Internal displacement and government denial
Researcher Sonja Wolf has published a two part article on gang violence in El Salvador and the forced internal displacement it produces. Regarding the issue of displacement she writes:
The full magnitude and nature of displacement are hard to ascertain, because the phenomenon is a silent one. No large population groups are dislocated, as happens during an armed conflict, but rather individuals and families from across the country. The profile of displaced persons is diverse, ranging from traders, teachers, and students to police agents, soldiers, doctors, and evangelical ministers. The victims receive threats for reasons such as the refusal to join a gang, be a gang member’s girlfriend, and to pay extortion; opposition to the gang; gang enforcement; or collaboration with the justice system. For the most part, they do not report the threats to the authorities. Victims relocate internally when their economic situation prevents them from going abroad or travel irregularly to places such as Mexico or the United States. Those who request asylum generally find their applications rejected. Those who remain in El Salvador continue to live in fear, since the gangs – and their intelligence networks – extend throughout the country.Read the rest of the article here: (Part 1) (Part 2).
The evidence of forced displacement due to gang violence seems irrefutable, but so far the Sánchez Cerén administration has disclaimed its existence. Government and party officials have resorted to denial (e.g., “people do not flee their homes, they move house”); minimization (e.g., “the victims had apparent gang ties”); and ideological responses (e.g., “the violence is a legacy of ARENA administrations;” “the right is trying to destabilize the government;” “the media are waging a psychological war”). The chief reason for the stonewalling appears to be political. FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) governments have faced unrelenting criticism by the main opposition party, the private sector, and the mass media – the tools that the country’s oligarchy deploys to defend its interests and privileges.
Given political and electoral sensitivities, the Sánchez Cerén administration has chosen to silence the issue. Nor does it maintain records of events that would help measure the scale of displacement. Local NGOs have banded together and tried to put displacement on the political agenda and to offer orientation to victims. But the challenges are many. Displacement due to generalized violence is difficult to address when it is not even being quantified; internal relocation is practically impossible in a small country that lacks a serious witness and victim protection program; intergovernmental organizations and foreign governments argue they cannot provide assistance that is not being requested. The fundamental problem, however, is the security situation, which the Sánchez Cerén administration has so far tackled by pouring more oil onto the fire.