A PDF version of this month’s summary is available here.
President Mauricio Funes is past the mid-point of his five-year term with just 24 months left to accomplish the ambitious agenda articulated at his June 1st 2009 inauguration. He is also a lame duck president under siege by both the governing party – the FMLN – and the opposition ARENA, and faces the prospect of two more frustrating years. While he can tout some achievements, his “change” agenda has been stymied by political polarization and substantive economic, fiscal and public security challenges. There have been some unexpected, promising, but uncertain developments in recent months in the area of public security, and major fiscal and political crises loom large.
The truce between El Salvador’s two powerful gangs, MS and Barrio 18, has been maintained with difficulties in an atmosphere of skepticism across the spectrum of civil society. The encouraging response from security officials, the President, and the international community motivated additional gestures on the part of gang leaders and inspired unaffiliated internees in Mariona Prison to organize and commit to a reduction in extortions ordered from inside the facility. This is “more than we could have hoped for,” commented the Minister of Justice and Security, David Munguía Payés. Meanwhile, the government’s efforts to mobilize a national consensus in support of the truce was met with a tepid response from business leaders critical of the proposition to create employment opportunities for at-risk youth and repentant gang members. A chronology of events related to the truce is included below.
In 2009, the new administration became responsible for a country nearly bankrupt. Remittances, international cooperation and loans have kept El Salvador afloat. But with the state now $400 million in the red and payments due on a whopping $13 billion foreign debt, very difficult choices lie ahead. While the FMLN holds ARENA accountable for the fiscal crisis inherited from previous administrations (neo-liberal economic policies, the free trade agreement, privatization of public services), ARENA cites “populism and waste,” and lack of confidence and incentives for investors.
Another institutional Rubicon looms with the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government at odds over the constitutionality of appointments to the Supreme Court and security positions. In June 2011, the infamous legislative Decree 743 was passed in an attempt to control the independent magistrates of the Constitutional Court. The decree was soon overturned, but the furor roiled the country for weeks. A year later, rulings by the Constitutional Court could result in the ousting of the Minister of Justice and Security, the Director of the National Civil Police, and many of the magistrates of the Supreme Court. The U.S. State Department’s 2011 Country Report on Human Rights Practices strongly criticized “attempts to limit the independence of the courts” in El Salvador, among other issues.
“I didn’t promise a world of Alice in Wonderland.”
President Mauricio Funes
On May 27th, a newly formed movement – National Unity for the Defense and Deepening of the Changes (UNDP) – participated in a mass event to support the President and his agenda. An estimated 50,000 people wearing white and said to represent veterans, union members, youth and women marched to the national convention center under the slogans “We defend change” and “No turning back.” Despite his recent criticisms of the President, Vice-President Sánchez Cerén spoke, praising government social programs.
In his address, President Funes exhorted the crowd not to lose hope but to “defend change,” which he argued will be more apparent in the next two years. He explained the difficulties his administration encountered in 2009, including the political polarization that frustrated progress: “We must overcome the ironclad opposition of these groups that lost their privileges,” he said, “and want to regain them in 2014.” The march, the President declared, was “a message to those who don’t believe in the change.”
Source: ContraPunto / Photograph: Capres
In its third-year analysis of the administration, the conservative think tank FUSADES noted the “constant tension” between the President and the business sector, his deteriorating relationship with the FMLN, the lack of job creation and investments and continuing concerns about public security, health care and education. The removal of the FMLN from high level security positions marked an “important shift.” The report also remarked that 30 changes were made in cabinet positions during the past year.
The most recent polling results show President Funes’ approval rating slightly down, but still at 65% in the LPG Datos survey, and 66% according to Mitofsky. In the Mitofsky poll, 53% said “things changed” under the Funes administration and 62% agreed the “style of governing” changed. Measured by “favorable” and “unfavorable” opinions, ARENA’s San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano received the highest rating, followed closely by FMLN Santa Tecla Mayor Óscar Ortíz, and Secretary of Inclusion Vanda Pignato. Vice-President and Minister of Education, Salvador Sánchez Cerén received the lowest favorable rating despite the popularity of social programs he has implemented for students.
Polling from the University of Central America’s public opinion institute (IUDOP) generally coincided with other surveys. On a scale of 1-10, President Funes received an approval rating of 6.5 (versus 7.16 after his first 100 days),however only a 4.3 for “governing well.” On key issues, 54.7% said the economy has “worsened”; 41.2% responded that crime has increased while 37.1% agreed crime has been reduced. The IUDOP poll also found Norman Quijano and Óscar Ortíz to be the most popular presidential candidates with 66.1% and 62.8% respectively, while Sánchez Cerén received 13.2%.
In April, the FMLN leadership selected Sánchez Cerén as the party’s 2014 presidential candidate following a fierce internal debate. It now appears that the decision may be revised in light of unfavorable polling results and widespread disagreement with the choice both inside and outside the party. Critics argue that a former guerrilla commander will not win the independent votes necessary for victory, most notably considering the disappointing FMLN losses of deputy and municipal government seats in the March elections.“Democracy seems to give them indigestion.”
Roberto Rubio, Executive Director FUNDE
On May 4th, the Constitutional Court agreed to hear challenges to the National Assembly’s election of magistrates in the closing days of the outgoing legislatures in 2006 and 2012. In April, a coalition cobbled together by the FMLN and conservative parties – without ARENA – divvied up the judicial positions among the parties and removed Supreme Court President Belarmino Jaime who also serves on the controversial Constitutional Court that has issued rulings considered unfavorable by the President, the FMLN and other parties. Sigfrido Reyes, the FMLN Deputy and President of the National Assembly, launched a vitriolic campaign against Jaime – a successful businessman considered by many to be an honorable judge – accusing him of “abuses” and “arbitrary decisions” and “attempts to convert the Constitutional Court into a superpower.” The FMLN and President Funes called on Jaime to recuse himself from deliberations on the challenges, saying he cannot be “judge and litigant.”
The dispute pits the FMLN against ARENA and the business sector. After the Assembly issued a statement warning of a “climate of political and social instability with serious consequences for the Salvadoran people,” Javier Simán of the Association of Industrialists denounced the “arrogance and threats.” He complained, “We live in a hostile environment, our political leaders…conspire among themselves…then blame the private sector.”
On May 23rd, Belarmino Jaime and one other judge recused themselves from deliberations, citing conflict of interest.
Members of the Constitutional Court (CC) were elected unanimously by the National Assembly in 2009. Four of the five members soon demonstrated their independence with rulings – including open voting by candidate rather than the traditional vote by party flag – which angered President Funes, the FMLN and some other political parties. Decree 743 in 2011 was an attempt by deputies and the president to rein in the power of the independent magistrates. “This is not a struggle between branches of government,” online journal El Faro opined, but “an abuse of power.” While legal scholars and others insist judicial appointments must be non-partisan, in April 2012 new appointments were the result of “quotas” following backroom bargaining among the FMLN and all other parties with the exception of ARENA. In the words of El Faro, the Assembly wants to protect the right to “perpetuate the game of quotas” that has existed since FMLN deputies were first elected in 1994, The Court is also expected to rule shortly on the constitutionality of recent security appointments.
“A sense of urgency”
Alex Segovia, Presidential Economic Adviser
“No one is betraying anyone.”
Communique from MS and 18
The cease-fire declared on March 10th by the imprisoned leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS) and Barrio 18 has held, but officials warn it could collapse due to actions by dissident gang members on the outside. Anti-gang police units were out in full force and by mid-May the PNC reported 19,000 arrests since January, many of alleged gang members. On May 2nd, gang leaders issued a communiqué to reassure wary members on the outside that they had not been “betrayed.” A similar truce in Belize – between 13 gangs – lasted six months but almost collapsed on April 20th of this year when two rival leaders were murdered.
Source: El Faro / Photograph: Edu Ponces
On the 54th day of the cease-fire, despite difficulties on the outside, MS and 18 revealed another important concession to peace. From Quezaltepeque Prison, in the presence of facilitators Bishop Fabio Colindres and former guerrilla Raul Mijango, the leaders announced that public and private schools will no longer be scenes of territorial disputes, but rather will be “zones of peace.” Hundreds of students have been killed in recent years, but now “parents are free from all concerns when they send their children to school.” In addition, “all forms of forced recruitment are abolished…immediately and nationally.” Extortions, meanwhile, have become a way of life and survival for gang members and their families and cannot be stopped, they said, “until conditions permit.” Just days later, non-gang affiliated internees in Mariona Prison informed the facilitators and the press of their desire to be part of this process and their commitment to halt extortions ordered from inside the prison. At the end of May, women incarcerated in the Ilopango Prison also asked to participate in the process and made a commitment to halt the smuggling of illegal items into the prison.
President Funes held separate meetings with representatives of private enterprise, the media, academia, churches and political parties and with mayors of twenty municipalities in an effort to build a “national accord” or pact on peace and security. The President assured everyone that the government was not “negotiating” with or “legalizing” gangs and that there was no hidden agenda. He asked for cooperation and collaboration with prevention programs and reinsertion projects including job training and labor parks. ANEP President Jorge Daboub spoke for the business community, saying opportunities are needed for all Salvadorans and the real problem is “political instability…setbacks to do business.” Daboub accused the government of neglecting its responsibilities, “washing its hands in regards to this delicate issue.” There were agreements to participate in working groups but, as the Minister of Justice and Security admitted, “No concrete results” came of the meetings, “only good intentions.”
President Funes named David Munguía Payés, Minister of Justice and Security, as his spokesperson on the issue. “It’s a process,” the Minister said, “little by little there must be gestures of change by one side and of tolerance by the other. He insisted he was not the “creator or the father” of the process, “just the manager,” but admitted the truce was “a piece of my strategy” and affirmed, “I assume responsibility for what can happen…we are prepared for the worst scenario.” Said to have presidential aspirations, Munguía Payés has staked his future on this audacious and risky strategy.
At the end of the month, Bishop Colindres announced the formation of a “humanitarian commission” to follow up on the truce. Members of the commission include Archbishop Alas, the bishops of Santa Ana and Zacatecoluca, and several conservative business leaders. Meanwhile, negotiator Raul Mijango said the cease fire is “not fragile” but is “very difficult,” explaining that he is in the communities every single day mediating problems between gangs and “putting out fires.”
The international community has been enthusiastic about the current strategy. Bishop Colindres was invited to meet with the OAS in Washington and with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Alex Segovia, President Funes’ economic adviser, met in Washington with World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Millennium Challenge Corporation leaders and others “with a sense of urgency,” seeking international support for job development “to sustain the truce.” The UN Representative in El Salvador, Robert Valent, congratulated the Catholic Church for its initiative and said the international community is closely watching the process. The European Union will be supportive, according to Representative Stefano Gotto: “It would be unforgiveable to let this opportunity pass by.” “It opens interesting possibilities,” US Embassy DCM Sean Murphy acknowledged, “but it is only the beginning or a part of tackling the problem in its totality.”
In Los Angeles, California, several organizations with long involvement in gang reduction programs announced support for the Salvadoran process with the formation of a “Transitional Advisory Group in Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador.” According to writer-activist Luís Rodríguez, over 20,000 people died in L.A. gang wars before the 1992 truce. The advisory group advocates a community-based approach including “peace work” in the streets by former gang members and rehabilitation training and jobs. As one leader said, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”
The silence from civil society is striking. The government’s lack of transparency, failure to consult, discuss, and convoke collaboration, or to present comprehensive prevention and reinsertion policy has resulted in a lack of trust in security officials, in the truce facilitators, and the truce itself. Communities most affected by the violence of the past decade appreciate the weeks of relative tranquility but with a sense of uncertainty about the future. Meanwhile, it appears that little attention is being paid to greater dangers posed to national security: impunity, corruption, and institutionalized organized crime.
Other Security News
A year after the El Faro exposé on the drug trafficking “Texis Cartel,” narcotics police have arrested the man known as “Medio Millón,” José Misael Cisneros Rodríguez. Cisneros Rodríguez reportedly has links to MS and to Mexico’s Zetas cartel, and is a key figure in trafficking between El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Charged with aggravated homicide, conspiracy and illegal associations, Medio Millón was picked up in San Salvador reportedly based on information from gang members. El Faro alleges that members of the Cisneros family received a $600,000 loan through Fomilenio (the Salvadoran Millennium Challenge Corporation program) for agricultural development.
President Funes extended the deployment of soldiers on public security duty for another six months, saying he is proud of the work of Minister of Security Munguía Payés and National Police (PNC) Chief Francisco Salinas, as well as with the “close work of the two institutions.” Strongly urging the Constitutional Court not to invalidate the appointments of the two retired generals, he insisted, “The efficient security apparatus that we have created is showing results and cannot be disarticulated.”
El Salvador will be the first country in the world authorized to participate in the U.S. Criminal History Information Program, (CHIP) which will provide information to the PNC on deportees with criminal records.
The organized crime group “Los Perrones” is allegedly regrouping, four years after a series of arrests and failures by the judicial system to effectively prosecute members and police collaborators. Based in eastern El Salvador, the organization facilitates the transfer of narcotics from Colombia to Mexico and launders money primarily through gas stations, according to a report by InSight Crime. PNC Inspector General Zaira Navas led investigations into Los Perrones’ PNC connections, but resigned in January following the appointment of (ret.)General Salinas as director of the PNC. She had received death threats and her investigations were blocked by conservative legislators. Interim Inspector General Sandra Huezo Alferez was to have been named to replace Navas but resigned on May 18th without explanation.
As reported by the International Center for Asset Recovery (ICAR), El Salvador ranks among the top 37 countries to take action against money laundering, as #107 of 144 countries evaluated, with #1 being the “riskiest.” Costa Rica is rated as the “riskiest” among Central American countries at #38. Meanwhile, the sophisticated U.S.-funded wiretapping center was ready for operations last year but has yet to be activated by the Attorney General Romeo Barahona, despite public requests by President Funes and the U.S. Embassy.
“The government has lost control of public finances.”
Roberto Rubio, Executive Director of FUNDE
The economic outlook in El Salvador is grim, according to a report from the conservative think tank FUSADES, which cites the global economy, a reduction in exports and investment, and “deterioration of public finances.” Exports are down, including a 50% reduction in coffee exports in April compared with the same month last year. Given an increased debt load, less access to credit, and lack of government liquidity, FUSADES recommended “immediate measures” to reactivate growth, including more fiscal regulations and “taking advantage” of Partnership for Growth and Fomilenio 2 funds, the second round of the Millennium Challenge Corporation grant. Roberto Rubio of FUNDE believes the situation is critical, maintaining that the government has lost control of public finances and is in an unprecedented situation of deciding what it can and cannot pay. At the end of the month even National Police Academy officials acknowledged a lack of funds for uniforms, food and remuneration for the training class scheduled to begin in June.
With government coffers $400 million in the red, President Funes reiterated that the deficit cannot be fixed solely by cutting expenses, and that revenues must also be increased through tax collection. As one immediate measure, presidential economic adviser Alex Segovia insisted diesel subsidies to bus owners be slashed by 50%. . Water, electricity and propane subsidies, however, will not be cut. International Monetary Fund officials met with the President to discuss the status of the $780 million IMF stand-by loan amidst rumors that it could be reduced by $200 million.
Treasury Minister Carlos Cáceres agreed public finances are “difficult” and said the government must implement an austerity plan including an end to “social meetings,” unnecessary trips and hiring, and more control of gas purchasing, all of which could save $30 million. Meanwhile, the National Assembly had a $20,000 budget for the inauguration festivities (including “cocktails, caviar and lobster medallions”) and has spent over $1 million on vehicles for deputies. The Minister of Justice and Security, and the new Police Chief spent $65,194 remodeling their offices, according to www.comprasal.gob.sv.
This information and much more is now available as the transparency Law of Access to Public Information (LAIP) goes into effect. Government bids, contracts, trips, purchases, and expenses will all be available to the public at 73 “offices of information and response.” The government has already uploaded over 72,000 documents, available at www.gobiernotransparente.gob.sv. But not all institutions have complied, and President Funes was criticized by the think tank FUNDE for failure to approve a budget or the nominations for the LAIP governing board.
The FMLN does not support the government’s plans for public-private investment projects, according to Deputy Santiago Flores. During the 1990s, electricity, telephone and other services were privatized and the party is concerned that the water supply and the airport will pass into private ownership. Party leader José Luis Merino also criticized the dollar economy as a “fierce yoke” on the country, making it “vulnerable” to the crises “of the
gentlemen who make the dollars.” The FMLN proposed renegotiating the $13,232.8 billion foreign debt by selling it to Venezuela at a lower interest rate.
The 2012 U.S. State Department Annual Human Rights Report highlighted El Salvador’s persistence of impunity from war-time crimes to the present: the amnesty law, violence against women and children, the ban on abortions even in cases of rape, the failure to comply with INTERPOL warrants in the Jesuit case, and threats against activists at Radio Victoria in Cabañas. The report also noted generalized corruption particularly in the judicial branch, police abuse, including 166 cases of torture reported to the Human Rights Ombudsman, prison overcrowding, and prolonged pre-trial detention. Responding to the criticisms, Minister of Justice and Security Munguía Payés insisted improvements have been made: “One of the commitments of this government is to clean up the security institutions.”
With nine of 15 votes, the Supreme Court (CSJ) ruled against extradition of the 13 military officers accused by Spanish Judge Eloy Garza of responsibility for the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. The nine judges determined the extradition treaty with Spain was not approved until 2000, thus is inapplicable in this case. “This is one more step in the denial of justice,” declared University of Central America (UCA) Rector Andreu Oliva, “and a lack of respect for international law.” Lizandro Quintanilla, defense attorney for the accused, affirmed that the officers are under virtual “house arrest” in the “21,000 square kilometer prison” that is El Salvador and can never leave the country without the possibility of detention. According to one report, the case will now be shelved by Spain. The Jesuits have always argued that justice must be done in El Salvador.
The family of slain guerrilla-poet Roque Dalton will continue its pursuit of justice for his May 10th, 1975 execution. In January 2012, a judge dismissed the case against two former guerrilla leaders, Joaquín Villalobos and Jorge Meléndez of all charges, citing the statute of limitations. Roque Dalton’s son, Juan José Dalton, accused Jorge Meléndez, now head of the government’s civil protection agency, of using government resources for his defense, including the agency’s attorney. The Dalton family will take the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Court (CIDH) and is demanding moral reparations and information on the location of the body.
Thirty-two years after the May 13-14, 1980 Rio Sumpul massacre of 900 people, a lower court judge in Chalatenango ordered President Funes, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, to provide information on the case. The judge demanded the names of the officers and soldiers who participated, as well as the operations records of Military Detachment #1, the Air Force, and the National Guard- all involved in the massacre. During a commemoration ceremony on the anniversary of the massacre, the Secretary of Culture designated the hamlet of Las Aradas – the site of the massacre as men, women and children attempted to flee across the Sumpul River to Honduras – as a cultural heritage site.
“Recasting the Security Policy in Central America.” José Miguel Cruz, Americas Quarterly
“La seguridad ciudadana, el problema principal de America Latina”. Latinobarometro
June 1st: Third anniversary of Funes/FMLN government.
Chronology of Peacemaking
The 54th day of the truce between MS13 and Barrio 18, El Salvador’s two powerful gangs. The homicide rate plummeted 55% in April, to an average of five murders a day, according to Minister of Justice and Security David Munguía Payés. An average of 14 homicides a day were registered during January and February, but if the current trend is maintained, the Minister says, there could be a 75% reduction by the end of the year.
President Funes meets with leaders of private enterprise organizations (ANEP, ASI, CASALCO, Chamber of Commerce) to promote his national security accord and respond to questions and doubts about the gang truce. Participants include Javier Simán, Roberto Murray Meza, Jorge Daboub, Luis Cardenal and Roberto Kriete, all well-known businessmen. The President presents project proposals including training and jobs, expansion of the “labor parks,” and prevention programs under the auspices of local city governments. ANEP leader Jorge Daboub expresses “doubts” saying “political instability” is also serious problem for the business community: “We have backtracked in liberties…to do business.” A working group is established with representatives of the government and business leaders.
In Quezaltepeque Prison, leaders of Barrio 18 read a joint communiqué from 18 and MS13 announcing “zones of peace” in and around public and private schools. For the past decade, schools have been used for gang recruitment and dozens of students have been murdered in territorial disputes; now all forms of forced recruitment are prohibited. The historic “good will gesture” is announced by Victor Antonio García Cerón of 18, in the presence of the Minister of Security, the peace facilitators (Bishop Fabio Colindres and Raúl Mijango), and the media. He declares that parents “are now free of worry when they send their children to school.” The communiqué acknowledges, however, that controversy continues within the gangs: “No one is betraying anyone…to the contrary this benefits all the Salvadoran people of which we are a part,” and calls on the police and army to “control those who are violating human rights.” The leaders accuse several well-known conservative politicians of “sowing discord,” but Cerón vows, “we will not be provoked.”
Now it is up to the government and private enterprise to respond, according to facilitator Raúl Mijango. And Bishop Colindres adds, “I beg, I pray and I demand an opportunity for them (the gangs).”
Police arrest 90 members of various gangs in the metropolitan area under anti-gang legislation.
“We all have doubts about the truce,” Minister of Security Munguía Payés admits in response to Jorge Daboub’s skepticism, “but I understand that private enterprise is ready to join with our government and generate jobs…This is a process, little by little there must be gestures of change by one side and tolerance by the other.”
The President meets with representatives of the major media organizations to discuss the national accord. He informs them there is a reduction in extortions as well as homicides. Police conducted 120 operations against gangs during the month of April but, he insists, “This understanding creates a different and favorable scenario to lead to a process that will culminate in a national accord on public security.” In response to criticisms and doubts by ANEP, the President declares no one is going to be released from their prison term to be given a job: “We’re not going to release Chino Tres Colas (a gang leader) to offer him the management of a bank!”
The President announces that Minister of Security Munguía Payés will be his spokesperson on issues related to the national accord.
Bishop Fabio Colindres calls on all sectors of the society to support the process: “No one can cross their arms when the life of the nation is at stake.”
Common prisoners (non-gang members) in Mariona Prison announce a prohibition on extortions from inside the prison. Spokesperson Carlos Serrano says “Within our capability…we are going to oversee and guarantee” that extortions stop. Bishop Colindres and Raúl Mijango are present for the announcement.
Bishop Fabio Colindres and the Minister of Security will travel to the U.S. to meet with OAS and UN officials about the gang truce. According to the Minister, Guatemala and Honduras are also closely observing the Salvadoran process.
The truce is a “great event,” in the words of lawyer Dr. Nelson García, “unprecedented on the continent.” He says the intelligence of the gang leaders should not be underestimated and other Central American countries, Mexico and the U.S. “must be thinking they need a Munguía Payés, a Bishop Colindres, a Mijango…this intelligent core.”
El Faro demands more transparency from the government on the truce: “Society needs reliable information in order to discuss where the state public security policy is headed. The success or failure of the current process does not depend on how much information is hidden.”
Antonio Rodríguez, a Spanish priest who has been working with gangs in Mejicanos for a decade and was fired from a commission in 2010 for suggesting the possibility of a dialogue, expresses his anger at the government and cynicism about the truce in a letter published today. He addresses the document to what he calls “the new ministers of justice and security,” gang leaders Viejo Lin and El Sirra, who now have the “real power” over issues of security and insecurity due to the “total incapacity of your predecessors.” Rodríguez says “the ministers” should provide information on corrupt judges, prosecutors, police, military and prisons officials, and lists a series of measures to
advance from a “Mafia Peace” to a “Lasting Peace” including fiscal, police and prison reform, a weapons ban, and restorative justice for the victims of gang violence and concludes, “You can count on me.”
President Funes continues a series of meetings to discuss the national accord, with academics and rectors of 15 universities who agree to collaborate with the government on education and training efforts for at-risk youth.
OAS Secretary-General Insulza will visit El Salvador in June to witness the truce process first hand.
Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy, Sean Murphy says the truce “opens interesting possibilities, but is only the beginning or a part of tackling the problem in its totality.”
An 8th grade student is murdered in San Marcos, near the capital; 17 students have been homicide victims since January 1, 2012.
The international community is paying close attention to the process, according to UN representative in El Salvador, Robert Valent, who congratulates the Catholic Church for its initiative “to dialogue without fear.” He calls on all sectors of society to contribute and says he is confident that private enterprise, think thanks and others will participate.
Minister of Security Munguía Payés admits “no concrete agreements” were made during the president’s meetings with business, the media and academics, “only good intentions.”
“It is clear there are many doubts…but I believe it would be unforgivable to let this opportunity pass by,” opines Stefano Gotto, the EU representative in El Salvador, who promises the EU will be supporting the process. According to Gotto, El Salvador is one of the best of all 17 Latin American countries the EU supports in terms of “results in the execution of cooperation (projects).”
Spanish priest Antonio Rodríguez accuses the press of being “too romantic” about the “negotiations,” and warns that El Salvador could be a failed state where drug traffickers, gangs and organized crime take control. The peace process is not sustainable, Rodríguez insists, “because the negotiation was mediocre, (and) it is giving mediocre results.”
In an extensive interview with El Faro, Minister of Justice and Security Munguía Payés says he is hopeful about the truce but takes responsibility for all eventualities: “We are prepared for the worst scenario.” If the process fails he believes he will have the moral authority to go to legislators to request the “extraordinary legal tools” necessary to pursue and arrest gang members. The mediation of Bishop Colindres and Raúl Mijango was “a part of my strategy…but the process moved faster than we had planned.” Munguía Payés explains that he had the “road map…but it went beyond expectations” and the latest gesture (“zones of peace”) “is more than we could have hoped for.” He insists, however, that the truce is between the two gangs, not with the government: “We continue operating and we have increased the operational capacity of the PNC.” According to the Minister, there are 62,000 gang members in 127 municipalities; of every five homicides now, two or three are gang related.
Homicides are down 57.7% so far in May, with extortions reduced 48%, according to the Minister who credits the operational level of the PNC. He attributes 50% of crimes to gangs, 50% to common criminals.
Accompanied by his security cabinet, President Funes meets with 20 mayors of the metropolitan municipalities, asking their active support for prevention and employment programs for youth. The mayors agree to participate in a working group, a “metropolitan security cabinet” as part of the “pact for peace and security.” The President promises to meet with all 262 mayors in the country, but also warns the truce could be unsustainable due to disagreements between the gangs.
Police arrest 28 gang members in Sonsonate under the gang prohibition law.
Seven homicides were reported in the past 24 hours. Minister of Security Munguía Payés says it would be “a mistake to think that all security problems are going to end with the truce.”
Presidential economic adviser Alex Segovia in Washington seeking support for youth employment programs to sustain the truce. Segovia meets with officials of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and others at the Council of the Americas, emphasizing the “urgency” of the situation. The truce is “fragile but has opened a great opportunity,” Segovia says: “The solution is not prisons but through an integrated policy we can insert the youth into the work and academic worlds.”
Jorge Daboub, President of ANEP, accuses the government of abdicating its responsibilities by asking the support of private enterprise, the media, academics and local governments with the pact for security and peace: “…the central government is washing its hands in regards to this delicate issue.”
“I am not the creator or the father of this model,” Minister Munguía Payés says, “I am just the manager.” He adds that “Plan B” – total confrontation with the gangs – is in place if necessary.
There have been 19,000 arrests since January 1st.
Archbishop José Luis Escobar informs reporters that the “protagonist role” of the Church in the peacemaking process is ended, saying it is now up to the rest of society to take the lead.
On the 70th day of the truce, facilitator Raúl Mijango says the process is not “fragile” but he spends every day “putting out fires.” Two days before, gang members in Tonacatapeque captured and issued a death warrant for a policeman. Neighbors alerted Mijango and Bishop Colindres to the critical situation; they were able to secure the safe release of the agent. “It is not an easy task,” Mijango commented, “but I believe what we have achieved is very significant for Salvadoran society.”
Security ministers of Guatemala and Honduras meet with Munguía Payés in San Salvador, saying the truce is “worthy of study.” Munguia tells reporters the comments of the Archbishop were “misinterpreted,” and the church will continue to “mediate.”
According to a poll by LPG Datos, 52.3% surveyed say there has been a reduction in violence; 46.8% say it is due to the truce but only 10.9% believe the gangs have repented; 13.5% of the households surveyed have been victims of crime during the past three months.
Security conditions in the prisons are vastly improved, Munguía Payés asserts, due to reforms to the system and personnel changes; corrupt guards and other staff have been fired and new personnel are better trained.
Women internees at the Ilopango Women’s Prison ask to be part of the process and commit to ending smuggling into the prison of illicit items; 1800 women are imprisoned in the facility.
Public security officials sign an agreement with private enterprise organizations (ANEP, Chamber of Commerce and the Patria Unida Foundation) to reward confidential informers who denounce alleged criminals. The informers will be given an ID number and will receive payment if the information is proven to be correct.
OAS representative Adam Blackwell is in El Salvador to prepare the groundwork for a visit by Secretary General Insulza in late June. Accompanied by the Minister of Security, Blackwell visits prisoners and will meet with European Union, US and Canadian officials to seek support for the “historic opportunity.” He tells reporters that the truce could be extended to Honduras: “President Lobo is very involved in this.”
The arrest of alleged drug kingpin “Medio Millón was attributed to information provided by gang members.
Honduran President Lobo has created a commission mandated to attempt replication of the Salvadoran truce.
Bishop Colindres announces the formation of a “humanitarian commission” to participate in the peace process. Members include the Archbishop and two conservative bishops, as well as several well-known conservative businessmen.
Representatives of all political parties meet with President Funes and agree to support his proposals for a national security and peace accord.
Community organizations in Los Angeles, California with long records of successful gang intervention announce the “Transitional Advisory Group in Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador.” The Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, Homies Unidos and other political and cultural organizations will support the community-based approach that reduced gang violence in Los Angeles, beginning with a 1992 truce: peace work in the streets by former gang members and rehabilitation/job training programs.