Corruption, violence

Part II – Recent threat of Curfew Displays High Levels of Fear and Insecurity in El Salvador

A couple days ago we posted an article on how violence and insecurity is gripping El Salvador, as exemplified on October 19, when a rumor of a gang uprising or riots was enough to impose a 6 pm curfew on San Salvador.   Violence in El Salvador is much higher than it has been in previous years. The Salvadoran police are reporting 3,673 homicides so far in 2009, a 40% increase over the same period last year.

If the allegations reported by Diario Co Latino are true, a few government officials could be responsible for stoking the violence and sense of insecurity in an attempt to destabilize the new Funes Administration.  One or more police investigators allege in a letter that PCN Congressman Antonio Almendáriz has been working with police officials, government prosecutors, and judges in San Salvador to weaken the legal system and thereby allow the violence to continue.  According to the plot, the new administration, which took office in June of this year, would appear as though they are unable to ensure security, and weaken their high-level of support with the Salvadoran people.

The police investigators allege that four judges of the peace had united and declared that they were “against the system.”  This was a particular problem for the police investigators who sought support from the judges in arresting those responsible for spreading the rumors of the supposed gang attack on October 19.  The police managed to find other judges to work with and finally arrested twelve suspects who were in possession of hand grenades, firearms, and police uniforms. When in custody, the suspects said that a police official in Apopa, a municipality north of San Salvador known for its high levels of gang activity, gave them the arms and uniforms. The same police chief has strong ties to the four judges who declared themselves “against the system.”  It remains unclear whether there was an actual gang uprising planned, or if it was a scare tactic that the Congressman, police, and judges had come up with.

In a related story, the Associated Press, El Faro, Tim’s Blog, and others are reporting that the Funes administration has approved a plan to increase the military’s role in domestic security.  For many years, the military has provided 1300 soldiers to help police patrol high crime areas.  The Funes’ administration did not provide a specific number, but thousands more soldiers will join police in patrolling dangerous areas, searching for persons of interest, increasing security at prisons and youth rehabilitation centers, and other such tasks.  The extra troops will support police in five of El Salvador’s departments – San Salvador, Sonsonate, La Libertad, Santa Ana, and San Miguel.

Since the signing of the 1992 Peace Accords, the police are responsible for ensuring public security.  According to the Constitution, the executive may only use the military for domestic security in extraordinary circumstances, and only with the approval of the Legislative Assembly.  The plan will begin Friday, November 6, and in 180 days the administration will submit a report to the Legislative Assembly discussing the benefits of the program, and recommend whether or not the military ought to continue supporting the police.

Though the majority of those living in San Salvador support the use of military in domestic security, many civil society organizations and the Church have expressed concerns that the use of military will result in more violence and human rights abuses (Tim’s Blog has posted several of their statements) .

Their concerns are valid and ought to be carefully considered by the Funes Administration, Legislative Assembly, and people of El Salvador. Force is not a long-term solution to gang violence, as we learned with Tony Saca’s “super mano duro.”  Gang violence is deeply rooted in economic and social inequalities that have plagued the country for generations. Real solutions require a long-term commitment to sustainable development that benefits all sectors of Salvadoran society.  Such development will be impossible until stability and security is restored – if the military can help out while the police improve their ability to enforce the law, the Funes Administration may be justified in deploying them.

Perhaps more importantly, sustainable development will be impossible until public servants put an end to the kind of partisanship that leads some to undermine the security and wellbeing of the people they are supposed to serve, in order to further their own cause.