Human Rights Office Denounces Links between Death-Squad Groups and Salvadoran Power Elite

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Despite heavy media campaigns describing the ARENA government's tough-on-crime programs, violence continues to rise and there are again allegations of death squad-like groups operating in El Salvador. On Monday, Human Rights Ombudswoman Beatrice de Carrillo declared that there are "extermination groups" in the country connected to the highest reaches of power in El Salvador. "When we speak of extermination groups there is an implication that there are groups of economic power, social power, with the capacity to direct people... pay for weapons and, overall, work with impunity," she said. While de Carrillo's office has denounced the existence of these groups before, these most recent statements come at a moment that murder rates are at an all time high and while President Saca and Minster of the Interior Rene Figueroa are trying to explain away the problem. The police have had an even higher street presence than ever - recently going out into buses with photo albums of thousands of gang members they are supposedly looking for. Nonetheless, murders rates have climbed to a record 14 people per day. More and more bodies are being found with hands tied behind backs and eyes covered, which were clear markers of death squad killings in the past.

While both ARENA and the U.S. government constantly blame gangs for all of El Salvador's crime problems - making the link to justify things like the U.S.-backed police training school (ILEA) - de Carrillo says that gangs are far from the real cause of the high murder rate. She stated that those behind the social extermination groups are intimately connected to El Salvador's power elite, and "this is what makes them invincible and secret. I believe the biggest criminals are well off in this country because they do whatever they please... this is a subtle system that is dark and powerful." (For coverage in the Salvadoran press, see http://www.diariocolatino.com/nacionales/detalles.asp?NewsID=12468.)

Saca and ARENA take campaigning to an all-time high "celebrating" Saca's 2-year anniversary as president

In the midst of the worsening social problems, Saca will hit the two-year mark of his presidency on June 1st and ARENA is planning to commemorate the event with fanfare. State-funded newspaper ads, television and radio commercials, and billboards have flooded the country to highlight alleged accomplishments and show Saca inaugurating public works. However, the real issues facing Salvadorans are not masked over by propaganda. Two years of Saca and 17 years of ARENA rule have created a state highly dependent on loans for financing. El Salvador has borrowed 46 percent of its average GDP in last couple of years and implemented a regressive tax system. Twenty-five percent of Salvadorans live on less than $1 per day. Every week, an estimated 700 Salvadorans emigrate north due to precarious economic situation.

Furthermore, Saca's actions only promise to make the situation worse. After June 1st, ARENA intends to push for a fiscal reform that would put even more of the country's tax burden on the poor. With the rising cost of gas, the transportation sector is again pushing for an increase in bus fares, and the government may allow that increase and also raise energy prices 20 percent in the coming month.

CAFTA's damaging effects will set in over the coming years, but market vendors are already feeling the pinch. Last month, many vendors who sell name brand copies have had their stalls "de-commissioned" by police to enforce the "intellectual property rights" clauses within CAFTA. The police raids have sparked violent confrontations with vendors. "We are attacked by the government and media. But we sell so-called 'pirated' products because of the lack of governmental policies that would support the most vulnerable sectors of the economy. CAFTA is not going to lift us out of poverty, neoliberal policies have only made our situation worse," declared a vendor at forum on CAFTA held at the National University on Wednesday, May 17th. Meanwhile, Saca has announced negotiations for Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with Taiwan, Colombia, and the European Union.

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