Police Killings Overshadow El Salvador’s Peace Anniversary


EspañolDuring the first 15 days of 2015, seven members of El Salvador’s National Civil Police (PNC) were murdered. The figure already represents double the average figure for 2014, when an average of 3.2 police officers were killed each month.

The increased figure comes as government celebrations on January 16 marked the 23rd anniversary of the signing of peace accords, putting an end to 12 years of civil war in El Salvador. The attendance of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the commemoration event has prompted criticism from sectors of civil society, who argue that the violence currently afflicting the country is far from peace.

Attacks on police began afresh on January 5, coinciding with a speech given by President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, in which he said his government wouldn’t negotiate with terrorists, contrasting with the previous administration which created a “truce” between warring criminal groups and the government.

According to the agreement of March 2012, gangs agreed to reduce homicides, while the state transferred gang leaders from high-security prisons to others with fewer restrictions, among other concessions to prisoners.

As a result, only 14 police were murdered during 2o13, while the 2014 figure rose to 39.

In April 2014, as the truce began to crumble, the gangs issued warnings to the police, asking them to cease attacks and their “shoot first, ask questions later” policy, or they would respond in kind. Criminals also criticized the aggressive handling of their family during police raids on their homes, as well as the treatment the same received during visits to their relatives in jail.

PNC: Gangs to Blame

PNC authorities have claimed that the increase in killings is part of an orchestrated attack by gangs against the Salvadoran state and the very institution of the police.

“PNC Director: ‘Police attacks are against the country’s institutions.'”

“The intention is clear: what the criminal organizations want is for the police to drop our guard, to stop doing something, or do it in a different way. But to do so would be to change the very nature of what we’re doing,” declared PNC Director Mauricio Landaverde during a search for those responsible for one of two police killings on January 6.

“They want to make the government, society, the whole country bow down before them and stop trying to capture them. But the institution will continue preventing and punishing crime,” he added.

The murders have taken place while police have been off-duty, on their days off, or on public transport heading to work. One of those killed, Víctor David Hernández Clavel, had spent half of his 39 years within the PNC’s Elite Division against Organized Crime (DECO), and had served as a key witness in various trials against gang members.

The murdered officers belong to various areas of the PNC, including crime prevention in the capital, San Salvador, and the Order Maintenance Unit (UMO) in the interior of the country. Also among those killed was an agent from the Personal Protection Division (PPI) who was assigned to a deputy.

Landaverde asserted that the attacks were “cowardly,” and that the PNC would do all in its power to prevent impunity for any of the killers. Officers have made 15 arrests in relation to the murders to date.

Operation: Secure El Salvador

The authorities are also responding at a strategic level. On January 15, the National Council for Citizen Security (CNSCC) unveiled its “El Salvador Seguro” plan, a package of new strategies developed with the UNDP and designed to combat criminality. The initiative has been in the making since September 2014, drawing on the input of churches, private businesses, political parties, and representatives from civil society and the international community.

The document proposes five distinct strategies to lower levels of violence: prevention, criminal sentences, rehabilitation and social integration, victim support, and institutional strengthening. Authorities will seek to boost the state’s presence in 50 of the country’s 262 municipalities, increase security on public transport, and utilize shorter jail sentences to combat overcrowding in prisons and reduce the backlog of judicial cases.

“Members of the Security Council hand Plan El Salvador Seguro to President Sánchez Cerén.”

During the official delivery of the proposals to Sánchez Cerén, UNDP representative Roberto Valent spoke to highlight the need for US$55 million of investment in the penitential system, as well as transferring the most dangerous criminals to more secure facilities.

The UN official said that El Salvador needed at least an additional $2 billion to combat insecurity. The Security Council estimates that $190 million could come from private investment, while $70 million has already been secured in international cooperation. The government, in turn, is to invest $1.7 billion, increasing its current allocation for security by $1.28 billion.

The redoubled international and domestic efforts to end rampant criminality come during Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the country to examine the democratic progress of El Salvador on the 23rd anniversary of the end of its bloody 1980-1992 civil war.

“Tomorrow they’re celebrating the peace accords in El Salvador. Peace? I don’t believe it. #IAmElSalvador”

Many Salvadorans have taken to social media to express their doubts about the government’s proposals, as well as their astonishment that peace is being celebrated while an average of 14 people are killed daily nationwide.

“Tell those who’ve come to celebrate our peace accords that there are 14 homicides a day in our country, and we’ve never had peace.”

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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