El Salvador

Rights violations seen in federal Mara crackdown

Civil rights organizations in New York are trying to determine if police and school officials on Long Island helped federal authorities detain students in the country without papers on the basis of dubious claims of ties to Central American gangs. The controversy comes days after President Trump's inflammatory speech before law enforcement officers in Long Island's Suffolk County on July 28. There was a major outcry over Trump's urging of police to be "rough" with suspects in the speech. This outrage nearly eclipsed media coverage of his pledge in the speech to "destroy" the MS-13 gang network, calling its members "animals."

Barrio 18 'Revolutionaries' sentenced in massacre

A judge in El Salvador on May 24 sentenced seven accused members of the country's feared mara gang networks to 390 years in prison each for the March 2016 massacre at the town of San Juan Opico. Authorities say the maras kidnapped three day laborers and eight electric company workers at the town, just outside the capital San Salvador—and then killed them, without waiting for a ransom. The mara networks have been factionalizing in a struggle over the cocaine trade through Central America, as well as the lucre from their new sidelines of extortion and kidnapping. The seven sentenced are said to be from a new faction with the disconcerting name of the Barrio 18 Revolutionaries—implying they actually seek to challenge the state, in the style of Mexico's Zetas.

Sessions pledges crackdown on Latin gangs

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking to the Justice Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) on April 18, pledged that the Trump administration will have "zero tolerance for gang violence" from "transnational criminal organizations"—particularly singling out MS-13, the Central American narco-network that has its roots on the streets of Los Angeles. Citing a February executive order in which President Trump directed the Justice Department "to interdict and dismantle transnational criminal organizations," Sessions promised "concrete ideas to follow through" on the directive.

El Salvador bans metallic mining

With the signature of President Salvador Sánchez Ceren, El Salvador on April 27 became the first country on Earth to ban the mining of metals—following a long campaign by campesinos and their ecologist allies. The law, passed by the country's Legislative Assembly March 29, bans "prospection, exploration, exploitation, extraction or processing of metallic minerals in El Salvador." Mauricio Sermeno, leader of the Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES), said the law "is necessary in the face of an industry which, far from bringing any benefit to communities, brings serious pollution to water sources and the environment." (Duluth News Tribune, April 28; AFP, Inhabit, April 27)

Central America: tri-national anti-gang task force

A joint security force bringing together the three nations of Central America's Northern Triangle officially began operations to fight narco-gangs and organized crime on Nov. 15. The force is made up of military, police, intelligence and border officials from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—which all face growing internal violence from criminal networks. The force was officially inaugurated at a ceremony in the Honduran border town of Ocotepeque, near the point where the three countries meet. The presidents of all three nations were in attendance.

El Salvador reopens massacre investigation

A court in El Salvador will reopen an investigation into the Mozote massacre of 1981, according to human rights lawyers on the case Oct. 1. Lawyers from the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and other human rights groups requested the investigation on behalf of victims last month. CEJIL and other lawyers urged the Prosecutor General to consider his position opposing the investigation, because the Supreme Court of El Salvador, in striking down the country's amnesty law, recognized that the state has a duty to investigate grave violations of international human rights. The court is requesting information from the military regarding the operations in December 1981, including the identities of military officials in command positions at the time.

El Salvador deploys new anti-gang 'reaction force'

El Salvador has deployed a new special unit to fight criminal gangs that are now said to be operating not only in the cities but in rural areas throughout the country. The 1,000-strong Specialized Rapid Reaction Force is equipped with helicopters, armored cars and assault weapons. A mixed unit of 600 military troops and 400 National Civil Police agents, it is charged with "pursuing and neutralizing" the gangs, which are said to have 70,000 members in the country. At an April 20 ceremony to unveil the new force, Vice President Oscar Ortiz said: "The moment has come to stop the scale of violence which has imposed itself in the last few years on our country, and which has created so much blood and sacrifice... We are going to go after them in the countryside and in the city." He added that human rights will be respected. National Civil Police director Howard Cotto pledged the new force will "disarticulate the command structure" of the gangs. (BBC News, Reuters, La Prensa, Honduras, April 20)

Clinton calls for Central American 'Plan Colombia'

In a meeting with the NY Daily News editorial board April 9, Hillary Clinton insisted that the 2009 overthrow of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009 was not an illegal coup. In an exchange later broadcast on Democracy Now, journalist Juan González cited evidence from released e-mails that then-Secretary of State Clinton was being urged by her top aids to declare Zelaya's removal a military coup—to no avail. Clinton responded:

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