Showing posts from October, 2016

FMLN offered $10 million in micro-credits to gangs.

More recordings of secret meetings have surfaced showing prominent FMLN officials meeting with leaders of the country's notorious gangs.   In these meetings, the FMLN discusses creating a multi-million dollar micro-credit program to be managed by the gangs and discusses complaints of the gangs about prosecutions and cooperating witnesses. The recordings were surreptitiously made by the gang members attending the meetings, and the recordings subsequently found their way into the hands of three online journalism sites:  El Faro, RevistaFactum, and InsightCrime.   Here is the introduction to the InsightCrime article : Two videos reveal another layer of secret negotiations between El Salvador’s ruling party, the FMLN, and leaders of the three main gangs in El Salvador. One involves the former Minister of Public Security, Benito Lara, and another is with current Interior Minister Aristides Valencia, in which the latter offers the gang leaders up to $10 million in micro-credit.  

Former president Tony Saca arrested on corruption charges

Former president of El Salvador Antonio (Tony) Saca was arrested on corruption charges in the early hours of Sunday morning as he left the celebration of his son's wedding.  Along with Saca, police arrested Julio Rank, Saca's ex-secretary of Comunications,  César Funes, the ex-president of the ANDA water authority, and Elmer Charlaix, Saca's former private secretary, and three other officials involved in managing funds in the office of the president. As Reuters reports ,  Saca joins two other recent Salvadoran presidents with corruption charges: In March, El Salvador's supreme court ordered a civil trial of the former president, as well as his wife, Ana Ligia de Saca, because he could not explain how he acquired $5 million at the end of his term.  Saca, who also had his bank accounts and properties frozen, was expelled from his political party, the conservative Nationalist Republican Party (Arena), in 2009 due to the alleged irregularities.  In February, for

A Salvadoran Cross for the Lutheran-Catholic commemoration of the Reformation

On October 31, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation will hold a commemoration in Sweden for the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.   The event will include the participation of Pope Francis, LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan and LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge.   It is part of a dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches regarding their common beliefs and practices. The symbol of this event in Sweden is a cross painted by Salvadoran artist Christian Chavarria Ayala.  You can read about the images on this cross here .  Christian says he has painted around 250,000 crosses of different sizes and colors to raise awareness on issues such as poverty, water, globalization and peaceful coexistence. The crosses are the “best therapy to cope with difficult moments,” says Christian. Christian grew up during El Salvador's bloody civil war.   In an attack on his childhood home, Christian saw the army massacre his s

The week in El Salvador -- Oct 28

Quick takes from news stories this week from El Salvador. El Salvador's fiscal crisis continued without resolution.   Currently ARENA asserts it will only approve $500 million in bonds, while the government and FMLN insist on $1.2 billion.   Added to the crisis are demands from health system workers for increases in their national salary scale.  LPG  (sp). El Salvador saw more than 100 police officers resign in the first six months of the year, and a large number try to seek asylum in the US or Canada for their own safety.   Still, this number is down from 2015 and 2014, and seems to parallel the rise and fall of the overall homicide rate in the country     Insight Crime  and Texas Tribune . El Salvador's Vice President Óscar Ortiz said on October 20 that the Special Reactionary Forces (Fuerzas Especializadas de Reacción El Salvador - FES) had proven particularly efficient against the gangs during its first six months of operations, reported La Prensa Gráfica. He also gav

US aids El Salvador, hoping that fewer will migrate

If you listen to the radio or watch TV in El Salvador you will hear the ads -- warning Salvadorans that the path of migration towards the US is fraught with danger and will not result in the "American dream."   Those ads are part of an effort by the US government to reduce the flow of Central Americans towards the north. As one of its series of articles on Central Americans migrating to the US, the Texas Tribune reports this week on the US-funded programs which are trying to reduce the factors which push people out of the country: Policymakers are hoping that anti-gang initiatives like the one playing out in Yaritza’s high-risk school in tiny Caserio El Pital, located in one of the country's most violent regions, will help reduce crime by stopping kids from joining the street gangs that rule huge swaths of territory here.  The materials and instruction she receives — courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer — are part of a major foreign assistance effort. This particular prog

El Salvador's fiscal crisis

El Salvador is in the midst of a financial crisis.   Its government is running out of funds to pay its bills; the political parties are deadlocked in negotiations to find a solution; and there are suggestions the government might even default on its debt. From Bloomberg : El Salvador President Salvador Sanchez said the government was in a state of emergency as he pushed lawmakers to agree to a global bond sale to ease a liquidity crunch.  A "lack of liquidity" must be solved this year to "avoid negative consequences of greater dimension," Sanchez said in a televised address, as yields on the Central American nation’s debt soared.  The government is willing to reach an agreement on a fiscal responsibility law in congress that would include tighter spending rules, Sanchez said, while calling on lawmakers to approve a $1.2 billion bond sale. Standard & Poor’s placed El Salvador on credit watch last week and said the country’s B+ rating may be downgraded if

Intimidation of journalists in El Salvador

If there is anything which El Salvador truly needs it is independent and courageous journalists.   But as the Texas Tribune notes in a piece titled El Salvador journalist faces threats from gangs, government , such journalism can provoke official intimidation.   The article describes how one Salvadoran journalist, Jorge Beltran, faced threats of prosecution after publishing an article about gangs which the government did not like: In late December 2015, he published a map detailing which of San Salvador’s neighborhoods are controlled by the country’s powerful streets gangs, including the Mara Salvatrucha (or MS-13) and the Barrio 18. It was intended as an interactive guide to help people navigate the confusing and treacherous gang boundaries; knowing where not to cross is literally a matter of life and death here.  But national law enforcement authorities were deeply embarrassed by the notion that they had lost control of huge swaths of San Salvador to the maras, the gangs. A few d

The refugee crisis continues

The plight of refugees in El Salvador and the other countries of the northern triangle of Central America continues unabated. More reporting this week highlights the magnitude of the crisis and some of the stories of individual families: Home Sweet Home? Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador’s role in a deepening refugee crisis is a report from Amnesty International which explores how the three countries are failing to protect people from violence, and also failing to set up a comprehensive protection plan for deportees forced by countries such as Mexico and the USA to return to life-threatening situations. Central America's rampant violence fuels an invisible refugee crisis is an article by Nina Lakhani in the Guardian also looking at the dangers faced by these families and the scant efforts to protect them. Gang Violence Drives Internal Displacement in El Salvador is an article by Edgardo Ayala from IPS about the internally displaced persons of El Salvador.

El Salvador wins gold mining arbitration

There was celebration yesterday in El Salvador's government and among environmental activists after the country won its seven year legal dispute with Oceana Gold .    Oceana God's predecessor, Pacific Rim, had initiated the arbitration against El Salvador seeking more than $250 million after the country refused to grant it permits to mine gold on the company's El Dorado property in the department of Cabanas.   OceanaGold was ordered to reimburse El Salvador for the country's $8 million in legal costs in defending the suit.   The Guardian quoted the parties' reactions to the decision: “For the people of Cabanas who have been fighting to defend their environment, it is mission accomplished,” said El Salvador’s attorney general, Douglas Meléndez Ruiz. “It is an important step for the country to have been victorious in this lawsuit.”  While an OceanaGold statement expressed disappointment at the verdict, the outcome was celebrated by civil society groups from

Spotlight on the Comandos

Some of the real heroes of El Salvador are the members of the Comandos de Salvamento -- the volunteer rescuers and ambulance drivers dressed in yellow and green uniforms who rescue victims of accidents, violence and natural disaster throughout the country. One of their volunteers is profiled on the Refinery29 website in an article titled  Meet The Girl Who Runs A Paramedic Crew In The World's Murder Capital : The 18-year-old is a shift leader at Comandos de Salvamento, or Rescue Commandos, a volunteer-run ambulance service in San Salvador – the murder capital of the world.  When the alarm rings on a Saturday night, it could be for a shooting, murder, car accident, or even a fire. Martinez knows how to deal with all of them.  “I’m scared sometimes,” she said. “But I like the adventure and the adrenaline. I love it.” She starts her weekly shift around 4pm, rushing the long commute from home to the Comandos de Salvamento headquarters to make sure she arrives well before th

Profile of Nayib Bukele in VQR

If you read nothing else written in English about El Salvador this week, I recommend that you read the profile of San Salvador mayor Nayib Bukele in the Virginia Quarterly Review .   The feature length article written by Lauren Markham on the popular young mayor features not only the story of his rapid rise to being the most popular politician in the country, but also a look at the problems confronting the country and its capital as seen through Bukele's eyes. Here Markham talks with Bukele about the national government's hard line approach to addressing violence: Given the severity of these circumstances, it was almost baffling that Bukele hardly mentioned violence at all when we sat in his office in January, his people snapping photographs and filming us. He even tended to skirt the subject in favor of discussing his pet projects.   “Look,” he explained when I pressed him. “If you have a headache, what would you take? A Tylenol. But what you have isn’t a Tylenol defic

30th anniversary of 1986 San Salvador earthquake

Thirty years ago today a massive earthquake struck San Salvador killing as many as 1,500 people.    The quake struck at ten minutes before noon on October 10, 1986  with a magnitude of 5.7.  The shallow quake caused considerable damage to El Salvador's capital city of San Salvador and surrounding areas, including neighboring Honduras and Guatemala. The temblor caused between 1,000 and 1,500 deaths, 10,000 injuries, and left 200,000 homeless.   The shallow quake located just 7 km from the center of the capital city caused the destruction of many buildings. San Salvador's Benjamin Bloom children's hospital, a marketplace, many restaurants, office buildings, and poor neighborhoods were significantly damaged or destroyed.   It was a massive tragedy which came in the midst of El Salvador's 12 year civil war. From the New York Times two days after the quake: The death toll from a strong earthquake two days ago has risen to 890 and some stricken areas have still not

Statistics point toward police abuses in El Salvador

The National Civilian Police (PNC) and armed forces of El Salvador have killed 693 alleged gang members in armed confrontations in the past twenty months since the government declared "war" on the gangs in January 2015.   The pace of the deaths of gang members has increased significantly in 2016 with 424 deaths of gang members at the hands of security forces this year. A statistical analysis of these confrontations and deaths performed by El Faro supports the thesis that the security forces are making disproportionate use of assault rifles and committing extra-judicial executions. One measure is the index of "lethality" or the ratio of subjects killed and wounded in confrontations between gangs and the police.   In the past 20 months, there were 1074 armed confrontations, leaving 693 dead gang members and 255 wounded, an index of lethality of 2.72.  In other words, for every one gang member who was captured wounded, there were 2.72 killed.   For the first 8 mon

Big job for El Salvador's new Human Rights Advocate

El Salvador has a new Human Rights Advocate within its government.  Raquel Caballero de Guevara is the new "Procuradora para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos" or PDDH.   The position is one which advocates for human rights and denounces their abuses, but has no real power. The election of Caballero de Guevara required a super-majority of votes in the National Assembly, so each of the major parties needed to support her.  She replaces outgoing PDDH David Morales who was unable to garner support from the country's political parties for a second term.   (In the last fifteen years, I don't believe any PDDH has obtained a second term -- if they are doing their job well a PDDH makes the politicians in power uncomfortable as they are held accountable on human rights issues). The issues on the desk of Caballero de Guevara as she commences her job are large.   In the face of a hard line government response to gang violence, the PDDH must address serious and ongoing repo

This war now has a refugee camp

Nina Lakhani, writing in the Guardian , has a story of a makeshift refugee camp, which houses Salvadoran families forced to flee their homes because of gang violence: A gloomy group of men and women watch in silence as a truckload of armed soldiers slowly drive past the basketball court where they are living in makeshift plastic shelters.  This encampment in Caluco, a small town 40 miles west of the capital, San Salvador, is home to about 70 people from a nearby farming community, forced to flee their homes after a recent escalation of gang violence.  It is El Salvador’s first camp for internally displaced people since the 12-year civil war, when an estimated one million people were forcibly displaced and 80,000 killed....  The Caluco camp serves as the latest stark warning that extreme violence is again displacing huge numbers of Salvadorans, forcing entire families to leave home in search of safety. Read the rest of the story here .

Salvadoran judge reopens case of El Mozote massacre

Almost thirty-five years after the El Mozote massacre , a local judge in El Salvador has reopened criminal proceedings, including proceedings against the military high command at the time of the atrocity.  The decision of Judge Jorge Guzman Urquilla starts a process in El Salvador which might  bring justice for one of the worst single massacres of civilians in the history of the western hemisphere.  From the AP : A judge in El Salvador has ordered prosecutors to reopen a probe into one of the most notorious massacres in recent history: the army's slaying of hundreds of people in the village of El Mozote.  Human rights advocate Ovidio Mauricio told The Associated Press on Saturday that Judge Jorge Guzman Urquilla had accepted the request filed by his organization and two other groups. The decision was based on a July ruling by the country's Supreme Court that overturned a law granting amnesty for war crimes during El Salvador's 1979-1992 civil war.... The Su