El Salvador gets 'tough' amid worsening crime
President Mauricio Funes has appointed career military personnel to head the police and national security. Many fear a return to failed policies of the past, writes guest blogger Hanna Stone.
(Page 2 of 3)
“What society asks and demands from us is results, and the president seeks results, not sterile debates or discussions," he declared recently (in Spanish).Skip to next paragraph
El Salvador runoff election: Why an FMLN win wouldn't mean bigger shift to the left
Venezuela's 'color revolution?' The complexity of wearing red. (+video)
Reporter's notebook: How has Mexico City changed?
In their own words: US, Venezuela spar in public
Who is leading Venezuela's protests? (+video)
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
It’s not hard to understand why the president wants to act decisively. Last year, El Salvador had a homicide rate of around 70 per 100,000 (depending on the figures you use), placing it among the most dangerous countries in the world.
However, the “more forceful” security strategies that have begun to emerge from Funes’ new militarized security cabinet sound less like innovations than a return to the failed policies of the past. Since the end of the civil war, each successive government has moved to take a tougher stance on crime by trying to roll back the protection of suspects’ civil rights. The three presidencies that preceded Funes each worked for reforms to give the police and legal system greater powers, “arguing that the laws as they stood benefited criminals more than society,” as IPS details.
In 2003, the Francisco Flores government rolled out the Plan Mano Dura (the Iron Fist Plan), a hardline security strategy that allowed suspected gang members to be arrested and imprisoned on the basis of their appearance (not difficult, given the popularity of tattoos to pledge allegiance). Over the next four years the number of gang members locked up doubled from 4,000 to 8,000.
The overcrowded jails provided a fertile ground for converting young people into hardened criminals, and being thrown together allowed the gangs to organize and regroup. It also galvanized the development of sophisticated extortion networks. Critics say the policy failed, and homicide rates have doubled since it was instituted.
Funes himself had initially moved away from these hardline measures, favoring more holistic, community-based anti-gang policies. But the statements of Munguia, his new security minister, sound worryingly familiar.
In an interview with El Faro (in Spanish) last week, Muguia called for legal reform to make the system less liberal: “Our system of laws, which has very high guarantees of civil liberties, would be ideal for a society which had normal behavior, but it can’t process the entire quantity of crimes that are being committed.”