Top 10 stories of 2012

My round-up of the top 10 stories from El Salvador during 2012.

The Gang truce.   In March, the news emerged that the top leaders of El Salvador's rival gangs had agreed from prison to a truce.  The truce was mediated by Catholic bishop Fabio Colindres and Raúl Mijango.  Nine months later, that truce is still holding.

It is clear that there has been a very definite reduction in the level of homicides.  The year closed with official statistics showing a dramatic 40% reduction in homicides from 2011.  The government and various sectors of society have started to push initiatives for prevention of gang violence.   There is talk of a second phase involving ten or more "sanctuary cities."  

But after years of daily violence, many remain deeply suspicious of the truce.  

Military leadership of civilian police.  In January, president Mauricio Funes replaced the civilian head of the National Police (PNC) with retiring general Francisco Ramón Salinas Rivera. This came just a few months after Funes had named another former general, David Munguía Payés, as the Minister of Public Security.  Earlier, a third military officer was placed as second in command in the state intelligence unit.

This pathway of military generals going from the armed forces to roles in the PNC alarmed human rights activists and was in conflict with a central feature of the 1992 Peace Accords which purported to remove the armed forces from domestic policing.   Of course, that barrier has been ignored for years since military patrols began supplementing the PNC in high crime neighborhoods and around the country's prisons.

The Constitutional crisis.  From June through August, the country's three branches of government were locked in a constitutional conflict.  The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court had ruled that votes by the National Assembly to appoint judges to the Supreme Court in 2006 and 2012 were unconstitutional.  The Court ordered the National Assembly to take up a new election of the 2/3 of judges who had been named by the legislature in 2006 and 2012.

At the outset, the National Assembly refused and for a period of time, two groups of judges were meeting and each claimed to be the legitimate Supreme Court.    The legislature also brought a lawsuit against the Supreme Court in the Central American Court of Justice, but the Supreme Court refused to recognize the regional court's jurisdiction.

Finally, after days of talks mediated by president Mauricio Funes, the National Assembly backed down and conducted another election of judges, electing the same judges they had improperly elected earlier.   It was a victory for the supremacy of the courts and the rule of law, but it's not clear that the message was understood by the politicians.

National elections.  El Salvador conducted its triennial elections for the National Assembly and the mayor's office in every city.  The results pushed right-wing ARENA up and the left-wing FMLN down to positions in the National Assembly similar to those they had had prior to the historic election of Mauricio Funes in 2009.

Norman Quijano easily beat his FMLN challenger to remain mayor of San Salvador, propelling him to be the 2014 presidential candidate of ARENA.   Meanwhile ARENA swept into power in many municipalities in the greater San Salvador area where the FMLN had previously been dominant.

2014 election campaign commences.   The 2009 elections for mayor and legislators had barely closed when the  jockeying began for the 2014 presidential election.  By the end of 2012, three major candidates had been chosen -- vice president Salvador Sanchez Ceren will be the FMLN's candidate, Norman Quijano will be the candidate for ARENA, and former president Tony Saca will join the race on a GANA ticket.

Condemnation of El Salvador for El Mozote massacre.    The Inter-American Court for Human Rights issued a ruling condemning El Salvador for its failure to investigate, prosecute and provide reparations to the victims of the 1981 El Mozote massacre.  Although Mauricio Funes had apologized for the massacre on the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Peace Accords, the crime itself remains in impunity.  There seems to be no movement in El Salvador to repeal the amnesty law passed in 1993 to comply with the judgment of the IACHR.

Developments on struggle against gold mining.   There were developments in the struggle to prevent gold mining in the country.   In the international arbitration brought by Canadian gold mining company Pacific Rim against El Salvador, an international tribunal dismissed the firm's claims under the DR-CAFTA trade agreement, but is permitting a claim under El Salvador's investment law.  Meanwhile the government of Mauricio Funes announced an indefinite suspension of all mining authorizations until a commission determines that the government has the institutional mechanisms to ensure that mining is carried out without deleterious effects.   This suspension followed on the recommendations of a study of the mining issue performed by a Spanish consulting firm engaged by the Salvadoran government.

US relations feature return of a popular ambassador.   In a US election year, when certain Republican Senators needed to appeal to Latino voters, the Republican roadblock to appointment of Mari Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador was finally lifted.   The popular ambassador was welcomed back to El Salvador where, among other things, she will preside over implementation of the Partnership for Growth initiative.   Partnership for Growth is a foreign policy initiative of the Obama administration which aims at poverty reduction through economic development.   In particular, in El Salvador the partnership has a focus on improving citizen security and increasing production of exports.

Fernando Llort mosaics destroyed.   This event actually started in the last days of 2011, as the the Catholic church authorities responsible for San Salvador's Metropolitan Cathedral ordered the destructive removal of the church's iconic mosaic facade created by artist Fernando Llort.   El Salvador's pre-eminent living artist and his family were deeply offended, especially as the church's story to explain the removal kept changing.   Church authorities finally claimed the tile mosaic was deteriorating and falling off the walls and could not be safely restored.   By the end of the year, all traces of color on the exterior of the church which dominates the historic center of San Salvador had been removed.

Economy fails to grow.    El Salvador trailed most Latin American countries in economic growth in the past year.    Its economy grew at a rate a little more than 1% this year, and the only bright spots came from remittances beginning to grow again as the US economy revived.   The economy is not creating opportunities for the vast majority of Salvadorans.  


The gang truce should include the facts that "disappearances" are up and that the government fired the head of Legal Medicine for giving statistics on this--even though Funes claims to want transparency.