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Showing posts from September, 2017

Commission to search for those still missing from Salvadoran civil war

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Earlier this week, El Salvador launched a commission to search for the thousands of persons still missing from the years of the country's civil war.   Twenty-five years after the war ended, there will be an actual government effort to help identify the whereabouts of people who disappeared during the war.   Presumably most were killed during the war, but their bodies never recovered.
Massachusetts Congressman James McGovern, a longtime friend of El Salvador, issued a statement including:
I commend President Sánchez Cerén, the Government of El Salvador and the Salvadoran people for working together to establish the National Commission to Search for Disappeared Persons in the context of El Salvador’s armed conflict (Comisión Nacional de Búsqueda de Personas Desaparecidas en el contexto del conflicto armado en El Salvador/CONABUSQUEDA)....  I firmly believe that the establishment of this National Commission will play an important role in the effort to address El Salvador’s collectiv…

Preparing for 2018 elections

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There are 159 days to go until the March 4, 2018 national elections in El Salvador when the population goes to the polls to elect all the country's mayors and members of its national legislature.  Election authorities hope that these elections run smoother than the last elections in 2015. The election process for deputies to the National Assembly in 2015 was an epic failure.    For weeks, the final results were unknown and eventually there was a recount ordered by the country's Supreme Court.     
The problems related to the complexity of the ballots.  Here was the 2015 ballot for deputies in San Salvador.    


Valid ways to vote include voting for all the candidates of a party, some of the candidates, a mixture of candidates from different parties, and for independent candidates.   The candidates were all running against each other for 24 at-large seats.   It was the first election in which voters could vote for candidates in more than one party, and it produced great confusi…

It's complicated

Many times when people ask me to answer a question about El Salvador, I start by saying,  "Well, it's complicated."   A perfect example of that is the story of  Dany Balmore Romero García.   Dany Romero was arrested last year as part of Operation Check,    He was reputed to be a former MS-13 gang member turned human rights activist, and many protested his arrest at that time.   Yet wiretaps leaked to El Faro, suggested that Romero had not left his gang involvement behind him, leaving me to write a post titled "Who to Believe?"

A preliminary hearing in the Operation Check case commenced today for almost a hundred defendants from MS-13 including Dany Romero.    We may learn more from the two weeks of testimony expected to be presented. In the meantime, Nicholas Phillips has written a thorough portrayal of Dany Romero and all the complexities of his life which was published at Insight Crime with the title  The Allegory of El Salvador’s ‘Dany Boy’: MS13 Gang Leader…

El Salvador sees a 600% increase in murders of police and soldiers

During 2017, El Salvador has seen a dramatic increase in the killing of members of the police and armed forces.   Through September 23, there have been 29 police agents killed, 13 members of the armed forces, and 2 prison guards, according to statistics from Justice and Security Minister, Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde.   This is a dramatic 600% increase from 2016, when only 4 police and three soldiers had been killed through the end of August.  The numbers do not include family members of police and soldiers who have also been targeted.   The surge in killings of security force members comes at a time when the overall homicide rate has been cut almost in half.

These killings have lead to calls from the PDDH and others for greater protection for elements of the police and armed forces.  

The murders are almost certainly committed primarily by gangs in the country and could represent reprisals in response to the harsh tactics implemented by the government as part of its "exceptional …

Victims testify in El Mozote massacre case

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For the first time since the 1993 Amnesty Law shut down all attempts at justice in El Salvador for war crimes, victims testified in a Salvadoran court in the case of the 1981 massacres at El Mozote and the surrounding communities.  On Thursday and Friday, four witnesses took the stand to describe the horror of the massacre committed by Salvadoran armed forces.   The defendant military officers did not show up to hear the victims' testimony.

This is not the first time these victim witnesses have given statements.   All of them had given statements in this case between 1990 and 1992, before the case was "archived" as a result of the passage of the Amnesty Law in 1993.   Their testimony is summarized in findings from the InterAmerican Commission for Human Rights and from the subsequent judgment of the InterAmerican Court for Human Rights.

This week's witnesses were (along with summaries from the InterAmerican court processes):

Eustaquio Martínez Vigil, who lost seven c…

El Mozote case continues

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The legal proceedings in the case to hold former military commanders responsible for the 1981 massacre at El Mozote and surrounding villages will continue Thursday and Friday of this week.  New witnesses will be testifying in front of a judge in a courtroom in San Francisco Gotera, Morazan about the events more than 36 years ago.   Their testimony will be added to testimony from other witnesses taken originally in the case before it was shut down by the 1993 amnesty law.

Lawyers representing the victims, who are pushing the case forward, held a press conference earlier in the week to denounce yet again the lack of action by the attorney general in the case and the military's failure to provide any records or information about the historical events.   The victims see an attempt to delay and obfuscate on the part of the defendants:
However, lawyers of Tutela Legal stressed that military authorities of the time cannot claim ignorance due to the high rank they held, including former …

Government makes public show of security measures

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At the same time that journalists and human rights groups are denouncing the problem of extra-judicial killings by security forces in El Salvador, the government is increasing even more its iron fist approach to law enforcement.

The government has announced that it is deploying more military and police at bus stops, markets and plazas and other places where people congregate in San Salvador.   In the two days since the announcement, I saw heavily armed soldiers and military equipment at such places at Plaza Salvador del Mundo and the Arbol de Paz traffic circle.

In addition, the security forces were enacting random checkpoints on the streets in the capital city, adding to the vehicular chaos of San Salvador.   Passengers at bus terminals were being checked for identification to determine if they were on wanted lists. Police were also shown checking finger prints of youth who were not carrying identification with them.

The government announced that it had staged round-ups of gang memb…

Independence Day in El Salvador

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September 15 is Independence Day in El Salvador and the rest of the countries of Central America. The country commemorates its 196 years of independence from Spanish colonial power. The day is filled with patriotic displays, parades, flag waving and the singing of the national anthem.

Here is a video of El Salvador's national anthem along with the words to celebrate the day.




There is an English translation of the lyrics here.

The girls in the gangs

The life of young women involved in the gangs of El Salvador is rarely told.    This week a feature length article in the Pacific Standard by Lauren Markham titled The Girl Gangs of El Salvador provides a nuanced look at how young women may voluntarily or involuntarily become involved with the dangerous street gangs.  
Here is an excerpt: Elena ran with a cool, alternative crowd of party kids, a relative social minority in El Salvador. She and her friends were always struggling to find weed on the street. Buying in bulk, she realized, would be cheaper, would make the stash last longer, and would also make her more popular among her friends. So one day she asked the tweaked-out neighborhood guy she usually bought from if he would take her to the headquarters so she could buy a larger quantity—a risky move, she knew, but one that played to her streak of recklessness and aspirational bravado.  He took her to the "destroyer house," a small two-room structure where gang members c…

The mayor and his party

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Nayib Bukele was elected mayor of San Salvador in 2015 on the ticket of the left wing FMLN.   In the campaign, as well as during his time in office, he has always kept himself at a distance from the party leadership.   His agenda as mayor has always been branded as Bukele's agenda for the city, not the party's agenda.

Such independence is sometimes tolerated, but never appreciated, within the hierarchy of the FMLN. Although Bukele will be running again on the FMLN ticket for re-election as mayor of San Salvador, it appears clear that the party will not choose him as its 2019 presidential candidate.

This week the relationship between Bukele and the FMLN hit a new low.   Bukele was unable to gather votes in the San Salvador municipal council for two of his big improvement projects in the city's historic center when FMLN council members voted against him.    Bukele went to Twitter to complain that some members of the FMLN were no different that ARENA, with the only exception…

Leaving gang life for church

The Christian Science Monitor has a good article up on its website about the phenomenon of gang members leaving the gangs based on conversion in evangelical churches.  Others have reported on this happening as well.  The CSM article is titled God vs. gang? For some ex-gangsters in El Salvador, rehab happens at church.   Here is an excerpt:
More than 400 ex-members say that evangelical groups have helped them leave the gangs – a drop in the bucket here, where as many as 60,000 gang members control large parts of the country. But in a society where gangs are so deeply entrenched and government attempts to curb the violence have often failed, some churches’ experiences suggest that addressing the basic needs that many young people hope to find in gang life – acceptance, belonging, stability – can also be key to getting them out....  A lack of institutional support for, and even suspicion of, groups trying to engage with gang members and help set them up on a different path looms particul…

Local tourism in El Salvador

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This weekend El Salvador held the Festival of "Pueblos Vivos"  at the convention grounds in San Salvador.   The event organized by the Ministry of Tourism allows cities and towns and artisans from around the country to show off their local culture, attractions, and artisan work.    The event kicked off with a parade of costumed marchers, dancers and musicians from the Salvador del Mundo plaza to the convention grounds.

The event showcases the fact that every corner of El Salvador holds treasures, sometimes hidden sometimes not.    You may have to ask directions and you might find things don't operate at their scheduled times, but it is always worth the effort.

Images from the Festival:





The campaign to save TPS

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The decision by the Trump administration to terminate the DACA program in 6 months if the US Congress does not act to protect Dreamers is a blow for the approximately 28,400 Salvadoran young people who currently enjoy that protection.*    But for El Salvador, the much bigger looming decision of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions is whether to extend or terminate Temporary Protected Status ("TPS") for approximately 195,000 Salvadorans in the US.

TPS is a humanitarian provision in US immigration law, which temporarily suspends deportations of persons to their home country after their home country suffers some type of disaster.    The rationale is that the US should not deport people back to a country already stretched to the limits by an earthquake or a hurricane or similar catastrophe.  

TPS exists for undocumented Salvadorans in the US following the 2001 earthquakes in El Salvador.  Salvadoran nationals have been eligible for this status if they have been continually in the US…

Threats against journalists; tolerance for executioners

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At the end of August, investigative journalists at Revista Factum published a detailed account of the operations of an organized group within El Salvador's security forces which had carried out multiple extra-judicial killings of alleged gang members, as well as sexual assaults and extortion.   The squad within El Salvador's elite anti-gang forces would execute young men and then arrange the scene to look as if there had been an armed confrontation between gang members and the police. The very detailed reporting created an initial stir in El Salvador, yet it appears that little change should be expected from the police or armed forces.

Particularly concerning are the threats and intimidation directed at the journalists of Revista Factum and El Faro who have been exposing these cases.   The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas described the situation:
However, Factum reported that the specialized unit of the Prosecutor’s Office against organized crime had not advanced t…

Victims past and present demand their rights

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The lack of justice for victims of human rights abuses in El Salvador was the subject of hearings in Mexico City on Tuesday.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held two hearings this morning concerning El Salvador.    The first hearing addressed reports of extra-judicial killings by security forces in El Salvador.   The second hearing received reports on whether there had been any progress, following the nullification of the 1993 Amnesty Law, to address crimes against humanity committed during El Salvador's civil war.

The petitioners complaining of extra-judicial killings were the Institute for Human Rights at the UCA (IDHUCA) and Passionist Social Services (SSPAS).   They presented both individual cases and collective statistics on the existence of extra-judicial killings by security forces in El Salvador.  Beyond the killings, the petitioners pointed to actions by security forces to manipulate crime scenes and the lack of any serious investigation or the collection …

Hurricane Harvey impacts Salvadoran migrants

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Houston is home to large numbers of Salvadoran migrants, both documented and undocumented. Recent news stories have explored the impact of the devastating hurricane on the immigrant  community in southeastern Texas.   A Pew research study estimated there were 191,000 Salvadoran born immigrants living in the greater Houston area as of 2014.   Tens of thousands would be undocumented, and already in significant fear under the Trump administration's anti-immigrant stance, even before last week's storm.
USA Today took a look at the impact on the undocumented community in an article titled Harvey wreaks havoc on undocumented immigrants:
In the aftermath of Harvey, immigrant advocate groups have canvassed lower-income areas of southeast Houston to see how they're doing after one of the most damaging storms in U.S. history.  They've repeatedly heard from undocumented immigrants — as well as other low-wage workers in those neighborhoods — who were concerned about falling behin…

The Use of Force Manual for police in El Salvador

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On October 13, 2016, USAID in El Salvador tweeted:
.@USAID-supported Use of Force manual will guide #ElSalvador police to ensure respect for #humanrights & their own integrity in daily job pic.twitter.com/GTn7LGGvsZ — USAID/El Salvador (@USAIDES) October 13, 2016 There was a formal presentation event that day, covered by all the press, with speeches from Larry Sacks, director of the USAID in El Salvador, and Howard Cotto, director of the PNC.

So I was curious, with all the concern over fatal confrontations between the gangs and El Salvador's security forces, what this Use of Force manual might contain.

It took me a Freedom of Information Act request to get a copy from USAID, but it finally arrived today.  The document is titled "A Conceptual Framework for the Use of Force and the Employment of Lethal Arms by the National Civilian Police of El Salvador" and consists of a scant 13 pages.  You can download it here.

The manual is summarized by this pyramid diagram, in w…