Friday, September 4, 2020

Bukele negotiated with MS-13 -- El Faro (Sept. 4, 2020)

 El Salvador's government has been secretly negotiating with the country's deadly Mara Salvatrucha street gang (MS-13) for the past year. El Faro reports that President Nayib Bukele's administration got the infamous gang to reduce murders and pledge its support for the president’s party, Nuevas Ideas, during the 2021 election. In exchange, MS-13 members received prison benefits.

This has been El Salvador's the least homicidal year since the Peace Accords were signed in 1992. The Bukele administration chalked up this achievement to its policing plan, though experts have been skeptical of the claim. Throughout the year there have been rumors of some form of official cooperation with gangs. (See for example July 9's post on an International Crisis Group report that hypothesizes a "quiet, informal understandings between gangs and the government.")

El Faro's report is based on hundreds of documents, prison intelligence reports and book records on two maximum security penitentiaries that prove that the director of Tejido Social -- a government office created by the Bukele government to address the country’s gang crisis -- Carlos Marroquin, and the national director of prisons, Osiris Luna, quietly made 14 visits to jails to meet with top MS-13 leaders. The official documents obtained by El Faro show the two executives were accompanied on their visits by twenty individuals who, under official orders, were allowed into the penal centers without having to identify themselves. These people went into the penitentiary center with their faces obscured by hoods. At least one is a gang leader at large, according to the documents.

Bukele did not respond to the allegations directly, yesterday, but Tweeted images of incarcerated gang members handcuffed to each other in their underwear -- a Covid-19 lockdown episode human rights organizations criticized earlier this year -- and scoffed that it was nonsensical to also accuse his administration of granting privileges to inmates.

The president also lashed out against journalists -- including El Faro -- on social media. Bukele has often been hostile to independent media outlets, notably El Faro and Revista Factum, as well as individual journalists. (See post for Sept. 18, 2019, for example.)

More El Salvador
  • U.S. anti-poverty aid to El Salvador could be at risk over Bukele’s defiance of his country’s supreme court and congress, reports the Associated Press. U.S. lawmakers are considering extending a Sep. 9 deadline for spending U.S. aid and there are growing concerns among mainly Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Patrick Leahy, that Bukele is taking his country down an authoritarian path.
  • El Salvador's infamously draconian ban on abortions means dozens of girls raped during the country's coronavirus lockdown, some as young as ten, have no safe options to end unwanted pregnancies, reports Reuters.
News Briefs

  • Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness appears to have won “a tsunami-like” victory in the country’s general elections, yesterday. Preliminary results gave his Jamaica Labor Party 49 seats to the People’s National Party’s 14 seats in Parliament, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The pandemic has certainly provided reason for postponing elections in Latin America, but in a region where electoral credibility has been hard won, it's important to prepare democratic processes to face the health crisis, writes Kevin Casas in the New York Times Español. He particularly emphasizes the need for political consensus regarding the political calendar and electoral procedures. 
  • Former Costa Rica president Laura Chinchilla withdrew her candidacy to head the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), yesterday. The election is next week but a group of countries and international actors have been pressuring to delay the vote -- due to Covid-19 issues and to stall the election of the U.S. candidate Mauricio Claver-Carone. (Infobae)
  • Covid-19 has bludgeoned Latin America, where nearly half the virus' deaths have occurred and forecasts predict the worst economic contraction in history, writes Nicolás Saldías at the Wilson Center. High levels of informality further complicate the issue. While welfare programs have provided temporary relief, but expanding them "will require tough choices – and all under the looming threat of social outbursts."
  • Venezuela's Maduro government invited U.N. and E.U. officials to monitor December's parliamentary elections. Last month E.U. top diplomat Josep Borrell said electoral guarantees in Venezuela were insufficient even for an observer mission, notes AFP. He said “weeks” of talks with Venezuela’s political actors led him to conclude “that conditions are not met, at this stage, for a transparent, inclusive, free and fair electoral process.”
  • United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected the invitation for international observers, and said the U.S. will not contribute to "legitimizing yet another electoral fraud" in Venezuela. (AFP) U.S. officials are voicing alarm that the E.U. might be wavering on Maduro, reports the Washington Post. Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special representative to Venezuela, said recent communications between E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Capriles and former Guaidó ally Stalin Gonzalez appeared to be strengthening Maduro’s hand.
  • But President Nicolás Maduro's "charm offensive," pardoning dozens of political opponents in addition to the invitation to observe, has successfully divided Venezuela's political opposition ahead of the vote, notes the Washington Post. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Former presidential candidate and opposition leader Henrique Capriles broke with opposition leader Juan Guaidó this week, and called for the opposition to challenge Maduro at the ballot box in December. (See yesterday's post.) His major challenge will be obtaining sufficient electoral guarantees to mobilize opposition voters to participate, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Guaidó ratified his boycott posture yesterday, and called for unity among Venezuela's opposition parties. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • The opposition's divisions are clear, but the situation also demonstrates that Nicolás Maduro's hold on power is shaky, writes James Bosworth at the Latin America Risk Report. "From a real position of strength, Maduro’s plan could also be a lot simpler by just skipping the election farce and detaining Juan Guaido today. ... Even if he’s been weakened in recent months, Guaido’s continuing influence demonstrates Venezuelan politics is not a simple dictatorship where Maduro does whatever he wants. It remains a complex soap opera of actors and actions, negotiations and betrayals, corruption and conspiracy."
  • Brazil's death toll appears to be easing for the first time since May, but experts caution that contagion rates dropped then rose again last month. (Reuters)
  • Covid-19 altered the Brazilian government's balance of power. President Jair Bolsonaro's popularity has increased as a result of spending on social programs, and he has formed a big block of center-right parties in Congress that will help him govern and potentially shield him from impeachment motions. However, notes the Economist, the moves come at the cost of pleasing his "small government" and "free market" base, embodied in Economy Minister Paulo Guedes.
  • Transparency International in Colombia expressed "deep concern" at the growing concentration of executive power in the country, "to the detriment of civil liberties and other branches of power." “During the pandemic, there has been a trend of increasing authority in the executive branch in many countries. However, we are deeply concerned that the system of checks and balances in Colombia has also been affected by questions over the independence of institutions that must monitor and control the President," said Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International.
  • The war on drugs in Colombia has had horrific costs -- and no gains against trafficking. It's time to declare it lost, writes Rafael Pardo in Semana. He looks at two bills in Congress that would legalize marijuana and cocaine, respectively.
  • Decades of insufficient, and inefficiently spent, health funding are behind Peru's startlingly high Covid-19 mortality rate, reports EFE.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has exhibited a double standard when it comes to corruption: forgiving of his allies and harsh against his enemies, argues Diego Fonseca in New York Times Español.
  • Guaraní is the main language of 70 percent of Paraguayans, a stunning success for an indigenous tongue in a region where native languages are being pushed to extinction. But Guaraní's success is itself part of the threat looming over the country’s other indigenous languages, reports the Guardian.
  • A retired army colonel arrested over crimes during the Uruguayan dictatorship admitted to murder, kidnapping and torture, reports AFP.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always. 


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