Monday, November 14, 2016

Is war the correct word for what is happening in El Salvador?

I was outside an office of the National Civilian Police (PNC) in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador, located in a zone afflicted with significant gang activity.   A masked PNC officer strode past me.  He wore the common uniform of PNC officers involved in anti-gang work:  body armor, with an automatic weapon slung over his shoulder and a pistol on his hip.   Our eyes met.  Under his mask I could not tell if he was smiling or frowning at the gringo seated outside the police offices.

The pickups filled with heavily armed PNC operatives came and went.   Sometimes they discharged a shirtless man, hands bound behind him with zip cord, and pushed him towards the building.   A large truck rumbled past with heavily armed soldiers carrying automatic rifles.

The desk sergeant describes how many people in the zone had disappeared from gang activity so far this year.  She didn't say how many had disappeared for other reasons.

Later, we drove past a joint military / PNC operation -- young men were lined up with their hands behind their heads outside a neighborhood I know to be controlled by MS-13.   A truck with soldiers drove by, their weapons all trained on the barrios they were passing.

This morning, the body of a soldier based in Zacatecoluca, turned up in a ditch.   He was the 21st member of the Salvadoran armed forces killed so far this year.  41 members of the PNC have also been killed, presumably by the gangs.   Reports are circulating of an offensive by the gangs targeting security forces.

There are reports that during the course this past weekend, 37 alleged gang members were killed in confrontations with security forces.   In the first eight months of 2016, security forces had killed 373 people who they labelled as gang members.   I say "alleged" and "labelled" because it is very unlikely anyone will investigate the actual facts of these confrontations.

As I write this, a tweet appears in my feed that the attorney general's office had just confirmed the death of four more alleged gang members today in a confrontation with the PNC.

The Director General of the PNC, Howard Cotto also announced that all personal leave time and vacations for members of the PNC were being suspended and he was advising members of the security forces to take measures for their own personal safety in light of recent attacks on the police and military.   A police officer took his own life this morning at his post in the San Salvador suburb of Mejicanos.

Another tweet shows up, two more supposed gang members killed this afternoon by the PNC.

El Salvador's new Human Rights Advocate (PDDH), Raquel de Guevara, tweets multiple times today about a plan for protection of members of the PNC and their families.    Neither she nor her office makes any statement about the high number of killings by security forces this weekend.

If war is not the correct word, I have not come up with a better one.  Even if the protagonists are not two nation states, or a government and revolutionaries, the bodies pile up and the human rights abuses mount, as in any nation at war.






No comments: