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Column 060214 Brewer

Monday, June 2, 2014

Will El Salvador's New Government Bring Back Law and Order?

By Jerry Brewer

Murder with impunity, violence, fear, intimidation and overall lawlessness are great fodder as plot ingredients for a Wild West cowboy movie that leans to the new sheriff or marshal riding in to clean up the town.

Unfortunately, El Salvador's plight is much more real and graphic, and all this has been brought about courtesy of the familiar theme and specter of transnational organized crime.

Focusing on the catalysts of these consistently declining factors in El Salvador, one does not have to look far or possess genius attributes to focus on the root causes.

There are of course the strategic implications of geographical issues, political situations, the homeland's inability or lack of readiness to defend against gangs along with domestic and transnational organized crime, and the significance of the threats felt by neighbors and even across the U.S. border and into major U.S. cities.

El Salvador's gang and criminal networks know and understand the U.S. system of criminal justice, as well as the criminal operating networks within. Thousands of Salvadoran's have served prison and jail terms in the U.S., and many have assimilated with other domestic crime networks, plus there are those who have been suspected and/or reported to have ties to international terrorist organizations.

So what does El Salvador face with its new president and government?

The new president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who took office on June 1, served as vice president in the now past administration of President Mauricio Funes. Sánchez Cerén is described as left-wing, with a political ideology derived from various democratic and revolutionary organizations that he has been a member of over the years. Today he belongs to the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a left-wing political party that prior to 1992 was a coalition of five guerrilla organizations.

Sánchez Cerén became politically active in the late 1960s, as a student and during the movement in El Salvador against U.S. policies. With the start of the Salvadoran Civil War in 1980, Sánchez adopted the pseudonym "Commander Leonel Gonzalez," plus he was appointed to the position of "comandante."  The FMLN leadership described its ideology during the war as Marxist-Leninist.

It was no easy victory this year for Sánchez Cerén.  After a runoff, he narrowly won with 50.1 percent of the vote, compared to 49.9 percent for his challenger, Norman Quijano, of the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance, known as ARENA.  With 100 percent of the votes counted, the electoral court announced that Sánchez Cerén won by less than 7,000 votes.

With Sánchez Cerén essentially stepping into his predecessor's leadership role, record and agenda, that of an administration in which he served, the critical question is what differences can the El Salvadoran people expect for their homeland?

Sánchez Cerén may have telegraphed his mindset last month when he met with Cuban President Raul Castro and two of Cuba's spies who were previously convicted in the United States on conspiracy and espionage charges. As well, he demonstrated his leftist propensities with a visit to Venezuela where he proclaimed, "It's an honor being in Venezuela.  This is a sister nation, which we agree in all this Latin American and Caribbean integrationist view, and we are here to strengthen the relationship between El Salvador and Venezuela since we have to unite, look for, establish and strengthen relations between our two countries.... It's a pleasure to be in the blessed land of our beloved brother Hugo Chavez."

Does this raise questions about Sánchez's future willingness to work with U.S. officials and his democratic neighbors, against gangs and violence, and on anti-drug efforts? And what about the estimates of homicides reported by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, demonstrating that the northern cone nations of Central America continue to lead, and set records, for intentional deaths?

El Salvador has an ever deteriorating and changing landscape that shows not even token progress in actively fighting crime.

Last February, in testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, the FARC guerrillas were described "as a prototype of the coming hybrid terrorist-criminal insurgency, which remains at the center of a multitude of criminal enterprises and terrorist activities that stretch from Colombia south to Argentina, and northward to Central America and into direct ties to Mexican drug cartels." In the report, links were made to the late Hugo Chavez, Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, and even Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador, for "giving significant logistical, financial, and political support to the FARC, allowing FARC to expand its international networks and increase its resources."

Ongoing and professed gang truces in El Salvador with Mara Salvatruchas and others, as well as the FARC in meetings in Cuba, show nothing other than gamesmanship, diversion, and subterfuge. This as attacks continue on civilians, the police and the military with increasing high-powered firearms that easily outgun authorities.

El Salvador's continuing failures to strengthen security and enforce its rules of law, along with the spectre of suspected collusion with rogue government officials and transnational organized crime, will require much stronger interventions than empty words in order to wrest iron-fisted control away from powerful and determined enemies of the state.

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Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at www.cjiausa.org.

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