Salvadoran and US Governments Make Anti-gang Agreement
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales visited El Salvador Monday for a meeting with Salvadoran Attorney General Garrid Safie as well as President Saca and Minister of Security Rene Figueroa. The meeting defined the mechanisms of "cooperation" between the two countries against gangs. The four main agreements from the meeting were for the FBI and the Salvadoran National Civil Police (PNC) to set up a Transnational Anti-gangs Unit (TAG); for the FBI to train the PNC on identifying and arresting the "worst criminals" as defined by officials; the sharing of information including fingerprints at the regional level; and that the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other U.S. government agencies do evaluations of El Salvadors capacity in combating crime and preventing gang activity. For more information on the conference check out http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/16640983.htm.
According to a statement by Gonzales after the meeting, the United States has "increased its anti-gang training in Central America, including efforts through the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in San Salvador." The ILEA recently completed an intensive anti-gang program (the full schedule of the ILEA for 2007 can be found here.) Meanwhile, the request of the U.S. District Attorney for El Salvador to modify its constitution for the creation of a new extradition law was put on hold for the time being. Gonzales had declared the modifications necessary in order to combat the "threat to El Salvador" of having Salvadorans who commit crimes in the U.S. return to El Salvador for refuge. Despite talks of criminals and gangs, of the 1,479 Salvadorans deported from the U.S. in January, less than 200 had criminal records. Salvadoran officials have announced the arrival of daily flights of deportees, and less than 20% of those have criminal records.
ARENA Proposes more Military Presence in Jails
The ARENA government is pressuring the Legislative Assembly, specifically FMLN fraction, for the approval of a $100 million loan for national security that would be used for strengthening the police force and the construction of more prisons. ARENAs proposal of combating crime and crisis in the prison system is based primarily on the construction of more prisons, without a real prevention and rehabilitation program.
Additionally, Saca has recently proposed that military officials be incorporated into the security program, in many cases as the directors of prisons. Human Rights Ombudsperson Beatrice de Carrillo strongly rejected Sacas plan to install untrained and inexperienced military officers as directors of prisons. "The idea is inauspicious, it is like an ultra Iron Fist inside the jails, and this will never resolve the problem", stated Carrillo. For Carrillo, the situation in the jail system is "catastrophic, repressive, barbaric and undemocratic". The crisis has also affected the youth detention centers on February 5 there was an inmate-led riot in one youth detention center which resulted in the death of 15-year old Jose Antonio de Paz. The youth destroyed infrastructure and made public denouncements of both the precarious living conditions in the center and of prison guards denying them certain rights, such as receiving food from families.
Three weeks after the massacre of 21 prisoners in the Apanteos prison, government and prison officials have done nothing to clarify what exactly happened or to punish those responsible. The human rights office of the Catholic Church has investigated and released a report highly critical of the prison officials actions. The report denounces the "unstoppable chain of human rights violations in the prisons of El Salvador" which occur because of the political unwillingness of the Saca administration to apply the constitutional laws which guarantee the right of inmates to be rehabilitated and reinserted into society. For this reason, the Catholic human rights office has presented formal legal accusations against four people for their compliance and failure to intervene in the violence: Cesar Vilanova, Director of the Salvadoran Prison System; Neftali Portillo, director of Apanteos prison; Rene Figueroa, Minister of Security; and Rodrigo Avila, director of the PNC. The report criticizes their inaction, stating over the course of 12 hours of being present at the prison, and despite the screams for help from the victims, the police and prison officials simply stood by and allowed for the massacre to occur.
New Union Formed in Private Sector, Demands Legal Recognition
The Salvadoran union movement celebrated a victory this week when workers at the Spanish company Calvo formed a union. The workers are pressuring the Labor Ministry to recognize the unions legal status, which is necessary for the negotiations over improving working conditions to begin. The Spanish company Calvo operates a tuna plant which carried out a massive firing of some 600 workers and threatened to pull out of El Salvador last June. The workers were on strike because of the dangerous working conditions in the plant.