Wednesday, April 16, 2014

To Rebound After Defeat, El Salvador’s ARENA Must Move Beyond Fear

Christine Wade and I have a post in today's World Politics Review on To Rebound After Defeat, El Salvador’s ARENA Must Move Beyond Fear. Here's the kicker:
While ARENA demonstrated that it can still get voters to the polls, doubts remain as to whether the party will conduct the self-reflection required to modernize itself. Following the 2009 loss to the FMLN, several ARENA members also sought to renovate the party. While acknowledging that they had accomplished much after occupying the presidency for 20 years, they also admitted that ARENA had sometimes failed to protect low- and middle-income Salvadorans against the abuses of the state and some of the country’s wealthy businessmen. They called for an ARENA that would represent all those in support of democracy and individual freedom, regardless of their political inclinations, not a party that only defended the interests of a select few. However, as in the past, would-be ARENA reformers’ calls for renovation fell on deaf ears. Unless ARENA embraces such reforms moving forward, its appeal will continue to be driven by fear, rather than the offer of a credible political alternative.  
I'm not optimistic, at least in the short-term, but I am rooting for a renovated ARENA that emerges from this recent electoral loss as a pro-democratic and pro-capitalist political party that many Salvadorans desire.

Divergent views on the failed Salvadoran gang truce?

Steve Dudley looks at 2 Divergent Views on El Salvador Gang Truce, 1 Sad Conclusion for Insight Crime.
1. A means for the gangs to strengthen their political, social and military standing in an attempt to become a sophisticated narco-criminal-political movement.
2. A way for the gangs to better incorporate themselves into society via social and economic programs while lowering levels of violence amongst themselves and against authorities.
It's a bit of a chicken or an egg problem. Has the truce failed in El Salvador because national (the gangs themselves, the PNC, government, society, the business community) and international actors (the United States) failed to support it or was there never a truce in the first place (hidden graves, continued criminal activity) so there was no reason for national and international groups to support it?

I'll just stick with what I said in June 2012.
Earlier this week, the truce between the MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang in El Salvador reached the 100-day mark. The truce has reduced homicides from approximately 14 to 5 per day. In recent weeks, that number has climbed a bit to 7.
The truce provides an important opportunity to reduce overall levels of violence in El Salvador. While most of the reporting is on whether 60,000 or so gang members can change, the truce won't stick if we are just asking the men and women who are members of gangs to change.
The state needs to change and make reforms that move its public security institutions away from mano dura and super man dura. The policies were critical to the expansion of gang-related crime. (I will have more on this at Al Jazeera probably this weekend).
If death squads that are eliminating gang member and former gang members continue to operate with impunity in El Salvador, the truce is bound to fail. If police continue to abuse gang members, whether they are in the process of arresting them or just harassing them, the truce is unlikely to hold. As long as prison conditions remain inhumane and authorities keep rounding up young men and women, the truce is unlikely to hold.
Finally, US foreign policy towards El Salvador, including economic, immigration, and security assistance, needs to change. El Salvador needs foreign direct investment and jobs. American businesses should be encouraged to invest in El Salvador to take advantage of the Millennium grants and the US' Partnership for Growth. Businesses or politicians that redirect investment to El Salvador should not come under political attack.
President Obama's decision to withhold deportation of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants is a good start, but won't substitute for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for most of those living in the US illegally. President Obama could move to make TPS for Salvadorans permanent instead of two year extensions that look like they will go on forever.
Finally, the US needs to change its security assistance / approach to El Salvador - more financial and human resources need to be dedicated to gang prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration strategies. The US could provide more support to the country's criminal justice system. Perhaps, at this time, there could be a serious discussion as to how to better assist gang members who want to leave the violence behind. Historically, it doesn't look like the US and Salvadoran governments have been able to deal effectively with gang members who want out or those who have gotten out.
I don't expect all 60,000 gang members in El Salvador to miraculously change their lives around. How do we assist those that do (10k, 20k, 30k?)? Experience has shown that many are going to fail on their first effort at transforming their lives. Are Salvadoran and US authorities ready to work with these young men and women, some not so young, so that as many as possible can turn their lives around?
So just to be clear, the truce gives the gang members a chance to reclaim lives of dignity for themselves and their families. However, it's not just the gang members that need to change. US policy and the Salvadoran state and people also need to change. They are getting a second chance as well.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dancing one's way out of Central America's gangs


Anna-Claire Bevan has the write-up on BBoy for Life, a new film about young Guatemalans who have turned to break dancing in order to give meaning to their lives and to help escape the country's gangs.
Guatemala City´s ghettos are renowned for their gangs, drugs and violence, but when US-born director Coury Deeb stayed in one, he saw a different side to life in the slums – one of people trying to escape their surroundings, through dance.
“We met with some B-Boys and learned that though they look like gangsters, many of them are not gangsters or involved in criminal activities. Yet they live next door to gangsters who often pursue them to join their gangs.
“What we saw with the B-Boys was a group who desire to be a part of something good, to express themselves through art, through B-Boying, which is an element of hip hop. Their threat is very real so they dance largely to stay out of the gangs,” says Coury whose film production company, Nadus Films, believes in using what you´re good at to serve and empower people.
Shining a light on the breakdancing subculture of Guatemala City, BBoy for Life showcases the struggles and triumphs of Cheez, Gato and Leidy as they contend with dance and gang life in some of the roughest ghettos of Central America.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Radio Progreso employee murdered in Honduras

Radio Progreso marketing manager Carlos Mejía Orellana was found murdered in his home in the northern city of El Progreso on the night of 11 April. He was stabbed several times in the chest.
Mejía had worked for the past 13 years for El Progreso-based Radio Progreso, one of the many Honduran media that criticized the 2009 coup d'état. According to he station's manager, Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno, around 15 of its employees have received death threats since the coup.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) formally asked the Honduran government to protect Mejía in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Father Moreno has accused the authorities of ignoring these requests and the threats Mejía received, although his life was clearly in danger.
Let me just say that I don't have a lot of faith in the Honduran police who are allegedly leaning towards chalking up Mr. Mejia's murder to "a crime of passion."

Does Torture Work? Evidence from Guatemala

Christopher Sullivan, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan and a Fellow at Yale University’s Program on Order, Conflict, and Violence, has a guest post up at Political Violence @ a Glance based on a recent article he published in the Journal of Peace Research.

I haven't read the original article (you can read it here) but it does look very interesting. There's a lot of quantitative data out there on the Guatemalan civil war that is available to scholars who are interested in trying to answer questions about the local level dynamics of the conflict. 
In a new article at the Journal of Peace Research, I bring to bear micro-level data from Guatemala to generate a systematic evaluation of how torture affects violence within the context of an organized insurgency. This is a case in which highly skilled military personnel tortured with near impunity. Among other tactics, agents of the Guatemalan military forced the victims to stand hooded for hours or days, forced them to eat excrement, forced them to stay awake for days at a time, refused to give them food or water, subjected them to electric shocks, stripped them naked, burned them with cigarettes, suspended them from chains, sexually abused them, submerged them in water, cut them and broke their fingers. Combining data from Guatemala’s Commission for Historical Clarification with a research strategy designed to overcome many of the hurdles associated with causal inference, the analysis identifies how local-level dynamics of violence change in the aftermath of torture. The study examines torture’s impacts on subsequent killings perpetrated by both insurgents and counter-insurgents.
Two trends emerge from the analysis:
  • First, torture has no identifiable systematic association with decreases in insurgent perpetrated killings.
  • Second, torture is shown to be robustly associated with increased killings perpetrated by counterinsurgents.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Just the type of Salvadoran who should be deported

An immigration judge in Miami has ruled that former Salvadoran defense minister General Jose Guillermo Garcia should be deported from the US back to El Salvador because of his involvement in human rights abuses committed in that country during the 1980s.
The ruling went beyond earlier court decisions and found that General García had played a direct role in some of the most egregious killings and torture in El Salvador at a time when Washington was supporting the Salvadoran military in its battle against leftist insurgents.
Judge Horn found “clear and convincing evidence” that General García “assisted or otherwise participated” in 11 violent episodes that scarred the Central American country, including the 1980 murder of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero as he was saying Mass in the capital, San Salvador.
The judge also found that General García helped conceal the involvement of soldiers who killed four American churchwomen later that year. He “knew or should have known” that army troops had slaughtered the villagers, including women and children, in the hamlet of El Mozote in December 1981, Judge Horn ruled.
In an unusually expansive and scalding 66-page decision, Judge Horn wrote that “these atrocities formed part of General García’s deliberate military policy as minister of defense.” He added that the general “fostered, and allowed to thrive, an institutional atmosphere in which the Salvadoran armed forces preyed upon defenseless civilians under the guise of fighting a war against communist subversives.”
Some Americans and Salvadorans are obviously concerned with how the FMLN will manage the economic situation in El Salvador as well as whether they will take anything from that made up new left playbook and lead them to consolidate power at the expense of democracy.

One of the issues that I am concerned with is related to how Sanchez Ceren and the FMLN plan to address transitional justice. I've never gotten the impression that the FMLN leadership is set on doing any more than they are already doing - (vague) apologies and symbolic gestures. However, they might not have a choice.

Salvador Sanchez Ceren might have to respond to the forced returns of General Garcia, General Vides Casanova, and Colonel Inocente Montano from the US. Legal maneuverings are still going on in Spain which already led to instability in 2011. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has been putting pressure on the Salvadoran Government to investigate and provide some sort of remedy to victims and victims' families who suffered during the civil war. There is some movement in El Salvador on El Mozote and other well-known crimes.

This November is the 25th anniversary of the murders of the UCA Jesuits so it might be a particularly testy few months for the new president.

And it is not just transitional justice that former military officials and some ARENA officials fear. Several corruption investigations against ARENA officials are underway and will really test the country's judicial and political system. Combine these investigations with the 2015 legislative and municipal elections and things are sure to be interesting for the next several months.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

In El Salvador, a glimmer of hope for a stronger economy.

So I forgot to link to this when the first round of voting was occurring - In El Salvador, a glimmer of hope for a stronger economy.
In stubbornly slow developing economies, like El Salvador, cultivating entrepreneurship is an essential ingredient for growth. With modest start-up costs, it is the small, even micro firms -- from one to 50 employees -- that generate most of the jobs. Yet, here, their emergence has been "absolutely stifled by the security situation," says a seasoned diplomat in San Salvador.
Real numbers are hard to come by, but it's clear that criminal demands on the country's commercial life stymy growth.
El Salvador doesn't get a "favorable" story in Fortune very often.

And there's still this interview by Elaine Freedman with César Villalona in Envio that provides a bit of a different take on El Salvador's economic performance under Funes and the FMLN.