Steven Dudley

The El Faro media group reported that the El Salvador government is “negotiating” with street gangs to keep homicide levels low, which may come as a surprise to most except other politicians, who also negotiate with gangs.

The report – which was published on September 3 and is based on jailhouse intelligence reports, prison logbooks and interviews – says the administration of President Nayib Bukele has been engaged in talks with the gangs inside prisons since at least October 2019.

Specifically, the logbooks note 12 visits by Osiris Luna, El Salvador’s director of prisons, to two prisons where he met with gang leaders, mostly from the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS13) but also from the Barrio 18 Sureños. On three occasions, he was accompanied by Carlos Marroquín, the head of the government’s Social Fabric Reconstruction Unit (Unidad de Re…

Bukele team has been negotiating with gangs in prison reports El Faro

On September 3, the online periodical El Faro published an investigation revealing how the government of Nayib Bukele has been negotiating with leaders of MS-13 within the country's prisons.   The article, written by journalists Carlos Martínez, Óscar Martínez, Sergio Arauz and Efren Lemus  is titled Bukele's government has been negotiating with the MS-13 for a year to reduce homicides and electoral support and relies on hundreds of pages of leaked internal documents from the Salvadoran prison system.The title of the article tells you most of what you need to know.   Starting in 2019 after Bukele took office and continuing to the present, representatives from Bukele's administration, headed by the director of prisons, Osiris Luna, have reportedly been negotiating with gang leaders.An English translation of the report is being produced, but the El Faro English newsletter summarized some of the investigation:Through months of negotiations, Bukele’s administration got the inf…

Schooling in times of COVID

Since the middle of March, schools at all levels in El Salvador have not had in-person classroom learning in order to avoid the spread of the coronavirus in the country.  This will continue for months more as the Ministry of Education has announced that public schools will not have resume in person during this calendar year.  In a country where internet access is not universal, and where most people access any online content only over cell phones, the switch to virtual learning has been a challenge.   A recent article from FocosTV reported that only 1 in 10 Salvadoran households have an internet-connected computer according to government statistics, but 9 of 10 have a cellphone which they now use for access to schooling.Faced with this reality, most public school interaction between teachers and students occurs through WhatsApp, the widely used smartphone app.  25,000 teachers across El Salvador are using the chat application in order to communicate lessons and interact with their stu…

So much corruption

El Salvador's attorney general has announced several corruption-related prosecutions in recent weeks relating to officials in past governments of El Salvador.   So far, the attorney general has not been seen acting on reports of potential corruption in the current government of president Nayib Bukele.   And Bukele has rejected attempts to require greater transparency over his government's use of public dollars. One case involves the Chaparral dam currently under construction.  This is a major hydro-electric project originally contracted in 2008 during the administration of president Tony Saca which was controversial from the beginning.   The attorney general's office announced corruption and money laundering charges against former president Mauricio Funes, currently in exile in Nicaragua after fleeing other corruption charges, against José Miguel Antonio Menéndez Avelar, known as "Mecafé" and other individuals.   The corruption claim arises out of a contract disp…

The ongoing homicide reduction in El Salvador

This article originally appeared on the website of InsightCrime on August 13, 2020 with the headline Homicide Drop in El Salvador: Presidential Triumph or Gang Trend?
Written by Seth Robbins and Héctor Silva Ávalos

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele has credited his crime-fighting plan for a 60 percent drop in homicides this year. But the country’s violent street gangs deserve some — if not more — of the credit.

Between January and July 2020, El Salvador logged 697 murders, or about three a day, El Mundo reported. The tally is a massive drop from the 1,630 killings that occurred during the same period in 2019, a year that saw El Salvador reach one of its lowest murder rates in recent history.

On Twitter, Bukele continually mentions the plunge in murders, touting his Territorial Control Plan, which deployed more than 5,000 police and soldiers to gang strongholds just over a year ago.

“El Salvador Lives Another Day Without Homicides,” he posted on July 22, alongside an image of armed soldie…