Monday, October 21, 2013

Salvadoran Catholic Church Refuses to Turn Over Archives to Officials

After law enforcement authorities in El Salvador announced they had searched the premises of the shuttered Tutela Legal human rights office last week, advocates in the country were assured that the center’s archives had been safeguarded by the government. However, on Sunday the Archdiocese clarified that it had refused to allow police to view the records, and had eventually reached an agreement which permitted Church officials to hold on to them.

On Friday, the Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office announced that it had obtained a court order to search Tutela Legal in order to guarantee the safekeeping of the estimated 50,000 case files kept in the center. Attorney General Luis Martinez told El Faro that the office had been secured in order to guarantee that the records could be used in future trials related to human rights abuses in the country’s civil war. “We are taking action on the issue of massacres, and are defending the victims’ right to protection,” Martinez said. Nevertheless, El Faro noted that the nature of public prosecutors’ control over the archives, as well as their capacity to take stock of the inventory, was uncertain.

This was cleared up by the Archbishop of San Salvador, Jose Luis Escobar Alas, who told reporters yesterday that he had not permitted the Attorney General to assume control over the records.  “The archive belongs to the Church, and we are not going to allow anyone to take away any part of it,” said Monsignor Escobar. La Prensa Grafica reported that, despite Martinez’s announcement, Friday’s search of Tutela Legal had been merely “superficial,” and did not consist of a review of the records. The Archbishop had apparently reached an agreement with Attorney General’s Office to allow the archives to remain under Church supervision. According to the AFP, law enforcement officials only briefly inspected the archives and placed yellow tape on the doors in Friday’s operation.

The fact that the records will remain in the hands of the San Salvador Archdiocese will no doubt some rankle human rights activists in the country, many of whom have expressed concern about the Church’s motives for closing Tutela Legal. Some have suggested that it is an attempt to shield human rights abusers, pointing out that the move came after the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on whether the country’s amnesty law was constitutional. While the Church has said it will reopen a new office to take Tutela Legal’s place, it has provided a timeline for this. To fill the void left by the human rights center, a number of activists have laid plans to create a new organization in its place, to be named after deceased Tutela Legal director Maria Julia Hernandez, IPS reported last week.


News Briefs
  • Though Uruguay’s Senate is not expected to vote on the country’s marijuana regulation bill until next month, the initiative appears to be taking shape already. Yesterday El Pais reported that the country’s National Drug Council has agreed on a commercial price for the drug, which will be sold for recreational use by pharmacies. According to Uruguayan Drug Czar Julio Calzada, marijuana will be sold at the price of around one dollar per gram, a low price which is expected to undercut the black market. To avoid “marijuana tourism,” the drug will only be available for purchase by citizens who have registered with an anonymous database.
  • Guatemala’s Plaza Publica has published an editorial condemning the dominant approach to citizen security in the Central American country, which has increasingly relied on the military for law enforcement. The news site argues that this “criminalization of the urban poor” is due to the state’s “two hundred year history of considering its people as potential internal enemies.”
  • The BBC offers a critical look at El Salvador’s anti-abortion laws, which are some of the toughest  in the world. As a result of the country’s unconditional ban on abortions, some women who suffer miscarriages or stillbirths find themselves jailed on suspicion of inducing abortions. In some cases they can even be charged with murder.
  • After assessing the progress of police cleanup efforts in the country, last week the Mexican government proposed an extension of the vetting process by one year. El Universal reports that while the initial deadline was October 31, the National Public Security Council found that it could not realistically be met. According to NGO Causa en Comun, cited by Animal Politico, just 75 percent of the police force had been examined so far. InSight Crime notes that the police cleanup process has been complicated in some states by an absence of laws requiring the termination of officers who fail background checks.
  • The Associated Press reports on growing opposition to pesticide use in Argentina, with some blaming the chemical glyphosate for an increase in cancer, birth defects and miscarriages in farming areas in the country. The same chemical has been the target of criticism in Colombia, where leading drug policy expert Daniel Mejia claimed that the government attempted to censor research showing that its use in coca eradication campaigns was contributing to health problems in the rural interior.
  • New revelations about the extent of NSA surveillance in Mexico have come to light, with documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showing that the U.S. intelligence agency hacked the email of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon while he was still in office. According to a report by Der Spiegel, this provided the NSA with “diplomatic, economic and leadership communications which continue to provide insight into Mexico's political system and internal stability.” The paper suggests that the news will trigger deeper controversy than allegations that the NSA monitored current President Enrique Peña Nieto's email communications while he was still a candidate, “since the NSA's snooping took place during the term of Peña Nieto's predecessor Felipe Calderón, a leader who worked more closely with Washington than any other Mexican president before him.” In a statement released yesterday, the Mexican government condemned the revelation, saying such espionage was “unacceptable, illegitimate and contrary to Mexican law and international law.”
  • Imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori is back in court today to face charges that he gave state money to tabloid newspapers who supported his administration and attacked opponents during his time in office. The ex-president spent the weekend in a hospital after leaving court on Thursday for medical reasons. However, Peru21 reports that a video aired on local media last night showed Fujimori in seemingly good health over the weekend, energetically pacing around and ordering hospital staff to allow supporters to visit him.
  • Roughly one year after peace talks with FARC guerrillas began, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos appears to have recognized that his original timeline for negotiations was too optimistic. “The discussions have advanced, but not at the speed I would have liked. I thought that in one year we could have finished the agenda points we agreed upon, but that hasn't happened,” Santos told other regional heads of state at the 23rd Ibero-American summit in Panama City. It is still unclear whether the talks will be put on hold during the upcoming election cycle, an idea that Santos floated earlier this month to mixed reception.
  • The New York Times reports that 14 Caribbean countries have made plans to compile a record of the lasting damage they have endured as a result of the transatlantic slave trade, and ultimately to demand an apology and file a suit for damages against Britain, France and the Netherlands. To make their case, they have hired a London law firm that successfully sued Britain this year for damages on behalf of Kenyans who were tortured under colonial rule in the 1950s.
  • Speaking before an Inter-American Press Association in Denver on Sunday, Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez said Cuban President Raul Castro has stepped up official crackdowns on independent press. Sanchez said that while access to the internet is increasing, it remains prohibitively expensive for the majority of people on the island. The AFP reports that Venezuelan private media figures also at the conference complained that the Maduro administration was copying the tactics of state media in Havana, increasingly censoring material deemed threatening to national security.
  • Venezuelan prosecutors are investigating a number of high-profile motorsports figures for violations of currency controls, in which they allegedly made dozens of fraudulent requests for US dollars at the official rate and then sold them on the black market for a profit.
  • Security forces carrying out a manual coca eradication campaign in the northern Bolivian region of Apolo on Saturday were ambushed by armed coca farmers in the area, killing two police and taking at least eight hostage. The AP describes the incident as “the first fatal attack on an eradication team since President Evo Morales, a coca growers union leader, was first elected nearly eight years ago.” La Razon has more on the attack, noting that the government believes that coca growers in the area have links to a Peruvian criminal network.