Saturday, March 12, 2016

El Salvador's government ponders extraordinary measures to combat crime

El Salvador's top government leaders have been meeting to consider implementing "extraordinary measures" including the possible declaration of a "state of exception" to combat gang violence.  A declaration of a state of exception could involve the suspension of certain constitutional protections, the imposition of curfews, and the ability to detain persons without cause for extended periods of time.

InsightCrime reported:

On March 8, El Salvador's Supreme Court, President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, and lawmakers considered a plan to implement a state of exception in the country's most violent municipalities, reported La Página. The proposed state of exception would likely affect at least ten municipalities, including the capital city of San Salvador.

If implemented, the state of exception would provide authorities with broad powers to suppress public meetings, restrict freedom of movement, and monitor mail, e-mail, telephone, and social media communications.

El Salvador's constitution permits authorities to declare a state of exception under conditions of war, invasion, uprising, sedition, or "grave disturbances to public order."According to El Diaro de Hoy, El Salvador's Legislative Assembly must approve such a decision.
The disclosure that the government was discussing the possibility of such measures shows the desperation that authorities are feeling to get a control on gang violence.  The March 3 massacre of eleven workers in San Juan Opico on a day with 31 murders countrywide shocked even this country accustomed to daily murders.

As the homicide rate has stayed at record levels, the government continues to insist that it is on the correct path.   Vice President Oscar Ortiz asserted that the elevated levels of violence were the result of the implementation of the government's strategy.   The gangs, he asserted, are responding to the government's efforts targeting the groups, with violence intended to terrify the population.

There were some voices speaking out against the idea of suspending the constitution in a state of exception.    Lutheran bishop Medardo Gomez, part of the IPAZ group of religious leaders, was quoted in several papers, warning against the measures and continuing IPAZ calls for a path of discussion with all sides including the gangs.

In a speech on Saturday, Sánchez Cerén did not mention the possibility of imposing a state of exception but instead asserted that the government will be deploying a set of extraordinary measures which, among other things, would include taking greater control of the prisons from which gang leaders send their orders, and increased deployment of military units in communities most affected by violence.

Frankly, I don't see any new thinking in these measures.  Authorities have been trying to control the prisons for years.   Putting more troops in the streets, as Salvadoran presidents have been doing for more than a decade, has never had a demonstrable effect on crime, and in the past two years has coincided with increasing violence.  

As Héctor Silva Ávalos said in InsightCrime:
What's the strategy? There is no strategy. We don't know anything about the strategy. The reason we don't know is because they [government officials] don't know either.


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