TeleSur – 2015-10-09 03:14:29
El Salvador’s Gang War Kills More Than 500 Children This Year
(October 6, 2015) — El Salvador’s murder rate continues to soar, with gang violence blamed for what the government says is a 72 percent increase in murders in the first nine months of 2015 over the same period last year.
“It is a terrible tragedy,” Miguel Fortin, director of the institute that tracks homicides, told reporters on Tuesday. “It is a whole generation that is dying.”
Through September, 4,942 people had been murdered in the Central American nation, where a third of the population lives below the official poverty line. More than 500 of those killed were children.
In 2012, El Salvador was considered a success story and a model for others dealing with criminal violence after the country’s leading gangs announced a truce that cut the country’s homicide rate in half. By 2014, however, that truce was shattered and, despite an attempt to restore the peace, more people have been killed in 2015 so far than in all of 2011.
El Salvador is home to more than 60,000 gang members out of a population of just 6.1 million. Many of the country’s most infamous criminal organizations, such as MS-13 and Barrio 18, were actually founded in the United States by Salvadorans who had fled their country’s civil war in the 1980s.
That conflict, fueled by the US government’s support for El Salvador’s former military dictatorship and associated right-wing paramilitaries, killed more than 70,000 people, including 20,000 members of the leftist FMLN, which now governs the country.
After spending time in US prisons, thousands of gang members who came to the US as refugees were deported back to El Salvador.
El Salvador Asks for Help in
‘Unprecedented Battle’ with Gangs
(October 3, 2015) — El Salvador’s foreign minister told the United Nations summit that the battle for securty was a matter of “life and death for millions of individuals.”
The foreign minister of El Salvador, Hugo Martinez, urged the United Nations Saturday to observe the Arms Trade Treaty to strengthen the security of his country in the face of gang violence.
“El Salvador wages an unprecedented battle against organized crime,” the Salvadoran foreign minister told the summit in its New York base. “I call upon the international community to work together on the arms trade treaty and its universalization. It means no less than life or death for millions of individual.”
Martinez’s plea comes soon after El Salvador’s Supreme Court fundamentally changed the country’s war on organized crime amid spiraling gang violence. The ruling in September redefined terrorism as any attempt to seize the state’s legitimate monopoly over the use of force, extended the “terrorist” designation to members of El Salvador’s various gangs, and made clear that any individuals or organizations associated with the gangs could find themselves facing charges of terrorism as well.
The decision was in response to gangs forcing a shutdown of public transit at the end of July for four days, paralyzing the capital city San Salvador, leaving thousands of commuters to find alternative transportation.
Martinez called on the backing of other nations in El Salvador’s struggle for security, saying that his country had in the past benefited from UN peacekeepers.
“The size of the challenge makes us come to the international community to request support so we can win the battle against groups who threaten our family,” he said.
Martinez also took the opportunity to emphasize the detrimental effect debt has had on El Salvador, calling for a “restructuring of the global financial architecture” since it affects “the ability of the state to implement public investment.”
The Central American nation’s minister ended his speech calling for the lifting of the US economic blockade on Cuba, and declared that the resumption of relations between the two nations has already had a “positive effect on the region.”
US University Sues the CIA Over War Crimes in El Salvador
(October 6, 2015) — Human right advocates in the US are working alongside Salvadorans to end the system of impunity in the Central American country.
The University of Washington filed a lawsuit to force the CIA to release declassified documents that could help bring to justice a US-backed army officer suspected of killing hundreds of civilians during El Salvador’s brutal crackdown on left-wing rebels, local news outlets reported Monday.
The university’s Center for Human Rights filed the lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act, alleging that the CIA is illegally withholding information on retired Salvadoran Army officer, Col. Sigifredo Ochoa, who is currently under criminal investigation for complicity in the 1981 Santa Cruz massacre in El Salvador.
The lawsuit hopes to support justice-seeking survivors of the U.S-backed counterinsurgency against left-wing rebels that left more than 75,000 people dead and over 30,000 disappeared between 1980 and 1992.
“Access to the documents … could facilitate justice proceedings in these and other cases of grave rights abuses,” the lawsuit claims.
Ochoa was a high-ranking officer in a country ruled by a small elite and guarded by the military, who “adhered closely to the United States’ suggested wartime strategy,” according to the legal proceeding.
There is “ample evidence,” the suit claims, that he led troops who opened fire on unarmed civilians at Santa Cruz on Nov. 14, 1981, and again in the town of El Calabozo in August 1981. It alleges hundreds of civilians died in the attacks.
It also claims Ochoa was complicit in blocking humanitarian aid to areas allegedly occupied by left-wing rebels, and that he set up “free-fire zones” where troops could shoot and bomb with impunity, regardless of civilian populations.
While the CIA has previously declassified 20 documents relating to Ochoa, the agency responded it can “neither confirm nor deny” the existence of records, citing national security exemptions.
US Role in Supporting Justice in El Salvador
Since 2013, the UW Center for Human Rights has filed over 200 Freedom of Information Act requests to shed light on the large-scale massacres and kidnappings that were carried out during the Salvadoran civil war.
For Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, the center’s director, the United States “has a debt with El Salvador to help clarify the events that transpired in the country” since it “heavily promoted the war.”
Consequently, the center works directly alongside Salvadoran human rights advocates to obtain the information they need to attain justice in their home country, Godoy told teleSUR.
Access to information, which can be crucial evidence in a court case against perpetrators of war crimes, stands central in this international partnership according to Mirla Carbajal, a Salvadoran lawyer who represents survivors of human rights violations, including the 1981 Santa Cruz massacre.
“What military officials are saying now is that all the information has been destroyed and that there are no archives on what happened,” Carbajal told teleSUR English.
“We know everything was recorded by the US because Salvadoran military did not act without it being registered by the United State since they were financing the war. They needed to have clarity on what they were doing,” she added.
Salvadoran System of Impunity: Past & Present
In a country commonly associated with gang violence and the absence of the rule of law it is easy to assume El Salvador has greater concerns than investigating war crimes from two decades ago.
Godoy disagrees, however.
“Many people think it’s old news, old history,” the researcher said about the civil war, “but the issues of the past have never been resolved; for people and communities affected by these massacres the pain is still palpable and the need for justice still very present.”
For Godoy, the present issues that El Salvador faces, like criminal violence, is directly linked to a larger “structure of impunity,” which has made it possible for yesterday’s war criminals to be today’s top business executives and leading politicians.
“It is not surprising that a justice system that has stood idly by numerous atrocities and has allowed those crimes to go uninvestigated now for decades, that that same justice system struggles under the burden of contemporary crime,” Godoy explained.
“Until the Salvadoran justice system eradicates the root of impunity, they are not going to be able to deal with neither the crimes of the present or the past. Addressing these issues that happened in the war is actually a key part in restoring the rule of law in El Salvador,” she added.
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