Fundraising Campaign, violence

Fundraising Campaign: Peace & Safety for a Family in Need

Please read and share our current Gofundme campaign. LINK HERE

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Every donation contributes to the emergency relocation and short-term economic assistance for a Bajo Lempa family in need.

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El Salvador Government, News Highlights

Civil Society Condemns Police Raid

This past Saturday July 2, Salvadoran police (PCN) arrested 35 individuals in the local office of PROCOMES office. PROCOMES, the Center for Training for Local Development and Economic Solidarity, is a civil society organization that works with at-risk youth. This organization has had a presence in El Salvador for over 20 years in nine of its fourteen departments.

 

According to reports, on Saturday July 2, a total of 270 PCN and army troops raided this office and arrested 35 employees. Margarita Posada of PROCEOMES recalls that, “they entered the office without a search warrant after having cut the PROCOMES office fence and arrested the guard, whom they first told they were pursuing a criminal;  later, they stated that they were looking for weapons in the office and proceeded to arrest these individuals, this is an abuse that takes us back to the 70s”.

 

Members of the Communal Center of El Salvador (CODESA), a group of civil society organizations, have expressed their concern with this most recent display of the PCN abusing their power. As Posada explains, almost two decades after the peace accords were signed, El Salvador is still struggling with justice and respect for human rights.

 

This group of civil organizations is not whole-heartedly opposed to the police, clarified Mario Chavez, they are merely opposed to the police overstepping their boundaries and creating a repressive environment. The Salvadoran government has taken steps in the past to fight police corruption, however, the reality of police abuse and disregard for human rights is still a reality in the country.

Corruption, Organized Crime

Salvadoran Police Find a 4Th Barrel of Money

Last night, Salvadoran police found a forth barrel of money in El Salvador. The first three were found last weeked and contained a combined total of $10.2 million.  This latest barrel was found buried on a property in La Quinta Residencial Las Mercedes, in Canton Lourdes of Colon, La Libertad, while the other barrels were found in a canton of Zacatecaluca, La Paz. The police have not said how much was in this latest barrel only that “approximately 80% of the bills are large.”

While we don’t have much information on how the police came to search this particular property, the search last weekend was the result of information provided to Salvadoran police by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The Attorney General’s office has stated that the $10.2 million found in Zacatecaluca is without a doubt the product of drug trafficking, though he did not provide details. Authorities also report that Guatemalans owned the property where the latest barrel was found.

The capture of such large quantities of money is a blow for drug traffickers. This week, several Salvadoran analysts have speculated that the shutdown of the bus system was less about gang members voicing their frustrations, and more about drug traffickers angry about government officials confiscating their money. While we have no indication that this is the case, it is clear that drug trafficking and money laundering are a serious issue in El Salvador. In recent years, top officials in the police department, and even members of the legislative assembly have been accused or convicted of being involved in the drug trade.

While El Salvador is a transit point for drugs en route from South American producers to North American markets, many experts believe that the country’s main value added to the drug trade is laundering money.  There are several routes that traffickers take to North American markets, all of which include various legs over land, sea, and air. Narcotics often enter El Salvador in the Gulf of Fonseco or other areas along the coast, shipped in on small, fast boats that easily escape detection from DEA or Salvadoran Navy patrols. They also enter over land, through any one of El Salvador’s punto ciegos (unmanned boarder crossings).  Earlier in the summer, President Funes deployed military units to help close these boarder crossings and stem the flow of drugs and other contraband in and out of the country.

Less is known about money laundering in El Salvador, though experts claim that the country’s stable banking system and lax regulations create the right conditions for drug cartels wanting to convert their ill-gotten cash into clean bank deposits. Two other factors that facilitate the process is that El Salvador has a constant flow of remittances from the U.S. (remittances are the cash sent by Salvadorans working in the U.S. to their family members back home) and the fact that El Salvador adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency back in 2001. Experts fear that drug traffickers are using the system for sending remittances to El Salvador as a way of laundering their drug money. In addition, money launderers operate businesses and report false sales and transactions to clean their drug money.

It remains unclear how the barrels of money found over the past couple of weekends fit into this process, but it is a very big reminder that drug cartels are using El Salvador for shipping their product and managing their cash.

El Salvador Government, Mauricio Funes, violence

Funes’ First Year

On Sunday, Linda Garrett from the Center for Democracy in the Americas published a defense of Funes’s first year in office.  She argues that his administration “assumed the mantle of power of a polarized country nearly bankrupt, wrought with poverty, violence, corruption and fragile democratic institutions.”

She applauds the administration for providing new social programs, financing agreements for the next five years, and his public apologies for such past crimes as the assassinations of Monseñor Romero in 1980 and the Jesuits in 1989.   She also cautions readers of the importance of supporting his administration in the face of the current violence and public insecurity that has dominated the news in the past few weeks.  This week’s headlines are evidence of this administration’s harried response.

Funes has reacted to each mounting case of violence with bolder and more repressive measures.  He deployed the military to work along side the civilian police soon after his inauguration.  On June 1st of this year he announced that the military would also intervene in the prisons, which they rushed to implement after the Sunday bus massacre in Méjicanos.  They are now partnering with Migration to patrol the un-manned border crossings, notorious for moving drugs, stolen vehicles, and undocumented people.

In a widely distributed public announcement Funes says social and preventive programs are important for the long term, but repressive measures are necessary now. The Ministry of Public Security is expected to present a bill to the Legislative Assembly in the coming days to outlaw gang membership.  During a press conference reporters asked how police would identify gang members.  Henry Campos, the vice minister for public security responded “by tattoos and other types of evidence”.  A law based on the same premise was declared unconstitutional in 2004.

But Funes made a pointed demand from the Attorney General’s office during his June 23rd speech addressing the bus massacre – the same speech where he announced the new bill.

“The fight against organized crime, delinquents and criminal groups is a task of every State institution.  This means not only the government must do its job well.  We need the public prosecutors and judges to also do theirs.”

The Attorney General’s office is an autonomous institution, and appointments come from the Legislative Assembly.  The ex-attorney general Astor Escalante told the press on Monday that of the 100 homicide prosecutors, only 30% have actually received any training.  The institution appoints prosecutors with very few requisites; there is no policy to recruit prosecutors who have actually won convictions.  At the end of 2009 this group of elite homicide prosecutors had 16% conviction rate.

Garrett is right to call for continued international support of a Funes administration battling violence and weak institutions with very few resources.  That does not mean an acceptance of reactionary and repressive measures – often the most accessible means for the ‘commander in chief’.  Funes needs public pressure to uphold ethical and progressive reforms more than ever; and he especially needs allies for strengthening institutions that he has little power to control.