Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Mass arrests in El Salvador (March 29, 2022)

El Salvador's government said it arrested more than 1,000 alleged gang members in response to a sudden surge in homicides, after 87 people were killed between Friday and Sunday. Authorities said soldiers and police had raided gang strongholds around San Salvador, and that food for gang inmates at Salvadoran prisons would be reduced to two meals per day, apparently to stretch current food supplies to feed the new detainees as well, reports the Associated Press.

But it's not clear the government's response will do anything to reduce violence, and its heavy handed policies have raised questions about whether the government is leveraging the situation to consolidate power even more. “The suspension of certain constitutional rights in El Salvador opens the door to all kinds of abuses,” Human Rights Watch's Juan Pappier told El Diario de Hoy.

The pro-government Legislative Assembly enacted a 30-day state of exception on Sunday that suspends the right to association and legal defense, increases the period of detention without cause from 72 hours to 15 days, and allows the government to intercept communications without a warrant, reports El Faro. (See yesterday's post.)

The state of emergency has raised questions about the measure's constitutionality, and its usefulness in combating gang violence -- particularly given the Bukele administration's already worrisome authoritarian slide, according to many commentators. Human rights groups have pointed out that the restrictions do not enhance police capacity to rein in the violence. And constitutional experts warn that the restrictions infringe on critical due process rights such as habeas corpus, which cannot be suspended. (El FaroEl FaroEl Diario de Hoy, New York Times)

“There is no great evidence that there is a connection between many of the detained people and the murders on Saturday,” said the International Crisis Group's Tiziano Breda told the New York Times.

Bukele posted a video showing guards with billy clubs roughly forcing inmates to walk, run and even descend stairs with their arms held behind their necks or backs. (Associated Press) The president responded dismissively to human rights concerns:  “And if the ‘international community’ is worried about their little angels, come and bring them food, because I will not take funding away from schools to feed these terrorists.” (El Diario de Hoy)

While the state of exception does not restrain freedom of movement, security forces clamped down on movement in gang strongholds. The police and military prevented residents from leaving the community after returning home. (El Faro, El Diario de Hoy)

The spate of killings adds to evidence of President Nayib Bukele's secret gang negotiations -- and points to an, as-yet-unknown -- demand from gangs that the government did not meet, argues El Faro in an editorial. Media reports and U.S. officials have accused the administration of negotiating a secret deal with gang leadership, exchanging financial incentives to the gangs and preferential treatment for gang leaders in prison for reductions in violence. (See posts for Dec. 9, 2021 and Sept. 4, 2020.) 

This weekend's killing spree seemed to be pressure to renegotiate the terms of the purported arrangement, reports the New York Times

El Salvador's gangs now appear to favor short bursts of indiscriminate violence, which typically occur when there is a rupture in negotiations between the government and the gangs, with the gangs using bodies as bargaining chips, explains InSight Crime. This weekend's record-killing spree comes just months after a rampage left a trail of 46 bodies in a 72-hour period in November 2021. Another sudden spike in murders in April 2020, when dozens were killed, was the first sign of major gang unrest during Bukele's time in office.


GIEI says Mexican military planted Ayotzinapa evidence

A group of international experts says the Mexican government falsified its investigations into the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa. They released video footage that appears to show the military planting evidence at the scene where authorities later said the students were killed. The group said the Mexican government, from the start, withheld or falsified evidence as it probed what happened to the students, who vanished after they were detained by local police in Iguala in the southern state of Guerrero. (Al Jazeera, Aristegui Noticias)

The evidence was shared yesterday by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), which showed a video in which members of Mexico's Navy appear to be actively manipulating evidence at a waste dump where bodies of the victims were said to have been incinerated. (EFE)

It was part of the third report the independent group of experts presented, yesterday. “We knew there was the participation of the Defense Secretariat (Sedena) and the Navy Secretariat (Semar), above all in the arrests (of suspects), but we were unaware of the content of this video,” Claudia Paz, a GIEI member, said at a press conference.

The group also said a military intelligence operation in the days leading up to the disappearance indicates likely infiltration of the student group by intelligence officers, reports La Jornada.

More Mexico
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador brushed off comments by a senior U.S. military official who said there are more Russian spies in Mexico than anywhere else in the world. (Associated Press)
News Briefs

  • Honduras' Supreme Court unanimously ratified the United States' extradition request for former president Juan Orlando Hernández, yesterday. The decision sets the stage for what could become the highest profile drug trafficking case in New York since the trial of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, reports the New York Times. Sporadic fireworks went off in different parts of Tegucigalpa as some residents celebrated the decision.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Castillo survived an impeachment motion in Congress, yesterday. Fifty-five lawmakers voted in favor of his ouster, 54 against and 19 abstained. The impeachment motion needed 87 votes in favor to pass, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Colombian vice presidential candidate Francia Márquez denounced having received death threats and called on President Iván Duque to guarantee her safety. “Slander and racist demonstrations were not enough. In less than a month, they have threatened me with death twice,” Márquez Tweeted, with photos linking the Black Eagles paramilitary organization to the threats. (Telesur)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro launched his re-election campaign on Sunday, telling thousands of cheering supporters that opinion polls were wrong and he is sure to win this year’s election -- despite months of polls to the contrary. (AFP)
  • A Russian oil company used to provide a workaround to U.S. oil trading sanctions on Venezuela is attempting to avoid another set of sanctions, in relation to the Russian aggression against Ukraine, reports Reuters.
  • A Bolivian court decided to suspend the start of the oral trial against former de facto president,Jeanine Áñez until next week. (Telesur)
  • Disney's Encanto won the Oscar for best animated film on Sunday. It was a moment of pride for many Colombians who revelled in the positive portrayal of the country's culture and references to magical realism. The movie bravely confronts Colombia's history of violence and forced displacement, themes that reverberated intensely in the country, notes the Guardian.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

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