Where is increasing violence leading El Salvador?

Civil society organizations in El Salvador are increasingly concerned about (a) the ever growing level of violence in the country, (b) the expanding militarized response to that violence, and (c) the appearance of death squads dedicated to imposing their own form of justice on gang members. As an example, I received today the following communication from the El Salvador staff of the US-El Salvador Sister Cities organization:
Repression in the Name of Security, Sound Familiar?
September 3, 2006
ES Staff

Extortions of bus drivers and professionals[i], the reappearance of death squads linked to the National Civilian Police force[ii], more than 11 homicides per day[iii], State imposed curfews[iv], and military occupations of rural communities[v]; this is the content of some of the headlines in major newspapers around El Salvador this week.

On Tuesday communities in the Lower Lempa region of San Vicente denounced the armed raid without search warrant of their historical museum by the Salvadoran Armed Forces and National Civilian Police, under order of the Attorney Generals Office. Likewise, Beatrice de Carrillo, Salvadoran Attorney General for Human Rights has denounced the existence of death squads in the style of seventies and eighties, which she links directly and indirectly to the National Civilian Police. As clear evidence of death squads, she points to the execution style assassinations and bodies recovered showing disfigurations and signs of torture.

The use of the armed forces under the guise of security, whether it be fighting gang violence or protecting borders, is part of an escalating reality in El Salvador, fuelled by the fear increasing levels of violence generates, and political motives. It is this fear that has launched the Legislative Assembly into a discussion about state of emergency curfews, and has people debating the benefits of death squads to eliminate gangs; fear generated security measures at the cost of human rights.

Over the last couple weeks, the Legislative Assembly has been discussing imposing a State of Emergency curfew on some neighborhoods in the Greater San Salvador, in an effort to curb violence[vi]. Nevertheless, many poorer and marginalized communities have been living under gang and organized crime imposed curfews for some time now, simply because leaving ones home at night is so dangerous.[vii]

Now, some CRIPDES communities [Asociación de comunidades rurales para el desarrollo de el Salvador] are experiencing the militarization of their towns, not by gang members, but by the Salvadoran Armed Forces. Since the aftermath of the July 5th shootings at the National University in San Salvador, when the Minister of the Interior Rene Figueroa claimed that the FMLN supported armed groups,[viii] there has been an increased military presence in the Lower Lempa region in San Vicente, and in other parts of the country. Military presence generally is most notable in FMLN strongholds or repopulations of ex-combatants.

On August 24, sixty members of the Salvadoran Army and twenty four police officers occupied the community of La Sabana all day, raiding the local historical museum without a warrant, threatening to arrest community leaders, and intimidating the population. They claimed the museum was a weapons cache, when in fact it holds artefacts that were decommissioned by the UN through the Peace Accords, have been in the community without incident during the fourteen years since they were destroyed, and all carry their UN documentation, certifying their status.

Days before the raid, the Army had been through many of the communities in the Lower Lempa Region, vaccinating farm animals. In retrospect, community members point out that the vaccination program was also a clear reconnaissance mission, in which the army identified potential targets for later raids. In a community wide Assembly in Las Anonas, San Vicente on the 31st of August, community and CRIPDES leaders warned that everyone should be alert for military movement in the area, and ready to leave their houses to confront police and military presence. In La Sabana the National Civilian Police would have arrested community members in charge of the museum had it not been for the rapid response and mobilization of the entire region, who blocked authorities from taking their leaders away.

Militarization is a national phenomenon. In the Arcatao, the Department of Chalatenango, there has been a military post for some time. Military officials in Chalatenango say that the three soldiers they posted in the community were placed there to guard the boarder. However, when the community called an assembly and invited military officials to address disorderly behavior by the soldiers, the Colonel in charge of the post did not show. A few days after the assembly, on August 15th, the Colonel arrived in Arcatao with about twenty troops armed with machine guns, which stationed themselves around the town square. He met with community leaders, and later removed the three soldiers from their post, only to immediately increase the troop deployment in Arcatao to ten soldiers. Like the Lower Lempa, Chalatenango is a historic FMLN stronghold, and at the center of the national mining debate.

In the face of the violence and fear campaign, the organized communities of CRIPDES demanded in an August 29th press release an "end of the campaign of intimidation, terror, and unfounded accusations on behalf of the Government of Antonio Saca, against community leaders and the communities of the Lower Lempa and other regions of the country." Likewise, in a unanimous call at ThursdayÂ’s community assembly in Las Anonas, the community agreed to unite in the face of repression, to protect their communities and neighbors from the threat of repression and militarization.

[i] Carlos Montes, Mauricio Bolaños, David Marroquá­n, Milton Grimaldi. “Extorsiones Causan Paros y Homicidios.” La Prensa Grafica. 1 de septiembre, 2006. http://www.laprensagrafica.com/nacion/580753.asp

[ii] Leonel Herrera. “PDDH insiste en investigar a grupos de exterminio.” Diario Colatino. 30 de agosto, 2006. http://www.diariocolatino.com/nacionales/detalles.asp?NewsID=13629

[iii] Asesinan a periodista de diario salvadoreño. El Comicio. 28 de agosto, 2006. http://www.elcomercioperu.com.pe/EdicionOnline/Html/2006-08-28/onEcMundo0567314.html

[iv] Beatriz Castillo, Iván Escobar. I” Diario Colatino. 29 de agosto, 2006. http://www.diariocolatino.com/nacionales/detalles.asp?NewsID=13606

[v] Beatriz Castillo. Comunidades del Bajo Lempa denuncian acoso policial y militar. Diario Colatino. 31 de agosto, 2006.

[vi] C. Monti, K. Urquilla. “Esperan opinión de FGR para el toque de queda. Diario de Hoy. 22 de agosto, 2006. http://www.elsalvador.com/noticias/2006/08/22/nacional/nac2.asp

[vii] Daniel Valencia. Toque de queda en el paraíso de Soyapango. El Faro. 28 de agosto, 2006. http://www.elfaro.net/Secciones/noticias/20060109/noticias7_20060109.asp

[viii] CISPES. 7 of July, 2006. http://www.cispes.org/english/Communiques_-_Action_Alerts/espanol_7julio.html


Anonymous said…
I've said it multiple times, the retrograde oligarchy of the country are the driving hand of all the country's problems. They are Fascist Scum. They are the ONLY ones that benefit from the high crime rates, because they are the ones that control the weapons trafficking, the privite security agencies, and their long old partner is the army which with a 103 million budget is the BEST financed institite in the country.

The Fascist Oligarchy, have purposely not done anything to tackle crime, they haven't financed the police properly, sometimes said agents living in the same neighborhoods as the criminals. The forensic capability of the police is null, to the point that of every televized raid done by the police, them "criminals" the next day are released. Yet, as I previously mentioned the army which long ago should've been abolished, is the best financed institute, also the "mafia government" is planning to extend the military career in order to graduate careerist as GENERALs, of which by the way still exist many of which haven't been retired.
Why does the government insist on financing the military, unfinancing and unequipping the police?

As stated, ARENA being nothing more than a "hacenda, busnissmen mafia ring", controls the security bsuiness and weapons business of th country. Meaning that more crimes there is, more security profit they'll make. More weapons sold, to gangs and "private people".

What the mafia wants to reach is:

Create an apparent need to militarize the country, supported by Saca's gleeful willingness to deploy the military if "needed".

Create an apparent security risk, and order impulse the Regime of State of Exception, as proposed by the PCN, and Studied by ARENA (who is also studying a semi-state of exception proposal by PDC.).

Establish the Cuban Anti-Terror Law, that ARENA/PDC/PCN want to impulse, add to that all the wiretappings, they want.

And what do you get? A militirzed country, with them civilians that can't act out of fear of repression by the military, unable to even make clandestine connections a la "freedom fighters" if need be, because of being constantly watched. No permission to protest, no permission to talk against the government out of fear of being "desastibilizing maneuvers".

ARENA-PCN have never finshed their role of opressive tyrants who want to make El Salvador a huge machila, hacienda to reap all the wealth from the hard labor of the people (which explains the weak state government, the monopolies, the slave jobs, the mass migration, poor quality of life, increasing expenditures). And you don't see all those reports on the news, do you? why? Because now they are making sure to start searching from the most remote rural areas to launch their campaign.

ARENA is really screwing El Salvador up, and it has been it's mission forever. But we keep voting for them... how screwed is out national identity, that we don't do nothing against the mafia that is murdering our own country?
Anonymous said…

Could you add this link as a link of "anti-democratic and downright criminal" behavior of the police and other institutes, who obviously work by orders of the fascist goverment.
Anonymous said…
Chalatenango is a historic FMLN stronghold, and at the center of the national mining debate

so what?

Soldiers were romoved, righ?

It is the border!!!!!
Anonymous said…
It makes me very, very sad that the El Salvadoran government is reverting to such austere measures. Anyone familiar with the Salvadoran's knows that these wonderful people do not deserve this new burden on their lives.

The history of El Salvador is the same as all history. Some people consider themselves "masters" of the masses. They are murderous parasites.
Anonymous said…
I say let there be an "extermination" group it is the only thing that will stop these maras. I would even help to finance la sombra negra.
Anonymous said…
"let there be an "extermination" group it is the only thing that will stop these maras"




Tim said…
These anonymous comments show why we should all be concerned about the path El Salvador is taking. To have some sections of society who believe that the governing party are "fascist scum" who are deliberately allowing crime to soar in the country, while other sections are willing to sanction extra-judicial death squads to execute gang members, is a guarantee that the spiral of violence will not end. El Salvador needs some voices of reason in the middle. So far, the most prominent voices calling for a rejection of all violence are the Catholic bishops in El Salvador. We need to join their condemnation of violence by gangs, violence by abusive husbands, violence by death squads, and also join their call for programs which promote rehabilitation and prevention of crime, and their call for citizens to cooperate when police are legitimately working to solve crime.
Tambopaxi said…

I appreciate your thoughtful, reasoned remarks. Poor Salvador; the end of the war in '92 notwithstanding, it's never been able to really escape the culture of violence, and the advent of the maras, with their "improved" East L.A. operating style, has only served to make things worse.

El Salvador has always been up in the top two or three countries of the region when it comes to per capita homicides, but reading your blog and its litany of violence, I'm beginning to wonder how close we're coming (or returning) to the violence levels of the early days of the war, in and the early 80's... Is anyone maintaining stats on homicides such that annual trends can be discerned?
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