March 30, 2012 |

El Salvador Update: March 2012

A PDF version of this month’s update is available here.

Summary:

The tumultuous mid-term electoral process for El Salvador’s National Assembly and municipalities concluded in an orderly fashion on March 11th with few serious problems. In the following days, campaign propaganda came down, Salvadorans prepared for long Semana Santa vacations at the beach and the political class was immersed in post-election analysis of victories and defeats. In the National Assembly, negotiations were immediately underway as the two major parties (ARENA and the FMLN), neither with a majority, hunted for votes among smaller parties to guarantee success on critical issues ahead. With 2012 elections over, the campaign for the 2014 presidential contest began straightaway as hopeful candidates jockeyed for position.

Pre-election polls were fairly accurate with results presenting few surprises. ARENA recovered from its 2009 loss of the presidency –the subsequent split in the party and formation of the splinter party GANA –with a 2.9% win over the FMLN.  The FMLN, the governing party, lost four deputies as well as the race for mayor of San Salvador, the capital. More traumatic for the party was the loss of six huge municipalities in the metropolitan area, all historic strongholds of the left. For its part, GANA, the ARENA splinter party won sufficient votes to become the third force, and is the only splinter party ever to survive an election.

A potentially momentous truce between two powerful gangs led to an apparent decrease in gang violence toward the end of the month. Specifics, such as parties at the table and the terms of negotiations, have been shrouded in secrecy, and highly contested, as gang leaders, President Funes and Minister for Security and Justice David Munguía Payés denied any negotiations between the government and gang leaders.  Investigative journalism from El Faro suggesting government involvement in the truce has resulted in threats from these gang leaders, specifically singling out editor Carlos Dada and raising concern about his and his fellow journalists’ security. Uncertainty about the origins and future of the truce and the unexplained absence of President Funes from the public eye for 17 days contributed to continuing unease about changes in the security apparatus and strategy.

Meanwhile, there was a piece of heartening news from the National Police Academy. The ANSP announced that the new graduating class is composed of 63% women, a historic shift in the gender composition of the police force. Of 253 graduates, 160 are women and 97 men. Future classes must be at least 40% female, up from a 10% average before 2009.  Under the Funes administration, the Academy has implemented stringent regulations against sexual harassment and has targeted recruitment of women.

The new face of the PNC

Elections:

“They sold the candidates like they were selling soap.”
Commentator, TV10
“It was a campaign of pretty faces with no content.”
Jeanette Aguilar, Director of IDHUCA, TV6

When the new legislature convenes on May 1st, ARENA will have 33 deputies, the FMLN 31, GANA 11, CN (Conciliacion Nacional) 6, CD (Democratic Change) 1, PES (Partido de Esperanza) 1, and a coalition of PES and CN, 1.  A majority vote requires 43 deputies, while a super-majority requires 56. Everything will be negotiated in the lackluster Assembly, one of the least-approved institutions in the country. Of the 84 deputies, 23 are women, a gain of five over 2009.

Of 262 municipalities, the main winners were ARENA with 116, the FMLN 95, CN 27, and GANA 17, with smaller parties and coalitions earning the rest. All results can be found on the website of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE): www.elecciones2012.tse.gob.sv.

Despite worries that electoral reforms (neighborhood voting, open lists and independent candidates) would confuse voters, the March 11th election for legislators and municipal officials – the 9th election since the 1992 peace agreement – was deemed highly successful by international observers and local analysts. Small logistical problems and disputes occurred in some areas but the work of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and its unflappable president, Eugenio Chicas, was praised for technical sophistication, transparency and efficiency.

Of concern, however, was the high rate of absenteeism, with less than 50% voter turnout compared to 62% for the presidential election in 2009, and 67% in 2004. ARENA, the FMLN and GANA mounted exorbitant propaganda campaigns which apparently failed to inspire voters.

José María Tojeira of the UCA attributed voter apathy in large part to the mediocrity of the campaign, the lack of debate, of analysis and of serious projects. “The people are disillusioned,” he said in a television interview on election eve, “by candidates issuing phrases without content, without debate.” Father Tojeira acknowledged the work of the TSE and the lack of major problems in the voting but warned that political parties “are in danger if they don’t change.” The parties have a responsibility, he said, “to present serious projects, not just abstract ideas.”

Voter apathy came from independents and from the left. ARENA won by only 2.9%, but the FMLN lost some 140,000 votes, the majority from urban middle class independents who supported the party in 2009 but have become disillusioned by the lack of progress on critical economic and public security issues. The FMLN has focused attention on social programs for the impoverished majority but, as spokesman Roberto Lorenzana admitted in an interview on national station TCS, has failed to reach out to the middle class.

The two major parties have their “hard votes” but neither has enough to guarantee a majority. They both need independents, the 49.1% who had no party preference just weeks before the election. ARENA succeeded in attracting some by “tempering its discourse,” according to Jeanette Aguilar of the UCA, who argued in a television interview that the FMLN “must be much more moderate” to attract those independents.

Analyst Roberto Rubio attributed the downturn in voter turnout to widespread discontent with the political class in general, arguing that the FMLN lost the initiative as the “change” party, which ultimately benefitted ARENA. Rubio noted that ARENA presented new young candidates and supported the progressive electoral reform that mandated open lists. For its part, the FMLN insisted on the old method of marking only the party flag and ran its historic leadership with few fresh faces.

ARENA managed an intelligent public relations campaign led by popular San Salvador mayor, Norman Quijano, and the attractive former vice-president Ana Vilma de Escobar who delighted the media with her cumbia dancing skills and patted tortillas with women in the market. In contrast, the FMLN’s campaign lacked ingenuity and creativity, featuring a sea of red and “continue the change” slogans, difficult for people who hadn’t received the benefits of “change” to appreciate. Perhaps party leaders suffered from overconfidence, but they failed to see the discontent among the grassroots members and lack of enthusiasm among independents. GANA, the party that presents itself as “humanitarian right,” attracted some of those independents that could not bring themselves to vote for ARENA.

A young woman voting for the first time

Much of the apathy was on the left. The party lost votes of some sympathizers and militants, dismayed by the gap in communication between the leadership and the grassroots and by regrettable decisions including the imposition of candidates in some key communities and the party’s dubious position in support of the highly controversial Decree 743 last year, which attempted to rein in progressive justices on the Supreme Court.

“For the FMLN defeat is an opportunity to identify problems and errors and make changes.”
Felix Ulloa, Director National Democratic Institute

“The challenge for the FMLN is to reinvent itself…to admit its errors, mend itself
and be in condition to be competitive in 2014 and 2015.”
Roberto Cañas, Analyst

This was the first electoral test for the FMLN as the party in power, and it was a hard lesson about leadership both in the party and as elected officials. “It was an acceptable victory,” according to a communique issued by the party, following the announcement of results. The leadership called on militants “not to lose the battle or be discouraged,” said it would “turn the page” and begin to work on the 2014 race.

But not everyone is ready to turn the page without challenging the leadership, in power since 2004 and now facing criticism from party reformers on the right and left. One journalist from Contrapunto lambasted the “chronic incapacity of the old guard to modernize their leadership, program, image and colors for the new democratic times.” At a subdued press conference on March 12th, FMLN spokesperson Roberto Lorenzana said the leadership took responsibility and accepted the losses “with a self-critical spirit.”  He insisted there would be “a before and an after” in the decision-making process, but was emphatic that the leadership will not change.

Several analysts noted that voters are maturing, looking beyond party slogans to support elected officials who perform well. Santa Tecla’s popular FMLN Mayor Óscar Ortiz is a case in point, winning his fourth term overwhelmingly. Ortiz has reached out to a variety of parties and organizations and has turned Santa Tecla into a model of development. In contrast, the long-time FMLN mayors of the large metropolitan municipalities like Soyapango and Mejicanos failed to implement noticeable improvements in their communities, neglecting basic needs like street lighting, trash collection and clean streets. As an analyst observed, it is one thing to occupy public office, another to be an effective administrator. For his part, San Salvador’s ARENA Mayor Norman Quijano, has made concerted efforts to enhance the historically chaotic downtown area. The changes may be cosmetic but they are visible, and he was re-elected by a nearly 3-1 ratio.

“We are part of the government but we are not the party of the government.”
Sigfrido Reyes, FMLN Deputy and President of the Assembly

The relationship between President Funes and the party that put him in power has been dysfunctional for most of his 2 ½ years in office, and the president was nearly invisible during and after the campaign. In a television interview following the election, FMLN Secretary General Medardo González said the party needs to re-set the relationship: “We agree on much and can work together with the objective to prevent ARENA from retaking the government (in 2014).”  The key to success in 2014, Roberto Lorenzana added, “is for the Funes government to be successful.”

Some analysts believe the party paid a price for decisions made by the president in which the FMLN had no participation; while the party holds several ministries, it has no voice in economic and fiscal policy and, since November 2011, has lost control of public security and intelligence posts that are now held by retired military officers appointed by President Funes.

“I supported Mauricio Funes [as the party candidate],” former deputy and party leader Fabio Castillo said, “but I have been to the Wailing Wall to lament!” There is pressure for the FMLN to move away from the President and position itself as a strong opposition, rather than the party in power forced to defend or quietly accept executive decisions.  “Don’t be bipartisan!” declared Dagoberto Gutierrez, former FMLN member now on the radical left: “Be left!”

Analyst Felix Ulloa suggested the party neglected the three key elements of democratic party-building – transparency, internal democracy, and recruitment of new sectors – but added that the results of the election are an opportunity to make necessary changes. National Foundation for Development (FUNDE) director Roberto Rubio is of the opinion that the party must define more clearly “what it means to be left” and to rethink its ideological and economic relationships.

The party must be renovated, Santa Tecla Mayor Oscar Ortiz declared, “not just people but focus and ideas.”

“We won the prize for our hard work after the betrayal.”
ARENA leader Ernesto Muyshondt, TV12

ARENA leaders celebrated their “nationalist triumph” just three years after defeat and the “betrayal” of the party by 12 deputies who walked away to form the GANA party. Among the newly elected and re-elected ARENA deputies were Roberto D’Aubuisson, Jr., the son of the notorious ARENA founder, and retired Colonel Sigfrido Ochoa Pérez, allegedly responsible as the officer in command of troops who perpetrated massacres in Cabañas in 1982. Ochoa Pérez was most recently involved in a very public dispute with President Funes, whom he thanked for his victory.

ARENA made a striking recovery from its difficulties of two years ago, but its old guard leadership also faces substantive challenges. The loyalty of some deputies has been questioned, according to analyst Roberto Rubio, who said there are rumors that another group of “traitors” may abandon the party which would threaten ARENA’s position in the legislature.  There are also calls for the powerful party leader former President Cristiani to step down. Jorge Daboub, President of the business group ANEP, said perhaps he should resign, but that it is most important “to define the direction of the party and the best person to lead….not to sit on our laurels.”

“I would be delighted to be president again.”
Tony Saca, former president

“I have the experience. I have a longer career than anyone else.”
Norman Quijano, Mayor of San Salvador

The race for 2014 is on, with Tony Saca and Norman Quijano first out of the gate.

Ex-President Saca, who was expelled from ARENA in 2009 and allegedly funded and founded the ARENA splinter party GANA, is eligible to run again following the constitutional requirement of a 5-year interim from his departure from office. He is a popular and charismatic figure, the owner of numerous radio stations which he uses to broadcast populist messages: “Together we can build a better El Salvador!” The former chief executive is said to be close to President Funes and there are many as yet unsubstantiated rumors about the provenance of his wealth and about his connections. He is expected to run as the candidate of GANA with the intention of obtaining the support of voters disenchanted with the left and right. Just days after the election, posters went up around the capital from the “Civic Movement for Change” featuring a photo of the former president.

Norman Quijano is unabashedly promoting himself for president following his March 11th re-election as mayor of San Salvador, but he is not the favorite of ARENA leader Cristiani, who publicly rebuffed Quijano for his declaration that an alliance with GANA would be impossible. Meanwhile, former vice-president and now ARENA Deputy Ana Vilma de Escobar received the highest number of votes in the election and is considered a potential candidate for president. Another new ARENA deputy, Edwin Zamora, has also been mentioned as a fresh face that could attract voters.

Before the election, the FMLN was said to be considering former FMLN commander and current Vice-President Salvador Sánchez Cerén as its candidate, but the harsh reality of election results may force a change in strategy Other names mentioned include: Hato Hasbún, Secretary of Strategic Affairs; Sigfrido Reyes, Deputy and President of the National Assembly; Hugo Martínez, Minister of Foreign Relations and Óscar Ortiz, Mayor of Santa Tecla. It is also possible the party will look outside again; the current Minister of Security David Munguía Payés is said to have presidential ambitions and was thought to be a potential candidate before his appointment as Minister of Security. His political fate now depends on the success of the security strategy he directs.

Security:

“Military forces in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador will continue
being called to play an important role in domestic security in the coming years.”
Douglas Fraser, U.S. Southern Command


“[The allegation] that there is militarization is a campaign of the radical left.”
President Mauricio Funes

Guatemalan President Otto Pérez’s call for legalization of drugs immediately mobilized Washington. Soon after his declaration, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Vice-President Joe Biden both paid visits to the region to underscore U.S. opposition to legalization and to discuss pressing security issues. Douglas Fraser, Air Force General and head of the Southern Command, testified before the House Armed Services Committee on the important role of the region’s military forces in public security, a statement he clarified the following day, saying the use of the military must be “temporary…The solution isn’t military….We are not defending a military solution.”  Fraser warned that transnational organized crime and criminal activity “threatens to engulf the region in violence not seen since the civil wars of the 80s.”

According to William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, El Salvador’s anti-gang strategy is so successful it can be replicated in Guatemala and Honduras. “The time to talk has passed,” he said, “this is the moment to take action.” Brownfield suggested it could take five years to control the violence and called for “strategic patience and courage,” emphasizing that the role of the police and military must be differentiated with military units deployed “only in emergencies” and for limited periods, “to avoid the militarization of the police mission.”

Technical assistance has been stepped up, with FBI advisers training the new elite 335-member anti-gang unit. On March 13th judges, police and prosecutors from Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Peru and El Salvador participated in an “anti-extortions” workshop led by the FBI as part of the Partnership for Growth initiative.

Meanwhile, the Salvadoran Constitutional Court is deliberating a challenge to the appointments of the Minister of Defense, (ret.) General David Munguía Payés and (ret) General Francisco Salinas to head the National Civil Police (PNC). The Constitution specifically states that the police, formed as a result of the 1992 Peace Accords, must be headed by a civilian. Salinas officially retired from the military just hours before the announcement of his appointment; Munguía Payés retired in June, 2011.

U.S. and Salvadoran officials publicly deny any intent to militarize public security but one Western diplomat privately expressed concern about “mission creep” and civil society organizations see worrying trends throughout the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. According to Guatemala’s Prensa Libre, soldiers “armed to the teeth” are in the streets: “Although the wounds of the military regimes are still apparent, Central America is now a theater of a new war.”

“We are on vacation.”
A gang member

Was it a dialogue, mediation or negotiation?

Once again, El Faro’s intrepid investigative reporters dropped a bombshell. Just days after the election, the online journal broke a story alleging the government had negotiated unprecedented agreements with the most dangerous imprisoned gang leaders, the heads of Mara Salvatrucha (MS) and Barrio18. Negotiations, according to El Faro’s sources resulted in the transfer on March 8-9 of 30 gang leaders from the high-security Zacatecoluca Prison to minimum security facilities in exchange for a truce on homicides. Orders went out to gang members around the country to halt all homicides from March 10th – the day before elections – “until further notice.” And homicides were reduced- from an average of 14 per day to six on election day, to two, three, and five in the following three days. According to El Faro, the strategy was designed by Colonel Molina Montoya of the Office of State Intelligence (OIE) and possibly involved financial benefits to the family members of some of the leaders. Other press reports confirmed the transfer of the prisoners on March 8th “without explanation” from authorities.

Government response to the report was a swift denial. In a letter to colleagues, El Faro editor Carlos Dada wrote of the reaction and of the high risk journalists face in the current environment. Minister of Justice and Security Munguía Payés responded by convoking an off-the-record meeting of managers and editors of major media, excluding El Faro. He denied any negotiations with gangs and said he was concerned about the security of the El Faro reporters, ominously hinting they are at risk for publishing such information and “they should remember what happened to Cristian Poveda,” (a filmmaker who was murdered two years ago allegedly by gang members.) In an interview with the Knight Center, Carlos Dada expressed concern “that the authorities are already blaming gangs for anything that may happen to us.”

Shortly after the closed door meeting, the Minister called a press conference. He again denied any negotiations, instead issuing a series of disconnected yet ostensibly simultaneous circumstances to explain the prison transfers. His explanations included that several “hope workshops” (mesas de esperanza) had been held in the prisons; that the Military Bishop Fabio Colindres and ex-guerrilla Raul Mijango had requested some transfers for “humanitarian reasons;” that intelligence officials had received information about a “massive escape plan” using anti-tank missiles stolen in Honduras to attack the prison; that better police operations had resulted in a reduction in homicides, and, finally, that some of the prisoners were near the end of their sentences and could therefore be moved to minimum security facilities. Asked if El Faro lied, the Minister replied, “No, I would say [the report] is imprecise, some is true, and some is not.”

The Military Bishop quickly denied participation in “negotiations,” insisting he had simply mediated an agreement between MS and 18. “The reduction in homicides shouldn’t be a matter of suspicion,” he said. Bishop Colindres refused to provide any specific details and implied the prisoners had experienced a conversion. “No one converts overnight,” commented Father Antonio Rodríguez, a priest with ten years’ experience working with gangs in Mejicanos, “much less them.” Father Rodríguez was fired from a government commission two years ago for suggesting the government open a dialogue with the gangs.

“We ask to be treated as human beings.”
Communique from MSX3 and Pandilla 18

On March 22nd, a communiqué was issued purporting to be from the “national spokespersons” of the two gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 that have fought bitter territorial wars for the past decade, resulting in the deaths of thousands of mostly young men.

The writers denied any negotiations with the government and denounced what it called the “irresponsible, tendentious, perverse” reporting by El Faro, directly addressing editor Carlos Dada and reminding him that they are people who “play with life,” because they have nothing to lose.  Blasting the El Faro report, the communiqué charged that “according to our codes [the El Faro report] puts us in a situation of having committed betrayal of our more than 100,000 members…so we could be subject to internal reprisals for such acts.”

The imprisoned gang leaders said they have been meeting under the auspices of the Bishop since last year to discuss the problems of the country and the inhumane prison conditions. The communique recognized that gangs are a part of the problem “as a consequence of the war” and “exclusion, marginalization, repression and survival” and continued, “We want to be part of the solution.”

This is also our country, they said. For the first time in 20 years, “a historic process has been opened. As a “good will gesture” all attacks against police and military have been cancelled.

Historic meetings and thanksgiving masses were held on March 26th in the separate prisons where members of the two gangs are incarcerated. Bishop Colindres, the Papal Nunciate Luigi Pezzato and others met with thousands of gang members who publicly asked for forgiveness and the “opportunity to change.” Carlos Mojica (“Viejo Lin”) of Barrio 18 said the process “is not a cease fire or a truce…We see this as a process of definitive pacification for our country.”

“If as a society we don’t offer any alternative,
the results will continue being the same for time immemorial.”
Nelson Rauda, Prison Director

Analysts expressed unease about the lack of transparency with the prisoner transfers and truce. “What is behind all this?” asked Jesuit Rodolfo Cardenal of the UCA. “How did the heavy weapons (anti-tank missiles) enter the country?” The truce between gangs may be effective for those in prison, Cardenal said, but what about the thousands of gang members and their families that survive on extortions, “how will they live?” And, he continued,”it is almost a veiled threat that if [the government] doesn’t resolve the problems of the people who are outside [the prison]… they are going to unite, the problem of extortions is going to continue.”

Homicides were down by 59% in the two weeks following the truce but extortions continued, according to bus owners and drivers who still pay up to $2,000 per month in protection money.

Whether the prison transfers were negotiated or mediated, the truce presents an unparalleled opportunity to reduce violence in the country and is a challenge to the government to act quickly to ameliorate the appalling prison conditions and provide opportunities to those on the outside willing to make this a permanent truce.

Meanwhile, three thousand alleged gang members have been arrested since January 1st of this year and thousands more could be rounded up if the anti-gang strategy is fully implemented after the Semana Santa holiday, mid-April, as scheduled. Security officials are scrambling to find additional facilities to house prisoners, including the use of  empty maquilas, (factories)  but the judicial system is nearly non-functional; of over 52,000 arrests in the country last year, only 80 of 1400 cases in San Salvador were prosecuted, according to Judge Samuel Lizama.

Minister of Security Munguía Payés has always insisted that 90% of homicides are gang-related and has promised to reduce the number by 30% this year. According to a New York Times report, an intelligence source confirmed that offers of “a deal or negotiations” have been discussed since the November appointment of Munguía Payés.  Were there negotiations and exactly what was negotiated? And is this part of a serious strategy designed as an alternative to repression, to reduce the violence without resorting to a military-style offensive?  On March 27th the Minister of Security said only that the government supports the work of the church, which he described as “a light of hope.”

Before meeting with President Funes, visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Citizen Security, Democracy and Human Rights Maria Otero insisted the gangs must “dissolve and disappear”, adding, “It is an interesting development …that we are all observing closely.”

Finally, after an absence of 17 days, President Funes held a press conference on March 28th. He denied any government participation in negotiations, saying only that efforts of the Church to reach an understanding were “facilitated ” by his administration. The President proposed a broad national accord, “to make a change in the economic-social model…Gang members have the right to work, they have a right to education, they have a right to health care.”

“The work of serious media implies maintaining a critical, suspicious and demanding position with power.”

Carlos Dada

The government response to El Faro’s reporting is worrisome.  There are reports of lie detector tests being given to employees of the state intelligence agency (OIE) apparently to uncover El Faro’s sources. March 27th the recently appointed Assistant Director of the OIE, Colonel Simon Molino Montoya, was fired. The colonel, a long-time intelligence advisor to Minister of Security Munguía Payés is said to have been the author of the strategy to negotiate with the gang.

Meanwhile, El Faro’s  staff members were under surveillance following the investigation and reporting on the Texis drug trafficking cartel in 2011 and again are being threatened. The Center for the Protection of Journalist released  a statement expressing concern over the security of Dada and other El Faro reporters. The real risk to us, Dada said, is not just gangs, but “drug trafficking groups, corrupt politicians, corrupt police chiefs, judges and prosecutors that are part of the network of organized crime.”

Human Rights:

Military Officer Named by Truth Commission Deported from U.S.

Ex-Captain Carlos Napoleon Medina Garay accused by the Truth Commission of ordering the summary executions of 50 women, children and elderly in the hamlet of El Junquillo, Morazán on March 12, 1981, was charged with illegal entry to the U.S. and deported to El Salvador on March 23rd.

Jesuit case

The Supreme Court received formal extradition requests from Spain in February for 13 military officers charged with participation in the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. The majority of magistrates have consistently voted to delay procedures and in the words of Judge                          Florentin Meléndez, “it’s a chronicle of denial foretold.” A ruling has not been announced but it is apparent                   that the officers will not be extradited.

El Mozote

The Inter-American Court on Human Rights (CIDH) will hear the case of the 1981 massacre of hundreds of children, women and men in El Mozote, Morazán,  on April 23rd in Guayaquil, Ecuador with witnesses and investigators.

Death of Woman in Prison

CIDH is also being asked to examine the case of a woman who was arrested in 2010 in her hospital bed, handcuffed, accused of having an abortion, (homicide in El Salvador) and sentenced to 30 years in prison, where she died later that year. The case is being brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights in the U.S. and Salvadoran women’s rights organizations.

Santa Marta

On March 22nd the community of Santa Marta, Cabañas, which has actively opposed mining, denounced what it called “a military plan” against the community. Since March 13th, anti-riot and undercover police have conducted surveillance operations around the isolated community and soldiers had been patrolling the area at night, all “without cause and without legal authorization.” The community believes the operations, reminiscent of those conducted during the war, are coordinated by local police and military officials at the request of the mayor of nearby Victoria, who responded to the charge by calling members of the community “fanatics.”

Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero

On the 32nd anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Romero, the government announced the construction of a memorial park in the center of the capital. The government will seek international donations for the project, which is estimated to cost $3 million and will include a museum, a library, and a plaza. In New York, the U.N. commemorated the annual “Day of Truth” enacted last year as a tribute to the Archbishop, “who refused to be silent in the face of violence, abuse and injustice.”

Foreign Policy:

The U.S. donated vehicles and equipment valued at $1,843,000.00 to the Ministry of Security on March 27th.

Over 200,000 Salvadorans successfully re-applied for TPS (Temporary Protected Status) in the U.S. as of March 19th. The 18-month extension will expire in September 2013.

Presidents Funes, Ortega of Nicaragua and Lobo of Honduras did not attend the Central American Summit in Guatemala on March 24th, scheduled to discuss the fight against drug trafficking. According to reports, the last-minute cancellations were to show opposition to Guatemalan President Otto Perez’s proposal to discuss decriminalization of drugs. A mini-summit is scheduled for March 30th in San Salvador with Presidents Funes, Ortega and Lobo to discuss “economic and social developments.”

Economy:

The future of ALBA in El Salvador is not clear, following the election and concerns about the health of Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez. The FMLN non-profit ALBA company ENEPASA functions in five metropolitan municipalities which will pass to ARENA control as of May 1st. In the days leading up to the election, the FMLN announced that ALBA would donate $1 million to rebuild schools damaged by last year’s storms and introduced “ALBA Alimentos,” a program to promote agricultural production. After the election, FMLN leaders met with President Funes to discuss joining Petrocaribe which would be a government-to-government contract, ensuring better prices for petroleum products. The legislature would have to approve an agreement, but it would not mean joining the Alianza Bolivariana.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announced a $200 million loan to El Salvador destined to improve fiscal stability and for initiatives to reduce the impact of climate change. The 20-year, variable interest rate loan must be approved by the National Assembly. The Assembly must approve a total of $368 million in loans by July.

Remittances from the diaspora to families in El Salvador were up 10% over the same period in 2011 for a total of $582.1 million in January and February.

Recommended Reading:

“Police Reform in Latin America,” Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Education Reform Gets High Marks in El Salvador,” Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Inmate’s Lament: ‘Rather Be Dead Than Here’” New York Times

Looking Ahead:

March 30th -April 10th: Semana Santa holidays

April 10th -30th : Intense negotiations in the outgoing legislature over appointments of Supreme Court magistrates, a new Attorney General, members of the Ethics Tribunal and presidency of the Assembly.

May 1st: Installation of National Assembly deputies and local mayors