I received a copy of this press release which offers insight into the Salvadoran prison system and efforts to improve it.
EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN CANADA
From Mission in the World, ELCIC
UPDATE ON PRISON CONDITIONS IN EL SALVADOR
Winnipeg, Dec 21, 2004 (ELCIC)--Last September ELCIC Information forwarded a request from Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ) which asked for support in the way of letters to Salvadoran President Antonio Saca. At that time, conditions throughout El Salvador's prison system were critical and required urgent attention to prevent further violence.
Recently Rev. Brian Rude, pastor / missionary of the ELCIC, serving in El Salvador sent this update and his thanks:
Dear friends and supporters:
The massacre of 31 inmates in "La Esperanza" (Mariona) prison on 18 August, 2004, and the ensuing urgent action campaign, have led to some positive changes in the Salvadoran prison system. The immediate response was to complete the separation of gang-member inmates from "civilian", or non-gang-member inmates, into their respective "Mara Salvatrucha" (Quetzaltepeque and Ciudad Barrios) and "18" (Chalatenango and Cojutepeque) prisons. The transferral of inmates itself was brusque, especially for the women of the "18" gang, moved from Ilopango to Berlin by the "UMO" (Unit for Maintaining Order). Most personal belongings were left behind and lost. Overall, the men subjected to these moves are satisfied, even pleased, with the outcome, concluding that their current conditions are an improvement over previous conditions, in terms of being together with their own "homeboys", having increased access to workshops and classes, and being treated more respectfully by prison personnel. We at Quetzalcoatl continue to concentrate our attention on this sector of the prison population.
There have also been some changes in prison personnel. The national director of the penal system, Garay Pineda, resigned several weeks ago claiming to have honourably completed his duty to the nation. Likely he was feeling the heat from more than the sun, including, perhaps, your letters in response to the urgent action campaign. His successor is Astor Escalante, already a part of the system, but a person we are hoping will be more accessible and responsive. Last week, the director of "La Esperanza" prison, where the massacre occurred, was arrested, imprisoned and charged with withholding evidence, having burned a soccer ball filled with marijuana rather than reporting it to the police authorities. While these changes offer some hope that a response is being made to the crisis, many also feel that these actions are merely a smokescreen covering a broader spectrum of corruption. The national ombudswoman, Beatrice de Carrillo, spoke in this regard shortly after the news of the arrest was released.
Quetzalcoatl and other agencies working in prisons and / or for prisoners' rights, have increased efforts to respond as a network. This is sensitive work, since it could jeopardize access to the prison system, and the inmates with whom we work. Initial responses of this network through the mass media led to some members, including our Quetzalcoatl coordinator, being forbidden from entering prisons. Good personal relations with local prison directors have usually meant that such restrictions are not enforced. The government's eagerness to be in consultation with all sectors of society is sometimes revealed to be nothing more than a publicity campaign. It is up to civil society to ensure that the assurances be offered and taken seriously.
There remains much to be done to ensure that El Salvador's prison system become more just and democratic. Thank you for your support in pursuing this challenge.
[Quetzalcoatl is a foundation that offers workshops to prison inmates with a focus on mental health and AIDS awareness and prevention. It also offers a new perspective on life from a variety of angles. Pastoral accompaniment, encouragement and friendship are part of this program, as a natural part of our day-to-day contacts with the participants. For more information, go here].