Showing posts from November, 2016

El Salvador -- corruption edition

Corruption investigations,disclosures and prosecutions in El Salvador were a rare thing ten years ago. Not so any more.   (Although convictions are something we are still waiting for).   Here is some of the current news of corruption in El Salvador. An El Faro investigation has detailed how the legislative assembly awarded more than a half million dollars to an organization founded by the wife of the founder of the GANA party and current president of the National Assembly, Guillermo Gallegos.   The organization is run by one of his assistants.   The money was supposed to support violence prevention efforts in seven municipalities -- efforts that the municipalities say they never saw. Hearings concluded today regarding allegations of illegal enrichment of the former director of the state Institute of Social Security, Leonel Flores.   Flores is accused of being unable to justify how his net worth grew significantly during his time in office. Reports are being disclosed how off

The mayor and the newspaper

For more than a year now, there has been a very public war between the mayor of San Salvador, Nayib Bukele , and one of El Salvador's major newspapers, La Prensa Grafica (LPG ).   The dispute relates to a "cyber-attack" on the LPG website in the summer of 2015 in which a cloned version of the site was created, to mislead web-surfers with a fake version of the site. In November 2015, police raided Bunker , an online marketing company located in San Salvador and arrested its CEO in connection with the cloned LPG site.   Bunker had previously been hired by parts of the national government in El Salvador as well as by the municipal government in San Salvador. LPG claims that Nayib Bukele was the person who ordered the cyber-attacks against the newspaper.  LPG coverage  of its claim has been continuous over the past year.    LPG claims the attacks were in retribution for articles in the paper critical of the mayor. For his part, Bukele recently compared the ongoing

Lack a lawyer? Expect to be deported

As the refugee crisis from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras continues, immigration courts are swamped with cases where judges must decide whether or not to grant asylum to those fleeing violence in their home countries.    In immigration court proceedings, there is no right to an attorney.   The US government does not provide lawyers for those who cannot afford them.   But having a lawyer makes an enormous difference in the outcomes of these proceedings.   Statistics gathered by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University (TRAC) show that less than half of the women with children who go in front of an immigration court have managed to obtain a lawyer.   TRAC figures reveal that without a lawyer, less than 2% of the unrepresented families who try to make an asylum claim have avoided being deported.   With a lawyer, however, the chance of making a successful claim rises to approximately 41%. A recent story from PRI's The World , describes one such

The intrepid reporters at El Faro

Regular readers of this blog have seen me often refer to stories published in the online periodical El Faro .  The investigative journalism there often provides the best insights into crime, politics, gangs,the economy and corruption in El Salvador.    The most recent example of this work was a collaborative project with the New York Times published on Sunday titled  Killers on a Shoestring:  Inside the gangs of El Salvador   which looks at the finances and structures of gangs in El Salvador : With an estimated 60,000 members in a country of 6.5 million people, the gangs hold power disproportionate to their numbers. They maintain a menacing presence in 247 of 262 municipalities. They extort about 70 percent of businesses. They dislodge entire communities from their homes, and help propel thousands of Salvadorans to undertake dangerous journeys to the United States. Their violence costs El Salvador $4 billion a year, according to a study by the country’s Central Reserve Bank.  An

A face lift for Cuscatlán Park

Located close to the historic center of San Salvador is Cuscatlán Park.   This  tree-filled urban park is a welcome oasis from the noise and congestion of central San Salvador.  On any given day you will see lovers embracing on park benches, scouts engaged in group activities, or an older couple strolling.   It is also home to the Monument to Memory and Truth as well as a small art museum. But the park which opened in 1939 is showing the effects of age and a lack of care and maintenance.  The unpaved roads inside are rutted and dusty; vegetation is trampled, and sidewalks and steps have cracks and holes.   Now the city of San Salvador and USAID are teaming up to give the venerable park an overhaul to make it a point of civic pride for the city.  The $8 million remodeling project has a goal of providing modern public spaces to promote a culture of peace. The project will include overhead walkways, new exhibition space for art, areas for children, and improved amenities throughout

Plan Nemesis: El Salvador doubles down on had-line policies

Responding to a series of attacks on security forces, the government of El Salvador announced that it will hit back even harder.   In November, there have been at least 13 murders of police officers and soldiers by the gangs. In response, the government's point man on security issues, vice president Oscar Ortiz, announced that the armed forces and police would be initiating "Plan Nemesis."   (In Greek mythology, Nemesis was the goddess of divine retribution ). Ortiz announced: "Plan Nemesis will have as its objective to harden still further the regime of action against these criminal structures."  "We are striking blows against organized crime."  "We are going to deploy our units, pursue [the gangs] and beat them with force." The vice president also stated that gang leaders responsible for attacks on police would face even stricter prison conditions, and his minister of security stated that such gang members would face "the wo

Twelve years of blogging about El Salvador

Today is the 12th anniversary of this blog.  In that time I have written more than 2400 posts. Thanks to everyone who continues to read, comment, and share ideas for the blog.   I appreciate all the interest you show in this little country. Looking over the tags I put on posts, these were the most common topics I have covered: Crime and Violence -- 213 posts Elections -- 165 posts  Economy -- 135 posts Migration -- 133 posts Gangs -- 132 posts (probably just a subset of Crime and Violence) US Relations -- 109 posts History -- 102 posts The author, on the left, at beatification ceremony for Oscar Romero

27 years after Jesuit murders

Today, November 16, 2016 marks 27 years since elements of the armed forces of El Salvador entered the grounds of the University of Central America and assassinated six Jesuit priests, and under orders to leave no witnesses, they killed the Jesuits' housekeeper and her daughter.   Here are the developments on this case in the past year: The Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court nullified the 1993 Amnesty Law which had been used to justify the lack of legal proceedings in the country. The human rights prosecution in Spain against 17 high ranking officers of the Salvadoran military continues , but El Salvador's Supreme Court rejected the request of the Spanish court to extradite the officers to Spain. One of the defendants in the Spanish case, Orlando Montano, is in custody in the US for immigration fraud and the US intends to extradite him to Spain so the trial there can proceed.  The extradition order is currently being appealed by Montano

El Salvador court directs war crimes case to proceed

The Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court today ruled that legal proceedings should go forward regarding the 1982 massacre at El Calabozo .  Many of the facts have long been documented.   From the UN Truth Commission Report : There is sufficient evidence that on 22 August 1982, troops of the Atlacatl Battalion deliberately killed over 200 civilians - men, women and children - who had been taken prisoner without offering any resistance. The incident occurred at the place known as El Calabozo, near the canton of Amatitán Abajo, Department of San Vicente.   Although the massacre was reported publicly, the Salvadorian authorities denied it. Despite their claim to have made an investigation, there is absolutely no evidence that such an investigation took place. Relatives of the victims have been trying to get justice ever since, but have been stymied by the Salvadoran courts and the 1993 Amnesty Law.   The Constitutional Chamber, which earlier this year nu

Is war the correct word for what is happening in El Salvador?

I was outside an office of the National Civilian Police (PNC) in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador, located in a zone afflicted with significant gang activity.   A masked PNC officer strode past me.  He wore the common uniform of PNC officers involved in anti-gang work:  body armor, with an automatic weapon slung over his shoulder and a pistol on his hip.   Our eyes met.  Under his mask I could not tell if he was smiling or frowning at the gringo seated outside the police offices. The pickups filled with heavily armed PNC operatives came and went.   Sometimes they discharged a shirtless man, hands bound behind him with zip cord, and pushed him towards the building.   A large truck rumbled past with heavily armed soldiers carrying automatic rifles. The desk sergeant describes how many people in the zone had disappeared from gang activity so far this year.  She didn't say how many had disappeared for other reasons. Later, we drove past a joint military / PNC operation -- young men were

An El Salvador success story: Ciudad Mujer

One of the most successful innovations of the FMLN governments in El Salvador has been Ciudad Mujer (Women's City).  At Ciudad Mujer, governmental resources are aggregated to uniquely serve women in an effort to combat domestic violence, to provide health services, and to provide the skills and training which can lead to economic independence and greater self esteem.   From an initial site founded in 2011, the program has expanded to six locations across the country serving thousands of women. The program was the brainchild of current Secretary of Social Inclusion Vanda Pignato who was First Lady during the first FMLN administration of Mauricio Funes.   It is safe to say that the Brazilian born Pignato is now one of the most popular political figures in El Salvador.   (Pignato has subsequently separated from Funes, and he has moved to Nicaragua and been granted political asylum to protect himself from corruption charges in El Salvador).   A recent  Buzzfeed article  describe

The police as viewed by the Salvadoran public

Poll results recently released by the Francisco Gavidia University in San Salvador provide insights into how people view the National Civilian Police: 48% say that the police sometimes do not respect citizens' rights. 35% say they have been subject to, or aware of, abuse by police. The majority of Salvadorans don't reach out to police when they have been the victim of a crime.   69% would rather not go to the police because of a lack of trust or simply a belief that the perpetrators will not be captured. 49% believe that the police need more education in human rights. 45% of Salvadorans believe there are death squads within the ranks of the police. 66% of Salvadorans disapprove of vigilante death squads. (Of course that means that one in three do not disapprove).

Homicides down in El Salvador, but police-gang clashes continue

This article was originally published on the website of InsightCrime . By Tristan Clavel Government figures indicate a significant decrease in El Salvador 's homicide rate this year, but the conflict between gangs and security forces appears to be intensifying. Data from El Salvador 's National Police shows there were 4,585 homicides in El Salvador between January and October 2016, according to El Faro . This represents an 18 percent decrease in comparison with the first 10 months of 2015, the most murderous year for the country in the 21st Century. Authorities say that the homicide figure should reach approximately 5,300 for 2016, in the absence of a major or unusual event during November or December. This would position the national homicide rate at approximately 80 per 100,000, a roughly 20 percent decrease in comparison to last year's 103 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. But the 2016 homicide rate will still be extremely high, and perhaps the highest of any co

The impact of Trump's election on El Salvador

This morning, the government of El Salvador saluted Donald Trump for his election as president of the United States.  But what will a Donald Trump presidency mean for El Salvador?   Here are a few areas where his impact will be felt. Immigration .  Without a doubt, an anti-immigrant Trump administration could have serious economic and social impacts on El Salvador.   Approximately one of every four people alive who were born in El Salvador  or an estimated 2 million Salvadorans, currently live in the US. Remittances which they send home make up one sixth of El Salvador's gross national product.   Estimates vary, but perhaps between 700,000 and 1 million Salvadorans in the US are undocumented and would be a focus of Trump's immigration enforcement efforts.  If a significant percentage of them are suddenly deported, the disruption in El Salvador will be great.  Most certainly,   executive actions of the Obama administration which were intended to reduce deportations will be

A marginalized population

The poorest residents of El Salvador live in marginalized communities, dwelling in tiny shacks made of scrap materials.  It is a spirit-crushing existence for tens of thousands in the country.  This documentary video by Noah Bullock, executive director of Cristosal , eloquently portrays their plight.

Fiscal crisis stalemate continues

The stalemate between El Salvador's majority political parties over resolution of the government's fiscal crisis continues.   The government lacks the cash to pay its bills and needs the approval of the National Assembly to issue bonds to borrow the needed funds on international markets.   The FMLN government, however, needs the concurrence of the conservative ARENA opposition to obtain the required votes in the legislature. Yesterday saw protests blocking various thoroughfares in the country, as local mayors protested the government's delay of transfer payments to the municipalities.    Those payments, which go by the acronym FODES, are the major revenue source for local governments. US Ambassador Jean Manes to El Salvador sent out a tweet from her account calling it "disappointing" that the parties had not been able to come to an accord and saying perhaps it was time to put everyone together into a room and not leave until there is white smoke. Pre

Restorative Justice for El Salvador

Raquel Caballero de Guevara I was at two events this week which were also attended by Raquel Caballero de Guevara, El Salvador's new Procuradora para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos or PDDH.   Into English, this is usually translated as Human Rights Ombudsman, but I think a better translation would by Advocate for the Defense of Human Rights.   She has been in her current position since September. In each of the appearances Caballero de Guevara spoke of one of her priorities being programs of " restorative justice ."   As the 25th Anniversary of the 1992 Peace Accords approaches, the PDDH wants to see restorative justice provided for the victims in El Salvador. Both of the appearances of Caballero de Guevara were at events where Father Michael Lapsley was presenting.   Lapsley founded the Institute for Healing of Memories in South Africa and was in El Salvador this week to discuss the process of healing and reconciliation for countries emerging from conflict.

Remittances still essential for El Salvador

Remittances continue to be one of El Salvador's primary sources of income.  The money sent home by Salvadorans who have migrated abroad support the households of hundreds of thousands in the country.  According to World Bank data , remittances to El Salvador make up 1/6th of the country's gross domestic product.   Remittances in 2015 hit an all time high of $4.27 billion .   There will likely be another record in 2016,  as remittances in 2016 are 6.1% higher through the first nine months of the year than the corresponding period in 2015 according to El Salvador's  Central Reserve Bank A recent report , based on interviews with 17,000 Salvadorans who do such things as pay bills and receive remittances at credit unions across the country, gives more insight into the profile of remittance receivers: Over sixty percent of participants [in the study] have relatives abroad, and nearly fifty percent receive remittances. Women tend to be more remittance dependent, first becau

More on corruption allegations against Saca

More details are being made available regarding the embezzlement and money-laundering case against El Salvador's former president Tony Saca. El Salvador's attorney general announced that Saca and six others were being charged with the diversion of more than $246 million from the public coffers.  The prosecutors uncovered a pattern of money laundering of funds coming out of various public accounts, through various other accounts, cash withdrawals, and other transfers leading, among other places, to accounts of media companies owned by Saca.  The prosecution is being led by the Financial Investigation Unit and the Anti-Impunity Group of the Attorney General's office.  The next hearing in the case is Thursday morning, November 3. Saca denies all of the charges against him.  He continues in custody.   His defense lawyer stated that the ex-president feels fine and has faith in the judicial system. Police also  searched  the  home  of the former president and some of