EspañolAn increase in violence has marked the beginning of 2015 in El Salvador. Up to January 11, the country has experienced an average of 15 murders per day, six more than last year’s rate for the same month.
The most recent data may indicate a new trend, given the 2014 annual homicide rate — 68.6 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants — was significantly higher than the 43.7 per 100,000 the previous year.
Despite these figures, Salvadoran authorities believe the public are overreacting. Benito Lara, minister of Justice and Public Safety, said in a televised interview on January 5 that “crime in this country isn’t high. What we have to do is distinguish reality from perception.”
The national government blames the upturn in homicides to turf wars between street gangs over drug distribution and extortion rackets. According to the Justice and Public Safety minister, as many as 50 percent of all murder victims are gang members.
Lara argued that that the increase in the murder rate from November to January is the result of isolated incidents, pointing to October 2014 when there were much fewer homicides. The minister also said he does not expect the surge in violence in the country to have “any impact on the upcoming elections” scheduled for March.
Deal with the Devil
On Monday, January 5, President Salvador Sánchez Cerén acknowledged that his predecessor, Mauricio Funes, cut a deal with street gangs in March 2012. He said the plan was meant to curb homicides and crime, but that his administration rejects such a strategy.
We cannot go back to trying to understand each other and negotiating with the gangs, because that is outside the law.
“We cannot go back to trying to understand each other and negotiating with the gangs, because that is outside the law. Gang members have decided to become outlaws, so it’s our duty to go after them, punish them, and let the justice system determine their [prison] sentences,” the president said shortly after a meeting with the National Civil Police (PNC) to discuss the increased crime rates in 2014.
The “truce” between the gangs and the Funes administration in 2012 aimed at minimizing disputes over territories and reducing the number of homicides in the country. During the 14 months the truce was in effect, the murder rate in the country dropped to just five per day. The trend continued until the national government decided to abort the process.
A Failed State?
The National Association of Private Firms (ANEP) and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) have both come out against the rise in murders of civilians and police officers, criticizing the “passive stance” of national authorities. During a press conference, CCI President Luis Cardenal voiced his concern that El Salvador may devolve into a “failed state.”
“A failed state is one that does not control its territory, and here we do not control it anymore,” said Cardenal.
“It’s a good sign that @SanchezCeren admitted the truce was a mistake: it promotes corruption and strengthens the gangs.” Arnoldo Jiménez [ANEP executive director]
The CCI president believes the Salvadoran government is unable to enforce the law in gang-controlled territories, and decided to hire the security consulting firm created by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in an attempt to find a way out to the violence.
“We take the government’s and the president’s word in good faith that they’re willing to work together [with us] to solve a problem that affects us all,” Cardenal said.
For his part, ANEP Executive Director Arnoldo Jiménez said he believes “all of civil society is interesting in supporting the government at the Security Council, so that crime is addressed, the law is served, and impunity goes down.”
For Cardenal, the government’s public acknowledgement of the truce is a promising sign that it can change its strategy to combat crime. “The fact that the president has admitted it already constitutes progress. It’s a good sign that [the government] can say: ‘this hasn’t worked, and we’re not going to keep doing it.'”
“The truce cemented the extortion of businesses and families and gave strength to existing structures as accepted by authorities.”
“If there’s any consistency in the president’s assertion that he’s against the truce strategy,” Jiménez alerted, “he must address the penitentiary benefits granted to the gangs.”
Jiménez argues the state should annul the agreement and send 30 gang leaders back to maximum security prisons who had been transferred to less secure institutions.
Translation by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.
Español By Daniel Álvarez Francis Fukuyama called it The End of History and the Last Man. Others, a little bit less pretentious, said that liberal democracy had become the only possible form of government for the world. This was, of course, the early 1990s. After the collapse of the Eastern Block in 1989, some triumphal voices claimed victory for western democratic values against not only communism, but all totalitarian and autocratic regimes that undermined the basic freedoms and liberties of those under their claws. Yet, where the old anathemas had fallen, new ones started to rise — from Islamic states that imposed draconian conditions upon their people to new, unprecedented non-state actors such as Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and smaller groups that threatened to attack what they called western civilization by whatever means they could. At first, the reaction from members of democratic societies was to underestimate and minimize such developments as rhetoric or empty threats that bore no real menace to their countries. But as time passed, it became clear that this wasn’t about hollow promises of destruction, but of a growing and dangerous enemy that sought to destroy the very fabric of our civilization. Coupled with this, former democracies started to show symptoms of increased authoritarian and even totalitarian deviations. In Latin America, Venezuela led a new wave of populist autocracies. In Eastern Europe, the nascent Russian democracy was kidnapped by a new autocratic leader who sought to restore the former "glory and order" not only of the Soviet Union, but of the Tsarist Empire itself. The free world saw how the promise of a new era, united by love of democracy and freedom, had fallen to one in which manipulation and lies were gaining momentum as tools for the ultimate control of entire nations. In such a new world, all weapons have become valid and accessible to those who seek the destruction of the freedom they hate. The most offensive one, terrorist attacks, is aimed not only against the military aggression that serves as the leading excuse, but at the very basic values shared by western democracies. Fear among citizens is the tool to create doubts about the usefulness of freedom against security encroachments and the very existence of their liberal nations. The cowardly attack on Charlie Hebdo is a prime example of this. Its aim is to destroy not only a weekly satirical publication, but to make the French doubt their openness as a society with free expression, in the face of the increased security cost attached to it. This is the kind of reasoning behind most of the terrorist attacks, and in some cases it has been successful. Aren’t the xenophobic parties and rallies becoming increasingly bigger all over Europe? Coupled with this, those governments that seek to control their citizens' freedom have become even more emphatic in their efforts to do so. In my country, Venezuela, our government doesn't spare any effort to control all spheres of public life, even if it means forming alliances with the fundamentalist Ayatollahs, the despotic Gaddafi, and even radical Sunni movements all over the Middle East. In alignment with Moscow and Habana, Caracas has become part of that global network of states and non-state actors against the core values of western civilization. In this scenario, not only the victory but the very survival of freedom depends on every irreverent libertarian act we do as citizens. From the use of a cell phone as a tool of amateur journalism to the powerful protest of those who dare to stand openly against authoritarianism, these are the battles we shall wage to sustain that which makes us different and, specifically, free. In this context, the victory of Venezuelans will be that of the Iranians, the Cubans, and even the French, since we all are facing the same attack on freedom, albeit with different faces. Let’s assume our role then; it is in our hands to safeguard our freedom. Victory will be our common heritage, and the basis for a new world that can finally claim its freedom, once and for all. Daniel Álvarez is youth coordinator with the Vente Venezuela movement for liberal democracy. Edited by Fergus Hodgson.