Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Strategy...what strategy? The Funes Government and Gangs in El Salvador

The Journal of Latin American Studies also has "De-securitising and Re-securitising Gang Policies: The Funes Government and Gangs in El Salvador" (gated) by Chris Van Der Borgh and Wim Savenije in its most recent edition.
This article analyses the gang policies of the first years of the Funes administration in El Salvador, from June 2009 until July 2012. Using securitisation theory, it explains why the administration returned to an emphasis on extraordinary measures, most of them repressive, to deal with gangs. It argues that these measures were the product of an ongoing and dynamic process in which the government was but one of the players in a complex field constituted by numerous actors. The return to repressive measures as well as the support and facilitation of a ‘gang truce’ were not the result of a rational design or a predetermined agenda, but should be seen as a series of moves in a political conjuncture, in which the Salvadorean government needed to communicate to different audiences messages of being in control.
I appreciated the discussion of the Funes administration's gang policy upon taking office and up through 2011. The Funes administration entered office intending to de-securitise the government's approach to gangs. However, the gangs were too strong, the government did not have adequate policies to effectively deal with gang prevention and rehabilitation, and the media, public and private sector had little little patience for policies that that did not look tough. The government considered negotiating with gangs at this time (2009-2010) but decided not to do so.

I don't think that the article was too strong on what led the administration to support the 2012 gang truce but there we see another two-pronged schizophrenic policy as well. )The authors might have been able to put together a stronger second half of the paper had they written it with what we know in 2014.) At the same time that the government was involved in facilitating a truce between the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs, it was cracking down on gang activities. I remember receiving emails from a friend last year from a friend in San Salvador who talked about the heavy-handed police and military presence in poor neighborhoods. They were kicking down doors, roughing up young men, and threatening those who got in the way...all while the truce was still pretty strong.

The administration had hoped that its continued arrest and prosecution of gang members and reliance on the military would provide them with the political cover to support an unpopular gang truce. It didn't work. The government never did gain the support of the population or the United States for the truce and homicides have increased 70 percent during the first six months of the year.

Monday, July 28, 2014

One Parish Priest in El Salvador's Popular Movement...the FMLN

The Journal of Latin American Studies (now on Twitter at @JLAScamb) has two interesting articles on El Salvador in their most recent edition. The first takes a look at the life of Tecoluca's Father David Rodriguez. "Ideas and Leaders in Contentious Politics: One Parish Priest in El Salvador's Popular Movement" written by Loyola University Chicago's Peter Sanchez.
This paper examines the actions of one Salvadorean priest – Padre David Rodríguez – in one parish – Tecoluca – to underscore the importance of religious leadership in the rise of El Salvador's contentious political movement that began in the early 1970s, when the guerrilla organisations were only just beginning to develop. Catholic leaders became engaged in promoting contentious politics, however, only after the Church had experienced an ideological conversion, commonly referred to as liberation theology.
A focus on one priest, in one parish, allows for generalisation, since scores of priests, nuns and lay workers in El Salvador followed the same injustice frame and tactics that generated extensive political mobilisation throughout the country. While structural conditions, collective action and resource mobilisation are undoubtedly necessary, the case of religious leaders in El Salvador suggests that ideas and leadership are of vital importance for the rise of contentious politics at a particular historical moment.
While we generally tend to identify the Salvadoran civil war as beginning in 1979 (following the failure of the October 15 coup) or 1980 (Romero's murder or the creation of the FMLN), it is important to remember that the Salvadoran guerrillas spent the entire 1970s, even as early as the late 1960s, preparing for war. They were recruiting new members, developing their ideology, and raising money, often through kidnappings.

In this article, we learn about Father Rodriguez who integrated into the FPL in 1974. He went on to live a pretty interesting life which isn't covered in this article except for Footnote number 62 - always read the footnotes.
Padre Rodríguez worked for the FPL from 1975 until the end of the civil war in 1992, also working for the FMLN when the FPL joined that organisation. Rodríguez did not serve as a combatant, but rather helped to organise CEBs and later raised money for the armed rebellion and for communities in guerrilla-controlled territory, travelling to the United States, Europe and Latin America. At the end of the conflict he made an effort to return to the Church, but the bishop of San Vicente at the time insisted that he issue an apology for the revolutionary and political path he had taken, a condition that he found unacceptable. Eventually Padre Rodríguez continued working with the FMLN, which was transforming itself into a political party, and became a candidate for the Legislative Assembly in 1997. He was elected in 1997 and 2000, and more recently in 2009 and 2012. Thus Padre David Rodríguez, a traditional parish priest, became a liberationist priest, a guerrilla priest and finally a political priest, always retaining close ties to the Salvadorean peasantry
The second article comes tomorrow.

A busy few weeks to cover Central America

Good morning everybody. I'm still trying to catch up on all the news as I was down in New York and at the Bronx Zoo this weekend. I know I connected with a number of new followers on Twitter within the last few weeks (thanks @incakolanews!). If you'd like to know more about me, you can read this post from last year as well as the links above to my scholarship and public writing. And now to some links.

NPR's Carrie Kahn takes a look at what is being done to tackle coffee rust which is devastating Central American coffee production. US AID as well as Starbucks and other private companies are spending millions of dollars to help Central American producers to save the coffee crops and to overcome the fungus. As of right now, there's no solid evidence that the migrant surge is connected to coffee rust (we don't really know) but it sure seems to be affecting the decisions of some rural inhabitants to head north. In a potentially positive development, Guatemala's national coffee industry announced the existence of a coffee plant that seems to be resistant to the fungus. It's been around since 1984.

Tim has two good links. The first includes a 20-minute video on what life is like in El Salvador for young children. The second includes a variety of links to recent stories and op-eds on the surge in unaccompanied minors including the letter from those who study Central America that I posted last week. I'm with George Will - we can handle the challenge of "eight-year-old criminals with their teddy bears" without deporting them en masse back to Central America although I'm hoping that the 20 kids in each US county statement was just for dramatic effect. More trade between the US and the region and less drug consumption in the US are parts of any potential solution.

President Otto Perez Molina wants $2 billion from the US to help deal with the region's challenges. I'm not sure where he gets the $2 billion from again (unless it was just the US should spend 10% of the $20 billion that it spends on the border in Central America). OPM and Honduran President Hernandez are looking for a plan Colombia for themselves. I think that someone needs to tell OPM that he already has a bit of Plan Colombia in Guatemala. 

Colombian trainers are there working with his security forces as is Colombian Iván Velásquez Gómez who is in charge of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Velásquez helped to strengthen Colombia's judicial institutions which is one of the main reasons why his country has improved so much in recent years. While in Colombia, Velásquez carried out "high-profile investigations into links between paramilitary groups and public officials." And how are he and CICIG doing in Guatemala? OPM said that his government will not extend CICIG's mandate and it is not clear at all that they have been supportive of CICIG's work to investigate the connections between organized crime and Guatemalan public officials. How about the US offer to fund CICIG for five-to-ten more years? What say you, Mr. President?

 You should also jump through to read OPM's statements about the Cold war - they are pretty laughable

And just a few more...Homicides are up approximately 70 percent in El Salvador...It's been a bad week for mayors (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras)...A Nicaraguan bus driver was arrested for having possibly been involved in the recent bus attack that killed several Sandinista supporters...Some thoughts from me in this recent Washington Post article.

Friday, July 25, 2014

And what are you going to do when you go home Mr. President?

Jose Miguel Cruz has an op-ed in today's Miami Herald on The real failure in Central America while Michael Shifter has one in Politico on Central America’s Apology Tour: Latin leaders have a lot of explaining to do. Michael and Jose Miguel don't want the failure of the US to pass immigration reform or to reduce its demand for illicit drugs to distract every one's attention away from the failure of Central American political and economic elites to clean up their own houses.

Here's Dr. Cruz
In the early 1990s, far-reaching political transitions, wrought by successful peace agreements, created expectations that these poverty-stricken countries would somehow flourish as vibrant democracies and thriving market economies.
Since then, the international community and, especially, the United States have spent billions of dollars trying to strengthen national and regional institutions in Central America in an effort to create the conditions for rule of law and democracy. Data collected by the Washington Office on Latin America show that, since 2003, international cooperation in citizen security programs in Central America has amounted to over $1.7 billion, with the United States providing the lion’s share, more than 36 percent of the assistance.
But, as it has turned out, things have gone hopelessly awry. Part of the problem centers on how these reforms were implemented, as local elites maneuvered to promote old-regime security operators at the helm of law-enforcement institutions. Many of those officials were already implicated in abuses and illegal activities.
And Mr. Shifter
Still, Central American leaders are hardly blameless. The Obama administration is right to urge them to more seriously tackle domestic challenges, including corruption, which is pervasive and shows few signs of abating. Central Americans in positions of power have not done nearly enough to advance the rule of law, promote economic opportunities and help construct a decent life for their poorest citizens. Guatemala’s notably low tax burden, at just over 11 percent, is often cited to illustrate the failure of the country’s most well-to-do to assume their responsibility to finance basic public services. Some voices in the private sector are calling for higher income taxes, but progress has been disappointing and resistance remains enormous. With few exceptions, political figures and public officials have stood in the way of dealing with the spreading criminality, proliferation of gangs and penetration of organized crime in all institutions. Gangs are more common in El Salvador and Honduras; corruption stemming from the drug trade paralyzes Honduras and Guatemala. Since 2012, more than 200 police officers in Guatemala have been purged and are awaiting trial for their collusion with criminal organizations.
While the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala travel to the White House today to lobby President Obama for greater assistance in dealing with the exodus and forced return of their region's youth, the US should not be afraid to ask - "What are you going to do yourselves?"

Here are some of the issues that President Obama might discuss with Guatemalan President Perez Molina that I came up with somewhat tongue-in-cheek last month.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Scholars of Central America reach out to White House on unaccompanied minors

I am one of 650+ Central Americanists who signed this letter to President Obama regarding our treatment of unaccompanied minors. Here is the letter. You can follow the link to see the signatures.

July 22, 2014

Dear Mr. President:

As scholars of Central America and migration who are familiar with the conditions that cause so many children to flee their homelands, and mindful of the historical relationship between the United States and this region, we call on your administration to treat the “unaccompanied minors” at the border as refugees who are deserving of protection, due process, and humane treatment. We ask that they have access to legal representation by volunteer or government­ funded lawyers, in order for them to be reunited with relatives. Young migrants arriving from the Northern Triangle—Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—face real and credible threats to their lives and safety in their hometowns. Further, many of them already have parents or other relatives living and working in the United States. Both the conditions of extreme insecurity in their homelands and the hardships of family separation dictate that these youth should be reunited with family members in the U.S. as swiftly as possible.

The extreme violence and economic insecurity in Central America, as well as the role of migration as a survival strategy, have deep and well­ documented roots. The migration of children and youth from Central America is not new. Extortion and death threats from street gangs (some of which have their roots in Los Angeles) or organized criminals with ties to security forces have caused internal displacement and international migration for more than a decade. The local police cannot be trusted to protect these vulnerable communities and, indeed, are often part of the problem. While U.S. politicians apparently see this as a security problem for the U.S., to be resolved with more walls and detention centers, those who are truly living in insecurity and vulnerability are Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans.

Young people whose parents migrated earlier in search of economic survival are especially vulnerable. Public schools, which should provide safety and opportunity for local youth, are often avenues of gang recruitment. In El Salvador, our research shows, youth gangs within the public high schools are connected to one of the larger street gangs, either the 18th Street (Calle 18) or Mara Salvatrucha (or MS­13). Students who graduate from these institutes are regularly expected to join their respective gangs; those who refuse are threatened and some killed. In Guatemala, we have seen that those with migrant relatives are frequently targets for extortion. Indeed, migration often begins internally, as young people flee their homes to escape such threats. But it can be nearly impossible to escape the threats and assaults. The extortionists and gangs are present throughout all three countries, and local gang cliques can be linked to national and sometimes even transnational criminal networks; frequently, finding a job or even working as a vendor involves paying “rent” to the gangs. Without economic options, police protection, or basic public services, eventually many people see migration beyond national borders as the only option. While Costa Rica and México have also received an increase of asylum ­seekers from this region, the vast majority has come to the United States, where family ties and historical geopolitical relationships have made migration trajectories all but inevitable. Child testimonies reported recently in the media echo our long ­term research findings: these young people fear violence and hope to reunite with family members. Deportation would send many of them back to almost certain death and further destabilize the region, ultimately triggering more migration.

We want to emphasize that the United States is complicit in the conditions that cause so many to migrate. The reasons are many: U.S. historical support for military dictatorships and regimes of violence in the region; its promotion of free trade agreements and economic policies that have undermined subsistence agriculture and eroded public services, and its increasingly harsh immigration policies and practices that have separated families and deported too many whose livelihoods and security were in the United States. We have an opportunity and a responsibility now to make up for some past mistakes by offering humane treatment and consideration to the new arrivals and swiftly reuniting them with their family members.

SIGNED (Friday, July 18, 2014­ - Tuesday, July 22, 2014)

Don't forget about Nicaragua

While everyone's attention is on the Northern Triangle and the immigration challenge between those countries and the US, let's see what people are saying about Nicaragua.

First, we have two articles that cover the 35th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution. David Broddiger and The Tico Times start it off with 35 years after Somoza's overthrow, not much for Nicaragua to celebrate. Growing intolerance, dissatisfaction with Nicaraguan democracy, authoritarian tendencies of Somoza, lack of spending on students, low wages, and the creation of a new multimillionaire club.

Rose Spalding also looks at the July 19th Anniversary and the New Nicaragua for the AULA Blog. Spalding focuses on the relationship between Ortega and COSEP (the business community) - :Even as the government-business relationship warms and the economy grows, these social and political concerns continue to bedevil the country."

Ortega's been moving in on the non-partisan and highly respected military as well.

While Sandinista supporters were returning from the July 19th celebrations, two buses were attacked by small heavily armed groups - The Return of the Contras? Massacre of Sandinistas Stirs Old Ghosts in Nicaragua.

Finally, there is a bit of a dueling narrative on why Nicaraguans are not fleeing towards the US like its neighbors. CATO's Alex Nowrasteh and NicaNet have the positive reasons while Sergio Ramirez focuses on Costa Rica where 10 percent of the population are of Nicaraguan descent.

Nicaragua has a lot going for it compared to its Northern Triangle neighbors right now but there are a number of signs that do not bode well for its future.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How did I miss the unaccompanied minors story?

One of the many things that has bothered me about the crisis of unaccompanied minors on the border is that I totally missed the story as the number of young people from Central America exploded over the last two-plus years. President Obama was warned over a year ago and frankly others have been warning about the number of children and Central Americans for quite some time yet the story wasn't on my radar.

One of the reasons is that I don't focus on immigration and the border very often. When I do write about immigration, I tend to focus on Temporary Protected Status for Guatemalans, support for comprehensive immigration reform, and the record number of undocumented immigrants that the US have been deported under President Obama.

Overall immigration apprehensions have been down and even some of the estimates from El Salvador that I would hear showed the same trend. People used to say that 800 people were leaving each day but more recently I would hear that only 500 people were leaving each day.

Second, while the Northern Triangle remains a very violent region, homicides rates have decreased in each country the last two years, four in Guatemala. It is possible that Guatemala finishes 2014 with a rate of 30 per 100,000 which would put its rate on a level with every one's success story - Colombia.

But there's a lack of trust in homicide rates and an understanding that violence is much more than homicides. So I decided to look through LAPOP's survey results from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. These are from 2012 surveys so we don't have 2013 or 2014 here.

Salvadorans have high levels of insecurity but perceptions of insecurity improved from 2010 to 2012. El Salvador has intermediate levels of crime victimization for the entire region. Seventeen percent of Salvadorans surveyed were direct victims of crime, while 28.5% of households reported some person who was victimized within the past year - about the regional average. Self-reported levels of personal victimization also improved between 2010 and 2012.

Self-reported crime victimization also decreased in Guatemala over the same two-year period - 23% to 21% for personal victimization - although the change is not statistically significant. Even optimism about the economy improved from 41.6 to 45.3!

In Honduras, perceptions of insecurity improved perceptions of insecurity improved from 34 to 32.1 between 2010 and 2012 - at exactly the same time that the murder rate was taking off.
What can explain the reduction in the perception of insecurity in spite of the increase of crime in the country? A possible reason is reflected in the changes in principal problems of the country identified by Hondurans. In Figure 66 we can see that between 2008 and 2010 the economic crisis dominated the perceptions of Hondurans as the most serious problem facing the country. The political crisis of 2009 and the political and institutional problems that were the root of the crisis are what received most mentions in 2012. Therefore, despite the elevated levels of crime, political and economic problems are those that were emphasized with most frequency by Hondurans. We think that this distribution of problems can explain why levels of perception of insecurity has decreased and is below countries with lower levels of violence. 
However, unlike Guatemala and El Salvador, crime victimization worsened in Honduras between 2010 and 2012 from 14% to 18.9%. It is interesting to note that self-reported crime victimization is still below its height in 2006 when it reached 19.2% (probably no statistical difference but...).

Crime and the economy are motivating people from Central America to leave the region and, in most cases, go to the US. However, the link is not straightforward. And at the same time that murder rates and self-reported victims of crime improved except for Honduras.

It gets even more interesting when you factor in that fewer people stated an intention to leave their country and migrate between 2010 and 2012. If intentions were decreasing into 2012, why did larger numbers of unaccompanied minors and families increase so dramatically later that year and the next one and into 2014? That seems to be where US policy comes into play.