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El Salvador: News & Updates

El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. The US-backed civil war, which erupted after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980, lasted 12 years (1980-92), killing 70,000 people and forcing 20% of the nation’s five million people to seek refuge in the US.

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News Article

Carlos Herrera was arrested on Espíritu Santo Island in El Salvador on May 13. His family has been unable to contact him since.

Mr. Herrera is 21 years old. He had been working as a “lanchero,” a harbor ferry boat skipper, since he dropped out of high school, supporting his family by moving people and goods back and forth from the mainland and Espíritu Santo, an island in El Salvador’s Jiquilisco Bay in the southeast department of Usulután. Esperanza Pineda, Mr. Herrera’s aunt, described him as a fun-loving young man who is always making people laugh and teasing her by disheveling her hair.

. The main economic activities on Espíritu Santo are subsistence agriculture and fishing. There are no gangs. Espíritu Santo’s comparable immunity to the gang violence that is a plague to other Salvadoran communities makes the arrests here that much harder to understand, residents say.

News Article

In El Salvador 10,000 military troops have surrounded the city Soyapango, one of El Salvador's biggest cities with 290,000 inhabitants. 

The recent surrounding is part of the ongoing gang crackdown under the state of emergency, which was initiated in late March and has seen 58,000 imprisoned. A mind boggling number considering that El Salvador's total population is just 6.5 million. The government has stated that all roads to the city have been blocked and special forces are searching homes in the effort to "extract" gang members. President Bukele has claimed that ordinary people "have nothing to fear" as it is "an operation against criminals, not honest citizens." Activists fear that the operation may lead to mass imprisonment, though polls show, that 75.9% of Salvadorans support the state of emergency. So far 12 individuals have been arrested as part of the crackdown on Soyapango.  

News Article

Wednesday November 30 marked one of the most important days for journalism and freedom of press in recent years. 

After several members of the Salvadoran investigative news outlet El Faro found proof of the Israeli spyware Pegasus on their smartphones, El Faro takes on Pegasuses developers head on and goes to court. "We are filing this lawsuit to defend our right to investigate and report, and to protect journalists around the world in their pursuit of the truth," the co-founder of El Faro, Carlos Dada, stated. It is not the first Pegasus attack in El Salvador. Dozens of activists and journalists have been targeted so far. 

The spyware developing company behind Pegasus, the NSO Group which has been blacklisted by the United States, has stated that it has no ties with the Salvadoran government. They say they only sell their system to legitimate law enforcement and intelligence in foreign countries and that it does not operate the system, thus has no oversight over the users. Furthermore, NSO stated that the use against activists and journalists "is a severe misuse of any technology and goes against the desired use of such critical tools." The attack gets even more upsetting by the fact that Pegasus is marked as a military export by the Israeli state, which has to approve any sales of the spyware. Israel's government has been criticized for the sale of the system to countries violating human rights before. 

The recent lawsuit against the NSO Group in a U.S. court claims that NSO violated US law by developing and using spyware against El Faro. 


News Article

2022 marked the 25th anniversary of the  Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. Every year thousands of followers visit the Teach-In to honor the Jesuit martyrs and pledge for justice in Central and South America. 

The annual meeting first took place in 1997 as a commemoration for six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her 15-year-old daughter who were murdered by Salvadoran government forces in 1989 during the Salvadoran civil war. The victims worked at the Jesuit-run University of Central America (UCA) and were strongly outspoken about about the rights of the poor and about the military’s violence against Salvadorans. During an offensive on the nation's capital, San Salvador, a group of soldiers searched the UCA and executed the eight victims. Nineteen of the soldiers involved in the massacre were previously trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas as part of U.S. aid to the Salvadoran government and military.

Ever since the civil war started, the Jesuit community in the United States was strongly opposed to U.S. military aid. The murders were a sad proof of what was always stated, the U.S. trained war criminals. 

Every year the Jesuit community gathers to remember there martyrs and demand peace and equality.      

News Article

We have reported on the Salvadoran gang crackdowns before, with information on mass arrests, hearings and institutional violence on the streets and in prisons. But what is the outcome of these extreme practices? This Small Wars Journal article by Jonathan D. Rosen provides a deep dive into the effects of the authoritarian policies. 

The ongoing crackdown is far from the first in El Salvador's history. These radical measures were first implemented by former president Francisco Flores early this century, appealing to the public demand for security. In 2004, President Tony Saca doubled down on the totalitarian approach. Neither of them were very successful, instead fueling a spiral of violence and gang membership. In 2009 the public passed on the torch to left-wing politician Mauricio Funes. Funes started a new approach to combat gang related crime. He negotiated. All tough homicide rates dropped during his time in office. Funes lost his authority in 2014 when his vice-president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, assumed the presidency.  Following Sánchez Cerén's election, homicide rates skyrocketed to an unheard of 100 per 100,000 habitants in 2015. The re-rising of violence was a perfect legitimization for the reintroduction of iron fist ("mano dura") policies.  In 2015, the Salvadoran Supreme Court voted to label gangs as terrorists, allowing for the deployment of the military and marking gangs as the number one security threat for the country's security. 

In 2019, Salvadorans elected populist candidate Nayib Bukele as their new president. It was a choice based mainly on the ongoing violence and his declaration to keep up the radical anti-gang policies. Bukle delivered.    In June 2019 he brought forward his territorial control plan, increasing police and military  presence in areas known for heavy gang activities.  In addition to his crackdown approach, Bukele secretly negotiated with MS 13, Salvador's most powerful gang. After journalists revealed this, institutional attacks on the press became routine.     

Following a spike in homicides in March 2022, the Bukele administration declared a State of Exception (regímen de excepción), which has been extended several times. This hardline approach has not delivered the promised effect.   In May, the gangs struck back, killing more than 60 people in a single day. A direct message to Bukele. 

But what are the consequences of this crackdown policy? 

The expanded State of Exception has led to over 50,000 arrests. A institutional signal that "the government is winning." In actuality, this is an ongoing circle of arrests, releases and re-arrests. This mass incarceration has caused overcrowded prisons, which now act as "schools of crime," enabling gangs to better organize. Gangs build their own institutions within the prisons, which today are seen as the epicenter for gang activity. No wonder, considering that the Salvadoran prison population has grown from "only" 7,754 in 2000, to 37,190 in 202o, the highest population per 100,000 in the world. One can only guess today's number. 

The demand for security leads to a race to the bottom among politicians, ignoring alternative measures like prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration without which the underlying issues can not be solved.

Although the mass arrests and decrease in homicides may appeal to the political base, other crimes like forced disappearances and violence against specific groups are ignored. Women, in particular, are endangered, as they are treated as property. 

Besides the iron fist policies, Bukele plans to stay in power by running for president once more, in direct violation of the Salvadoran constitution.

In sum, the crackdown has created many harms, leading to overcrowded prisons and oppression by security forces while failing to reduce violence and gang activities. 

The problem with gang membership will not be solved without addressing its root causes--something that is impossible with the current heavy-handed approach.   


News Article

The indigenous people of  Sonsonate in western El Salvador are bundled with daily struggles. Commercial farming damages their homeland and privatizations strip them of basic needs like water. 

Women especially are suffering under these circumstances. 

In 2017 the New Dawn Association of El Salvador (ANADES) founded their Agroecological School, teaching indigenous women their ancestors' way of farming, using native crops and to work in harmony with the environment. Besides the practical training, the program includes theoretical classes, reflecting on the oppression with which the women are confronted every day. Together they analyze structures like capitalism, colonization and patriarchy. 

The program helps communities and families to become financially independent while saving the environment and building an economy benefiting all. 


News Article

October 15 is known as the Rural Women's day. 

The Voices on the Border and IRTF celebrate the indigenous Rural Women and their tireless work fighting for equality, dignity, and an end to gender-based violence, both in their region and beyond.