Thursday, August 17, 2006

Looking for solutions

I am going to wind up this series of posts on the gang problem in El Salvador with a list of measures that address some of the root causes. These steps offer a more comprehensive approach than the enforcement-only approach of policies like Super Mano Dura.

  • Prevention. The government and civil society organizations must be active in developing programs that provide alternatives to joining a gang. Youth centers, sports leagues, school activities, and job training may offer another option and make the gang lifestyle look less attractive in comparison. This should be coupled with anti-gang education that de-glamorizes the gangster life.

  • Rehabilitation. When gang members are arrested, prison in El Salvador is often just a year or two of training for additional responsibilities in the gang. The criminal justice system needs to look for ways to rehabilitate, particularly younger first time offenders, with education and skills training. Then there needs to be a system for re-inserting the released inmate back into society.

  • Community policing. Communities are terrorized by gangs, but very often they do not trust the police. The police will not be effective without the cooperation of community members who want to see their community rid of gangs. This requires that police work much harder at being part of the community and establishing relationships. It also means dealing harshly with any police corruption.

  • US assistance to deal with deported gang members. The US deports violent gang members and dumps them on El Salvador, where the country is already overwhelmed with the gang problem. The US needs to do more to provide assistance to El Salvador to deal with the return of these criminals. Such efforts are in the interests of the US since the rate of gang members crossing back into the US is high.

  • Train and equip police to investigate and successfully prosecute gang crimes. Only a small per centage of homicides committed by gang members are ever prosecuted. Without success in arresting and punishing those who kill, rob, or commit extortion, the gangs have no deterrent from pursuing these activities. Giving police the training and tools to do their jobs is essential.

  • Target economic programs to provide opportunities in the depressed areas where gangs operate. Gangs thrive where there is no economic opportunity and where there is no hope. Policies that promote the improvement of the economic well-being of persons living in marginalized areas are necessary.

  • Start to reduce the prevalence of firearms in El Salvador. Firearms are the weapon of choice of the gangs, and there are a lot of guns in El Salvador. The presence of weapons from the civil war and the perceived need for a gun for protection from a violent society have left El Salvador awash with guns. Starting to reduce the number of guns may start to reduce the lethality of the violence.
It's too bad nobody in power in El Salvador reads my blog.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

In your comprehensive approach, what happens to gang members who have killed innocent people? The biggest reason there are so few prosecutions for murders committed by gangs is that they kill the witnesses who dare to come forward. Recently a young lady witnessed the gang slaying of four tourists in Zona Rosa, and told police. She made the front page a few days later as she, another adult female member of her family and her two little boys were murdered. The two little boys were holding each other as they died. That front page photo was enough to scare off most who would dare testify against the gangs. To kill those innocent people in that fashion, not to mention the four tourists, is a huge line to cross as a human being. What do you with those people? And no matter how well the police are trained, they need witnesses to get convictions. These witness murders happen frequently here. You put the onus on the police to do community policing and win the cooperation of the citizens. But the left here teaches that the government and the police are the enemy while the gangs are misunderstood young men, a hint of which comes through in your comprehensive plan. I admnit the competition is not that stiff, but the Salvadoran police force has been hailed as the most professional in the region. These are major improvments over the police force they used to have here, but at what point does the left give them credit for those improvements? That view of the police keeps the community from co-operating with them more than anything. As has been displayed in the posts on this blog, Tony Saca is viewed as a far greater enemy by the left than the gangs are. Arena may not be the best political party on the block, but for the forseeable future they are the only ally that the people here have, yet they are viewed as the problem. Gangs are the problem, Arena as inept as it may be,is a far smaller problem. And in Arena´s defense, no other country seems to have a handle to control gangs problems once they´ve settled in. And how does a country deal with criminals who enter their country illegally and then commit violent crimes against the citizens of that country? Are you saying they have no right to send those people back to their country of origin? Otherwise countries should hire coyotes to take their criminals across the border into the U.S., it would be far cheaper than imprisoning them. Castro tried that successfully years ago by opening his jails to send criminals in with all the other people fleeing his worker´s paradise. I agree with the preventative measures you suggest, if implemented and funded, which is the big problem, they would make a great impact. But what would happen to those NGO´s and ministries that worked with steering potential gang members in another direction? I´m not sure the gangs would take that without retaliating. Gang intervention work here can be very dangerous. A lot of the young men involved in the gangs are followers, and they could be they could be convinced to follow a better way of life and I understand your plan is geared to reaching them. But there are many in the gangs that would have it no other way, and will go to great and violent lengths to protect their way of life. My question is, in a comprehensive plan, which I take to mean that you want to cover all the bases, what do you do with those people? If you don´t address them, nothing will ever change.

Anonymous said...

"It's too bad nobody in power in El Salvador reads my blog."

You almost sound naive. Let us assume that your blog holds the key to lead El Salvador to a better life. That it is a crib of insight and knowledge that Socrates would be jelous of... But you assume too much, the people that are IN power and have been in power since a gazillion of years in this country are the people responsible for making this country what it currently is. The people in power have never excersided their responsibility to the people. So even if said people in power read this blog, it wouldn't make a difference. Why? Because the people in power are selfish bigots who have never cared for the country.

Anonymous said...

Tim: Sorry for the loss

But you needed a loss to full your blog about gangs?

losrivas said...

Tim, thank you for your posts regarding gang violence in El Salvador. The points you identify for reducing the gang problem in El Salvador are points that could and should be employed anywhere in the world where gangs are a problem. I live in the SF Bay Area where gangs and youth violence, especially in Oakland and Richmond, have terrorized the people for a long time. And please, keep posting. Every time you post, you amplify the love and hope you have for the Pueblo Salvadoreño.

Tim said...

To first anonymous poster:
I agree with you that dealing with gangs also means dealing with the hard core, violent gang members as the criminals they are. They need to be removed from society, and I don't mean to excuse their actions by pointing to societal causes for the gang problem.

The need for witnesses is a difficult problem. I would have a hard time telling a close friend or relative who had witnesses a gang member murder a bus driver that he should testify. The risks are so great.

Bottom line -- the police force should be supported and given the tools to arrest and punish those who commit crimes, but there must also be prevention, intervention and rehabilitation if you are going to stop crimes from being committed in the first place.

To second anonymous poster:

I know the blog does not have the wisdom of Socrates, but I disagree with you that those in government do not want to improve the problems of gangs and violence in the country. Criminal violence deters investment, tourism, and increases other costs which impact the business intersts which the ARENA government favors.

To third anonymous poster:

Scroll through the archives of thhis blog and you will see that I have frequently written about the problem of the gangs.

To Los Rivas:

Thanks.