Wednesday 8 February 2023

El Salvador is a “time bomb”

Ivania Cruz, lawyer and spokesperson for the Committee of Relatives of Political Prisoners and Prisoners of El Salvador, assured that despite the fact that Nayib Bukele clings to power with populism, popular discontent is growing.

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8 February 2023 - At The Banks - BCCR

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Q REPORTS – According to a recent report from the Human Rights Observatory of the José Siméon Cañas Central American University (UCA), in El Salvador, 4,060 people have been reported as missing during the last two years.

Attorney Ivania Cruz, spokesperson for the Committee of Relatives of Political Prisoners and Prisoners of El Salvador (Cofappes), offered this information to begin to describe the magnitude of the offensive against human rights that the government of the right-wing Nayib Bukele carries out with the pretext of fighting gangs -or maras- through an emergency regime.

“Before, people emigrated because of the gangs; now they emigrate because of the gangs, because they continue to be extorted, but also by the police and the armed forces who make arbitrary arrests,” denounced attorney Cruz. (Photo: Katya Alvarado)

The activist gave an interview to detail the reality that her country lives in.

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What are we talking about today when we talk about gangs in El Salvador? How powerful are they? What is perceived is that the issue of declaring war on them has served Bukele to boost his popularity.

All of this has led us to now have the emergency regime, to now have political prisoners, arbitrary detentions, a product of the gang phenomenon.

We know that the issue of gangs arises after the armed conflicts that occurred in my country and that it is a phenomenon that no government has been able to combat, because it is a socio-legal phenomenon, a social phenomenon of lack of education, of extreme poverty that makes many young people enter this topic.

There has been a strengthening, but also because governments have generated policies that have enriched them.

Bukele was a businessman, precisely his specialty was marketing and within that he has generated his politics. Now, the Territorial Control Plan created by Bukele was not a successful plan in the sense of “zero homicides” etcetera, etcetera; Rather, through the investigative media El Faro, it was shown that a truce existed with the gangs. How was it possible that they were requesting funds from the United States and others to generate the plan, when we now know that what was being done was to enrich the gangs so that they would stop committing homicides in daylight?

However, the extortions continued, and the disappearances continued. It was no longer a matter of more homicides, now it was more of a disappeared person in clandestine graves.

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Were the gangs then extorting even the government itself?

Correct. We are talking about the year 2020, precisely the reason why Bukele entered the Legislative Assembly with the armed forces was to obtain the funds for the Territorial Control Plan and we are talking about the previous Legislative Assembly, where there was a counterweight. Today there is an Assembly totally in favor of Bukele.

Although it is true that these officials were chosen democratically, that does not mean that they had to commit arbitrariness against the Constitution: they gave a blow to the Supreme Court of Justice, they replaced the Attorney General to put people related to Bukele. We currently live in El Salvador under a dictatorship. They replace the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice and now with a new law on the judicial career they no longer only (control) the magistrates, but also the judges of the cases that they were interested in replacing, such as the case of (the massacre of) El Mozote.

Cofappes enters from 2021 for the first individual cases; today, in 2022, we are talking about massive captures.

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In 2021 we talked about the capture of any opposition, he (Bukele) began his speech with the opposition parties, FMLN and Arena, but later he moved on to any criticism: there are seven journalists in exile, there is a gag law according to which journalists can no longer publish about the gangs. It is a limitation to freedom of expression and journalism in El Salvador.

Cardinal (Gregorio) Rosa Chávez has given his position and the entire government machinery has also been against him.

Is it accurate to say that the issue of the fight against gangs has been instrumentalized as the Trojan horse for the establishment of a dictatorship?

Exactly, it is an institutionalized mechanism precisely to generate populism. That does not mean that because Bukele is popular that things are done well. Hitler was popular.

What he has generated now is that before, people emigrated because of the gangs; now she emigrates because of the gangs, because she continues to be extorted, but also by the police and the armed forces who make arbitrary arrests.

Has Bukele managed to weaken the gangs?

Really only in the matter of homicides, in all the other criminal structures, no.

The extortions continue, you don’t feel safe on a bus because they are going to rob you, they always continue to rob you. That phenomenon is a lie that it has been able to eradicate it, the only thing that has weakened it is the fact that there are no homicides in daylight, because some are arrested, others are dispersed.

This Trojan horse to arrive precisely at the next campaign, has been generated with the issue of the regime of exception, but when a government opts for these mechanisms it is showing that it is weak and incapable, because it cannot generate security policies, if it is not for the fact of violating the human right of all people.

Currently, in the country, there are more than 100 deaths at the hands of the State inside the prisons due to the emergency regime, but sometimes people believe that these deaths are gang members, but the majority are civilians or young people who were killed by fights inside a cell in which you are putting innocent people mixed with gang members.

To what extent does it happen like in Colombia with false positives, in which the military killed people and then lied saying that they were from the guerrillas?

It is exactly what we are seeing in El Salvador. They are putting innocent people in prisons, but not by proving criminal acts, but rather to reach a quota, to reach that presumption of 60,000 detainees and that they are all gang members. Of those 60,000, they spoke of a 1% margin of error and have released 800 people from arbitrary detention.

Civil and social organizations speak of 40% arbitrary arrests.

All those things that we had overcome before the Peace Accords, we are reliving it. There are three emblematic cases, mayoralties, Bukele’s mechanism is as follows: he has only seized a few cases (of corruption) and has no longer continued. The issue of the fight against corruption is addressed only to people from other parties.

Any critical voice is normally attacked, for example, the UCA with the father (José María) Tojeira (director of the Human Rights Institute of that University), has been the victim of all the persecution.

In particular, in the same committee that I represent, nobody wanted to have a voice. I am the youngest of four siblings and I am the one who stands up for the family. My detained brother and my other two sisters had to leave the country with their children because there is no life in El Salvador: having to go to a place and know that they are taking pictures of me, that there is a vehicle without license plates.

Before this practically the regime of exception, there was talk of clandestine graves of about 2,000 people. Now with the exception regime, apart from your relatives not even knowing where you are detained, they consider it as if you were missing.

The same government is also making our relatives disappear, and we are not only talking about the gangs, when the State is the aggressor, it obviously causes international organizations to speak out and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is currently processing El Salvador’s first complaint of the 68 deaths, but according to the data that we, the social organizations, have 116 deaths.

Has the issue of arbitrary arrests and others been focused on the work of social organizations?

There are more than 50 political prisoners, I mean community leaders, people who have defended the right to water, trade unionists, and businessmen.

The work I do has all the risks, because in my country there is no institutionality: if you go to the Office for the Defense of Human Rights, the Office is related to the Bukele government.

For being a critical voice they stop you, they fabricate a case or you have to be exiled, that’s what we face. There is no clear (judicial) defense because there are also limitations (from) the same administrations. We are talking about corruption in the issue of the administration of justice.

Seeing this process of consolidation of an autocratic exercise of power that has not a little fuel from the popularity that Bukele enjoys, what solutions are in sight for El Salvador?

There is a strong movement called the Bloque de Resistencia y Rebeldía Popular, which brings together more than 35 organizations and works with the Health Coordinator, among others.

The strongest weakness is that there is no political profile that really generates that competition for Bukele to generate change. In the absence of that political profile, then upon arrival before a re-election that he intends against the Constitution, we see ourselves quite delimited.

The only hope we have is to weaken the Legislative Assembly, which no longer has a majority, to generate a counterweight and to recover a bit of the institutionality of the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice.

Bukele was in charge of weakening the organizations of the National University, the opposition parties, at the cost of creating these movements again to fight.

Does the economic and social situation in the country play for or against Bukele’s autocratic aspiration?

This is a time bomb, he will not be able to sustain his lies in the long term precisely because of the high cost of living in El Salvador, the fact that he has not invested in agriculture. The “solidarity packages” that occurred in the pandemic were purchased in Mexico, in Sinaloa, not from the producers of our country and at a price three times higher.

All this is gradually generating discontent in the population and weakening Bukele’s popularity.

From Semanario Universidad. Read the original, in Spanish, here.


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