Showing posts from February, 2023

US indictment of top MS-13 leaders describes gang negotiations with head of Bukele's new mega-prison

Last week on successive days, the US government and the Salvadoran government both issued media releases about gang members being jailed in the two countries.  A newly unsealed federal criminal indictment also describes how MS-13 gang leaders negotiated with El Salvador's top jailer, Osiris Luna Meza, who now oversees Nayib Bukele's new mega-prison. Osiris Luna Meza On Thursday, February 23, the US Justice Department announced that, with the cooperation of the government of Mexico, it had taken into custody three high ranking leaders of MS-13.  Those gang leaders are three of the 13 defendants named in a multi-count indictment for racketeering and terrorism extending from El Salvador through Mexico to the United States.  Of the remaining 10 defendants, four are at large and six are in custody in El Salvador, which refuses to honor the extradition request from the US. The indictment  describes the involvement of MS-13 in a multinational plague of criminality from murder, assaul

Can 1.2 million computers reverse 9 years of declining enrollment in Salvadoran schools?

El Salvador's public school year began on February 6 with  1.2 million students enrolled .  The country has approximately 5100 public schools, and this was the first year since 2020 in which classes returned to being fully in person.  Today we look at the state of education in El Salvador at the start of the 2023 school year. Enrollment The overall number of students enrolled in schools has  declined by 23%  since 2014.  In 2014, there were 1,647,383 students enrolled compared to 1,269,756 in 2022.    Enrollment has declined both because of declining numbers of school age children in the country, but also because of increases in the number of children simply not enrolled in a school.  The percentage of children who are actually enrolled in school has declined in some age ranges, but improved in others.  The following chart shows the percentage of children who are not enrolled in school for any given age.   (Higher numbers are worse) (click for larger image) The chart shows that for

In other news

This post weaves together several recent articles published in English about current El Salvador events. In   Nayib Bukele’s Growing List of Latin American Admirers , Will Freeman writes that Nayib Bukele's approach to a war on gangs has been receiving favorable attention throughout the region: To his many critics, El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele has become a ruthless strongman, trampling due process and other civil protections. But within Latin America, his militarized crackdown on gangs is winning him a fan club that won’t stop growing. Prominent politicians and everyday people in countries from neighboring parts of Central America to far-flung Peru and Chile have professed their admiration for his policies—and expressed a desire to see their own countries adopt a similar approach. But that worries Suhelis Tejero as she writes in Bukele’s Firm Hand: El Salvador’s New Export? : With a new mega prison that holds 40,000 “terrorists”, the President of El Salvador takes his ultra

Status of El Mozote massacre case

Where does the war crimes trial for the 1981 massacre of children and others in El Mozote and surrounding communities stand at the beginning of 2023? It has been more than 41 years since the massacre -- is justice for approximately 1000 victims and their families any closer?  Over the five years after the El Mozote massacre case was reopened in 2016, Judge Jorge Guzman heard not only from the the humble campesinos who are witnesses and victims in his courtroom in San Francisco Gotera, but also from witnesses from the Salvadoran military and from experts who drew the lines of responsibility to the colonels and generals who gave the command for the massacre. Defense lawyers are no longer arguing about the fact that a massacre occurred.  Now, the defense argues to eliminate individual responsibility of particular military officers, but the fundamental fact is now acknowledged that the Salvadoran armed forces committed this atrocity. A hard blow against the process for justice took place

The Salvadoran economy at the start of 2023

Our review of the state El Salvador is in at the beginning of 2023 turns today to the economy.  At the end of 2022, Salvadorans who were polled responded that the economy was the biggest challenge facing the country today. Inflation was the dominant economic concern for Salvadoran families at the end of 2022 according to polling by the UCA .  El Salvador was hit by the same inflationary trends impacting the rest of the globe, with annual inflation for 2022 in the country reaching 7.2%.  During 2022, inflation for the cost of the basic foodstuffs for the average Salvadoran household in urban areas reached 13.5%, producing a monthly cost of $240.37, an increase of more than $28 per month.  By comparison, the monthly minimum wage in El Salvador for most sectors is currently $365. Local media carry stories like  this one  and  this one  where reporters go into city markets to ask the local vendors how much the prices of staples like cheese, beans, corn and plantains have risen. "Muc

Towards a post gang El Salvador

The current State of Exception in El Salvador with its war on the country's maras has resulted in the arrests of some 63,000 persons since March 27, 2022.  That wholesale imprisonment of anyone suspected of a connection with a gang, which has also swept up thousands of innocent persons according to rights groups, may now have broken the chokehold which gangs have long had on El Salvador.     For months statistics have shown a sustained and significant drop in the homicide rate in El Salvador.  As journalist Roberto Valencia  enumerates , the average daily homicide rate has dropped below 1.  In January 2023 there were 13 homicides in the country, compared to 750 in January 2016. Various journalists who are independent of the Bukele government have now gone into formerly gang-controlled areas across the country, have spoken with sources formerly connected with the gangs, and are writing that homicides are down not because gangs are simply not killing, but are down because the gang

Tourism is growing steadily in El Salvador

As part of our series on the state of El Salvador at the beginning of 2023, today we look at tourism.  It is an area which represents a clear achievement of the Bukele regime.  As the world emerges from depressed travel numbers caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, El Salvador is growing tourism visits and revenues beyond their 2019 pre-COVID levels.   I observed a visible sign of this growth in recent weeks.  On two recent visits to the historic center of San Salvador, I saw groups of obvious tourists being led around to sites like the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace by tour guides.  These were not the religious or university groups which have long made delegation visits to El Salvador, but were tour groups on vacation trips.  That's definitely something new.     Cruise ships are starting to make El Salvador a regular port of call.  Seven cruise ships have already docked at the port of Acajutla during the current cruise line season which began in October. While that