Saturday, May 24, 2014

Murders surge in weeks before transition of government.

Twenty-nine people were murdered in El Salvador yesterday according to authorities in all regions of the country.  The murders included an attack on an intercity bus yesterday which left 6 dead.   The country's Attorney General Luis Martinez blamed the surge in murderous violence on a plan by the Barrio 18 gang.   He asserted that this was part of a plan to pressure the incoming government which takes office on June 1. The National Civilian Police declared an emergency and canceled all leave for its personnel.  The PNC reported that it had received threats that there would be a wave of attacks in the coming days.

The death toll is reaching pre-truce levels.  A "tregua" or truce between El Salvador's leading gangs in March 2012 led to an immediate reduction in homicide rates of more than 50%.   But now  280 persons in El Salvador have been murdered during the month of May so far, an increase of 64% over May 2013.  The average number of murders per day in May exceeded 11.   More than 1300 have been killed this year.   93% of the victims were men.

Much has been written about whether or not the truce has completely fractured and whether or not the government should negotiate with the gangs.  Various parties get blamed for the break down of the truce, and whether and how negotiations with gangs should be conducted is a matter of wide dispute.  Certainly this writer has no answers.  Incoming president Salvador Sánchez Cerén  will be expected to reverse things quickly, but there is little reason to think he will fare better than any of his predecessors.

Here is a sample of some of what is being published in the English language press.   Follow the links to read the entire article:

El Salvador: Gang violence increases by InfosurHoy (a publication of US Southern Command):
A month after the end of their two-year truce, gangs have reorganized themselves in El Salvador. 
Gang members have increased their criminal activities, obtaining military-grade weapons and deepening their ties with the Mexican drug-trafficking cartel Los Zetas, according to Minister of Justice and Public Safety Ricardo Perdomo. 
Perdomo said on April 7 gangs aligned with the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (M-18) are planning on attacking police, military personnel and public servants. 
“There is a mutation of the gangs toward a drug-trafficking structure,” he said. “Some subgroups have received military training and penetrated even further into communities.”
 El Salvador's Gang Truce Is Getting Fragile at Vice News
A Surprising Gang Press Conference 
On the night of April 29, the gangs gathered five journalists at a secret press conference to reinforce the importance of the truce as a pivotal tool to reduce violence. In keeping with the old urban guerilla customs, the gangs asked the journalists to read a manifesto, with the promise that they would not reveal their identities and location. VICE News was not in attendance at the conference, but received information from one of the journalists present. 
“We want to send a message to the members of the police corporation: You, just like us, belong to this country’s impoverished families. You serve to protect — we live in the same barrios and communities and, in most cases, we are united by family ties; this is why we don’t consider you our enemies,” the manifesto read.
 Blood and Roses on Mother’s Day at UpsideDown World
Meanwhile violence is increasing. There is a vacuum between the current administration, led by President Mauricio Funes (FMLN), and the new one. Nobody takes the lead and the Salvadorans are keeping their breaths, eager to get news about a security policy which could resolve the desperate situation. 
So far, President-elect Sánchez Cerén has described the forthcoming government´s security policy as a combination of repression and prevention.  
That might not be enough. The truce between the gangs, initiated in March 2012, was namely based on dialogue and mediation with the gangs. It was brokered by civil society, represented by Raúl Mijango and the Catholic Church, represented by Fabio Colindres.  The government acted as a facilitator. The outstanding result was that the murders dropped by more than 50 percent. 
15 months later, however, after the appointment of a new Minister of Security, Ricardo Perdomo, violence started rising and has now reached almost the same levels as before the truce. The gangs have warned that if the security measures will not include a dialogue with them, with the Church and civil society as mediators, the murders might rise even more.
How Gangs Have Become a Trojan Horse in El Salvador's Security Forces (PartII) at Global Voices.
 According to Carlos Ponce, this is a clear example of how gang members and others linked to criminal activities seek to infiltrate security forces with the intention of diverting the course of police investigations or smuggle weapons into prisons, which have been used to attack key witnesses such as Pinky, or members of rival groups. 
Ricardo Martínez, Inspector General of the National Civil Police, did not want to specify the number of police officers who have been prosecuted for being involved in criminal activities during the past few years, nor would he allow this team of reporters access to the files. However, at the State Investigation Agency, it was discovered that there are at least four ongoing investigations into the murders of officers whose “crimes”, according to that agency, could involve not fulfilling promises made to gang members.
El Salvador:  New Government, New Opportunity for Peace? from Center for Democracy in the Americas.
 The foremost lesson here is commitment. Establishing peace in high-risk communities requires a reliable commitment from everyone; meaning, the government cannot provide support one year that is withdrawn the next, nor should U.S violence prevention programs exclude those whose lives are most affected by violence. 
To build a true peace, it is time for a bold and imaginative strategy and for the governments in the United States and El Salvador to act with political courage now. The U.S. must adapt its well-intentioned but rigid parameters for assistance to the realities of El Salvador, and President-Elect Sánchez Cerén must moderate his recent refusal to "dialogue" with gangs. 
It can be done. If former FMLN insurgents could adjust to civilian political life - including running for election and winning the presidency - after the United Nations brokered El Salvador's 1992 peace agreement, gang members should be given this chance to normalize their lives too.

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