Wednesday, August 12, 2009

RSA in El Salvador - Security Threats

I conducted the RSA in El Salvador in February 2008. I visited the Capital City San Salvador and three field locations San Lorenzo, Ahuachapán, Tacuba. In Tacuba I went to see an orphanage of undernourished/abandoned children which received humanitarian support by the Organization I was working for. It was a very touching experience.
The insecurity remains at higher levels and has become one of the most felt problems by the population. The Press and TV News report frequently about crimes, assaults, rapes and other types of violations. The travelers must be aware about risks posed by criminality and should use private vehicles, avoiding (if possible) walking and taking public transportation. Frequently demonstration and protests arise, planned by workers organizations or citizens, due to the deficiency of resources like drinking water, unemployment, high delinquency levels, etc. Such demonstrations have blocked streets and highways in several parts of the country, which can directly or indirectly affect field missions (movement restrictions, etc). The high level of impunity is an element of tension that must be taken into serious consideration as well. The number of Salvadorian deported from the US is estimated in about 200 per month. The great majority of them have been arrested for criminal actions in the United States or because of their status of illegal immigrants. Some civil organizations and NGOs, have questioned the work of the Civil National Police (PNC Spanish acronym) which is deemed generally corrupted. According to a recent country evaluation prepared by UNDP El Salvador, the country has one of the higher crime rates in the region. In fact, it has been estimated that the number of fire guns circulating are about 500.000 out of which 300.000 are illegal, and 80 % of all homicides are committed with fire guns. The above report projects that about 80% of UN personnel or their relatives, families or near friends in El Salvador have directly or indirectly been affected by delinquency acts. Regarding the natural disasters, El Salvador might suffer during the winter time, floods and water-drainages. Furthermore one of the most important natural threats is the earthquakes (last ones in 2001, two quakes). In this regards the country is very vulnerable and only few the buildings can be consider properly “anti-seismic”.

Author visiting an orphanage in Tacuba in order to assess field operators security conditions.

El Salvador participates with his military contingents to the US lead coalition in the Iraq war. The US from their part has given the country a large number of working visas for the Salvadorian people. El Salvador has recently decided to participate to the ALBA, Venezuelan lead alliance (Alternativa Bolivariana para las Américas), as its Spanish initials indicate, which proposes an alternative to the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA, ALCA in its Spanish initials), differing from the latter in that it advocates a socially-oriented trade block rather than one strictly based on the logic of deregulated profit maximization.
The recently elected President of El Salvador, Carlos Mauricio Funes as the candidate of the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) took office on 1 June 2009. He is the first FMLN party leader not to have fought in the civil war. His presidential campaign was highlighted by statements endorsing moderate political policies. He has promised to increase taxes on the rich to pay for programs such as health care in rural areas and crime prevention.
CRIME: The criminal threat in El Salvador is critical. Random and organized violent crime is endemic throughout El Salvador. Political or economic issues in the country may give rise to demonstrations, sit-ins or protests at any time or place, but these activities are most frequent in the capital or on its main access roads. Many Salvadorans are armed, and shootouts are not uncommon. Armed holdups of vehicles traveling on El Salvador's roads appear to be increasing, and several incidents involving foreigners have been reported. The homicide rate in the country increased 25 percent from 2004 to 2005, and El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Both violent and petty crimes are prevalent throughout El Salvador. Armed assaults and carjacking take place both in San Salvador and in the interior of the country, but are especially frequent on roads outside the capital where police patrols are scarce. Criminals have been known to follow cars leaving the international airport to private residences or secluded stretches of road where they carry out assaults and robberies. Armed robbers are known to shoot if the vehicle does not come to a stop. Criminals often become violent quickly, especially when victims fail to cooperate immediately in surrendering valuables. Frequently, victims who argue with assailants or refuse to give up their valuables are shot. Kidnapping for ransom continues to occur, but have decreased in frequency since 2001.
The “Mara” phenomenon:
On various occasions the media has linked some local “Maras” (local gangs) with Al-Qaeda activities or structures.
El Salvador has both Arab and Jewish communities, not large in terms of adherents but powerful, representative and influential. Their members are important merchants and landowners. I will write an article about Maras soon in order to analyze the risks posed by such criminal gangs to security.
Terrorist Action:
Despite the image El Salvador projects outside its borders, as Central American country, there are some factors that indicate that a terrorist action risk cannot be fully excluded. The level of crime is well known. Less, probably, the international implications related with the participation of El Salvador at the military coalition lead by the United States in Iraq since 2003. The military Salvadoran contingent is composed of approx. 380 Armed Forces (Fuerza Armada) members, who are replaced every 6 months. The mentioned Salvadoran military contingent in 4 years of participation at the Iraq campaign has had a total of 6 deaths and about 20 wounded many of them related to military actions. In 2004, El Salvador would have received a direct threat by the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization but no terrorist related incidents have took place so far. As of August 2009, all non-U.S. coalition members had withdrawn from Iraq.

San Lorenzo Church, destroyed by a recent earthquacke.

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