Sunday, January 25, 2015

Updates on the security situation in El Salvador

El Faro
Nina Lakhani takes a look at Trying to end gang bloodshed in El Salvador.
An ambitious five-year plan to curb the shocking violence in El Salvador through prevention and social programmes was announced last Thursday, raising genuine hopes of ending the daily horrors after more than a decade of disastrous Mano Dura - Iron Fist - policies.
The $2bn 'Safe El Salvador' plan promises parks, sports facilities, education and training programmes for the country's 50 most violent municipalities, as well as improvements to the worst prisons where the country's biggest gangs - Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS13) and Calle 18 - have proliferated over the past decade.
How the 124-point action plan presented by the Council on Citizen Security will be funded is unclear. But, the prevention-focused proposal appears to be the most comprehensive yet to reduce violence since the 1992 peace accords, which ended the bloody 12-year civil war.
Adriana Peralta looks at much of the same in Police Killings Overshadow El Salvador’s Peace Anniversary.
On January 15, the National Council for Citizen Security (CNSCC) unveiled its “El Salvador Seguro” plan, a package of new strategies developed with the UNDP and designed to combat criminality. The initiative has been in the making since September 2014, drawing on the input of churches, private businesses, political parties, and representatives from civil society and the international community.
The document proposes five distinct strategies to lower levels of violence: prevention, criminal sentences, rehabilitation and social integration, victim support, and institutional strengthening. Authorities will seek to boost the state’s presence in 50 of the country’s 262 municipalities, increase security on public transport, and utilize shorter jail sentences to combat overcrowding in prisons and reduce the backlog of judicial cases.
While there are questions as to what exactly is the $1 billion that Obama will be asking of Congress in order to support the Northern Triangle, a billion is a billion. At the same time, however, UNDP Representative Roberto Valent said recently that El Salvador alone needs an additional $2 billion to tackle insecurity.

Now time to figure out what this new truce in El Salvador is all about. Fool me once...

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Obama to ask for $1 billion for Central America?

At the same time that Republican members of Congress are introducing legislation to punish Central American governments over their inability to stem migration to the US and to punish the Department of Homeland Security if they do not gain 100% "operational control" over our southern border, President Obama is asking Congress for $1 billion in assistance for Central America's prosperity plan. The news came during Counselor Thomas Shannon's recent visit to Guatemala. However. I can't find anything in English just yet.

It's hard to see Congress voluntarily providing $1 billion to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador at this moment in time that is unless all the money was support for the police and military. Perhaps there's some sort of bargain where for every $2 Congress provides to the border, they will provide $1 for the Northern Triangle. It should be the other way around but I'm not optimistic.

I also imagine that the US Congress will be more supportive of support for governments of the right in Guatemala and Honduras than they will be for the leftist government in El Salvador. Unfortunately, the governments in Honduras and Guatemala are believed to be more corrupt and less effective than that in El Salvador which has made it difficult to provide them with assistance in the past (Millennium Challenge Corporation Compacts anyone?) and their police and military more involved in repression and criminal activities which has also made it more difficult to provide them with what they desire. I want the US to engage with the people, governments, and security forces, not cut off all interactions, so that we may eventually have more confidence that a large sum (if that's what $1 billion is) will be effective. Let's just say that I am not entirely confident at this point in time.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The breakdown of the protection racket state in El Salvador

Chapter seven of William Stanley's The Protection Racket State tackles the breakdown of the protection racket state throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. While I don't disagree, it would have been helpful for Stanley to provide greater detail about the interactions between the civilian right and the military right between 1932 and 1981. There's a great amount of hard-line military- reformist military relations, but not as much between the hard-line military right and civilian right. While there wasn't as much as I would have wanted given the focus of the book, it is clear that their relationship suffered during the 1980s.

The military failed to defeat the FMLN and, at times, seemed more interested in profiting from the war than winning it. According to Stanley, the military's inability to defeat the FMLN "stemmed from internal factionalism, the propensity for indiscriminate violence, and the corruption and short-term vision" (221). Since the elite could no longer rely upon the military to defend their interests (as evidenced by the military alliance with the PDC and the US, support for land reform, and continued kidnapping for ransom of those same elites the military was their to extort protect), they created their own political party, ARENA.

While ARENA had its roots in ORDEN, FAN, former military, and elites, "moderates" came to control the organization in the mid- and late-eighties. They were younger (their formative experience was not the 1932 matanza), more diversified economically (not tied to the land), and not as off the rails anti-communists. The military's inability to defend elite interests in 1979/80, to defeat the FMLN , and the successful performance of ARENA as a political party, meant that "the upper classes and their political allies no longer needed the military to act as a political guarantor and interlocutor." While changing elite political and economic interests was part of the story for why the right eventually supported liberalization and a democratic opening, it was only part of the story.
This literal protection racket, combined with the failure to provide protection at the national level, made the military seem less and less useful to the upper classes. As ARENA developed confidence in its abilities to garner and maintain mass political support, and as international events made the left seem less threatening, it became less important to preserve the military institution in its current form.
The Protection Racket State still stands as an excellent book to understand El Salvador during the 20th century, specifically to understand the dynamics on the right with a focus on the military. As part of a seminar on El Salvador, it might help to couple with Wood's Forging Democracy From Below and Paige's Coffee and Power, which (off the top of my head) go into greater detail on the transformation of the civilian right. Works by Hugh Byrne and Tommie Sue Montgomery do better at explaining the dynamics on the left.

In terms of the role of the US in El Salvador during the 1970s and 1980s, the US comes off looking relatively positive. Following the departure of Ambassador Devine from El Salvador, US Ambassador's played a greater role for moderation. They often didn't win for a variety of reasons both having to do with the fact that those in the US were not always supportive of their efforts and that they were up against a military and economic elite who had little patience for their human rights conditions.

A more complete picture of the US role in El Salvador would have been helpful. The activities of the US military and CIA are mentioned in the text, but under covered. Civilian academics haven't tackled this topic as much as military and former US military have. That would put the US in a different, more comprehensive light. The Embassy might not have gotten along with D'Aubuisson and the hard-right but many other US officials had no problems with them. It also would have been helpful to add some of the ways in which the executive branch (Reagan) and its allies outside of government (D'Aubuisson's fans on religious right in the US) engaged with their allies in El Salvador and more on executive-legislative relations (Carothers' In the Name of Democracy perhaps).

Some of the important takeaways from the book:
  • Do not treat Salvadoran actors on the right as a single entity;
  • Know that there were shifting coalitions throughout the 1970s and 1980s that made pace both possible but, at the same time, extremely difficult;
  • Don't assume that what the US says publicly is what it believes or is what it is saying privately;
  • The US might have prevent a victory by the left but its also prevented the right from carrying out its preferred Guatemala option
  • The right in El Salvador was as frustrated with US policy as was the left in the US
One book can't do everything, but this one does very well nonetheless and stands the test of time (if that is what we can call twenty years).

[Other posts in the series - Liberal reform and conservative counter-reaction in El Salvador, El Salvador's failed October 1979 coup, and Could El Salvador have avoided civil war in 1980?]

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Salvadoran police free to shoot gang members if threatened

According to Reuters
El Salvador's vice president said on Wednesday that police should respond with force "without any fear of suffering consequences" if threatened by gang members, following the killing of seven officers in ambushes so far this year.
Vice President Oscar Ortiz, acting as president while President Salvador Sanchez Ceren receives medical care in Cuba, said the government endorsed the decision of the federal police director last week to authorize the new policy.
Previously, police who used deadly force would be investigated and sometimes fired.
Ortiz added that the government will no longer tolerate attacks on the country's police, military, prosecutors or judges.
"We support ... any member of the police, our police, who in fulfillment of his duties and the defense of the safety of citizens, uses his gun and should use it without any fear of suffering consequences," said Ortiz in a statement.
Let's just say that the policy change does not inspire confidence. The police are certainly in a difficult situation in El Salvador but "shoot" and "we won't even bother to ask questions" is a policy that I would associate with certain right-wing sectors of the country today and yesterday.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Could El Salvador have avoided civil war in 1980?

In a 2001 interview, US Ambassador Robert White had this to say:
After Reagan's inauguration, Alexander Haig recalled White to Washington. Twenty years later, White still believes that "had we had a united policy in Washington to achieve a peaceful solution to El Salvador's problems in 1980–81, it could have been done. It was a tough problem, but not insoluble." And so he tried to convince Haig.
"But the Reagan conservatives wanted to demonstrate an ability to crush revolutions. They wanted to say in El Salvador, this is what we could have done in Vietnam, had we not been saddled by reporters, by columnists—all those liberals. I tried to tell Haig, you're not going to do it, not with the tools available to you, not with the forces available to you." Haig was not interested in White's analysis. He congratulated the ambassador on doing a fine job in El Salvador and summarily and unceremoniously removed him from his post.
I respect Ambassador White but it is difficult to conclude that had the US had a coherent policy in 1980-1981, A Salvadoran civil war might have been avoided. That's what I thought and what comes out in chapter 6 of William Stanley's The Protection Racket State.

The left was divided in 1980. Most popular organizations still held out hope for a more peaceful transformation of the political system. However, they were decimated in 1980 by right-wing death squad activity that picked up in December 1979 and would continue for the next two years. And while the masses were interested in avoiding bloodshed, many of their leaders were hoping for greater repression as that would encourage greater numbers of Salvadorans to join the revolutionaries. Several leaders of mass organizations were aligned with or incorporated into the guerrillas.

The more progressive members of the PDC were killed in 1979 and 1980 as well. They were mostly killed by right-wing death squads, but some were probably killed by the left as well. Attorney General Mario Zamora was murdered by the right-wing in February 1980. The left-wing of the PDC joined the FDR or left the country. While there was a rightist civilian on the first junta, there was none on the second junta. That cut off most communication between the PDC and the moderate civilian right.

The FMLN formed in 1980 but the only organization that seemed interested in a negotiated solution was the National Resistance Armed Forces (FARN or RN). They had entered into on-again, off-again discussions with the junior members of the military but there was still a certain level of distrust between the two organizations. And the military had successfully infiltrated the RN which made collaboration between the reformist military and guerrillas difficult. It's not clear, I might say highly unlikely, that the FPL or the ERP were ready to negotiate in 1980. White described the FPL's Cayetano Carpio "as a total fanatic" and compared him to Cambodia's "Pol Pot left." We are also talking months after some of them had participated in the July 1979 Sandinista revolution in neighboring Nicaragua. They were looking for their own revolution.

The hard-line and junior members of the military were trying to outmaneuver each other throughout the late 1970s and early 1980. Adolfo Majano and Mena Sandoval seem to have been outmaneuvered at nearly every turn. The senior, hard-line officers had seniority, political awareness, and the support of the right-wing elites. In many ways, they also had US support at this time. Not White's support, but the US government's support (as well as the CIA). However, the US government didn't support them simply because it backed a hard-line approach to El Salvador. The US, for the most part, backed the hard-liners because they were in charge of the military and security forces; they were the military brass. The US feared that if they supported the rebellious junior members, military unity would have collapsed thus opening the door for the revolutionaries.

It appears that the US was not fighting back against the right-wing military, just trying to prevent them from overthrowing the first and second juntas. Had the junior officers successfully outmaneuvered their superiors, the US might have backed them simply because they were in charge. Washington wanted to send support to the military in order to gain leverage over it. White disagreed and said that it would only look as if the US was supporting repression and would do little to gain leverage over those hard-liners. He was correct. White wanted the right-wing to bring the violence under control before providing support.

The US was successful in getting the army to allow the civilian PDC to govern, at least symbolically. The US was also successful in getting the military's support for land reform. Some of the worst elements of the army and security forces were removed during the first junta although it is not clear that the US had much to do with that. However, the US could not get Garcia, Vides Casanova, Carranza and others to clean up their units and to use less repression because that was not in the military's interest.

Finally, the elites were caught off guard by the October 1979 coup but they regained some control in 1980. Instead of fracturing like the elite in Nicaragua, the Salvadoran elite grew more cohesive. While the rural elite were often the most conservative and hard-line, the political-military organizations did not discriminate. They kidnapped and killed some of the more progressive and urban elites. What sympathy some elites had for reform, died with their targeting by the FMLN.

For White to have been right, the leadership of the popular movements and the guerrillas, more than just the RN, would have had to support a political solution and not wanted to emulate the recent success of the Sandinistas. The Guatemalan guerrillas were on the offensive at this time as well although they were suffering devastating losses in the city.

The junior officers in the military would have had to outmaneuver the hard-line faction and then hold off any counter-reaction from them. The security forces would have to have been isolated and its leadership decapitated (not literally, well maybe). The right-wing elite would have had to negotiate with the communist PDC and the communist political-military organizations. There might have been an opportunity for the US to back Majano against the hard-liners in May 1980 but even Majano was reluctant to push too far out of fear that there would be rebellion within the military's ranks.

As the year went on, right-wing violence continued unabated. The left-wing political-military organizations killed 1,488 civilians between June and the end of the year. Death squads killed Monsignor Oscar Romero, the leadership of the FDR, the US churchwomen, and thousands of other Salvadorans. The political-military organizations continued their attacks against the civilian right and formed the FMLN. Jimmy Carter was also defeated in the November elections in the US. The fifty year protection racket involving the military and the elite would have had to have been broken within a few months.

I just don't see it.

See also Liberal reform and conservative counter-reaction in El Salvador and El Salvador's failed October 1979 coup.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Former police chief convicted in Guatemala

On Monday, a Guatemalan court found former police chief Pedro Garcia Arredondo guilty of murder, attempted murder, and crimes against humanity in the deaths of 37 people at the Spanish Embassy, including Rigoberta Menchu's father, Vicente, on January 31, 1980. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison for their murders.

In addition, the former police chief was found guilty and sentenced to another 50 years in prison for the murders of two students. As I mentioned previously, I thought that Garcia Arredondo would only be convicted if there was some paper trail that linked him to the fire.
Turns out that there was. Go buy Kirsten Weld's Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala.

Again, it is impressive that human rights trials have continued with a president and attorney general opposed to their existence. While forces seem to have successfully mobilized to undermine the Rios Montt trial, they have been unsuccessful, or unconcerned, with those already underway that have targeted lower-level officials.

El Salvador's failed October 1979 coup

In chapter 3-5 of The Protection Racket State: Elite Politics, Military Extortion, and Civil War in El Salvador, William Stanley tackles Salvadoran politics between 1948 and 1979. Throughout the entire thirty year period, one gets a better understanding of the shifting fortunes of various groups within the country - the opposition (political parties, popular organizations, and guerrilla groups), the military (senior hardliners and junior reformers), security forces (Treasury, Housing, National Guard) and the elites (agrarian elites and nascent industrialists).

There's a bit on the US but, as we know, the US did not have that much involvement in the country until really the 1980s. While the US had intervened historically in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, Salvadorans took pride in the fact that they had been able to take care of matters without the US. That's not to say that the US didn't have any involvement in the country, just somewhat limited.

What I really enjoyed was the discussion of the October 1979 coup. Everyone knew that a coup against President Romero was coming, they just didn't know which faction of the military was going to carry it out - reformers or hardliners, which tandona class. In the end, observers were surprised that the coup was carried out by junior officers located throughout the entire country with the support of the UCA and Oscar Romero, technocrats, the Christian Democratic Party, and the Communists. The US was not involved in the coup and initially didn't know how to respond.

Instead of beating back the coup, the hard-line military forces successfully installed their men on the junta  by fortune and smart politics and then destroyed it from within [technically one man on the junta, Gutierrez; however, Guillermo Garcia was named minister of defense and Nicolas Carranza deputy minister of defense]. The economic elites were against any and all reform, no matter how small and inconsequential, as it always smacked of communism. While the National Resistance (RN) and the Salvadoran Communist Party (PCS) wanted to give the moderate first junta a chance, ERP and FPL thought that successful reforms would thwart revolution. The BPR and other popular movements gave the junta a limited amount of time to demonstrate some results but were not overly supportive of the coup.

Right-wing violence from hard-line members of the military, former military who had been purged because of human rights violations, the security forces, an intransigent elite, US Ambassador Devine, and a radical left that would not give reform a chance doomed October 1979's relatively bloodless coup and first junta.

See also Liberal reform and conservative counter-reaction in El Salvador.