Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Where is Salvadoran Civil Society?

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The past few weeks have been tough on El Salvador and Central America. The tragic discovery of 72 murdered immigrants in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, generated widespread commotion given the fact that most were Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran citizens. The news—beyond moving society due to the cruel and sadistic nature of the crimes—became an ironic reminder for most young Central Americans who constantly flee their nations to escape increased violence and lack of economic opportunities.

Aggressive calls have been made by government officials and the alleged survivor of the massacre not to travel through Mexico due to increased violence and harassment toward immigrants. However, after the mourning of the deceased, everyone seems to have turned the page and recognize that these are no longer just isolated initiatives.

El Salvador’s President Funes just came back from a meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderón where they first agreed on establishing a high-level working group on security and justice led by high-level political officials. Pessimism aside, the initiative will likely fail to deliver systematic changes in immigrant security. We all know that the situation in Mexico is complex, to say the least.

A second highly publicized incident came with the three-day suspension of virtually all economic activity in El Salvador due to a massive public transportation system halt. Beginning September 9, a generalized threat from maras led Transportistas to go a 72-hour closure of services that brought the country to a complete stand still. The threat was accompanied by the murder of several transportation workers and the burning of some buses. The government called for prudence and calm while deploying 2,000 additional armed forces personnel to patrol the streets and accompany what few buses did work.

In the midst of these two events, but particularly the second one, observers would expect an energetic outcry from civil society. However, aside from an estimate of economic loses made by the main business associations, civil society and the public in general had a very weak response to an ineffective public safety and crime stopping policy.

The question to be raised is clearly important for the democratic stability and social construct of Salvadoran society. Quite simply: Where is civil society? What have they got to say? Why haven’t we seen an effective and massive repudiation of the escalating crime and violence? Why is youth not responding accordingly and organizing around an issue that transcends political boundaries and preferences?

The excuse of a politically polarized society falls short in the case of crime and violence. A minimum national consensus is urgent. Events such as these should make Salvadoran intellectuals, media, civil society, and politicians arrive at the conclusion that there isn’t a clearer threat to democracy than crime and violence. A call to action is urgent before it’s too late.

*Julio Rank Wright is guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in San Salvador, El Salvador, and is a democratic governance and local development practitioner.


Julio Rank Wright is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is from San Salvador, El Salvador, but temporarily lives in Washington DC.

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