Tuesday, January 17, 2012

El Salvador Peace Anniversary Offers Chance to Critique Blanket Amnesty Law

In a speech commemorating the 1992 signing of the El Salvador peace accords, President Mauricio Funes voiced a strong critique of the current amnesty laws which protect perpetrators of war crimes.

As the AP reports, the focus of Funes’ speech was an apology for El Salvador’s most well-publicized war massacre, the 1981 El Mozote killings, in which 936 civilians were killed by the military. Funes spoke at the site of the massacre before thousands of people, asking for “forgiveness from the people of El Salvador, who suffered an atrocious and unacceptable violence.”

While Funes praised the military’s transformation into what he described as a more democratic institution, he issued sharper words as well. He condemned the army’s refusal to accept legal responsibility for crimes such as El Mozote. The Third Infantry Brigade, for example, still bears the name of the commanding officer who ordered the 1981 massacre, reports La Prensa Grafica.

El Faro notes that Funes’ most significant criticism was directed against the laws which still protect the authors behind war crimes like El Mozote. El Salvador’s general amnesty law is unique in the region because it essentially blocks all investigation into cases involving human rights violations committed during the 1980s civil war. The United Nations Truth Commission, created alongside the 1992 peace accords, eventually detailed thousands of cases of massacres, disappearance and displacement in El Salvador. But thanks to a series of amnesty laws passed in the early 1990s in quick succession by Congress, then controlled by the conservative ARENA party, El Salvador basically made it impossible to prosecute war criminals.

Funes, the first presidential candidate to end ARENA’s 20-year reign of power, previously assumed a more passive position towards the general amnesty law. On other occasions, Funes apologized for the state’s war crimes and even said those responsible for the most serious violations should not be protected under law. But he also argued that the executive branch lacked the power to overturn legislation passed by Congress, implying that he was not going to fight the issue.

But during Monday’s speech, Funes went so far to state that El Salvador’s reconciliation law was essentially ineffective because it used amnesty as an excuse to grant impunity for those guilty of war crimes. El Faro argues that this is a significant break from the rhetoric of Funes’ predecessors. It may also indicate Funes’ support for the Inter-American Human Rights Court, currently processing the El Mozote case because no Salvadoran court will do so.

Funes has announced other concrete measures to accompany the 20th anniversary of the peace agreement, including a health care and pension system for some 25,000 former members of guerrilla group the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), now a political party, El Faro reports.

The anniversary has also provoked more general reflections over how far El Salvador has come since 1992, and the serious challenges which remain. Project Syndicate has an interesting comparison of how El Salvador managed to maintain peace for two decades and reduce its dependency on foreign aid, in contrast to other conflict-ridden countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. IPS provides background on the signing of the peace accords, while a guest post at Central American Politics summarizes some of the problems still lingering in the country. For an even broader look at what 20 years of peace means for El Salvador, Al Jazeera has a brief video report.

La Pagina highlights the most important passages (in Spanish) from Funes’ speech.

News Briefs
  • Monday, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry said that they are officially closing the Venezuelan Consulate in Miami after the office’s personnel received threats, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. President Hugo Chavez first threatened to shut down the Miami consulate last Friday, after the US expelled Venezuelan Consul General Livia Acosta Noguera. She was declared persona non grata after Spanish news channel Univision aired recordings of Noguera in a documentary discussing cyber attacks in the US, which then prompted an FBI investigation into her alleged misconduct. The consulate’s closing may have some small effect during the 2012 elections, as the Venezuelan diaspora living in Miami would have no place to register their overseas vote, and much of this population is hostile towards the Chavez administration, says the New York Times. In another sign of heated rhetoric from Venezuela, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said the US was “weak” for expelling Acosta Noguera.
  • Simultaneously, Venezuela announced plans to leave a World Bank arbitration body, reports the AP. Within this forum, Venezuela is facing at least 17 complaints from multinationals like Exxon Mobile for failing to follow through on investment deals. Blogger Setty has a more detailed look at the list of complaints and the companies involved.
  • BBC Mundo provides background on the Counter-Narcoterrorism Technology Program Office (CNTPO), basically the US government body charged with assigning security contracts related to anti-narcotics work. According the article, all the usual suspects have been awarded lucrative contracts for the office: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and a subsidiary of the company formerly known as Blackwater. The article notes that because the “drug war” is an unpopular political issue, the Department of Defense has all the more reason to cut costs by outsourcing some anti-nartoctics work to the private sector. But the practice remains shrouded in mystery, and the article sheds little light on what kind of services these US contractors specifically provide, and where, especially in a country so sensitive to issues of national sovereignty like Mexico.
  • Guatemala President Otto Perez was sworn into office Saturday, one day after the first apparent political killing of the year, when a congressman was killed in Guatemala City. The congressman represented Guatemala’s Alta Verapaz region, where Mexican cartel the Zetas hold significant influence. EFE notes that all but one of Guatemala’s 333 mayor-elects were sworn in without controversy; save for one district where locals revolted against a mayor accused of voting fraud. Elsewhere, Plaza Publica has a critical look at the political legacy of exiting president Alvaro Colom.
  • The Washington Post judges that Mexico’s 2012 elections are especially vulnerable to influence by drug traffickers. The AP has another look at the military rather than political strength of the drug gangs, reporting that criminal groups have fired upon military and government helicopters nearly 30 times since 2006.
  • The New York Times has a feature on students living in Mexico and who attend school in the US, crossing the southwestern border nearly every weekday.
  • 158 Peace Corps volunteers have withdrawn from Honduras in light of increased security concerns, reports the AP. An opinion piece in the LA Times argues against the new policy.
  • Reuters examines why Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa still enjoys high approval ratings after five years in office, citing his spending on social and infrastructure projects.
  • The Miami Herald reports on Argentine migrants who left their native country for Florida during the 2001 economic crisis, when Argentines could enter the US without a visa. Now, many are in immigration limbo, unable to apply for permanent residence yet unable to leave.
  • Reuters on statements by Mexican leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who promised to “break up” internet, TV, and oil monopolies as part of his campaign.
  • Mercopress has a note on a “landless peasants” movement in Uruguay, where 80 families have reportedly occupied 400 hectares of property in order to demand land reform
  • The Guardian asks whether Western Union, vital for many families in Latin America in order to transfer remittances, is doing more harm than good in Haiti.
  • In a reverse case of a Latin American court investigating a human rights crime committed in Europe, Argentina is trying a case concerning violations in Franco-era Spain, reports Global Post.