Thursday, July 23, 2015

Police massacred 8 suspected gang members in El Salvador, reports El Faro (July 23, 2015)

An investigation published yesterday by El Faro found that Salvadoran police massacred eight people in March, and then claimed the dead were members of the Mara Salvatrucha street gang (MS-13).

The official version of events for the night of March 26 is that a highly trained group of the Policía Nacional Civil (PNC) were in a shootout with alleged gang members at San Blas estate, who died when the officers responded to their attack.

But, extensive evidence shows that it's more appropriate to speak of a massacre or execution, say reporters Roberto Valencia, Óscar Martínez and Daniel Valencia Caravantes. The police machine gunned gang members in the back as they fled without firing a shot, shot at surrendered suspects and executed two non-gang youths in cold blood, according to their report which is based on interviews with four youths who escaped that night from the estate, family members of the dead, the forensic and autopsy reports, human rights experts, forensic doctors and prosecutors -- as well as the family of one of the victims who were downstairs when he was shot by police officers.

The piece goes into the sad detail of Dennis Alexander Martínez Hernández, a 20-year-old employee at the farm, who was an active member of the local Baptist church and who opened the door to the police that night to try to explain that he was not a member of any gang. The exchange was overheard by his mother who was downstairs.

The other victims were gang members, according to the piece, but were fired on as they were going to sleep at the estate where they had been gathering recently.

According to El Faro's reconstruction of the events, the police came acting on reports that gang members had been gathering at the estate. The surviving gang members say their "homies" were not armed that night, though police pictures later showed some of the victims with guns.

The piece ends with a chilling epilogue: Dennis' uncle, who ran the estate, had been saying publicly that the police didn't give his nephew a chance to explain before opening fire. He had yelled and insulted the police as they gathered evidence after the attack. Nineteen days after the massacre he disappeared for 24 hours -- his body was found, his face disfigured by a machete.

El Faro accompanies the piece with an editorial noting that "there are reasons to believe this is not an isolated case. Since January the government's security strategy, which on paper includes integral measures, is based on promoting direct confrontation and shoot-outs with gangs. In 2015 there have already been more than 150 armed confrontations between gang members and police officers that have ended, mostly, with the death of one or several -- in some cases five, eight, nine -- suspects. The government boasts of those dead. In April the President of the Republic bragged that about 30 percent of the homicide victims of the past month were killed by police and army bullets."

The piece calls for authorities to protect the families of victims, who now fear the police more than gang members. And says that it's "urgent to remove the police from this perverse dynamic, and demand that it act according to law. ... The best way to defend the police is to condemn those who use it to violate the law and thus weaken its legitimacy and connexion to the community which they should serve. To encourage the police to free itself from the tether of the law in its fight against crime is to corrupt, prostitute the force."

News Briefs
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  • A NACLA piece by Stephen Cohen denounces a Miami Herald op-ed by United States Army General John F. Kelly regarding the lessons that can be extrapolated from Plan Colombia, saying his "specious narrative about the program's success ignores the crimes and impunity of the Colombian military, and lets the U.S. off the hook for fostering systemic human rights violations." 
  • Cuban dissident groups have been largely ignored in the general ebullition after the diplomatic detente between the U.S. and Cuba. According to an Associated Press count confirmed by leading dissidents, more than 20 U.S. lawmakers have come to Cuba since February without meeting with opposition groups that once were an obligatory stop for congressional delegations. While advocates of U.S. President Barack Obama's outreach to Cuba say it's a more intelligent way to push for democratic reform on the island, many dissidents have been feeling increasingly sidelined and abandoned.
  • FARC negotiators asked the Colombian government to ensure the Truth Commission is working before the end of November, though both parts agreed in June that it would be created once the final peace accords between the two parts are signed, reports EFE
  • The Chilean Congress made an unprecedented mea culpa Tuesday for a series of corruption cases involving lawmakers that have eroded public confidence in the institution, reportsAFP. Lawmakers acknowledged the damage caused by corruption, including accusations of tax fraud leveled against four opposition figures, two of them members of Congress.
  • U.S. authorities have officially requested the extradition of former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner from Trinidad and Tobago on charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering in the FIFA corruption case. Warner is out of jail on bail, and the Trinidadian attorney general said he will review the case, reports the Associated Press.
  • Thousands of Haitians marched in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday in solidarity with the thousands of undocumented residents of Haitian descent who face deportation from the Dominican Republic and demanded that the Haitian government ban the import of goods from the neighboring country, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Young Europeans, mostly from Spain, are flocking to Latin America in search of opportunity reports the Global Post. In 2010, for the first time in nearly two decades, the number of Europeans heading west outnumbered Latin Americans heading to the "old world," says a May report by the European Union and the International Organization for Migration. In 2012 Spaniards made up some 85 percent of all European immigrants to Latin America and the Caribbean. Unemployment in Spain has hovered around 25 percent in recent years and youth unemployment has been double that, at around 50 percent.

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