Wednesday, July 20, 2016

FMLN takes to the streets after Constitutional Chamber decisions

The Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s Supreme Court recently made headlines on this blog and around the world when it vacated the1993 Amnesty Law.  At the same time that the Constitutional Chamber was issuing that decision, the Chamber issued two other decision which are not as headline-grabbing internationally, but have provoked a deep conflict between El Salvador’s executive branch and the governing FMLN and the Chamber.

In the first of the two decisions, the Constitutional Chamber ruled that the approval of $900 million in government bonds by the National Assembly was unconstitutional.   The bonds were intended to provide funding for Plan El Salvador Seguro, the government’s broad-ranging public security measure.

The $900 million in bonding originally failed to pass by one vote of the super majority needed to approve such borrowing.   The measure was then removed from the legislative calendar and sent to archive.   Later that night, the GANA deputy who had abstained from voting for the measure departed.    A back-up deputy (diputado suplente) from GANA took her place.   The bond approval measure was recalled to the floor where the back-up deputy cast his vote for the measure, allowing it to pass by one vote.

The decision by the Constitutional Chamber ruled that the manner in which the two thirds majority was achieved to approve the bonds was unconstitutional.  In doing so, the court went in an unexpected direction.   It threw out the votes of diputados suplentes because those deputies had not been elected in a popular election.    While the primary deputies are subject to individual election by Salvadoran voters, the backup deputies are appointed by party leadership.

This decision is consistent with a theme in Constitutional Chamber decisions.   The Chamber has insisted that the choices of the voters need to be paramount, and so the Chamber ruled in a series of decisions that voters must be able to vote for individual deputies and not just political parties, votes must be allowed for independent candidates, and citizens must be able to vote for candidates from multiple parties if they wish.   In this latest decision, the court invalidates a piece of legislation which was approved using the vote of a back-up deputy who had never been elected by the people.  In order to avoid throwing into question all previous legislation passed with the votes of back-up legislators, the Chamber ruled that its decision would have prospective application only.  

The decision overturns long-standing practice and was criticized by many legislators.   The court's ruling would seem to be in tension with various references to the existence of diputados suplentes found in provisions of El Salvador's constitution.   I am a lawyer, but not one trained in Salvadoran constitutional law, so I can't comment on the correctness of the decision.  

Norman Quijano,  deputy in the National Assembly and former candidate for president from ARENA, complained that without suplentes, legislators would no longer be able to take a sick-day or to have maternity leave or go to the bathroom (rights not enjoyed by the average Salvadoran worker). In a recent article, El Faro noted that legislators were going to need to cut back on their foreign trips paid for with taxpayer money because their back-up deputies could no longer vote in their stead.

In the second decision, the Constitutional Chamber agreed to hear a challenge to a 13% surcharge to electricity bills which the executive branch wanted to impose.   The surcharge was supposedly to help pay for improvements to the power infrastructure including work on a hydro-electric dam.   The court agreed to hear the challenge which alleges that the surcharge was in reality a tax which should have been passed by the legislature and not imposed by executive fiat.   The Chamber entered an injunction prohibiting the collection of the energy surcharge while the appeal is being decided.

The FMLN issued a strongly worded communique calling it highly suspicious that the Constitutional Chamber would suddenly decide to issue these decisions, along with the repeal of the amnesty law, all on the same day.   The FMLN called its militants out to the streets in a rally in San Salvador on Saturday.   According the FMLN, the court had to know this combination of rulings would have a destabilizing effect, and that this was the court’s plan all along:
Con estas actuaciones, los magistrados de la Sala de lo Constitucional se muestran tal como verdaderamente son: operadores políticos de poderosos sectores económicos del país, que jamás aceptaron haber perdido el control del Ejecutivo y del Legislativo desde el año 2009. 
Denunciamos la intencionalidad desestabilizadora de un grupo de jueces, cuyo proceso de elección ha sido y sigue siendo fuertemente cuestionado, y que pretende cada día convertirse en un gobierno paralelo al legítimo y constitucional; un gobierno de los jueces, que se coloca ante la población -que no los eligió- por encima del resto de poderes del Estado, violando así la Constitución. 
With these actions, the magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber show themselves as what they truly are: political operatives of the powerful economic sectors of the country that have never accepted having lost control of the Executive and Legislative branches since the year 2009. 
We denounce the intentionally destabilizing actions of a group of judges, whose process of election has been and continues to be strongly questioned, and that plans each day to convert themselves into a government parallel to the legitimate and constitutional one, a government of the judges, that places itself above the population, that didn’t elect them, above the rest of the powers of the State, violating the constitution.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Reactions to amnesty ruling

There has been a great deal of reaction to the decision of the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court which invalidated the 1993 Amnesty Law.   Human rights adocates praised the decision.   Former generals scorned it.  And the country's president, a former guerrilla commander himself, criticized the decision.  

Here is a sampling of the reactions.

Benjamin Cuellar, former director of the human rights institute at the University of Central America and one of the petitioners in the lawsuit was quoted in El Pais saying:

Este es el primer paso que llevará a El Salvador a la verdadera reconciliación; para que las instituciones funcionen y que se lleve a la justicia a quienes cometan delitos, independientemente de quienes sean. 
This is the first step that will take El Salvador to true reconciliation; so that the institutions work and bring to justice those who commit crimes, regardless of who they are.
David Morales, the current human rights ombudsman (PDDH) in El Salvador was quoted in Diario CoLatino:
Han sido disposiciones infames que tuvieron el despropósito de derogar derechos que por naturaleza son inderogables a las víctimas. Podemos ver está sentencia como una conquista de las víctimas y de las organizaciones (en pro de derechos humanos) que desde 1993 han presentado demandas de inconstitucionalidad 
There have been infamous outcomes in the past that have had the effect of diminishing the rights of victims that are, by their nature, irreducible.   We are able to see this ruling as a victory of the victims and of the human rights organization that have presented suits against the constitutionality [of the amnesty law].
Morales said that the amnesty law had caused judges and judges and prosecutors to favor the oppressors over the victims, but the new ruling would be a tool of great reach for demanding justice.

President Salvador Sánchez Cerén took to the national airwaves in a broadcast on Friday night.  The president asserted that his government had always been committed to the restoration of the victims of the war and to building a culture committed to human rights.   But he was critical of the decision of the Constitutional Chamber:
Resoluciones de la Sala de lo Constitucional no se ubican ante verdaderos problemas del país y lejos de resolver problemática diaria de salvadoreños la agudiza.  Sentencias de la Sala de lo Constitucional ignoran o no miden efectos en convivencia de nuestra sociedad, y no contribuyen a fortalecer institucionalidad. 
Resolutions of the Constitutional Chamber don't locate themselves before the real problems of the country and far from solving the daily problems of Salvadorans worsens them.  Judgments of the Constitutional Chamber ignore or fail to measure the effects on our living together in society, and do not contribute to strengthening institutionality.

Douglas Melendez, El Salvador's attorney general was in Washington, D.C. for meetings when the decision was announced.   He was quoted in El Pais saying:
Nosotros respetamos desde el punto de vista institucional esta sentencia.  Vamos a hacer lo que tengamos que hacer, vamos a cumplir nuestras atribuciones constitucionales. 
We respect from the institutional point of view this ruling,  We will do what we have to do, we will fulfill our constitutional responsibilities.
The current minister of defense David Munguia Payes asserted in Diario CoLatino that the court's decision was a "political error" and would be a setback to the process of pacification which had occurred since the end of the civil war.  He openly worried that the ruling would turn into a witch hunt.

The conservative political party ARENA (founded by a leader of the death squads in the 1970s and 1980s, and in control of the government when atrocities like the massacre of the Jesuits occurred) published an official statement urging respect for the court's decisions, but also noting that the decisions would present challenges for the process of reconciliation and the strengthening of democracy and institutions.

The Center for Justice and Accountability has been a leader in pursuing Salvadoran human rights violators.   The New York Times got CJA's reaction:
“Every rock that was in the path is being thrown to one side,” said Carolyn Patty Blum, the senior legal adviser to the Center for Justice and Accountability, an organization based in San Francisco that has filed Salvadoran human rights cases against military officers in courts outside the country. 
Ms. Blum said she hoped that the ruling would embolden human rights groups, prosecutors and judges to take up dormant cases. Prosecuting cases as crimes against humanity, she said, would hold the commanders responsible, not just the men who carried out orders. 
“It could be a real inspirational turning point,” she said.
One group of victims impacted by the decision were the relatives of those massacred at El Mozote noted the Washington Post:
Rosario Sánchez, whose mother and 12 other relatives were killed in El Mozote, said she was relieved to hear that the amnesty law had been declared unconstitutional. 
“For years we’ve been hearing that because of the amnesty, the soldiers who killed our relatives can’t be tried, and we can’t receive any kind of reparations for our loss,” she said.In April 2015, government forensics investigators dug up the bones of Sánchez’s family and two dozen other victims of the massacre, but the investigation has since stalled because of a 1993 decision to archive the case in light of the amnesty law. 
“With this ruling, we can return to the judge and say that the decision to close the case was illegal,” said Ovidio González, a lawyer with the human rights organization Tutela Legal, which has been representing the massacre victims for more than two decades.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights declared:
Esta decisión histórica para el país devuelve la esperanza a las víctimas y la confianza en el sistema legal....Más de 20 años después del fin del conflicto, esta decisión de la más alta instancia judicial restablece los derechos fundamentales de las víctimas a la justicia y a una reparación integral.
This historic decision for the country returns hope to the victims and trust in the legal system....More than twenty years after the end of the conflict, this decision is the highest judicial action reestablishing the fundamental rights of the victims to justice and to wholistic reparations.
Amnesty International praised the decision:
Today is an historic day for human rights in El Salvador. By turning its back on a law that has done nothing but let criminals get away with serious human rights violations for decades, the country is finally dealing with its tragic past,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
The University of Central America, home of the Jesuits murdered in 1989, posted the following statement:
The majority of the victims are more noble than the victimizers.   They do not want vengeance, they want the injustice to be recognized.   And the State is obliged to honor them.  It is time to put the victims in the center.   The new phase that is opened for the country is positive, it means an advance for democracy and justice, and constitutes a late but just recognition for those who had been disrespected in their memory and in their pain.  





Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Post war 1993 amnesty law declared unconstitutional

The Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court announced this evening that it had declared unconstitutional the application of the 1993 post war amnesty law to prevent the prosecution of war crimes committed during El Salvador's civil war.    This ruling opens the door for possible prosecutions of crimes against humanity in a war in which more than 75,000 civilians were killed between 1980 and 1992.

The amnesty law was:
the central legal deterrent to seeking government-sanctioned investigations and justice. Passed March 20th General Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of Peace was the second amnesty law passed following the peace accords. The Salvadoran legislative assembly passed an initial amnesty law entitled the National Reconciliation Law on February 23, 1992. While the law extended amnesty to those who had committed political crimes during the war, it noted the importance of victims being able to clarify what happened to their family members and explicitly excluded “those who, according to the Truth Commission report, participated in grave acts of violence … whose footprint in society most urgently require public knowledge of the truth. The law required the government to wait six months after the release of the U.N. Truth Commission’s report to make any further decisions regarding these cases. 
Nevertheless, when the Truth Commission report came out, the Salvadoran legislative assembly waited only five days to pass the General Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of Peace, which provided “broad, absolute, and unconditional” amnesty to everyone who participated in political and common crimes in any form during the war, including those previously exempted under the reconciliation law. The amnesty law went so far as to explicitly preclude any further investigation into these cases. The amnesty law was a clear attempt to keep anyone involved in the murder of Archbishop Romero, the El Mozote Massacre, the murder of the Jesuits, and other crimes against humanity from facing investigations, charges or further publicity. (El Mozote -- Seeking Justice in spite of the amnesty law)
The court's announcement of its decision states that the 1992 Peace Accords which ended the civil war had contained no provision for an amnesty.   El Salvador's National Assembly, the Court declared, had no power to grant an amnesty to persons who had committed crimes against humanity or war crimes constituting grave violations of human rights.   El Salvador's constitution and international law of human rights required the determination that the amnesty law was invalid.

The decision of the court emphasizes that there can be prosecutions of both the armed forces and the FMLN guerrillas for war crimes.

In a key paragraph of the Court's announcement it states:
Además, en relación a los delitos de lesa humanidad, la Sala señala que no nos encontramos ante comportamientos individuales y aislados de quienes los consumaron; por el contrario, son el resultado de lineamientos y órdenes emanados de un aparato organizado de poder, y donde es claramente visible la jerarquía, el mando y el funcionamiento automático de dichas estructuras armadas. En tal sentido, los autores materiales o directos generalmente actuaron bajo la dirección de los jefes máximos de las estructuras militares, paramilitares y guerrilleras a las cuales pertenecían. Todo lo cual implica una necesaria responsabilidad penal tanto de los ejecutores directos como de aquellos que dieron las respectivas órdenes violatorias de derechos fundamentales, y de los mandos que, estando en el deber jurídico de impedir abusos contra los derechos humanos cometidos por sus subalternos, no lo hicieron u omitieron cualquier tipo de control.
Furthermore, with regard to crimes against humanity, the Chamber notes that we are not facing individual and isolated behaviors by those who consummated them; on the contrary, they are the result of guidelines and orders issued by an organized apparatus of power, and where the hierarchy of command and automatic operation of such armed structures is clearly visible.  In this regard, the direct or material actors usually acted under the direction of the top leaders of the military, paramilitary and guerilla structures to which they belonged.  All of which implies a necessary criminal responsibility of both the direct actors and those who gave the respective orders which violated fundamental rights, and of the commanders being subject to a legal duty to prevent human rights abuses committed by their subordinates, did not do so or failed to exercise any control. [my rough quick translation].
In a future post, I will cover the reaction in El Salvador to this dramatic decision of the court.    The next question -- will anyone have the courage to prosecute these crimes now that the legal bar has been lifted away?


Monday, July 11, 2016

When police kill

In El Salvador, the police are killing ever growing numbers of alleged gang members in confrontations.   But such deaths are not just the result of blazing gun battles -- they also include death squads with off duty policemen operating in the country and summary executions of young men captured by the police or armed forces.

InsightCrime described the growing number of deaths in reported shootouts between police and gang members:

El Salvador's attorney general cautioned security forces against turning the country into the "Wild West" as authorities reported a string of shootouts that ended with eight gang members dead and a report surfaced indicating a spike in killings with multiple victims. 
Authorities said eight alleged gang members died on July 7 in reported shootouts with police, La Prensa Grafica reported. The paper quoted National Civil Police (Policia Nacional Civil - PNC) Director Howard Cotto as saying 4 armed individuals were killed after allegedly trying to ambush police in Ilobasco, about 50 kms northeast of the capital, San Salvador. The police reported that they recovered a 12-gauge shotgun and several 9mm pistols at the scene. 
The Attorney General's Office said three more people identified as gang members were killed later the same day in a shootout in La Paz, southeast of the capital, La Prensa Grafica reported. The paper quoted Attorney General Douglas Meléndez as cautioning the security forces to avoid "turning El Salvador into the Wild West." He said so far this year 183 people had died in confrontations with law enforcement.
Meanwhile, authorities say they have broken up a "social cleansing" death squad which included members of the police.   From EFE:
Salvadoran authorities have dismantled an alleged death squad partially made up of police and linked to around 40 killings of gang members since 2014, when a resurgence of gang-related violence began. 
Five civilians and five police were arrested Friday in the first crackdown in 20 years on a "social cleansing" group in El Salvador. 
Attorney General Douglas Melendez said the self-described "self-defense" organization was financed by local business leaders and Salvadorans living in the United States. 
Eleven other suspected members of the gang, which operated in the eastern province of San Miguel, remain at large. 
"We can't allow our country to become the Old West and this case is an example of that, where we have evidence of summary executions carried out by the suspects," Melendez said. 
Although the group has been linked to 40 homicides, the detainees will be charged with 9 killings, he added.
Also at the end of last week, the attorney general announced that officers involved in a killings of gang members during a police operation at Finca San Blas were being arrested and charged with an extra-judicial killing.   The San Blas killings were the subjective of a detailed investigative report by the online periodical El Faro which revealed that police in pursuit of gang members had captured and killed them, as well as at least one innocent civilian who was in that location.

Earlier this year, El Faro disclosed a similar execution by police of captured gang members and an innocent civilian at Villas de Zaragoza.

An article at RevistaFactum captures the mindsets of an army squadron in El Salvador setting out after gang members after an army soldier and his family had been killed.   When asked if they would capture the suspected gang members, he answered:
 Bitch! And for what are we going to capture that shit? Better that we end them and send them on their way. Anyway, only death is what awaits those sons of bitches.
What is frightening for El Salvador is the fact that a significant majority of the population would fully support that sentiment.




Saturday, July 09, 2016

El Salvador Zika update

In the first two months of 2016, El Salvador appeared to be in the grips of the Zika virus and the country's minister of health went as far as to suggest that women not get pregnant for the next two years because of the risk of Zika-related birth defects.

Five months later, there has been a dramatic reduction in the incidence of new suspected Zika cases in El Salvador according to statistics from the ministry of health.   The chart below shows weekly new suspected cases of Zika in El Salvador: 




Certainly the Zika virus still poses a risk in the country.   Mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue and chikungunya are endemic in El Salvador.    But the drop in incidence of Zika should provide comfort to people who were considering altering plans to travel to El Salvador as a result of the virus.


Thursday, July 07, 2016

Perils of agriculture in El Salvador

Two recent articles highlight some of the health risks faced by workers in agriculture in El Salvador.

One source of death an injury is pesticide use in Salvadoran agriculture.   According to a report in La Prensa Grafica, El Salvador's ministry of health estimates there have been 831 deaths and 7,982 poisonings of farm workers just in the five years from 2011 through 2015.   The ministry urged the country's legislators to ban a list of 53 agro-chemicals, a request which has been stalled in the National Assembly for years.   The executive branch of the government has restricted 36 of the chemicals, but a ban needs to be placed into law.   The ban is opposed by El Salvador's farm sector.  Even with the restrictions on 36 chemicals, 115 rural workers died and 1114 were poisoned during 2015.

Another article comes from alJazeera, titled Murder and malady: El Salvador's sugarcane workers, The article looks at the incredibly tough lives of El Salvador's sugar cane cutters, and, in particular, their risk of chronic kidney disease.  Here is an excerpt:
Ermando de Jesus Hernandez, a 39-year-old father of three, swings his sharpened machete and another row of sugarcane falls to the ground with a loud thud. Between the tall stalks, small groups of mostly male sugarcane cutters appear and after a polite "Buenos Dias" they disappear again. By the end of the day, Hernandez's white long-sleeved cotton T-shirt and jeans will be covered with black ash and sweat. The sugarcane will be weighed and Hernandez paid accordingly - usually between $3 and $4 a day.
Hernandez first picked up a machete as a 14-year-old and has worked on and off in the fields, spending 12 years in total cutting sugarcane. 
In the past year, however, the volume he cuts has decreased. He rests more than his fellow workers. His hands hurt, his legs are slow. Hernandez is one of the thousands of men suffering from CKDu. 
When the team of researchers arrives, he lines up for the barrage of tests which includes blood, urine, blood pressure, weight and a qualitative questionnaire. He hopes that the news won't be bad, or, more accurately, that it won't be worse and reveal that his kidney function has further deteriorated. 
He knows all too well how the disease kills. He has seen it take the lives of his father and younger brother, who was only 23 when he died. Now, another brother aged only 25 has fallen seriously ill. Bed-bound, he is cared for around the clock by their mother.
Read the rest of the article here.  

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Homicide rate trends

The homicide rate is usually discussed as the measuring stick of the level of criminal violence in El Salvador.

The first half of 2016 closed with 3052 homicides through June 30.    At first, it might appear that the country is well on its way towards another record bloody year like 2015 when there were 6657 homicides in twelve months.   But while homicide rates remained extremely high in the first quarter of the year, in the past three months the homicide rate has dropped to more historically "normal" levels.

Here are the statistics.    This first chart shows annual homicide totals from 2011-2016:



The years of the tregua, or gang truce, in 2012 and 2013 show the clear reduction in homicides while 2015 stands out for the very high number of murders.

The same information appears in the following chart but calculated as average monthly homicide totals.    The first two quarters of 2016 are calculated separately to show the dramatic drop in homicides since the beginning of April 2016:


The actual month by month totals from January 2011 through June 2016 are shown in the following chart:


There are two competing explanations for the drop in homicide levels in the second quarter of 2016.  As the Associated Press reports:
The government attributes the drop to a tough military counteroffensive against the country’s powerful gangs, deploying a special security force and transferring imprisoned organized crime leaders to a maximum-security lockup to isolate them. 
But the gangs also claim credit. The three main groups — the Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio 18 Revolucionarios and Barrio 18 Surenos — forged a nonaggression pact in March to try to reduce the killings. In a joint video message, they said their aim was to convince the government that the crackdown was unnecessary..... 
“The reduction in homicides is due to the effectiveness of the plans by police and the extraordinary measures by the government, especially inside prisons” national police chief Howard Cotto said last week. 
Authorities say isolating jailed gang leaders makes it harder for them to issue orders to their underlings out on the streets. 
“We have gradually been bringing the penitentiary system under control and we are going to finish the job,” Vice President Oscar Ortiz said recently. 
The gangs see things differently. A senior member of one, the Barrio 18 Surenos, told The Associated Press that the killings have fallen because gang leaders ordered their street soldiers to stand down. 
“When we have wanted war, we have waged war on them, and right now we are not thinking that way,” the gang member said, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid being targeted by authorities. “We want things to be solved in a different way.”
It seems likely that both factors are at play -- both the government's "exceptional measures" and the gangs' attempts to coordinate a reduction of killing each other -- these may have combined to cut the number of murders in half.    But in no sense can anyone assume that the current state of affairs will last.   Murders in the first four days of July had already claimed 57 lives.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Supporting the "Ni-Nis" of El Salvador

The government of El Salvador has announced that it is going to target millions of dollars at the “Ni-Ni” population of El Salvador. “Ni-Ni” refers to those young people who are neither in school nor studying. (Ni estudian, ni trabajan). The program will include job-training and economic support for targeted youth, with a goal of eventually creating employment for 15,000 youth. The government is using funding designated for violence reduction efforts, arguing that the creation of job opportunities for young people is essential for reducing the problem of criminal violence in the country.

The Ni-Ni support program is being roundly criticized by conservative ARENA politicians and business interests who assert it is just a populist subsidy which will not generate employment. They would prefer that the government stimulate the economy to create jobs, which they say will provide greater opportunity for youth. El Salvador’s Roman Catholic archbishop, in contrast, has praised the proposal.

***

A valuable study exploring the situation of the Ni-Nis of El Salvador was published earlier this year by Fundación Dr. Guillermo Manuel Ungo (FundaUngo).

The study revealed that the Ni-Nis consist of 1,645,227 youth between the ages of 16 and 29 years, or about 26.3% of the Salvadoran population. Of that group, 23.2% were enrolled in school and not working, 43.6% had left school and were working, 7.2% were going to school and working, and 26% were neither in school nor working (the Ni-Nis) or roughly 415,000 Salvadoran youth.

Of the Ni-Nis, 80% are female and only 20% male. 47% of the Ni-Nis have not completed basic education (ninth grade). 54% of the Ni-Ni population lives in poverty.

Two thirds (67.6%) of the Ni-Nis indicate that the reason that they are not studying or working is responsibility at home. This could situations ranging from a mother caring for her children, or a youth staying at home to care for siblings or elderly family members.

The fact that 80% of the Ni-Nis are female, and that the primary reasons for not studying or working are domestic obligations may suggest a different policy course than the job-training proposed by the government. Greater access to child care, greater support for care to the elderly, family planning services to reduce the incidence of teen pregnancy and unplanned pregnancy, and women’s empowerment, could all reduce the barriers to work for those young women who would like to work but cannot. (Of course this would require significant financial resources which are in short supply in the country).

Where family obligations are not an issue – the country needs to generate jobs and to improve accessibility and quality of education to fill the jobs. Technical and vocational training are needed, as well as vocational counseling. If the newly announced program does some of these things for the Ni-Ni population, it will be a good start but will not yet address the bigger structural issues.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Marco Rubio and the FMLN

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio made headlines in El Salvador this weekend for remarks he made in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  The former Republican presidential hopeful accused senior FMLN party leader Jose Luis Merino of money laundering and arms smuggling:

You have the right hand man of the president of El Salvador, Jose Luis Merino.   This guy is a top notch, world class money launderer, arms smuggler for the FARC, hundreds of millions of money laundering for the FARC as well as corrupt Venezuelan officials, why is this guy not sanctioned?
You can watch the video of Senator Rubio's remarks here. His comments about Merino come at approximately the 3 minute mark in the video:



Rubio seems to be referring to some stories about Merino which surfaced more than 8 years ago and attempted to establish links between Merino and the FARC guerrillas in Colombia after a laptop computer was captured from the FARC.   From time-to-time, conservative US politicians like Rubio trot out the accusation when they want to dump on the FMLN.  I am unaware of any authority having made a comprehensive investigation into the allegations surrounding Merino.

The FMLN denounced the Florida senator this weekend.  The party launched an ad hominem attack on the senator, calling him "a reactionary politician with Cuban roots, known for his extreme positions, anti-immigrant, and associated with the Cuban-American mafia of Miami."

I'm not sure what Rubio was up to in specifically naming Merino.  Usually conservative Republicans only talk about El Salvador when El Salvador is about to have an election, in an obvious attempt to influence votes in the Central American country.



Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Forced displacement of families -- the refugee crisis

A report issued earlier this year offers an important view into the problem of families who must flee their homes as a result of gang and other violence in El Salvador.   The report on the situation of forced displacement through generalized violence in El Salvador (available only in Spanish) was prepared by the Roundtable of Civil Society against Forced Displacement, made up of several civil society and church groups who have tried to provide humanitarian assistance to these families.

The report notes that although international agencies had tallied some 289,000 internally displaced persons in 2014, the Salvadoran government was in denial of the problem and offered little if any support to such families:

The phenomenon of internal displacement is an effect of a situation of generalized violence in El Salvador. Hundreds of Salvadoran families flee their homes to protect their lives and physical integrity, many of whom end up seeking international protection outside the country's borders for lack of attention or for inadequate measures from Salvadoran state agencies. 
The Salvadoran government does not officially recognize that there is a problem of internal displacement forced by widespread violence. It does not have programs or institutions providing effective care and effective protection to the needs of these victims who are mostly nuclear families. The phenomenon is invisible or minimized and not taken into consideration in the design of public policies and the legal framework. There is currently no official record of how many persons internally displaced by violence are in the country. Due mainly to the denial of the existence of the phenomenon, the specific cases of people turning for help to public authorities are not registered.
The effects on families who are forced to become internal refugees are immense:
Civil and political rights [of displaced persons] are severely affected, as well as their economic, social and cultural rights.  Fleeing and hiding people leave their jobs or livelihoods, children, adolescents and the young drop out, and elderly people suspend their medical follow-ups.   In many of the cases that are attended by the member organizations of the civil society roundtable against forced displacement, families leave the homes they had acquired with much effort or which are mortgaged in favor of financial institutions. Even when they leave, they must continue paying with no possibility of selling.  Because of fear, no neighboring person dares to buy an abandoned house.
As the report notes, the absence of any effective state support and protection for these families, despite the government's obligation to provide it, often prompts the families to decide not to remain in El Salvador but to seek sanctuary in other countries including the US.