Monday, July 18, 2016

San Blas Massacre case ignores key evidence of widespread wrongdoing - El Faro (July 18, 2016)

The arrest last week of seven police officers involved in the alleged extrajudicial killing of eight people last year -- the so-called San Blas Massacre in which six alleged gang members and two civilians were killed, seemed to be a promising blow against police impunity in El Salvador. (See last Tuesday's post.) A piece from InSight Crime last week, for example, celebrated that the move by attorney general Douglas Meléndez indicate a message on his part that police must act within legal boundaries when carrying out anti-gang operations.

But the actual case presented by the Fiscalía is extremely limited, ignores evidence of more extensive wrongdoing by the police officers -- including evidence tampering. It might be an attempt to appear to be responding to widespread police abuses, without really doing so, according to a piece by El Faro's Oscar Martínez.

In a damning, in-depth piece he reviews the limited nature of the Fiscalía's case, and emphasizes violations it ignores, such as the killing of a 16-year old girlfriend of an alleged gang member, and the fact that the shootout between gang members and the police involved three shots from the gang members and 311 from police firearms.

Martínez's account also notes that the Salvadoran Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (PDDH) reviewed the same evidence and came to the conclusion that Dennis Alexánder Martínez, a 20-year-old working on the ranch, and the 16-year-old girl were victims of extrajudicial executions, and that the other six "might also have lost their lives arbitrarily by extrajudicial execution" rather than the 45 minute gunfight described by police.

Other inconsistencies include why Dennis was killed kneeling and begging for mercy, but also armed with two machetes and a knife, according to the police evidence.

The 37-page PDDH report also points to the possibility of a coverup by police high command, notes Martínez.

El Faro's sources report that evidence was tampered with, and that would constitute procedural fraud, a case that is being built to be lost.

"The San Blas ranch trial has been opened as the United States is about to implement giving 750 million dollars in aid to the Central American Northern Triangle for development and justice strengthening programs. El Salvador aspires to 69 of those millions. It's the Alliance for Prosperity Plan. But the U.S. government has made one of the conditions of payment that the Salvadoran government give signals that it is resolving cases like the San Blas massacre and others in which state security forces are accused of massacring and presenting the facts as shootouts."

El Faro broke the story of the eight killings last year (see post for July 23, 2015).

"Mano dura" crackdowns against gang in El Salvador have resulted in widespread human rights violations say observers. So far this year the police have reportedly killed 346 alleged gang members in violent confrontations -- while reports indicate that, as of April, 16 police officers had been killed by gang members, according to InSight Crime. The situation raises serious questions about what's going on. "Across Latin America, from Mexico to Venezuela and Brazil, the term "confrontation" is used to explain lopsided body counts and cover up human rights abuses by the security forces," notes InSight.

El Salvador's Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales decried such practices, saying they risk intensifying the already extreme violence affecting the country, reported Vice News earlier this year.

Aside: Martínez won an international press freedom award from the Committee to Protect Journalists

News Briefs
  • Last week marked the one year anniversary of Venezuela's Operación Liberación del Pueblo, a police crackdown on organized crime. Experts interviewed by Exitos criticized the policy, saying it has not reduced crime, and are counterproductive because the increase institutional violence -- they attribute 445 violent deaths to the program. Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights notes that an opposition legislator invited members of a victims committee to speak before the National Assembly. "In the past, such victims’ committees have evolved into full-fledged human rights groups with considerable voice," he says. 
  • More than 88,000 Venezuelans -- many of them women with children and the elderly -- took advantage of a temporary border opening to buy food and medicine in Colombia. For the second time in a week thousands flowed across the border searching for goods that are scarce in Venezuela, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See last Monday's briefs.) Reuters notes that many of them traveled hundreds of miles to shop, and that bus terminals and hotels in the border city of San Antonio were filled to capacity. Before the border was closed last year in a crackdown on criminal gangs smuggling, more than 100,000 people daily used the two main crossings, according to the Associated Press.
  • In light of a looming peace deal with the FARC in Colombia, the country's military is hopeful that it will be able to redirect energies to pursuing drug traffickers. They have focused considerable energies on manual coca eradication, after a two-decade aerial fumigation program was cancelled last year, explains the Associated Press. Eradication crews will be quadrupled to about 200 in the coming months. Each includes two dozen civilians, a security detail of sharpshooters, paramedics and land mine removal teams. A U.N. report last week said coca production increased by 39 percent last year. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • The promise of peace in Colombia will depend not on the final agreement being negotiated in Havana, but with grassroots peace activism, which is largely led by women, according to a Guardian op-ed. Women's groups have experience setting up "peace enclaves, where combatants temporarily laid aside their arms and limited ceasefires held. Women's groups created spaces for public gathering and dialogue, helping to integrate people displaced by war into the communities that received them." Now this expertise must be applied to the concentration zones where FARC fighters will demobilize, argues the piece.
  • More questions about security ahead of Rio de Janeiro's Olympics Games, which start on Aug. 5. The contract to hire and train thousands of security screeners -- who will monitor X-ray machines and pat down spectators for weapons and other contraband outside Olympic venues -- was awarded just two weeks ago to a small employment outsourcing firm that isn’t a major player in Brazil’s security industry, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Authorities on Friday said they would review all security procedures, following Thursday's terrorist attack in Nice, reports the Wall Street Journal. Stepped up screening has already caused havoc for travelers in Brazil's airports, reports Reuters, causing passengers to lose domestic flights. 
  • With three weeks to go, Rio desperately needs a lift from a spate of bad news affecting the city and the country. But it's not clear that the Games will succeed in doing that, argues a Guardian piece that reviews the city's pre-megagame context. The Los Angeles Times has an interview with Rio mayor Eduardo Paes, who complains of unfair treatment by the international press and emphasizes that Rio was awarded the Games with full knowledge of the city's deficits. "We never said we'd solve all of Rio’s or Brazil's problems. We said the Olympics would make progress on some problems."
  • Acting Brazilian president Michel Temer's poetry is the newest object of the country's satirists, " Brazilians try to decipher the man at the helm after a bare-knuckle power struggle that ousted President Dilma Rousseff in May," reports the New York Times.
  • The privately run, unlicensed detention centers the Obama administration has been for soaring numbers of Central American migrants, many of them children, are a questionable policy that "belies President Obama’s oft-professed concern for the humane treatment of people fleeing crime and violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador," argues a New York Times editorial. The piece calls for greater protection for migrants, with measures such as connecting migrants with pro bono lawyers and providing family and community based alternatives to detention. "Much money and effort have been spent to deter and detain them, to speed them through court, to hunt down those who are later found to be deportable. It would be far better to to score a humanitarian victory by reuniting children and families, especially since data show that Central Americans with asylum claims are far more likely to show up in court — and win their cases — when they have lawyers."
  • The U.S. Coast Guard said it called off a search for 15 people reported missing in an attempt to reach the U.S. Virgin Islands from the Dutch island of St. Maarten, reports the Associated Press. The group was comprised of 13 Cubans, a Colombian and a Dominican, attempting to reach the U.S. territory.
  • The brutal murders of three deaf women in Haiti last April highlights the issue of violence against women with disabilities there, according to a piece in the Guardian. "Disabled people in Haiti are discriminated against in multiple ways. For example, only 5% of children with disabilities are in school, according to a report by the Haitian state submitted in the report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. And people with disabilities complain that the police don’t take them seriously when they report crimes and that they are taunted in public as "cocobe" (useless)."
  • Argentine prosecutors are probing possible connections between a top aide to former President Nestor Kirchner and $21 million in Miami luxury housing investments, based on data released in the "Panama Papers" leak, reports the Miami Herald.
  • A new study by the International Trade Centre (ITC), the joint agency of the UN and World Trade Organization found that high quinoa prices in Peru improved the welfare of poor rural communities. The finding contributes to an ongoing debate over whether the international fascination with the so-called "super grain" harms communities that can no longer afford the traditional source of nutrition, according to a Guardian op-ed. "The data shows that as prices rose between 2004 and 2013, both producers and consumers in the region benefited financially from the trade. Quinoa farmers, who are among the poorest people in Peru, saw a 46 percent increase in their welfare over this period, measured by the value of all goods and services consumed by the household."
  • Ecuadorian historian Pablo Ospina Peralto has an interesting piece in Nueva Sociedad, in which he criticizes the Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa's "progressive" track record. He notes that the left tends to pardon "unacceptable measures," in the name of political expediency. He notes the long-standing tradition of the regions' left to pardon Cuba's sins, comparing it to the "interested and selective blindness" Latin American leftists had for socialist regimes.

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