Advocacy, International Relations, News Highlights

Obama in El Salvador

The media in El Salvador provided constant coverage of Tuesday’s presidential visit to El Salvador.  While the majority of Salvadorans are very proud and excited to receive the Obama family, there were several points of concern from sectors of civil society.  We at Voices just wanted to share a little of what you won’t see in the papers.

Obama Remember: It's not the will of God that some have everything and others have nothing - Saint Romero

Same empire as yesterday, You could change the face and the color, but not its essence.

Trying to get some 'change'

Photography by Fredy Granillo

Corruption, El Salvador Government, International Relations, Mauricio Funes, News Highlights, Organized Crime, U.S. Relations

Talk of an International Commission Against Organized Crime in El Salvador

El Faro posted a story this morning about a growing movement to create an International Commission Against Organized Crime in El Salvador. This Commission, modeled after the CICIG in Guatemala, would investigate and prosecute cases that the Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalia, in Spanish) has not taken on. Though the CICIG (the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala) has had its troubles over the last few years, its successes and lessons learned could greatly benefit El Salvador.

Momentum for such a commission has grown out of a general frustration with the Fiscalia, which is led by Attorney General Romeo Barahona, for its failure to investigate drug trafficking and organized crime. Though El Salvador has struggled with organized crime throughout its modern history, drug trafficking has taken off in recent years as cartels have increasingly used Central America to transport their products to the United States markets.

One of the complaints against Fiscal Barahona is that under his leadership, the Fiscalia has gone after low-level gang members while staying away from more difficult cases involving higher-level organized crime syndicates.  A related issue is that the Fiscalia attributes many homicides that appear to be political in nature to gang members (“common crime”) or family issues. An example is the 2009 murder of Marcelo Rivera.  Rodolfo Delgado, the prosecutor and lead investigator, called it a crime of passion committed by four gang members. He also attributed the 2004 murder of union organizer Gilberto Soto to a family disagreement and arrested Soto’s mother-in-law. As in many, many other cases, Barahona and his team of prosecutors seem more interested in depoliticizing murders and steering investigations away from organized crime rather than seeking the truth and justice.

Fiscal Barahona, however, believes an international committee is unnecessary.  In response to the idea of creatingsuch a commission, he stated, “We do not believe it is necessary to create a commission to combat crime. It is better that the resources that it would take be invested in strengthening the Fiscalia and the Police.”

Though it seems early in the process, El Faro reports that the Salvadoran government is taking the steps necessary to create the legal foundation for this international authority. Though the Commission would have to work with Fiscal Barahona, those working on the project realize that it would require a significant amount of autonomy. The Commission would have to be led by someone with the character to take on organized crime-a vast network that includes past and present government officials who have maintained the culture of impunity and gotten rich from illicit activities.

The discussion of a commission is becoming public just days before President Obama is scheduled to visit El Salvador, a visit during which he and President Funes are sure to discuss security and the region’s growing struggle with crime and violence. At the end of January, the Economist reported that El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras make up the most violent region in the world, battlefields aside. Everyday there are new reports about the Zetas and other Mexican cartels setting up camp in Central America where the cost of doing business is less, and there are plenty of corruptible government officials at the local and national levels. President Obama and the US ought to support the idea of an International Commission in El Salvador and provide all of the support and training necessary to ensure its success.

Economy, El Salvador Government, International Relations, Mauricio Funes, News Highlights, U.S. Relations, violence

Obama to Travel to El Salvador

President Obama recently finalized the dates for his trip to Central and South America.  Pending U.S. government budget resolutions, he will tour the region March 19 to 23, visiting Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Santiago, Chile, and San Salvador, El Salvador.  If the budget resolutions are not passed in time, however, his trip will almost definitely be cancelled or postponed.

While many are confounded by the President’s choice to visit El Salvador, there are several hot-button issues on the table. Salvadorans compose the 6th largest immigrant population in the U.S., numbering approximately between 1 and 1.5 million people. Most of them live and work in the U.S. under a Temporary Protected Status (TPS), begun in 1991 and extended in 18-month increments since then (the current TPS is set to expire March 2012). Given the continued violent and unstable political climate in El Salvador, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes hopes to work with President Obama to establish permanent residence for those currently living under TPS.

In addition to immigration, a discussion about drug trafficking is likely to be a priority. Organized crime syndicates trading in drugs or weapons are a major cause of violence throughout Central America, though this remains largely unrecognized and untreated.  Where Mexico, the focus of the U.S.’s war on drugs, has 15 murders per 100,000 people yearly, El Salvador has 73, the highest rate in the region.

Funes recognizes that, in both of these cases, it’s important to unearth the root causes of the problem. In the same way that immigration issues can be addressed by reducing the flow of emigrants from El Salvador, so can narco-trafficking concerns be relieved by reducing North American drug consumption. Besides these international objectives, Funes hopes to impress upon Obama the dire need to reduce poverty in El Salvador. Some measures have already been proposed for the resolution of this problem; first, the BRIDGE initiative, which proposes formalizing and securitizing a system for workers to remit money from the U.S. to El Salvador, thus hypothetically increasing the long-term benefit of these remittances for the country as a whole. Second, Funes intends to open negotiation of a renewal of El Salvador’s 5-year compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (currently in its 3rd year), with grant money financing improvements in education, public services, agricultural production, rural business development, and transportation infrastructure.

Overall, President Obama’s visit to El Salvador seems to mark real intent to ally the two countries, and we at Voices are hopeful that these upcoming talks will result in a mutually beneficial relationship.

 

Elections 2009

US requests that FMLN not use Obama’s image

Yesterday, the Charge d’ Affairs for the United States Embassy, Robert Blau, requested that the FMLN stop the use of President Barack Obama’s image in their campaign advertisements.

The television ad in question features several images of President Obama, and focuses on drawing comparisons between Obama and the FMLN presidential candidate, Mauricio Funes. The advertisement asserts that both Obama and Funes have been falsely accused of connection to terrorism and extremist governments. It goes on to say that both offer a message of hope and change in a time of crisis.

This ad is seen as a part of a strategy by the FMLN to respond to suggestions by the ARENA party that a Funes presidency would endanger El Salvador’s relationship with the United States.

Blau stated that the use of Obama’s image in campaign ads may give the wrong impression that the US endorses a particular candidate. He reaffirmed the pledge of former Ambassador to El Salvador Charles Glazer that the US would not get involved in the nation’s elections, and will respect Salvadorans’ ability to elect their own leader.

Earlier in the campaign season, ARENA also ran a television advertisement congratulating Obama on his victory and displaying an image of Obama and ARENA’s party logos and flag.

Many leftists agree that the Obama has the right to request that his image not be used in the Salvadoran campaign. However, they also point out that Obama’s image was used in a tone of respect and admiration, unlike the use of images of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales in attack ads run by ARENA linking Funes with the South American leaders.

The FMLN has announced that it will re-examine the use of Obama’s image.