Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The 911 violent deaths in August

The month of August 2015 has closed as the most violent since the end of the civil war in 1992.   There were 911 homicides, a staggering number which exceeded the prior record of 670 set in June of this year, according to the Institute of Legal Medicine ("IML" for its initials in Spanish), which is a branch of El Salvador's Supreme Court.

The IML released a set of statistics today about the homicides in August.  Here's what we know about those who died:

  • There were 911 homicides.  565 more homicides than in August 2014.  So many that the IML is running out of body bags.
  • Victims were overwhelmingly male:  92.3%
  • Victims were young  53.4% between ages 15-30,  more than 76% younger than 40,  more than 10% of  the victims (93 deaths) were ages 15-17.
  • Usually killed by firearms  84.7%
  • The departments with the highest murder rates per 100,000 residents were Cuscatlan and Usulutan, while the department of San Salvador had the highest total number of murders with 311.

The president's communications secretary, Eugenio Chicas, asserted that 85% of those killed were members of gangs.   Chicas' obvious purpose is to suggest that the country should be less concerned about the total because the victims are the bad guys.   But the 85% figure simply can't be true.    When you look at the daily news stories from El Salvador about that day's tally of murders, like this one or this one, you see that many of the victims are probably not gang members but are described as a fruit vendor, or an agricultural worker, a bus driver, or a seller of scrap metal.  (It might, however, be the case that 85% of the homicides are related to gangs -- where either the perpetrator or the victim was a gang member or connected to a gang member somehow).   The director of the IML cautioned that sufficient investigation had not been done to identify with any certainty which victims of violence had been gang members.      

The Minister of Public Security said that the spike in homicides was due to an internal rivalry in he gangs and increased confrontations between police and gangs.

The Minister of Defense, David Munguía Payés, said that what was happening in the streets was a struggle for control of the gangs whose leaders were imprisoned.

A statistic we have not seen is how many of these violent deaths are subjects killed by police or the armed forces.   (Someone with more time than I have might be able to try and tablulate all the daily news reports and get a general idea).  Equally important, but unlikely to emerge, is the tally of vigilante death squad killings of suspected gang members.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

S.O.S. El Salvador

“A Church incarnated in the problems of its People.”

The following post was written by Carlos at the Super Martyrio blog, dedicated to all things Romero, and first published there. Used here by permission.

* * * *
Horrific news from El Salvador: reports are both alarming and disheartening.  This past August, the crime that plagues the country left more than 700 dead, setting a new record at levels not seen since the days of the Salvadoran civil war.  The toll hit members of the juvenile-delinquent groups or “maras” the hardest as they continued to eliminate each other in frightening episodes like the slaughter of 14 gang members in a prison in Quezaltepeque at the end of the month.  The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court recently categorized the maras—and their “collaborators” and “apologists”—as terrorists.  In support of this judgment, the magistrates cited gang activities such as attacks on police stations and military garrisons, a vast network of extortion that stifles commerce at a national level, and forces families from their homes and forces more and more students to drop out of school.

El Salvador is living through a desperate hour, and everything suggests that this terrible crisis requires a response that is equally extraordinary if not miraculous.  Archbishop Romero was the most dynamic leader in Salvadoran history and he was also an outstanding peacemaker.  He held off the start of the civil war through his sole and frantic efforts, so that his death unleashed all-out war. Archbishop Romero was, according to the decree of beatification issued by Pope Francis, a “Heroic witness of the Kingdom of God—Kingdom of justice, brotherhood and peace.”  He was one of only two Salvadorans ever nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (the other being Salvadoran Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez).  But the peace of Archbishop Romero was not a romantic and sugary peace of strolling hand in hand down the boulevard.  The Brazilian poet bishop Dom Pedro Casaldáliga described him well when he called him “Romero of the almost impossible peace” in a land of conflict.  Romero himself speaks of “the peace that could have been and the peace that has been lost [and] will not be restored until there is justice.”
That is to say, Archbishop Romero specialized in hand-crafting peace when there was no raw material available to do so.  If anyone can teach us how to find peace when all roads seem to be closed off, he is the one that can give us the inspiration to find solutions and free ourselves from this impasse in which we find no exits.  Moreover, Archbishop Romero prophesied that we would find ourselves in this stretch at this time.  What’s coming is going to be terrible,” he told his brother, “no one can stop the war now.”  With a chilling vision of the future, he went on to say, “but the worst thing is what comes after the war.”  In a homily he explained the reasons: “The names for the violence will change, but there will always be violence as long as we do not change the roots that cause this violence and so many other horrible things that occur daily in our nation.”

To erect a Romero-like response to these challenges, we might think of the broad appeals to the various sectors that ​​Romero made, such as the ones at the end of the homily for March 16, 1980, intended to desperately keep the peace and avoid war.

1.  An appeal to the church.

To proclaim the “Kingdom of justice, brotherhood and peace.”  Imagine that Archbishop Romero were here to denounce every Sunday not only homicides, but also extortion, forced evictions, etc.  If the Christian base communities were capable of defying death squads, and courageous priests like Rutilio Grande were able to accompany their flocks amidst the repression of military dictatorships, the Church can walk shoulder to shoulder with the people to face and overcome this difficulty, and it has the obligation to join with other churches to achieve a wider and more effective reach.  I challenge the Church to proclaim during the Jubilee Year of mercy announced by Pope Francis a year of solidarity in El Salvador, to begin on November 21, Feast of the Queen of Peace, Patroness of El Salvador, to form the frame for these seven interpellations.
2.  An appeal to the gangs.

To obey God and respect the lives and rights of their neighbors.  No gang-member “is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfill an immoral law. It is time to take back your consciences and to obey your consciences rather than the orders of sin.”  (March 23, 1980 Sermon.) With particular forcefulness we can insist that “Before an order to kill that a man may give, God’s law must prevail: THOU SHALT NOT KILL!”  And in the name of God and in the name of the people we can demand, ‘Stop the extortion!
3.  An appeal to young people.

To imitate the young Blessed Romero, who was a studious and hardworking young man.  Romero said that “The poor and young people constitute the wealth and the hope of the Church in Latin America.”  (February 17, 1980 Sermon.)  In the crisis that the country faced in the 80s, it was the poor who were at the center of the drama.  Today is the hour of youth, and the country needs much of its young people.  That they pray the prayer of Romero: “God help me, prepare me!  You are everything, I am nothing.  But with Your everything and my nothing, we can do a lot...” Romero devoted his youth to forming himself and he became the most important man of his day to redeem El Salvador, and every young Salvadoran should seek the same today.
4.  An appeal to the rulers.

To join together and overcome partisan and ideological interests to seek the common good.  Anyone who seeks to disregard the great need of the moment to favor their party or make their opponents look bad will be “performing a sad role of betrayal” of the people during “such an historic moment for the nation.” (March 16, 1980 Hom.)  The challenge for those in government is to live a year for the common good, setting aside all electioneering to seek joint solutions to this uniquely compelling set of problems.
5.  An appeal to law enforcement officials.

To not forget that the members of the criminal gangs were also created in the image of God, and that any authority entrusted to you should always be used in service and not to amass power or seek revenge or engage in social purges.

6.  An appeal to the Salvadoran people.
To reclaim their country, their culture and society.  Come back to the Church.  Soak in the healthy and correct doctrine and become protagonists of change in your family, in your neighborhood, in your work.  Retake the schools, the markets, the cultural spaces.  People who are unorganized are a mass and can be toyed with, but people who are organized and defend their values and justice are people who must be respected.”  (March 2, 1980 Sermon.)  They should also receive reformed gang members with open arms and the merciful love of parents.

7.  An appeal to friends of the Salvadoran people abroad.
To stand in solidarity with El Salvador, as did many Christians in times of Archbishop Romero. Encourage the various sectors of Salvadoran society to seek the common good of the people. Demand that your governments support policies seeking ways to solve the problems for the short and the long term.  Although travel to El Salvador is dangerous and any plans to visit El Salvador should be consulted in general and in their details with national and international security experts, El Salvador needs you more than ever.

 *        *        *
 'Coraggio' Archbishop Romero used to say in Italian. 'Courage!'.”  So Cardinal Amato reminded us during the beatification ceremony.  At the ceremony we had (albeit fleetingly) a model of the desired social harmony, when unity prevailed, the spirit of volunteerism reigned, and a large positivism permeated that historic event, which took place during a weekend without gang murders.  Romero shows us how to make it a lasting reality.

Mons. Paglia invited us to convert the Romero episcopal motto, “feeling with the Church” to “feeling with Romero”, which means “walking together with him, distancing ourselves from all forms of violence and practicing love and peace.”  And if we do this we can be sure that “El Salvador and the world will change.”  I have faith that these seven points hold the keys for striving towards that transformation.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Political parties agree to work together on public security

Representatives of El Salvador's political parties in the country's National Assembly signed an accord on Friday regarding public security.   In a rare moment of partisanship being set aside, the parties agreed to adopt measures which would improve the public security situation in the country.

Among the items in the agreement, the parties agreed to work together in a spirit of respectful dialog:
  • to fund the Plan El Salvador Seguro developed by the president's National Council on Citizen Security and Coexistence; 
  • to strengthen the National Civilian Police and Attorney General on strategic approaches to the investigation and prosecution of crime; 
  • to develop a mutual agenda of measures in the areas of economic growth, public finance, and citizen security; and  
  • to adopt measures to effectively block cell phone signals from the leaving the country's prisons.
The agreement has further commitments to adopt Plan El Salvador Seguro, as well as exhorting the news media to highlight the advances the government is making in the area of citizen security.   The agreement ends by asking the Constitutional Chamber to lift its ruling which blocks the country from issuing $900 million in bonds to fund various programs.

This new accord is signed by members of all the major parties, by the executive branch, and by representatives of the Organization of American States and the United Nations Development Program who are asked to follow the parties' compliance with their agreements.

We'll see how long this spirit of cooperation lasts.   Allies of the FMLN today were still issuing partisan tweets about forces trying to destabilize the government.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Threats to truth tellers

In recent weeks, El Salvador has seen a disturbing rise in threats and insinuations against those who would insist on exposing the truth, or advocating a path other than the government's open fire approach to combating the gangs:

  • Journalists at El Faro have received threats and report being followed following their reporting on police abuses in torturing detainees and extra-judicial killings.   Some of the reporters for the periodical left the country for their own safety.
  • Pastor Mario Vega of the ELIM evangelical mega-church in El Salvador announced that he had been receiving death threats for his criticisms of the government's approach to policing as being ineffective.   Pastor Vega recently expressed his concern that a church evangelist had been arrested and held without charge because gang members attended a religious event she was holding in her house.
  • The country's attorney general attacked church leaders in the IPAZ movement who have been vocal critics of the government approach and asserted they were simply trying to enrich themselves with gang rehabilitation programs.
  • Even an organization as respected as UNICEF, has been attacked by FMLN party officials for UNICEF's public service campaign "No te indigna?"   (Doesn't it make you mad?)   which highlights how violence threatens the lives of children in El Salvador.   The FMLN asserts that this publicity campaign might discourage foreign investment by giving the country a bad public image.
  • Anonymous comments posted to news websites about all of these topics have been filled with invective against anyone who would suggest an approach short of killing all the gang members or anyone who would criticize abuses by the police.

The danger of this single-minded "kill the bastards at all costs" atmosphere is that people look the other way when death squad vigilante killings occur.   The human rights law firm FESPAD has noted that conditions have favored the growth of such "exterminations". FESPAD expressed a concern that the current atmosphere leaves such killings in impunity, killings described in the mainstream press in El Salvador just as "confrontations" between security forces and gang members.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Attorney General and the Supreme Court

This week, the number of homicides for August surpassed 700, making this easily the bloodiest month in the bloodiest year since the end of the civil war.  It was a week which saw El Salvador's Attorney General Luis Martinez and the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court making news related to the struggle to control gang-related violence.

It's terrifying, but are gangs terrorists?   The Constitutional Chamber released a ruling which addressed issues surrounding a El Salvador's anti-terrorism law and anti-gang legislation.   According to the court's ruling, the warring street gangs can properly be called terrorists under the law, and  membership in the gangs alone is sufficient to be considered a crime.   The law should not, however, be extended to those who commit acts of protest, so long as the purpose was not the use of terror and violent acts.   The ruling said the government can properly prosecute those who was are financiers or apologists for the gangs, and the court specifically ruled that any agreements in the so-called truce or "tregua" of 2012 were illegal.   The ruling was praised by politicians and the general public.

I suppose there are now 60,000 "terrorists" in El Salvador and hundreds of thousands more collaborators.   The great danger is that the language of a war against terrorism will sanction even greater abuses by the police and military against young men living in marginalized communities.  It may also frighten off organizations from working with at-risk youth or gang members for fear of being labelled supporters of terrorism.

The country's attorney general, Luis Martinez declared that authorities had broken up a plot to use explosives to blow up the attorney general and other parts of the government.   Arrests in the alleged plot have been made.

Attorney General Martinez also attacked members of IPAZ who have supported dialogue with the gangs.   Martinez asserted that these church leaders were deceiving gang members and were solely seeking to gain power and enrich themselves from funds for programs to rehabilitate gang members.  Since I personally know all the bishops mentioned by name in the article, I can categorically satate that nothing could be further from the truth.

Fourteen members of the Barrio 18 Revolucionarios gang were murdered within the prison walls of the Quezaltepeque prison.   Later the attorney general's office announced that it had learned that the murders had been ordered by a gang leader in another prison in Gotera, Morazan Department.   If true, it shows that the government is still a long way from restricting illicit communications in and out of the prisons.

The University of Central America issued an editorial with a grave warning about the growing number of mass killings in El Salvador.  In particular, the editorial called for thorough investigation of these events and prosecution of the perpetrators:

Be they gangs, governmental forces, or irregular groups of extermination who are committing these types of killings, the certainty is that they express a brutality so extraordinary that the citizenry ought not rest until its has complete understanding of each and every one of these events, and until they are brought to trial.   
Sean pandillas, fuerzas gubernamentales o grupos de exterminio irregulares los que cometen este tipo de asesinatos, lo cierto es que expresan una brutalidad tan extraordinaria que la ciudadanía no debería estar tranquila hasta tener conocimiento completo de todos y cada uno de ellos, y hasta que sean llevados a juicio.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tackling El Salvador's gang violence

August 2015 is about to conclude as the month in which more Salvadorans died violent deaths than any other month since the end of the civil war in 1992. The primary source of killing comes from the country’s powerful street gangs and the government’s heavily armed response to it. The weapons and the death toll resemble war, even if the gangs should not be mistaken for an army.

I regularly am asked what the solution should be. I really have no basis to answer except as a longtime observer of these problems in El Salvador. I have no background in law enforcement or violence prevention. But with those caveats in place, I can also say that I have seen no evidence that anyone else making policy in El Salvador seems to have the solution either. What follows is my modest attempt to describe a path towards addressing the problems of gang violence in Salvador.

It seems to be accepted fact that the top leaders of El Salvador’s rival gangs are all in prison. It also seems to be accepted fact that gang leadership within the prisons are still able to call the shots of what goes on outside the prison walls, from the gang embargo of the buses at the end of July, to ordering murders in the Washington D.C. area.

First and foremost, Salvadoran authorities need to shut off communication from these gang leaders to their troops. Cut off the head of these monsters. That means keeping cell phones out of the prisons or blocking cell phone signals. It means limiting visitors and monitoring communications. It means reducing corruption of prison guards and officials who may cooperate with the gangs as a result of pay-off or intimidation.

El Salvador’s National Assembly recently passed amendments to its prison laws which are designed to accomplish some of these steps. The US should provide technical assistance on blocking cell phone signals, detecting contraband, monitoring communications and the like. The Salvadoran telecommunications companies need to cooperate with law enforcement in cutting off cell phone traffic from the prisons.

A problem with the gang sweeps and actions which El Salvador’s police and military seem to be engaged in is that they focus on the foot soldiers. Rounding up low level gang members will never be sufficient when there are tens of thousands to replace them. And although these foot soldiers are criminals, in some sense they are also victims. They are victims forced into the gangs through threats, through hopelessness, or through family disintegration.

If control from leaders within prisons can be cut off or diminished, there may be struggles for control of the gangs outside prison walls. The divisions and splits need to be encouraged to weaken the gang organizations, although this could very well create bloodletting through internecine warfare in the short term. Through informants, intelligence gathering, undercover agents, and the like Salvadoran authorities need to continue attacking gang leadership and organization at its command levels and to prevent new leaders from taking the place of the imprisoned leaders who have been isolated

At the same time, efforts at prevention and rehabilitation need to occur at the grass roots level. Reduce the supply of foot soldiers by providing alternatives to gang lifestyle. Look for ways to protect gang members who want out of the gangs. Rather than using round-ups of low level gang members to make it appear the police are doing something, look for ways to rehabilitate them.

Local communities need to be given the tools to prevent gangs from entering new areas and to reduce areas already controlled by gangs. Citizens need to be encouraged to report extortion and other crimes, and to know those reports will be acted on and that they will not lose their lives for reporting crimes. Obviously this is much easier said than done. Today there is little upside to reporting extortion threats to the police, and the downside can the loss of your own life or the lives of your loved ones.

In El Salvador, communities which have not seen significant gang violence and murders are those communities which are best organized and have a sense of community pride. The government says it is implementing community policing, but any such efforts need to be substantially increased rather than simply focusing on a “shoot on sight” approach to dealing with gang members. Community directivas need to be enlisted in the fight against gangs.

The IPAZ churches approach to dialogue with the gangs should be supported. Dialogue need not mean negotiation. Dialogue need not mean giving benefits to gangs or their leaders if they reduce the homicide rate. Dialogue does not mean that murderers go free. Yet indications of what might be possible could be seen in the “Cities Free From Violence” which arose as a second phase to the 2012 gang truce. A study by El Faro showed that these cities continued to have lower levels of homicides even after the truce disintegrated in 2014. Dialogue can be focused community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, through the good offices of churches and pastors.

There are no easy answers in El Salvador.  Any approach must be multi-faceted and engage all levels of society.   The tendency of El Salvador's political factions and media to spend most of their time blaming each other only makes it more difficult.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sending a colonel to Spain for trial in Jesuit murders

If you currently live in El Salvador and participated in the plotting and execution of the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter, you have nothing to fear.  El Salvador won't extradite former military officers to Spain where a court proceedings are being held for the murder of those Jesuit priests, 5 of whom were born in Spain.   But former colonel Orlando Montano is not in El Salvador, but in custody in the US, and the US will likely soon extradite him to Spain as the AP reports:

North Carolina is the unlikely scene of a court battle that could determine whether a former Salvadoran military colonel is prosecuted for the notorious slayings of Jesuit priests more than two decades ago during El Salvador's civil war. 
An extradition hearing Wednesday for Inocente Orlando Montano Morales is the latest twist in a case that stretches back to 1989, when authorities say members of the military killed six priests and two witnesses. He is one of 20 former military members indicted by a court in Spain, the native country of five of the priests. 
But Montano — who is in custody in North Carolina — is currently the only former officer within the reach of Spanish prosecutors. Most of the others are in El Salvador, where authorities have no plans to prosecute or extradite them because of an amnesty law for crimes committed during the 12-year civil war that ended in 1992.
Spanish justice may be the only justice available.  Impunity is deeply rooted in El Salvador.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

El Faro denounces threats against its journalists

The online periodical El Faro is protesting recent threats against its investigative journalists.   The periodical reports that threats have been received in comments posted on El Faro's website.  El Faro has asked the country's attorney general and security forces to investigate.

According to El Faro, the threats appear to be linked to its reporting on human rights abuses committed by the police in their battles against El Salvador's gangs.  In the article  "Aquí ya no caben más: mátenlos", an El Faro reporter described his observation of purported gang members receiving savage beatings within a police station.   In  "La Policía masacró en la finca San Blas", El Faro reported on an anti-gang operation which initiated and gunned down multiple gang members but also killed innocent youth living in the same location.   Some of its journalists left the country following publication of the San Blas massacre piece for their own safety.  

The award-winning publication is one of the few voices in El Salvador willing to publicly hold public security forces to account for their actions.  Everyone who values human rights, values press freedom, and does not want a return to country where security forces can capture and kill with impunity, should stand with El Faro and its courageous journalists.  

Thursday, August 13, 2015

El Salvador now using Anti-Terrorism Law to tackle gangs


Written by Written by Michael Lohmuller and first published here.

El Salvador has invoked its anti-terrorism laws to prosecute alleged gang members -- raising the debate over definitions of crime and terrorism, where the two intersect, and the government's motives in framing the gangs as terrorist organizations.

On August 11, El Salvador Attorney General Luis Martinez announced capture orders had been issued for approximately 300 alleged gang members on charges of “terrorist acts,”reported EFE. The gangs have “gone too far,” said Martinez. "They attack the police and prosecutors, intimidate the population, force people to leave their homes, and intend to destabilize the state. They are terrorists, not gangsters.”

Martinez said applying El Salvador’s Special Law Against Acts of Terrorism -- on the books since October 2006 -- against gang members reflects a “new strategy” to “restore order and create social peace.”

Under terrorism charges, gang members can receive between eight and 12 years in prison, while gang leaders can receive 10 to 15 years. The law also lays out prison terms of between 40 to 60 years for those convicted of carrying out “an act against the life, personal integrity, liberty, or security” of a public official or employee.

Authorities also announced the arrest of 130 alleged members of the Barrio 18’s “Revolucionarios” faction. They are suspected of enforcing a recent public transportation “boycott” -- during which at least seven bus drivers were killed and two buses burned -- with Martinez declaring they “conspired and proposed the development of terrorist acts to bring terror and fear to the population.”

Capture orders have also been issued for alleged gang members suspected of carrying out attacks against police and soldiers. In 2015, 41 police officers, 15 soldiers, and one prosecutor have been killed.

InSight Crime Analysis
El Salvador’s Attorney General first proposed using the country's anti-terrorism law to go after gangs in April 2014. On a recent trip to Washington DC he emphasized gang members had evolved from simple delinquency to terrorism.

Nonetheless, terrorism is a politically charged concept that is difficult to define. Indeed, El Salvador’s own legal definition of terrorism is vague and applicable to varying contexts. The law defines a terrorist act as "evidence of intent to provoke states of alarm, fear or terror in the population, place in imminent danger or affect the life or physical or mental integrity of people."

It may be that Salvadoran authorities see linking the gangs with terrorism as advantageous, carrying a lower burden of proof than criminal charges to reach a conviction. Painting gang members as terrorists may also be a politically expedient way for the government to justify harsher and more forceful anti-gang measures to the Salvadoran public.

Regardless, the Attorney General’s move raises the debate over where Salvadoran gangs fall on the “crime-terror continuum," and whether the gangs are truly using terrorist-like tactics to achieve political goals. While the question of whether El Salvador's gangs are truly political actors remains in contention, it is also clear that the gangs are using violence to extract certain concessions from the government (such as less-restrictive prison conditions).


Preceding article is from and first published here.   InsightCrime offers regular coverage and analysis of crime issues in El Salvador and the rest of Latin America.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

El Salvador's Supreme Court is not undermining democracy or helping a "soft coup"

Several people have shared with me an article by Hilary Goodfriend published by The Nation on August 8 with the provocative title  How El Salvador’s Supreme Court Is Undermining Democracy—With Washington’s Help, and subtitled WikiLeaks has exposed US government collusion with the chamber’s destabilization strategy.   I have to respectfully disagree with the majority of the article.

The US Embassy cable disclosed by WikiLeaks is not news.   El Faro first published the cable in 2011, four years ago.   This is not a brand new revelation.  The cable is dated July 2008, during the Bush administration, and before the Obama administration which has had a more even-handed approach to El Salvador's two political parties.

Here is a link to the cable as published in El Faro, since the Goodfriend article does not link to the cable.  The cable talks about a "Plan B" by ARENA if it lost the 2009 presidential election to Mauricio Funes and the FMLN, which ARENA did.   Goodfriend attempts to link recent decisions by El Salvador's Constitutional Chamber to the meeting in 2008 described in the cable.   Her attempt does not stand up.

In the Plan, ARENA was planning to make sure that it got friendly justices on El Salvador's Supreme Court.  Timing was important according to the cable:

The group believes it is essential their replacements be decided by the current Legislative Assembly (standard practice since the 1992 peace accords) not postponed until the Assembly to be elected in January 2009 is seated May 1 of that year.
But "Plan B" did not come to pass in this way.  Goodfriend overlooks the fact that election of justices to El Salvador's Supreme Court requires a super-majority of 56 votes in the 84 deputy National Assembly.  ARENA could not put new justices on the court by itself.   In fact, the 2009 selection of justices did not occur under the current legislature, but came under the new legislature which commenced after May 1, 2009.   There was a stalemate in the National Assembly that year owing to the FMLN's insistence on its own positions, and ultimately the political parties did not agree to new justices until after the new term of the Supreme Court had started and after the FMLN's Funes had already taken office.   (The same scenario is actually taking place again in 2015 as the political parties are unable to reach a compromise on the new 5 justices to take office this year).

In short, the US Embassy cable from 2008 might have talked about an ARENA plan, but the events from a year later did not play out as ARENA had planned.

Instead, the Constitutional Chamber received four new justices who have been widely praised for their judicial independence and their commitment to the rule of law.   See, for example, the report of the Due Process of Law Foundation and FESPAD, a respected Salvadoran legal organization, which described the work of the Constitutional Chamber as a major improvement in the Salvadoran judicial system and a model for Central America (report at page 9).  See also my years of coverage of the Court on this blog, using the tags "justice system" or "Constitutional crisis."

Goodfriend also overlooks the fact that ARENA deputies actually looked at ways to impeach these new justices in 2010, hardly what you would expect if the justices were chosen as part of ARENA's secret "Plan B."   When Salvador  Sánchez Cerén won the presidency in 2014 by the slimmest of margins, Goodfriend fails to mention that the court rejected ARENA's appeal to have a vote-by-vote recount.

More recently, the Constitutional Chamber ruled that a $900 million bond offering had been approved illegally and was void.   Goodfriend says the Court was trying to block the social and public security programs of the FMLN government, without explaining the court's reasons for its action.   As I described in an earlier post, the Court ruled that the National Assembly had violated specific rules when it substituted a back-up deputy to replace a deputy who had voted against the measure and then voted again to approve.   Similarly, the postponement of swearing in of new deputies which occurred earlier this year, was based on the fact that the election results of those deputies had not yet been certified, and ultimately was not an affront to Salvadoran democracy, but a few week delay to the start of the legislative year.

The article in The Nation also attempts to say that the dramatic rise in homicides this year with the collapse of the former gang truce and the current government's deadly-force policing is a "tactic" of the right wing as part of a "soft coup."    The same claim is made about the recent gang embargo of the bus system.   But as the journalists at El Faro point out, there is no basis to think the gangs have a partisan interest to help either political party.   The idea that gangs are killing each other and their rivals as a way to destabilize an FMLN government lacks any evidence and any logic.

It is true that the government is being widely criticized by many for its handling of the gang violence. This criticism certainly comes from the right and the business community which still want Rudy Giuliani to come riding to the rescue, but the criticism also comes from church leaders and from the country's human rights ombudsman (PDDH).    Criticism of the government is not plotting a coup, or even destabilizing, it is part of the robust free speech which one can observe in El Salvador.  Certainly the FMLN and voices in social media were as vigorous in their critiques of ARENA administrations before 2009.

Goodfriend's article in the Nation, like similar statements being made by the  Sánchez Cerén administration and the FMLN only contributes to the political polarization in the country and does not contribute towards solving the country's woes.

As Héctor Dada Hirezi points out in a recent analysis in El Faro, such partisan blaming, rather than working together to find solutions, is part of El Salvador's problems.  As an editorial on the UCA website stated yesterday, quoting El Salvador's conference of bishops, "it is time to unite efforts, with respect and and a spirit of collaboration", in order to promote peace and progress in the country.