Top stories from El Salvador in 2015

Here is my annual round-up of news from El Salvador in the preceding year:

1. Soaring homicide rate.   The leading story in 2015 from El Salvador was the soaring homicide rate.  The country closed the year with 6640 homicides, up 70% from the year before.  It was the highest rate of homicides since the country's civil war which lasted from 1980-1992 and made El Salvador the world's deadliest country not engaged in a war.   A significant portion of the homicides was gang-related -- whether gang against gang, gang against innocent victim, or confrontations between police and military and the gangs, including extra-judicial executions of suspected gang members.

2. El Salvador Seguro Plan.  The official government plan to combat violence in the country, titled El Salvador Seguro, was delivered in January 2015.    Created by representatives from many sectors of Salvadoran government and society, the Plan is multi-faceted and generally praised for including both prevention and enforcement in a comprehensive fashion.   But what the country primarily saw was an increasingly hard-line response from a government which made it clear that police and military patrols were free to use deadly force in confronting gangs and they would not be second-guessed.  

3. Gang shutdown of transport system.   As the government turned up its repressive efforts and killings of gang-members, the gangs executed a show of force through a total shut down of the bus system in the greater San Salvador area and many other parts of the country at the end of July.    The message was clear that the gangs continued to wield significant power.  The bus stoppage led into the deadliest month of the year, with 900 Salvadorans killed in August.  From this point forward during the rest of the year, the murder rate would only continue to climb,  including increasing attacks by the gangs on the police officers and soldiers.

4. Internal displacement.    As a consequence of gang threats and violence, thousands of families fled their homes seeking safer parts of the country becoming internal refugees.   Although the problem of internal displacement had been happening for years, in 2015 the problem started to get recognition in 2015.   Close to 300,000 individuals were thought to have been displaced in recent years -- almost 5% of the population.
5. Migration attempts continue.   Internal displacement could often be followed by external flight.   The exodus of Salvadorans towards the United States continued in 2015.    What changed this year was role of the Mexican government in doing more of US border enforcement.   While the US reported fewer apprehensions over its southern border, the Mexican government deported a greater number of Central Americans than ever.
6. Corruption prosecution of former president Francisco Flores.   Former ARENA president Francisco Flores (1999-2004) was in and out of jail as a prosecution continued over his use of $10 million in supposed earthquake relief funds from the government of Taiwan.     That money instead is alleged to have ended up in the coffers of ARENA political campaigns.   The actual trial is scheduled for January 2016.

7. Salvadorans again choose divided government in problem-filled elections.  In 2015, Salvadorans elected deputies to the National Assembly and elected municipal governments.   The election of national deputies was plagued with problems and complications in the vote count after a Supreme Court decision which allowed voters to vote for the first time for candidates in multiple parties.    When the dust settled, votes in the National Assembly were almost evenly split between the right and the left.   Nayib Bukele, a charismatic young candidate from the FMLN, became mayor of San Salvador.
8. El Salvador’s Supreme Court continues an independent path.   The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court continued to be active, issuing rulings on elections, voiding an issuance of $900 million in bonds to fund the El Salvador Seguro plan, and upholding prosecutions of gang members under an anti-terrorism law .   The rise of an independent judicial branch continued to be praised, even if some of its decisions might be subject to criticism.

9. Weather stories. Climate change continues to pose risks.    Large waves generated by storms in the Pacific crashed into the port of Libertad and elsewhere.   Drought destroyed the first half of the growing season in the eastern half of the country.    Coffee rust continued to lower yields on the coffee fincas of the country, increasing unemployment levels.

10. Beatification of Oscar Romero.   On May 23, slain archbishop Oscar Romero was beatified at a ceremony in San Salvador.    More than a half million people from El Salvador, Latin America and around the world filled the streets surrounding the Salvador del Mundo monument to celebrate the life of a man they have long called Saint Romero of the Americas.    It was a joyous event for a country that needed some good news this year.


What about the reestablishment of the BIRIs?