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Showing posts from February, 2020

The vote of the Salvadoran diaspora

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Thursday El Salvador's Legislative Assembly voted to override a veto from president Nayib Bukele and approved a measure expanding the ability of Salvadoran citizens living outside of the country to vote.  Previously Salvadorans in the diaspora could only vote in presidential elections.   Now they will be able to vote for deputies in the Legislative Assembly and members of municipal government as well.

The expansion of the vote was necessary to comply with a prior ruling of the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court.

The idea that a Salvadoran citizen living in Toronto, Canada for the past thirty years should be able to vote for the mayor of the town of Suchitoto and legislative deputies from the department of Cuscatlán, is not immediately obvious. Yet if that Salvadoran residing in Canada shows she has ties to Suchitoto, that is now her right.

The new law requires Salvadorans to enroll to vote in a municipality by showing that they have roots there, th…

Legislative Assembly passes reconciliation (amnesty) law

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Last night El Salvador's Legislative Assembly passed a "national reconciliation law."   The purpose of the law is to comply with a dictate of the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court which repealed a 1993 amnesty law protecting all perpetrators of crimes, including crimes against humanity and other war crimes, from the civil war period.

The new law was passed with 44 votes in favor, one more than the 43 necessary in the 84 member legislature.   The support came from the conservative ARENA party which has a plurality in the Assembly and its conservative allies, PCN and PDC. 

As the Assembly gathered yesterday for an extraordinary session in the evening, President Nayib Bukele promised in a tweet to veto the law.  The approval of a national reconciliation law, despite criticism by victims and human rights groups, hands president Nayib Bukele the opportunity to portray himself as champion of victims through the exercise of his veto power.

Arn…

Latest attempt at a reconciliation law does not satisfy victims

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El Salvador's Legislative Assembly is making another attempt this week to pass a new national law of reconciliation, 28 years after the end of the country's bloody civil war.  The proposed legislation is a measure which critics label as continuing impunity and a form of amnesty in fact for perpetrators of crimes against humanity, drafted without giving victims and their representatives access to the language of the proposal.

A reconciliation law is required by a 2016 decision of the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court which overturned a blanket amnesty law passed in 1993.  The 1993 law had granted broad amnesty for all crimes, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, committed during the country's 12 year civil war.  In its 2016 decision, the Constitutional Chamber required the Legislative Assembly to pass new laws to provide for post war reconciliation, taking into account victims' rights under international human rights norms.…

What to read this weekend

There is a wealth of coverage of El Salvador available in English this week on a potpourri of topics:

Why is this Chicago cop training police in El Salvador? (Chicago Reader) --  "ITTA is a small police training company founded in Chicago that has trained more than 600 officers in El Salvador. That's problematic given the behavior of some of the U.S. officers running the program."

El Salvador president gains most from prosecution of rivals (InsightCrime) -- "The evidence used to indict several high-ranking politicians in El Salvador for negotiating with gangs has been around for years, raising questions about why prosecutors are bringing the cases now, and what President Nayib Bukele stands to gain."

Challenges after an Attempted Self-coup in El Salvador (El Faro English) -- "Bukele sees himself above the norms of his job, as well as free of legal formalities. He was set on demonstrating that his political experiment isn’t tied down to any rules. He holds the…

The water hearings

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It was a proceeding not seen in El Salvador for twenty years. Government officials from the Bukele administration were required to come before the full Legislative Assembly to answer questions for three days from the assembled deputies in a process called interpelación. The officials were the Minister of Health, Dr. Ana Orellana Bendek, and the president of the ANDA water authority, Fréderick Benítez, and they were being questioned about a water crisis earlier this year when the water from the Las Pavas water purification plant was a dirty brown color with a bad odor.

The politicians in the Legislative Assembly, of course, were not just trying to learn what happened, but to score points against the Bukele administration.

What we did learn:
1) You should probably never drink the water from the ANDA water system
2) The health risk of the water during the January water crisis was not significantly worse than normal, despite the bad color and odor.
3) The bad color and odor were cause…

Trial date set in Spain for Jesuit massacre case

News has come from Spain that a trial will finally commence for the 1989 massacre in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, their co-worker and her daughter at the University of Central America.  The Guernica Center issued this statement:
The murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s daughter on 16 November 1989 by the Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran Military ultimately led to the end of the civil war in El Salvador and catalyzed the victims’ quest for truth, justice, and accountability. After 30 years of seeking justice and 10 years of active litigation, the Spanish National Court will try former Colonel and Vice-Minister of Public Security, Inocente Orlando Montano, starting on 8 June 2020. Montano is charged with murder and terrorism for his alleged involvement as one of the key decision-makers behind the Jesuit killing. The Guernica Centre for International Justice—part of The Guernica Group—and Spanish co-counsel Ollé & Sesé Abogados will lead th…

Not going to defend the Legislative Assembly

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In the current confrontation between the president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, and the country's Legislative Assembly, I have shared much of the criticism directed at the president.  That criticism involves his unilateral decision to convene the congress and his subsequent entrance into the chambers of the Legislative Assembly accompanied by troops in full tactical gear and sharpshooters on rooftops.   But the critiques of these actions, which reveal an authoritarian streak in Bukele, do not mean the Legislative Assembly gets a free pass.  In fact, that branch of government has a record of not addressing pressing needs of El Salvador.

There are 84 deputies in the Legislative Assembly who serve three year terms.  The two post-war dominant parties,  ARENA on the right and the FMLN on the left, hold 37 and 23 seats respectively.  Bukele ran for president on the ticket of the right wing GANA party in a marriage of convenience, and that party holds 10 seats.  The remaining seats are…

Bukele justifies his actions

Today Nayib Bukele published an opinion piece in the Miami Herald pushing back against the critics of his use of the military in and around the chamber of the Legislative Assembly last weekend.  Bukele writes:
My administration was deeply concerned about a popular uprising of frustrated Salvadorans mobilized against the National Assembly. This is why we asked the military to be present, should violence erupt as tens of thousands of Salvadorans gathered outside the National Assembly calling for the removal of its members.  Certain media interests falsely reported this as an attempt to take over that institution. But let me be clear: I respect the separation of powers. Anyone who suggests I was attempting to do such a thing is purposefully misrepresenting the truth.  Rather than focusing on my attempts to protect the Salvadoran people, the media should focus on why the National Assembly continues failing the people of El Salvador. The focus should be on those in the National Assembly wh…

El Salvador migration updates

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The cycle of Salvadorans migrating northwards continues, but with some changes.   Here are a series of recent developments. 
Large decline in Salvadorans crossing US Border.    Statistics from US Customs and Border Control show a significant reduction in the number of Salvadorans apprehended crossing the US southern border.   After a tremendous surge in the twelve months from October 2018- September 2019 when an average of 246 Salvadorans were apprehended every day, in the most recent four months ending January 31, the average has been 62 per day, a reduction of 75%.


The reasons for the decline are many and overlapping.   They include increased border militarization and enforcement by Mexico at its border with Guatemala; increasingly harsh US application of the Migrant Protection Protocols which force asylum seekers to remain in dangerous conditions in Mexico while their cases are heard in US immigration courts; and a ban on asylum awards for anyone arriving at the border after July 1…

Court blocks Bukele actions as criticism of his use of military pours in

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One day after president Nayib Bukele marched into the chambers of El Salvador's Legislative Assembly accompanied by heavily armed soldiers and police in flak jackets, his attempt to force the congress to do his bidding was dealt some major setbacks.

On Monday, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court agreed to take petitions from citizens protesting Bukele's actions this past weekend.  The Chamber found constitutional flaws in Bukele's use of his Council of Ministers to demand a special session of the Legislative Assembly to vote on an international loan package for security funding and then to deploy the police and armed forces inside and outside of the chambers of the legislature (Salon Azul) to make his point.   In accepting the petitions, the Chamber ordered Bukele to cease using the Council of Ministers to convene the assembly in extraordinary session and to cease using the police and military for purposes not authorized by the Constituti…

Bukele sends armed troops before him into Legislative Assembly

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The streets of San Salvador, especially around the government center, were filled with soldiers and security forces on Sunday.   The reason?   It was not relief efforts for some natural disaster (although a 5.3 earthquake off the Pacific coast of El Salvador woke many residents at 2:30 in the morning).   It was not to fight a crime wave (president Nayib Bukele has celebrated that monthly homicide rates have hit post war lows).   It was not to combat an insurrection.   (The only insurrection was the one which the commander and chief of the armed forces, Bukele, had called on his followers to prepare for).


Instead, the reason was high stakes political theater.   The purpose of the show was to demonstrate who was in charge in El Salvador, and that person is president Nayib Bukele.   The deployment of troops and police had no other purpose.  Bukele was using the country's armed forces and the country's police force to establish himself as the country's strong man who would be…

Nayib Bukele's power play

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Salvadorans wake up Sunday morning to a country in the midst of a constitutional crisis.   President Nayib Bukele provoked the crisis Thursday when his Council of Ministers ordered the Legislative Assembly to come into extraordinary session Sunday, February 9, to vote on approving a $109 million international loan to "modernize" security forces.  The Assembly refuses to bow to Bukele dictating when they should meet.

Bukele has been aggressively pressuring the political parties in the assembly. Bukele has called on his supporters to converge on the Legislative Assembly Sunday afternoon to see to it that the deputies do their jobs.  Bukele ominously tweeted:


To the International Community.El Salvador is dominated by two bands from the civil war, these two bands
continue with corruption and negotiate with criminal groups.  There
are videos of them negotiating lives in exchange for votes.  The people
are already tired of it and the President is with them.

That message has been accom…

Buying gang votes in the 2014 election

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In criminal complaints filed this week, El Salvador's attorney general charged officials from two of the country’s major parties, the FMLN and ARENA, of trying to steal, not cash, but the 2014 presidential election by making deals with El Salvador's notorious gangs.

Most of the basic facts underlying the criminal complaint have long been public knowledge in El Salvador. Politicians from both ARENA and the FMLN are charged with meeting with leaders of MS-13 and the two branches of Barrio 18 in the lead up to the 2014 presidential election. That election pitted Norman Quijano of ARENA against Salvador Sanchéz Cerén of the FMLN. Both ARENA and the FMLN are charged with paying the gangs hundreds of thousands of dollars directly to procure votes or dissuade votes for the other party. Both ARENA and FMLN politicians are charged with meeting with the gangs to discuss what a future presidential administration might be able to do in favor of the gangs.  The new complaint against Norma…