The World Today for June 06, 2023


‘Cool’ Crimefighting


A judge in El Salvador recently sentenced the former president of the country, Mauricio Funes, to 14 years in prison for negotiating with gangs when he was in office between 2009 and 2014, a period when the country suffered some of the highest murder rates in the world. He now lives in exile in Nicaragua, reported El País.

The trial in absentia was part of current Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s brutal but some would say necessary crackdown on crime in the Central American country.

As the United States Institute of Peace explained, Funes’ secret talks with imprisoned gang leaders resulted in the criminals agreeing to commit fewer homicides – in exchange for leniency and special treatment. Last year, however, the greedy gangs launched a killing spree to extract more concessions from officials.

Bukele responded by enacting a state of emergency to give authorities more powers. It has been extended 13 times. Salvadoran police, meanwhile, have arrested 70,000 individuals since March 2022, added Al Jazeera.

More than 150 people have died in custody due to the headlong rush to punish the gangs, or “pandillas,” as they are called in Spanish, the human rights group Cristosal said, as reported in the Guardian. Many Salvadorans are looking for answers about loved ones who have been accused of gang activity, but died in the country’s crowded penal system.

“The 23-year-old prisoner arrived at the hospital with broken feet and hands, and what looked like burn marks on his back,” wrote Vice News. “His corpse was delivered to his family in a closed casket. The medical examiner’s office determined the man died a ‘sudden death.’”

The president’s defenders might say that he has little choice but to attack the criminals head-on.

In May, after gangs killed police officer Maximino Vásquez, Bukele ordered a full-fledged military siege of the town of Nueva Concepcion to the north of the capital of San Salvador to capture gang leaders, noted the Tico Times, an English-language newspaper based in Costa Rica. In a testament to the strength of the violent gangs, the siege included 5,000 soldiers and 500 police.

In El Salvador, many are grateful that someone has stepped up to fight crime. Around 90 percent of the public supports Bukele’s tough-on-crime policies, Agence France-Presse reported. The president’s plan to give gangsters’ homes to needy Salvadorans, as the BBC described, must have helped.

His popularity, as well as his affinity for Bitcoin, led the French newspaper Le Monde diplomatique to dub him the world’s “coolest dictator.”

Still, insecurity creates a thirst for action, not democracy or justice.

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