The top El Salvador stories of 2017
My annual summary of the top ten stories from the preceding year in El Salvador:
The trial for the massacre of children and others at El Mozote. For 36 years, they have been waiting for the possibility of justice. In 2017, witnesses began to testify in a Salvadoran court room about the events of December 1981, where almost 1000 civilians, the majority children, were slaughtered by the Salvadoran armed forces in the town of El Mozote and surrounding hamlets. But for the coming year, the question remains -- will a Salvadoran court be willing to impose criminal liability on those in high command?
Nayib Bukele and the FMLN split. Nayib Bukele is both the current mayor of San Salvador and El Salvador's most popular politician. Yet in October, the FMLN kicked him out of the party for for violating party rules and ethics ostensibly connected to his treatment of a female FMLN attorney in a meeting. It was a schism which had been brewing for months between the party and the independent minded young politician who often criticized the old guard of the FMLN. Bukele promptly announced that he would run for president in 2019 as head of a new political movement he calls "New Ideas."
Trump's shadow over Salvadoran migrants. The increasingly harsh rhetoric and actions of the new Trump administration has been heard and felt strongly in El Salvador. The early months showed a sharp drop in migration levels out of the country as Salvadorans considering migrating heard about the anti-immigrant atmosphere in the US. More than 140,000 Salvadorans are in deportation proceedings. Trump terminated DACA for more than 20,000 young Salvadorans and ended the Central American Minors program. Now the biggest fear is that on January 8, 2018, the Trump administration will not extend Temporary Protected Status for some 195,000 Salvadorans in the US.
Mining ban passed. Years of activism, protests and organization finally paid off for the anti-mining movement in El Salvador as the country became the first in the world to pass a law banning all metallic mining.
Crime and the government's response. Crime and gangs make the top ten list almost every year. In 2017, the homicide rate did decline by almost 25%, but that was the only good news. Killings of military and police by the gangs increased sharply. In response, the government doubled down on its harsh "exceptional measures." Already horrific conditions in the prisons got even worse and reported extra-judicial killings of young men in gang areas surged. Troops patrolled bus stops in San Salvador.
The FMLN administration's conflict with the Constitutional Chamber. Throughout much of the year the FMLN administration has denounced the Constitutional Chamge of the country's Supreme Judicial Court. The very independent Chamber continued to thwart various initiatives of the government. Among the court's rulings were judgments blocking parts of a pension reform law and ruling the budget adopted by the legislature was unconstitutional. Another example was a decision that the public bus system in San Salvador, SITRAMSS, could not have exclusive use of a dedicated lane down major thoroughfare's in the capital city and would have to share the lane with San Salvador private traffic. The terms of several magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber will be ending, and there is sure to be a battle in the National Assembly over the kind of magistrate to appoint replace.
Sánchez Cerén and the FMLN's continuing decline in popularity. Approval ratings for president Salvador Sánchez Cerén have fallen steadily hitting all time lows since the FMLN came to power in 2009 with the election of Mauricio Funes. But that does not mean that right wing ARENA is picking up popularity. Instead, Salvadorans seem to be opting for "none of the above."
Impotence in Attorney General's office. El Salvador's Attorney General's office (FGR) seemed to lose most of the cases it took to trial this year. The FGR failed to convict policemen accused of executing an innocent young man at Finca San Blas. The FGR failed to get a conviction in the high profile case against persons involved in the so-called "tregua" or gang truce in 2012. The FGR failed to get a conviction in the "troll center" case involving the La Prensa Grafica newspaper. The FGR failed to convict "Gordo Max," a TV celebrity accused of paying for sex with minors. The FGR failed to move forward a single war crimes case from the civil war following the 2016 nullification of the amnesty law.
El Salvador's Catholics celebrate. For the Roman Catholic faithful of El Salvador, it was a big year. Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez was elevated by Pope Francis to to the position of cardinal. He becomes the first cardinal from El Salvador. 2017 also marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Oscar Romero. There is hope that 2018 may be the year in which Pope Francis canonizes Oscar Romero as an official saint of the church.
A defendant arrives in Spain. Former Salvadoran Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano was finally extradited by the US to Spain, where he has already been brought in front of a judge in connection with his role in the 1989 Jesuit murders case. With one of the defendants finally physically present in Spain, the case can now proceed. Meanwhile in El Salvador, Jesuits from the UCA went to court to ask that those who gave the orders for the Jesuit massacre be prosecuted in El Salvador, where the country's Supreme Court has so far protected them by refusing extradition to the proceedings in Spain.