Showing posts from August, 2012

Looking back at the constitutional crisis

El Salvador's constitutional crisis is officially over.  The National Assembly has re-elected the magistrates to the classes of 2006 and 2012.  The four judges of the constitutional chamber including Belarmino Jaime continue with their roles set out in El Salvador's constitution.  The Supreme Court has a new President, Salomón Padilla. What are the lessons of this protracted crisis? A victory for constitutional order .  The resolution of the crisis represented a vindication for the Constitutional Chamber.  The National Assembly and President Funes were forced to re-elect magistrates to the Supreme Court in compliance with the rulings of the Constitutional Chamber.  The politicians were forced to back down from their attempt to transfer Belarmino Jaime out of the Constitutional Chamber, a move the Chamber had ruled violated the constitution.  Thus El Salvador moved a step forward toward having a societal consensus that the Supreme Court, and in particular the Constitutional C

New York Times on gang truce

The New York Times ran an article today on the ongoing gang truce in El Salvador, titled  In El Salvador, Violence Falls Amid a Gang Truce .   The article provides an overview of the truce between El Salvador's two major gangs which has managed to last for more than five months.  Here's an excerpt: At the first truce meeting, hot stares fed the tension, according to those present. About 200 soldiers stood nearby in case the sit-down dissolved into bloodshed and ignited the thousands of gang members that the leaders command from behind prison walls.  These prisoners, some branded head to toe with gang tattoos, now speak of a new day. They raise the prospect of working instead of stealing to make ends meet. They liken the truce, however fragile, to the peace accords that halted the 12-year civil war here in 1992.  “We have shown good will,” said Victor Antonio García, a Barrio 18 leader deported from Los Angeles. “But now the government has to get involved. We need, like,

Quijano to be ARENA's 2014 presidential candidate

The next presidential election in El Salvador will not be until March 2014, but we already know the candidates for El Salvador's two leading political parties. This week the right wing ARENA party announced that its candidate will be Norman Quijano, the popular mayor of San Salvador. Earlier this year, Quijano won election to a second term as mayor by a landslide. As mayor of the country's largest city, he has already shown the ability to gather significant support and is viewed as someone able to get things done. The FMLN had earlier announced that its candidate will be Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the current vice-president.

The massacre at El Calabozo

On Wednesday August 22,  people will gather at the church in Amatitán Abajo, in San Vicente Department, to commemorate, remember and demand justice for a massacre which happened thirty years ago.   It is the anniversary of the El Calabozo massacre, when troops of the US-trained Atlacatl Battalion murdered more than 200 civiliam victims taking refuge along a river's banks. The massacre was documented in the UN Truth Commission Report following the signing of the 1992 Peace Accords: On 22 August 1982, in the place known as El Calabozo situated beside the Amatitán river in the north of the Department of San Vicente, troops of the Atlacatl Rapid Deployment Infantry Battalion (BIRI) killed over 200 men, women and children whom they were holding prisoner.  The victims had converged on El Calabozo from various directions, fleeing a vast antiguerrilla military operation which had begun three days earlier in the area of Los Cerros de San Pedro and which involved, in addition to t

Agreement reached to end constitutional crisis

After 17 negotiating sessions presided over by president Mauricio Funes, the leaders of El Salvador's political parties have reached an agreement which would appear to bring an end to El Salvador's ongoing constitutional crisis.   The agreement apparently came when the parties agreed to elect José Salomón Padilla as president of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Chamber, in place of Ovidio Bonilla who had been elected in April.   Belarmino Jaime and the other judges elected to the Constitutional Chamber in 2009 will continue in those roles. The judges originally elected in 2006 and 2012 will be re-elected. The announcement from the office of president Funes, and a copy of the agreement signed by the parties can be seen at  this link . I'll have some analysis about what this resolution means for Salvadoran democracy and governance in a later post. *Hat tip to Carlos

CACJ rules -- and the negotiations continue

The Central American Court of Justice (CACJ) issued its ruling on the constitutional crisis in El Salvador.   The CACJ ruled in a 5-1 decision, that the decisions of El Salvador's Constitutional Chamber, which invalidated the elections of magistrates in 2006 and 2012, were themselves invalid.    The CACJ decision spends most of its time asserting the basis for its claim of jurisdiction over this internal Salvadoran constitutional conflict.   Once the CACJ decided it had the power to rule on the conflict, its analysis of the actual dispute is trivial.   The CACJ decision boiled down to saying that since no one from the Constitutional Chamber showed up to dispute the petition of the National Assembly, the legislature wins. The Constitutional Chamber promptly issued a decision that the CACJ ruling had no legal effect.   According to the Constitutional Chamber, only the Chamber itself can decide the meaning of El Salvador's constitution.   That authority could not be transferre

Finding the Truth

My friend Danielle Mackey has a powerful article in the National Catholic Reporter telling the story of Patricia Garcia, one of the activists of the Committee of Mothers of Political  Prisoners and the Disappeared ( COMADRES ), titled A Life Committed to Finding the Truth . An excerpt from this story tells of Patricia's return to El Salvador after fleeing the country at the beginning of the civil war: Ten months later, antsy to return to her family, Pati renounced her exile in Mexico and caught a bus to El Salvador. She found her home abandoned, her family disappeared. She ran to the archbishop’s office. “Monsignor Romero told me that if I wanted to stay, I could not continue to work within the church because it was too dangerous. ‘A terrible violence is coming,’ he said. He counseled me to work with the COMADRES instead.”   The Committee of Mothers of Political  Prisoners and the Disappeared (COMADRES) were women all across the country who shared a common horror. Their lov

Government proposes law suspending mining activity

This week El Salvador's Ministers of the Environment and of the Economy announced that they have sent a draft law to the National Assembly which would suspend all metallic mining activity in the country.   The law is intended to suspend all such activity until El Salvador has the necessary structures in place to control the environmental and social impacts of mining.   This suspension will apply to  existing exploration and exploitation permits as well as putting a hold on any new applications.   A Monitoring Committee would be created to determine when conditions have changed such that mining activity might resume. This draft law is the outcome of the Strategic Environmental Evaluation prepared by the Spanish consulting firm, the Tau Group.    I provided an overview of that report in this blog in March which you can read here , and that entire report is available at this link . The National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining condemned the draft law as not going far enough.  

Is smarter US aid helping El Salvador's crime issues?

An interesting article by Hannah Stone on the InsightCrime site discusses US foreign aid to El Salvador through the Partnership for Growth program and the progress on crime issues described in  a recent report.  As Stone notes,   One of the key goals of the partnership is to strengthen Salvador’s justice and security institutions. The action plan says that the country’s institutional weaknesses prevent an effective response to crime, and calls for a “holistic, comprehensive strategy” across different bodies, with reform for prosecutors, police officers, judges, and security personnel. The six-month scorecard says that these efforts are on target. Some 242 justice sector personnel have been trained by US agencies so far, and a new Inter-Institutional Investigation Manual, meant to improve and standardize investigative procedures, has been distributed to police and prosecutors. The article concludes:  It is far too early to evaluate the success of the partnership for growth. Man

After seven days, parties have small agreement on Supreme Court impasse

After seven negotiating sessions at the Presidential Palace, the leaders of El Salvador's political parties have reached a small level of agreement .   All parties have agreed to re-elect the 2006 class of magistrates.   With respect to the 2012 class of magistrates, the parties have agreed to the list of names of 11 lawyers from which they will elect the magistrates, but they have not agreed on what roles on the court those lawyers might be elected to. Thus ARENA leaders have made it clear that they do not want Ovidio Bonilla, the magistrate who was elected president of the Supreme Court in April 2012, to be the president of the Supreme Court.  Now that they have the votes to block a two-thirds majority, they are insisting they will not approve the selection of a court president who they believe has strong ties to the FMLN. There is apparently no agreement on the class of 2009 magistrates and whether the National Assembly will continue to assert that Belarmino Jaime has been

Join me on a trip to El Salvador

VMM-USA is sponsoring a delegation to El Salvador from October 28 - November 4, 2012.   Sign up is open to anyone with a spirit of solidarity for the people of El Salvador.   I'll be on the trip to share my knowledge and passion for the country, and a special part of the trip will be the presence of Edwina Gateley , poet, theologian, artist, writer, lay minister, modern-day mystic and prophet, and a single mom.   You can read more about the delegation at this link . This delegation is also supported by the efforts of the SHARE Foundation .

The gang truce -- an opportunity

Writer, ex-gang member, and activist Luis Rodriguez recently traveled to El Salvador as part of a delegation to meet with gang members and learn about the truce which has dramatically lowered the murder rate over the past four months.   He describes the opportunity this truce provides in an article titled  Gang Peace in El Salvador: The Opportunity We Can't Afford To Miss : This time I found a more open and caring attitude from everyone we met in El Salvador, including government officials in the ministries of health, education, and public safety as well as among the heads of the penal system. The gang leaders were sincere and quite clear about their commitment to the peace. A meeting of the minds and hearts of the Salvadoran people would help make this process sustainable and significant, even beyond its borders. Now where do we go from here?  There is a need for short and long-range actions and policies. Gang leaders in El Salvador have asked for humane prison conditions,