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Ignoring transitional justice in El Salvador

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During this week, El Salvador asked itself the question -- how does a country engage in post-conflict transitional justice, twenty-five years after the conflict ended with a peace agreement?   The answer from politicians seems to be -- we don't know and we don't really want to think about it.

One year ago, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court (the "Sala") nullified the 1993 Amnesty Law.    That law had been quickly passed after a UN Truth Commission Report extensively reported on crimes against humanity committed during the war, and named the persons responsible.   The Amnesty Law meant 23 years with the doors of justice closed to the victims of those atrocities.

Then last year, the Amnesty Law went away, and the doors to justice were no longer locked.    But would anyone now open those doors to the victims?   In particular, would state prosecutors from the attorney general's office (the "FGR")  and the country's j…

El Salvador to prosecute guerrillas who executed US soldiers in 1991

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For the first time since the nullification of the 1993 amnesty law, the office of the attorney general in El Salvador has sought arrest warrants for figures involved in a crime committed during the war.   But it is not one of the infamous massacres by members of the Salvadoran armed forces.   Instead, the arrest is sought of three guerrilla fighters who participated in downing a US helicopter in 1991 and killing two defenseless, wounded US soldiers.  

 The event was investigated and described in the UN Truth Commission Report following the war:
On 2 January 1991, a United States helicopter gunship was shot down by an FMLN patrol in San Francisco canton, Lolotique district, Department of San Miguel, while flying at low altitude towards its base at Soto Cano, Honduras. The pilot, Daniel F. Scott, was killed and in the crash and Lt. Colonel David H. Pickett and Corporal Earnest G. Dawson were wounded; all were United States nationals.  Members of the patrol approached the helicopter and …

El Salvador legislature weakens law against corruption

On Tuesday, El Salvador's National Assembly passed revisions to an asset forfeiture law passed overwhelmingly only three years earlier.  The asset forfeiture law (Ley de Extinción de Dominio) allows prosecutors to seize assets of persons suspected of drug trafficking, corruption, terrorism or other crimes when those assets were the fruits of illicit activities.   The law is a tool against organized crime and corruption and is a required part of international covenants to which El Salvador is a party.   The measures passed on Tuesday weaken that law, especially for persons accused of corruption, and make it more difficult for prosecutors to seize wealth accumulated through abuse of political office.

The law was passed with 44 votes in the National Assembly, led by the governing left-wing FMLN.  Passage of the law was fraught with conflicts of interest. One legislator from the right wing ARENA party gave her vote in favor, to provide the one vote majority for passage.  The husband o…

No amnesty, but no progress

One year ago, El Salvador's Supreme Court nullified a 1993 Amnesty Law which provided immunity from prosecution for persons who had committed massacres and atrocities during El Salvador's Civil war.  Since that time, however, there has been little attempt in El Salvador to have civil war atrocities tried in the country's court system.   So the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Judicial Court has scheduled a public hearing on Wednesday, July 19, to review compliance with the court's determination that there should be progress on crimes against humanity:
The purpose of said hearing is that the heads of the Legislative Branch, Executive Branch and Attorney General of the Republic describe and take responsibility for the decisions and actions taken to comply with the judgment.  The Chamber decided that compliance with the judgment required supplementary legislation for a genuine democratic transition with respect for human dignity and fundamental rights of victims, esp…

A very old Salvadoran

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The BBC and Univision carried the news this week of the birthday of Juan Pablo Villalobos, who was celebrated his 116th birthday on June 26.    Villalobos carries a passport showing his date of birth of June 26, 1901 in San Miguel.

Villalobos says he has 39 children and so many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren that he does not know them all. He told the BBC that he attributes his long life to the help of God.

The Gerontology Research Group compiles a list of the oldest living humans.   If Villalobos' date of birth were verified and he was added to the list, he would be the 4th oldest living human and the oldest living man.

You can watch a video and interview of this happy "supercentenarian" here.








The fire at the Finance Ministry

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One week ago, on July 7, a fire burned through several floors of one office building tower which houses El Salvador's Finance Ministry.  

The video and images from the fire were dramatic.  Several people jumped from windows trying to escape the smoke and flames.   Others were rescued by heroic actions of firemen or by a helicopter of the armed forces which plucked them from the roof.

According to reports, one person died and more than 20 were injured:
A 57-year-old woman died, emergency services chief Jorge Melendez said, while another woman, who officials had previously said was dead, was resuscitated in hospital and remains in serious condition.  Earlier, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, El Salvador's President, had said two people died, with 22 people injured.  Melendez said the cause of the fire was not known. Other reports, unconfirmed, had circulated suggesting that the fire was caused by an electrical short in an air conditioner.

Following the blaze, unions for workers in the b…

The media message in El Salvador

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Two news stories highlighted challenges to freedom of expression in El Salvador.   One story involves a new law proposed in El Salvador's legislature.   The violence prevention bill calls on the media to "self-censor" itself to avoid violent images and promote a culture of peace.   From the Financial Times:
The government of El Salvador, led by President Sánchez Céren, has presented a bill to Congress saying the media “should contribute to the promotion of the prevention of violence, tolerance and the culture of peace . . . by seeking the ethical self-regulation of information and non-violent content”.   The Law on the National System for the Prevention of Violence immediately drew scorn from media outlets, that accused the government of seeking “control”....  The administration, however, says it is not seeking censorship.  The bill “contains no sanction on the media but simply talks of self-regulation”, the justice and security ministry tweeted after the bill was presen…