Posts Tagged ‘Gang Violence’

Case of Padre Toño illustrates corruption in Salvadoran justice system

September 17, 2014

Toño with GeovanniLately here in El Salvador, we have been witness to high-profile court cases that illustrate the level of corruption in the Salvadoran justice system. The first came as the arrest of Spanish priest Antonio Rodriguez (Padre Toño). Padre Toño is known internationally for his revolutionary work in gang rehabilitation in San Salvador–something that no one else in El Salvador dares to attempt due to the danger that lies in becoming too close to gang members.  In late July of this year, the trailblazing priest was arrested not but a few days after he had publicly called out the Attorney General for his lax response to the increasing homicide rate (connected to the gangs) in spite of the famed truce. Back in March 2012, a deal was cut with the leaders of El Salvador’s two largest gangs–MS 13 and Barrio 18.  At that time, the homicide rate dropped by over 33%. However, in the last few months, death tolls have risen higher than before the creation of the truce. Padre Toño recognized this spike in homicides as a failure of the truce, and that it is time to reassess El Salvador’s gang problem. Unfortunately, instead of being given the opportunity to improve the situation, he was arrested and charged with the following:

  • Introducing contraband into the jails (i.e. cell phones)
  • Pulling political strings for high up gang leaders to get moved to lower-security prisons
  • Collaborating in illicit acts, specifically collaborating with leaders of Barrio 18

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Gang Truce is One Year Old. Can there be Lasting Peace?

March 11, 2013

money-god-and-criminals-by-kadir-van-lohuizen

Two of El Salvador’s major gangs—Barrio 18 and MS-13—committed to a truce a year ago. The potential for lasting peace remains, but gang-related violence and unrest persist. The assassination of Geovanni Morales on last week highlights this reality. On March 6th, two assailants murdered Morales outside the church of San Francisco de Asis, where he worked with the Passionist Social Service (SSPAS) in the Mejicanos suburb of San Salvador. As his family, including two children, mourns his death, so does the community working towards an end to gang-related violence.

Geovanni Morales went through rehabilitation processes with SSPAS and then worked as the coordinator of the reinsertion program, which helps other young adults and youth break free from gangs and integrate into society. We attended a forum in October 2012 during which Morales discussed the gang truce.

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Youth Leaders Arrested

January 14, 2013

Police showed up dressed in all black, pulling young people out of community centers to arrest "suspected gang members". Photo from The Guardian: Sri Lanka

Police showed up dressed in all black, pulling young people out of community centers to arrest “suspected gang members”. Photo from The Guardian: Sri Lanka

For six youth leaders from the economically poor community of El Progreso 3 in northeastern San Salvador, they did not have the opportunity to spend the holidays playing games or eating pastries with their families; no, they were spent in an overcrowded jail in inhumane conditions.

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Perspectives on the Gang Truce Part 3: Rehabilitated Gang Member Giovanni

December 14, 2012

Gang member on the 100th day of the truce, April 2012. Photo from BBC

This is the third blog post in a three part series discussing a truce that began between El Salvador´s main gangs, the MS 13 and 18th Street gangs, in March of 2012. The homicide rate in El Salvador dropped from an average of 14 a day to 5, and has continued at this level for just over six months now. This fall, the Passionist Social Service (SSPAS) and the Foundation for the Study and Application of the Law (FESPAD) hosted a forum on the opportunities and challenges the truce provides for creating a sustainable peace process. Raúl Mijango, one of the mediators of the truce, and Geovanni Morales, Coordinator of SSPAS´ Reinsertion Program, offered two perspectives on the truth. In this third entry of the series, Geovanni discusses the truce. 

Geovanni, a gang member who has gone through rehabilitation processes with SSPAS and now coordinates their reinsertion program, does not share Mijango´s optimism. ¨I am neither in favor of nor against the truce. ¨ Geovanni iterated that he did not get to where he is today because of the truce, but because SSPAS opened a space for rehabilitation and insertion, a place where he could be accepted and supported.

Youth living in poor urban areas face a high level of repression and discrimination from the police, military and broader society. Gang members, especially those with tattoos, encounter an even deeper stigma and extremely limited opportunities for employment.

Geovanni asserts that because de-escalating their involvement in violent gang related activities means distancing themselves from the deep level of support, understanding, and acceptance from their fellow gang members, and because of the societal discrimination that gang members face whether or not they are active in their gangs, having a support system is essential for youth that want to transform their lives. Otherwise they face hostility from both the gang that has been their family and from society. ¨I have wanted to distance myself from all of the violence that I have lived and seen. When I started to work with re-insertion, fellow gang members started to say ¨this guy´s gone soft.¨

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Perspectives on the Gang Truce Part 2: Raúl Mijango Mediator

November 16, 2012

In March 2012 a truce began between El Salvador´s main gangs, the MS 13 and 18thStreet gangs. The homicide rate in El Salvador dropped from an average of 14 a day to 5, and has continued at this level for just over six months now. This fall, the Passionist Social Service (SSPAS) and the Foundation for the Study and Application of the Law (FESPAD) hosted a forum on the opportunities and challenges the truce provides for creating a sustainable peace process.  This is part two in a series on the truce and features two perspectives presented at the forum: Raúl Mijango, one of the mediators of the truce, and Geovanni Morales, Coordinator of SSPAS´ Reinsertion Program.
Raúl Mijango, mediator


As one of the mediators of the gang truce, Raúl Mijango expresses great excitement for the possibilities the truce opens up. He sees the beginning of the truce in March as a historic date in the Salvadoran peace process, and a game changer in addressing ascending levels of violence in El Salvador and the world. Mijango called attention to the truce´s success in preventing the deaths of over 1,600 Salvadorans who would have been killed in the last six months if the violence had remained at 14 homicides a day.  He also noted that while the international community has reacted with amazement and support, the Salvadoran society has had very little reaction to or support for the change.

Photo Credit: Danielle Mackey

For Mijango, in order to address these issues it is crucial to recognize that El Salvador´s struggles with violence, gangs, and criminality is not simply a rising wave of crime, but is in fact a new manifestation of social conflict. He sees this conflict as rooted in a failure to move forward with public policies that addressed socio-economic divides after the armed conflict. Instead, the socio-economic gap has only widened and the government did little to respond to the initial development of the gangs in the 1990s.

 

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Perspectives on the Gang Truce: Part one

October 12, 2012

In recent years security and poverty comprise the two most pressing issues Salvadorans typically express. News about El Salvador often focuses on levels of violence among the highest per capita in the world. However, in March 2012 a truce began between El Salvador´s main gangs, the MS 13 and 18th Street gangs. The homicide rate in El Salvador dropped from an average of 14 a day to 5, and has continued at this level for just over six months now. At the end of September, the Passionist Social Service (SSPAS) and the Foundation for the Study and Application of the Law (FESPAD), both of which have run and supported youth violence prevention and rehabilitation initiatives for years, hosted a forum on the opportunities and challenges the truce provides for creating a sustainable peace process.  Over the next two weeks, SHARE will feature a multi-part series on the truce and various perspectives presented and the forum and beyond. This first installment offers a summary of the first six months of the truce.

Geovanni Morales, a rehabilitated gang member and current coordinator of SSPAS re-insertion program for gang members, shares his perspective.

In March 2012, digital newspaper El Faro broke news of a truce between El Salvador´s main gangs, the MS 13 and 18th Street gangs, and that the director of prisons had moved thirty high level gang leaders from maximum security prison where they received no visitors and spent only three hours a week in sunlight, to lower security prisons with visiting privileges. Shortly thereafter, ex-FMLN legislator Raúl Mijango and Monseñor Fabio Colindres emerged in the news as lead negotiators in the truce.

 While initially government officials including Minister of Justice and Security David Munguía Payés denied any involvement in or relation to the gang truce, in June Munguía Payés accepted the truce as a piece in his plans to address security problems in El Salvador. In early September, in an interview with the Faro, Munguía Payés and Mijango presented the negotiations with the gangs as carefully planned within the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, with the approval of president Funes. The following week, President Funes dismissed this angle on the truce, re-asserting his previous explanation that the negotiations evolved from an initiative of the Catholic Church that the government has simply helped facilitate. Read More »


Fire with more Fire: Reflections on Living with Violence

September 26, 2011

The following is an excerpt of a longer article written by former SHARE staff Danny Burridge.  Today, Danny works at the María Madre de los Pobres Parish in La Chacra.

Sometimes we do a dinamica to help cultivate the kids’ creativity. We have one of them tell a story that includes actions, and as the kid is telling, the rest of us have to perform the actions as they come up. When it was Oscar’s turn he had us walking to the corner store to buy some queso fresco, chips and a two liter of Coka. Then Naomy took us staggering and gasping through the desert with no water to get to the United States. 

With Jonathan, we were just minding our own business, walking down the street outside the parish, when suddenly the soldiers rounded the corner, grabbed us and threw us up against the wall of the nearest house, shouted obscenities at us, kicked out our legs, hit us with the butts of their guns, and then searched us. They didn’t find anything but they thought we were gang members, so they kept us there, all of us, the 40 year old third grade teacher Deysi, our 17 year old drawing instructor Bryan, myself, and a smattering of 15 or so boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 13. We were left kneeling down on the mildly clean beige tiling of the Open School, sweating, our hands crossed on top of our heads, acting out the blows in the back, our faces embodying the submission, the humiliation, but stifling our laughter too. And Jonathan was there smiling intently, loving the sinister control he had, framed by posters of non-violence and pastel artwork on the walls, the fans whirring oh-so-slowly overhead.

And this is supposed to be part of the solution to the violence: that entire geographic zones be black-listed and militarized; that overwhelmingly good and honest people there be treated like criminals and thereby come closer to embodying the rage and violence of that criminalization; that the artisans of institutional violence (the soldiers) combat capitalism’s superfluous youth organized into networks of peripheral violence (the gangs).   Funes has acquiesced to the perverse logic of an inhuman system that convinces us that the only way to fight fire is with more fire. 

And so now we’re ablaze. 

Read on here.


Gang intervention leader arrested by FBI on suspicious charges

June 25, 2009

Alex Sánchez, Director of the US office of the gang intervention organization Homies Unidos, was arrested today by the FBI on federal racketeering charges. Sánchez is a well-respected leader of the gang intervention movement in both the United States in El Salvador, and many organizations and community leaders have come to his defense.

Sánchez immigrated to the United States from El Salvador when he was a child and joined the infamous Mara Salvatrucha gang in Los Angeles when he was a teenager. After several arrests, Sánchez was deported to El Salvador, where he lived on the streets and feared retaliation from gangs and death squads who saw him as a rival. Sánchez returned to the United States in 1995 and won an asylum case in 2002. In 1998, Alex Sánchez co-founded Homies Unidos, an organization that supports gang violence prevention and intervention. Of América blog has a list of links to stories detailing how Mr. Sánchez has repeatedly been subject to abuse, harassment, and unlawful deportation by the LAPD.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the indictment includes the names of 24 leaders, members, and associates of MS-13, part of the Mara Salvatrucha gang. The alleged crimes include seven murders, eight conspiracies to commit murder, and gun and narcotic offenses. All of these alleged crimes are supposed to have transpired after Alex Sánchez returned to the United States and became an anti-gang leader. The FBI arrested Mr. Sánchez in his home, as his wife and children watched.

CISPES released a letter of support today for Alex Sánchez.

– Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator


Violence and Impunity in El Salvador

May 13, 2009

The LA Times published an excellent article today about gang violence in El Salvador. As violence along the border in Mexico increases, El Salvador continues to have one of the highest murder rates in the world; in fact, the article cites that the country’s murder rate is five times that of Mexico. Half of the murders in El Salvador are committed by youth, and the National Civil Police state that 70% of the victims are youth between the ages of 15 and 39.Some of the violence can be attributed to gang violence. LA Times journalist Tracy Wilkinson interviews a Spanish priest, Father Antonio Rodríguez, who runs a violence-prevention program in a parish in the impoverished Mejicanos neighborhood in San Salvador. Father Rodríguez asserted that “gangs used to protect the neighborhoods, their turf, and attacked only outsiders.” However, with current President Antonio Saca’s ineffective and draconian Iron Fist policies toward youth involved with criminal activity and the rise of the number of gang members in prison, gangs now “strike anywhere…because they need to support their incarcerated associates and families.”

The article points out hundreds of murders each year are committed by members of the police force, private security guards, and assassins hired to carry out “social cleansing.” Meanwhile, impunity reigns as few murder cases are rarely solved. El Salvador has a long history of providing impunity for the worst human rights offenders: war criminals during the country’s bloody Civil War are protected by a blanket Amnesty Law. Given the prevailing sense of impunity coupled with dire poverty, is there any wonder that the death tolls keep climbing?

To read the article, click here.

*Photo by José Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images though the LA Times.

– Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator


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