El Salvador

Increased Militarization of Citizen Security in El Salvador: Responding to the Surge

April 29, 2015

by Julio Rank Wright

Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle has been at the center of attention for the past two weeks, and not particularly for the right reasons. Stories of corruption, impunity, deteriorating security, and the revival of the ghost of presidential re-election covered newspaper headlines throughout the isthmus.

The news coming out of the region comes at a time when the diplomatic offensive from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala intensifies as the countries seek quick approval and funding for the Alliance for Prosperity from the United States.

El Salvador’s spike in homicides has illustrated the urgent need to address the structural causes of violence. After a failed gang truce brokered by the Catholic Church and the Salvadoran government with the country’s main gangs failed, murder rates increased dramatically. In the first four months of 2015, street gangs murdered over 20 police officers and the targeted murder of members of the Armed Forces also increased.

Facing growing pressure from citizens, the government initially flip-flopped in their policy response. President Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Defense Minister General Munguía Payes first blamed the surge in violence on the media; arguing that “media coverage of violence does more harm than the attacks on police precincts.” The push-back from media and ordinary citizens living under the shadows of extortion and other crimes didn’t wait. Citizens were further infuriated by reports of plasma televisions and video game consoles, among other illegal items, being discovered within the country’s prisons.

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Tags: El Salvador, Citizen Security, Northern Triangle, Alliance for Prosperity

El Salvador’s Upcoming Election: A Window for Reform?

February 11, 2015

by Julio Rank Wright

El Salvador will hold its next legislative and municipal elections in three weeks, on March 1, 2015. As the country’s electorate preps for yet another election, political parties scramble to fine tune logistics and communication strategies in the run up to the election.

The period leading up to the election has showcased El Salvador’s positive evolution in establishing democratic institutions. However, it has also shed light on pending reforms and necessary safeguards to protect the institutional framework which stemmed from the 1992 Peace Accords.

The upcoming election will be a first for the country for several reasons. In November 2014, the Supreme Court of Justice determined that citizens could not be prevented from voting for individual candidates from various political parties. An election without blocked lists would take place for the first time. This would allow voters to choose between pre-determined party lists or select individual candidates from the different political parties.

Despite the late notice of the reform (a mere four months before the election), El Salvador’s electoral institutions—including the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and political parties—responded positively and adapted to the change in voting procedures. Similarly, the forthcoming election will be the first to elect pluralist, multi-party municipal councils. Both reforms will ultimately contribute to strengthened political and democratic institutions within the legislative branch and in local municipalities.

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Tags: El Salvador elections, El Salvador, FMLN, ARENA

Dinamismo en los Partidos Políticos de El Salvador

October 23, 2014

by Julio Rank Wright

Los salvadoreños nos encontramos, de nuevo, a escasos cinco meses de una nueva contienda electoral. Mientras muchos aún no terminan de recuperarse de la resaca de la última elección presidencial, otros esperan con ansias la llegada de los próximos comicios.

Generalmente, en épocas cercanas a elecciones es cuando muchos empezamos a prestarle atención a los partidos políticos. Preguntas y conversaciones sobre el estado actual, la evolución, involución y hasta explosión del sistema de partidos políticos se escuchan con frecuencia. Comentarios sobre “las primarias a medias” o “los dedazos” no dejan de despertar pasiones.

A la luz de los procesos internos que cada uno de los partidos políticos del país (grandes y pequeños así como nuevos y tradicionales) ha estado llevando a cabo, vale la pena enfatizar la importancia de un sistema de partidos políticos modernos y dinámicos para el país. El Instituto Nacional Demócrata para Asuntos Internacionales (NDI por sus siglas en inglés) tiene más de dos décadas trabajando con partidos políticos en más de 50 países del mundo.

Con el correr del tiempo, el NDI ha identificado una serie de mejores prácticas de partidos efectivos. Un partido político efectivo debe considerar tres elementos claves: la democracia interna, la transparencia y el alcance a nuevos sectores.

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Tags: Democracia, El Salvador, Partidos Políticos

Amnesty International Says El Salvador Abortion Law Kills Women

September 26, 2014

by AQ Online

In a report released on Thursday, Amnesty International stated that El Salvador’s total ban on abortion is killing women and infringing upon human rights progress. Enacted in 1998, the law makes any form of abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, when the mother’s life is in danger, or when the fetus has serious defects.

The report was compiled after nearly two years of infield research and interviews with women and children who have been affected by the law, as well as with health care professionals and social workers. It details the effects of the abortion ban, including the number of women that have died as a result, and misappropriated charges of abortion in cases of miscarriages.

According to the report, El Salvador has a lethal combination of high rates of teen pregnancy and clandestine abortions, lack of maternal education, and a paternalistic society that discriminates against women and girls. In fact, with 23 percent of teenage girls getting pregnant at least once between the ages of 15-19, El Salvador has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the region and suicide is the cause of death for over half (57 percent) of pregnant teenage girls.

Despite over 74 percent of Salvadorans in favor of selective abortion, those women and girls found guilty of abortion face two to eight years in prison, and those accused of aggravated homicide as a result of an abortion can face up to 50 years. “The ban on abortion reflects the low position of women in society and discrimination and violence against women in El Salvador,” said Erika Guevara, the Americas director at Amnesty International.

Four other Latin American countries currently have a full ban on abortion, including Chile, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.


Tags: El Salvador, Amnesty International, Abortion

The Political Relevance of Gangs in El Salvador

June 4, 2014

by Carlos E. Ponce

The approach adopted by former President Mauricio Funes’ administration to combat crime is probably the least popular crime control strategy in Central America’s northern triangle. Salvadorans first learned details of the strategy in March 2012, when news reports suggested that the government of El Salvador had negotiated a drop in homicides with gang leaders who, as a result, were being relocated from the maximum security penitentiary in Zacatecoluca to different, less secure facilities.

Authorities have, since then, offered various explanations for the massive relocation of criminals to less restrictive correctional environments—sometimes accompanied by special concessions, like flat screen TVs and conjugal visits, or benefits to gang members’ families living on the outside.

Funes and his security cabinet deny that the state negotiated with gangs, and say that they merely facilitated a truce between gangs.  However, Luis Martínez, El Salvador’s attorney general, recently revealed that a criminal investigation launched by his office indicates that the government paid gangs to reduce homicides. Moreover, recordings leaked to the press and opposition politicians by a hacker that allegedly feature prosecutors interrogating former public safety officials about government-gang negotiations, expose even more benefits provided to gangs by authorities as part of the negotiation—both inside and outside correctional institutions.

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Tags: El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, El Salvador Gangs

Dos Interpretaciones a la Visita de Sánchez Cerén a Venezuela

May 7, 2014

by Julio Rank Wright

Luego de pasar por la elección más reñida en la historia reciente de El Salvador, el país espera que en menos de un mes Mauricio Funes,  el primer presidente del  partido de izquierda Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), deje el poder y le pase la banda presidencial al primer presidente excombatiente del FMLN, Salvador Sánchez Cerén.

El país está literalmente dividido—después de una elección cuya diferencia fue de apenas 0.22 por ciento—y se encuentra en un ambiente de expectativa, en ocasiones tenso y nervioso. Ante una realidad como esa, sumada a un panorama económico desalentador y un aumento en la delincuencia, el presidente electo se verá obligado a colaborar con la oposición política al menos hasta las elecciones legislativas del 2015. Es por eso que la reciente visita de Sánchez Cerén a Venezuela ha generado reacciones encontradas.

Yo le doy dos posibles lecturas a la visita de Sánchez Cerén a Venezuela el pasado 1 de mayo: la primera es optimista y la segunda es un poco más apegada a la realidad. Hace dos meses, en las vísperas de la elección presidencial de El Salvador, el presidente venezolano Nicolás Maduro fue el primero en felicitar a Sánchez Cerén, aun cuando a El Salvador se le agotaban los recursos legales para afirmar quien había ganado la elección presidencial con los márgenes de diferencia más estrechos de las últimas décadas.

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Tags: Salvador Sánchez Cerén, El Salvador, Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela

El Salvador's (Close) Presidential Election: What's Next?

March 17, 2014

by Julio Rank Wright

El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal announced a winner of the March 9 presidential runoff a week after the election, leaving half of the country overjoyed and the other half in despair.

Salvador Sánchez Cerén, of the governing Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (Farabundo Marti Liberation Front—FMLN), won by a mere 0.22 percent of the general vote—equivalent to just over 6,000 votes. The final results (50.11 percent for the FMLN and 49.89 percent for the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista, or Nationalist Republican Alliance—ARENA) exemplify a nation divided in two.

The runoff result was a surprise to all. The first round election had given the FMLN a ten percentage point advantage over ARENA. How was ARENA able to cut the difference by so much in just three weeks? What implications does the result have for the FMLN, and what will governing El Salvador look like in the next presidential term?

El Salvador's recent presidential election represented the last possibility for ALBA expansion in the short term, since Cerén, a former leftist guerrilla, campaigned on possible ALBA adhesion.

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Tags: El Salvador, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, ARENA, FMLN

Negotiations with the FARC and other Regional Efforts to Achieve Peace

June 11, 2013

by Sabrina Karim

The peace negotiations in Cuba between the Fuerzas Armada Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government, set to reconvene today, are not the only peace agreements being conducted in Latin America. 

One year ago, the two main drug gangs in El Salvador, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, agreed a halt to hostilities in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church

And just over a week ago, the two main rival gangs in Honduras negotiated a similar pact, though not specifically a truce, again mediated by the Catholic Church. The Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18 said they would commit to zero crime and zero violence on the streets

Such mediations are not considered typical peace agreements in the traditional sense of international relations, but perhaps they should be. While policymakers and scholars argue that there is a conceptual difference between insurgency groups, rebel groups, organized crime, and terrorism, these peace agreements between different gangs suggest that such distinctions may inhibit sound policy.  In fact, the peace agreement negotiated by the Catholic Church and the gangs in El Salvador does not look too different from the negotiations in Colombia.

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Tags: Colombia, El Salvador, gang truce, peace negotiations

El Salvador’s New Push to Reduce Extortion

June 10, 2013

by Julio Rank Wright

In the first days of his last year as president, El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes was forced to make some changes in the country’s security cabinet. Following a ruling by the Supreme Court declaring the former security and justice minister’s term unconstitutional, Funes selected Ricardo Perdomo as the new security and justice minister.

Perdomo, a civilian who was the former director of the State Intelligence Agency, is a politically-savvy and experienced professional with a lot of political experience. In his first week, Perdomo fired the director of the penitentiary system, and the vice minister of security resigned precipitously.

It’s unclear what Perdomo’s tenure will represent for El Salvador’s unprecedented gang truce, which has helped reduce homicide rates significantly but left extortion rates barely altered. What is clear is that the discourse, at least, seems more coherent now that the security cabinet is led by Perdomo.

In the mix of resignations, police commissioner reassignments, new appointments and a waning presidency, Funes seems to be making a last effort to tackle the country’s insecurity. On June 6, Funes and Perdomo announced the creation of a new anti-extortion unit. The specialized unit will be comprised of 500 police officers and 500 military personnel and will be specially trained and equipped to reduce extortions.

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Tags: El Salvador, extortion, Mauricio Funes, Ricardo Perdomo

Apuestas Estratégicas para el 2014 en El Salvador

May 6, 2013

by Julio Rank Wright

En el año 2000 la mayoría de los salvadoreños teníamos una idea, al menos vaga, sobre cual debería de ser la apuesta estratégica del país. El entonces presidente Francisco Flores y su gabinete nos hablaban sobre la viabilidad de convertir a El Salvador en un centro financiero y en un centro logístico de calidad mundial. El segundo aspecto fue incluso exacerbado con la inversión en la construcción de un nuevo puerto marítimo moderno en el departamento de La Unión durante la administración de Antonio Saca.

La apuesta fue concentrarse en la prestación de servicios y promover políticas públicas y leyes que facilitaran el proceso de transformación del país en ese centro financiero y logístico. Sin embargo, al parecer se nos olvidó que uno de los hubs logísticos más importantes del mundo y uno de los centros financieros de mayor trayectoria en el hemisferio occidental se encontraban a la vuelta de la esquina: Panamá.

El país amigo del istmo lo estaba haciendo bien, muy bien. Luego El Salvador cayó en una vorágine de violencia e inseguridad ciudadana que todos conocemos. La inversión se redujo debido a los crecientes índices de violencia. Al menos esa fue siempre la versión oficial. Para muchos difícil de aceptar o comprender cuando los países vecinos de Guatemala y Honduras, ambos con niveles de violencia similares o superiores, crecían dos o tres veces más que El Salvador.

Si en efecto, nos equivocamos, pues no hay mejor remedio que aceptarlo y rectificar. Sin embargo, lo más relevante que conviene rescatar es que a finales de los 90 y principios de milenio existía una propuesta de visión país. Esa visión es la que hoy día El Salvador carece. La semana pasada se realizó el XIII Encuentro Nacional de la Empresa Privada (ENADE) organizado por la Asociación Nacional de la Empresa Privada (ANEP). Durante el encuentro los líderes empresariales solicitaron favorecer la visión de largo plazo. En dicho encuentro la principal cámara empresarial del país hizo entrega a cada uno de los candidatos presidenciales de la propuesta que habría preparado la gremial.

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Tags: El Salvador, 2014 elections