Tuesday, March 1, 2016

In-depth report on violence and policy in El Salvador by LAWG (March 1, 2016)

A series by the Latin America Working Group focuses on violence in El Salvador. It's become somewhat rote to note the sky-high murder rate and rampant gang violence that is forcing Salvadorans to migrate in droves hoping to escape the grim local dynamics.

The series takes a deeper look, seeking to lay out the current security situations and provide U.S. policy recommendations.

"What we found was evidence of a grim, multi-sided conflict with no clear end in sight: Gangs are now present in each of the country's 14 regional departments, controlling entire neighborhoods and imposing untold violence and fear on the population. Evidence is emerging that some members of the military and police, now engaged in a war against the gangs, are involved in extrajudicial killings. Many Salvadoran citizens are in favor of the government's militarized measures and are calling for the gangs' blood, adopting a 'kill them all' mantra in hopes that some sort of peace will emerge once the gangs are gone. But the gangs are a moving target, whose operations involve a substantial part of the population and who continue to re-fill their ranks with young, marginalized boys who have grown up in areas where criminal groups hold more clout than the state."

The roots of the conflict trace back to the legacy of the country’s bloody civil war, which lasted from 1980 to 1992, note the authors Sarah Kinosian, Angelika Albaladejo, and Lisa Haugaard. "The problems of social inequality and elite dominance of state institutions that contributed to the conflict are still in place, and it is evident that the inheritance of the use of force as a first resort still casts a shadow over El Salvador. Politics remain extremely polarized, corruption is rampant, impunity is high, transparency is low and justice is rare."

The series covers topics including:
  • The gang turf wars, internal battles and invisible borders that dominate Salvadorans lives: "... The security landscape in El Salvador is more complex than a battle between gangs and security forces. There are struggles between the gangs, within the gangs, conflicts between all armed actors and citizens, and some violence due to transnational drug trafficking. In this complicated, very bloody fight, violence has become a daily occurrence, forcing entire neighborhoods to leave their homes and making it nearly impossible for many children to go to school or for adults to make a living."
  • Increasing extrajudicial killings and abuse by security forces: "For security forces, it seems the line between those living in gang-controlled neighborhoods and those in a gang has become blurred, casting such a wide net in their operations that anyone could be targeted, but particularly young boys." (El Faro has had in-depth reporting on specific cases, see the post for July 23, 2015 and the briefs on Sept. 14, 2015 on the repercussions for the investigative journalists who have dared to report the the issue.)
  • El Salvador's Gun Market: Loose law enforcement, relative lack of gun controls in the U.S., military corruption and failure to control caches of civil war-era arms have made it easy for criminals to access firepower, which is used in 80 percent of Salvadoran homicides.
  • Internal displacement: The country is in the throws of a humanitarian crisis that has led hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, but the government hasn't fully recognized the internal displacement problem and is not providing solutions. Last year 324,000 people were displaced by crime and violence, up from 280,000 in 2014.
  • Violence and women in El Salvador: Gang and security force violence have exacerbated a long-standing acceptance of violence against women. More than half of Salvadoran women say they have suffered some form of violence in their lives, according to the authors. "While men are far more likely to be murdered, women are significantly more likely to experience intrafamilial, sexual, or economic violence. To make matters worse, women receive little to no guarantees of protection from the state. Due to ineffective governmental institutions, corruption, and social acceptance, impunity reigns in nearly all cases of violence against women."
  • LGTBI Salvadorans are making legal headway, but face unchecked violence. "Violence comes from gang members, from family members, neighbors—and from members of the police." (See Feb. 11's briefs: human rights organizations are denouncing that more than 500 LGBT people have been murdered since 1995 without their cases even being investigated, reports El Faro.)
  • Security strategy for this year: "El Salvador’s mounting security crisis has been met by a heavy-handed government response, which centers on sending the military and police into the streets to outgun the gangs and filling the country’s jails with even the lowest-ranking of alleged gang members. Beyond escalating violence and presenting extremely serious human rights concerns, this plan is simply not working. But, as 2016 unfolds, the government has a chance to set a new course and roll out an existing strategy to curb the violence."
News Briefs
  • Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's brother was arrested on allegations of involvement in in murders and forced disappearances associated with a far-right death squad in the 1990s, reports the Associated Press. Prosecutors say he played a key role organizing the infamous paramilitary group known as the 12 Apostles, reports the Wall Street Journal. The group started out fighting Colombia's left-wing insurgency that was attacking ranchers' property in the state of Antioquia and developed into a criminal organization. Santiago Uribe, who was arrested in Medellín, has long denied the charges. The former president has accused the current president, Juan Manuel Santos, of wielding the threat of prosecution as a political tool against his conservative Democratic Center movement. Yesterday Santos tweeted that the case should be opened to international oversight to ensure fairness for Uribe. The arrest will likely create further tension in an already difficult political situation in Colombia in the context of an upcoming public referendum on a peace deal with the FARC, notes the WSJ. Uribe has been critical of the negotiations and accuses Santos of selling out to the rebels. (See last Friday's post.)
  • A landmark ruling in a Guatemalan court against military officers that sexually enslaved a group of indigenous women in the 1980s during the country's civil war is the first time sexual violence in the period is addressed judicially. Rape was a common weapon in the period, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.) The piece quotes WOLA's Jo-Marie Burt, who said "this emblematic case made visible the kind of violence visited upon women’s bodies during the armed conflict and sends a very powerful message that the justice system can hold these perpetrators to account. It symbolizes justice for the countless other women who were sexually violated in the conflict."
  • Zika is on the rise in Mexico. There are about a 120 cases, 11 of which are pregnant women, and mostly in the southern Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, reports Reuters.
  • Elections in Jamaica last week were closer than originally reported. Jamaican reservist soldiers reinforced security at electoral offices yesterday after a final count narrowed the winning party's majority to one seat, according to Reuters.
  • For the first time Brazilian prosecutors are linking ormer President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva with the high profile "Operation Car Wash" investigation, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazilian police say they have arrested Facebook's Latin America VP, who is accused of ignoring a judicial order in a secret investigation involving organized crime and drug trafficking, reports the Guardian.
  • Argentina has agreed to pay four hedge funds $4.65 billion, a deal that will end a decade of intricate international legal quarrels and permit the country access to international financial markets again, reports the New York Times. "Their ultimate victory illustrates the outsize influence hedge funds can have in the countries where they bet their money. And their legal tactics are likely to be used again by other investors contesting the debt obligations of sovereign powers." For those who got lost several years ago in the debate over default or not, the NYTimes has a feature going over the battle with the holdout creditors ("vulture funds"). The long battle has impacted how debt is issued worldwide as other countries have restructured contracts to avoid a similar situation, notes the Associated Press
  • The mysterious death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman last year might be moving closer to a conclusion, reports the Guardian. Last week federal appeals court prosecutor Ricardo Sáenz said that "the evidence produced so far" showed that Nisman had been the victim of a homicide. And the appearance in court of a former spymaster could provide more information on the case.
  • The Venezuelan government is pursuing a case against a website publishing information on the black market exchange rate, despite dismissal last week by a U.S. court, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Administrators of a Puerto Rico luxury hotel were arrested and charged with tax evasion, as the U.S. territory cracks down on corruption, reports the Associated Press.

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