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Date: Fri, 23 Feb 1996 18:08:11 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
Subject: Proceso 696: El Salvador, a violent society

/** reg.elsalvador: 61.0 **/
** Topic: Proceso 696: 7 feb 96/3 **
** Written 3:21 AM Feb 14, 1996 by in cdp:reg.elsalvador **
From: UCA-CIDAI El Salvador <>

El Salvador, a violent society

IDHUCA Report, in Processo, No.696, 7 February 1996

With the war's end, a period of recomposition of civil and political life began in El Salvador: former enemies came together to build a society in which violence was just a memory of the past, and freedom and respect for human life would become its new guiding principles. Nevertheless, public opinion polls reflect the fact that the climate of permanent anxiety in which much of the people lived during the armed conflict has extended to all, due to the spiraling crime rate. In other words, although the violence generated by the war was high-intensity, its effects were not generalized, they did not affect everyone in the same way and with the same force. Those who were closest to conflict areas or with closer ties to either side in the conflict were the most affected; those who lived farther from combat zones and had nothing to do with either side could lead more or less stable or safe lives.

With the impressive rise in organized and ordinary crime, violence now hits the entire population with the same force and in the same ways. The extensive media coverage of daily incidents of crime shows how thoroughly this problem hits all classes and spheres of Salvadoran society. No one is entirely exempt from being mugged, kidnapped or murdered at any time, in any place. As in many countries on this continent, crime has become one of the key characteristics of Salvadoran society.

Parallel to this crime phenomenon, we are seeing with increasingly brutality something which did not show up earlier: anonymous murders of entire families. The excessive cruelty and barbarity with which these mass murders have been committed fill entire pages of the nation's newspapers, which appear to be more interested in whetting their morbid, yellow blades than in conducting thorough investigations to shed light on the causes behind them.

The frequency with which this type of crime occurs cannot be taken lightly. In the majority of cases, given the type of weapon used - mostly arms restricted to the Armed Forces - and the way in which they are wielded makes it hard to speak of spontaneous or circumstantial crimes. Given this fact, the inability of the police to prevent them is obvious, but that is only part of the problem. Not only does the police have serious technical and material limitations, but there is also the inefficiency of the courts in applying punishment once the authors of the crimes are captured. Then there is the reluctance of witnesses to testify against the defendants, a reluctance which could be explained by their natural fear of reprisals once the murderers serve their time or are released prematurely by a judge.

Impunity in these cases is not the sole responsibility of the police, but rather of a bureaucratic system of justice which delays or prevents proceedings against those implicated in such murders. While the violence exercised by this type of criminal is increasing exponentially, the judicial system is incapable -due to corruption of some judges or indifference on the part of many of those in charge- of prosecuting and applying the full force of the law to those few suspects the police actually manages to capture; they are soon back on the streets to recommence the cycle of lawbreaking and impunity. It is a cycle which protects lawbreakers, exhausts the police structures and produces new victims.

Furthermore, the fact that these people opt to use violent methods to resolve their disputes, or simply to react to different members of society, shows that we are far from living under a state of law. When an individual opts to shoot someone at point-blank range or explode a grenade as a way to communicate with someone else, this is a troubling situation which severely calls into question the ways in which we coexist in a "culture of peace". There is a culture of violence, and not necessarily physical violence, when the judges in charge of following up the proceedings absolve the defendants for "lack of evidence" or using the most varied and even absurd technical reasoning; there is a culture of violence when the media resort to narrate the most hideous events in gory detail in order to attract the attention of the avid and morbid consumer. Those who murder an entire family are no more violent than the official who becomes corrupted for money or simply due to apathy with democratic process.

Crime and violence are plagues which are corroding our society, but those implicated are not only the perpetrator and the victim, but also the entire population, whose silence and apathy around the causes of violence permits new crimes to be committed each day.