Date: Sat, 11 Jul 98 10:01:19 CDT
/** reg.elsalvador: 23.0 **/
Government, business faced with violence
Processo, 813, 1 July 1998
Until a few months ago, any public reference to the problem of violence in El Salvador was not well received by economic and political circles of power. To present figures on the magnitude and costs of such violence, to insist on the social and economic factors which make it possible, to propose policies for its prevention and control...all of this produced nothing more than malaise among power groupings, above all if those investigative reports came from institutions considered by the ARENA government and big businessmen as too critical of its political and economic practices. Laying out on the table for discussion data which truly reveals the real situation of the country during this post-war period and indicating that it is one of the most violent in Latin America, could not but be read by ARENA and friends as a campaign against the "good image" of El Salvador abroad, because of the negative repercussions which such revelations might bring for investment and tourism.
Although it is astoundingly evident that Salvadoran society is involved in a complex network of violent practices--violence in the family, organized crime, common crime, youth gangs, etc.--which until recently the circles of power in this country appeared to ignore its existence. Faced with the gravity of the situation, an ostrich prefers to bury its head so as not to have to deal with a problem which demands to be treated as it ought to be and to be examined as to the diverse factors which cause it and which cause it to expand. In other words, facing the problem of violence presupposes accepting and recognizing that Salvadoran society during the post-war period is immersed in a quagmire of violent practices and behaviors, leaving to one side the consideration of whether that acceptation and recognition affect the political and economic interests of specific sectors of the country. Undoubtedly those interests have been weighed too heavily at the moment of assigning the level of importance merited by the
Nevertheless, during recent weeks, national public opinion has witnessed a brusque about-face: On the one hand, the government of ARENA now accepts, without batting an eye, that the levels of violence in El Salvador are alarming and that, as a consequence, it is necessary for the authorities to work hard to deal with the problem; on the other, private enterprise, through ANEP, has not only demonstrated its concern for the wave of kidnappings and robberies which have affected various of its members, but have cried out for the revision of the new penal code, which, in the opinion of ANEP, shows favoritism to criminals.
Until a few weeks ago, the Government of the Republic as well as ANEP had not taken up the topic of violence as a problem of significant magnitude. For various different reasons, they have been obliged to change their attitude. Before anything else, for the government it has become politically uncomfortable to insist on the successes of the post-war period, especially those which signaled peaceful coexistence among Salvadorans when the press and news media were printing daily reports of the most brutal acts of violence and institutions such as the Univesidad Centroamericana "Jose Simeon Canas" revealed figures which presented the country as one of the most violent in Latin America.
The UCA, more than any other institution, was difficult for the Armando Calderon Sol administration to handle, given that UCA investigations on violence not only present solid fundamental and empirical analyses, but their publication within the country and abroad were inevitable. The government was left with only two options: to actively reject the results of the university investigation or accept the challenges which the findings themselves posed. As absurd as it may seem, it was the first option which was imposed and which dominated the scene during the various months which it took the government to position itself to confront the topic of violence. In the about-face taken during recent weeks, the Calderon Sol administration has taken steps backwards in publicly accepting something which political and academic sectors were already fully aware of: that violence constitutes a national problem of primary importance. With its about-face, the government, although a bit tardy, has synchronized itself more
ANEP has now focussed its gaze on the topic of violence in the same measure in which it itself has been directly affected in the persons of various of the businessmen members of the guild. The concern of the businessmen's guild, then, is not owing primarily to a commitment with the forward movement of the nation, but rather responds more to the immediate interest of the businessmen in safeguarding its own personal integrity and that of its goods, which organized crime is currently focussing in on. For certain, the fact that ANEP has introduced into its agenda discussions with the government on the topic of violence is an advance over the situation of the recent past, in which ANEP appeared not to have given the appropriate importance and relevance to the problem. Nevertheless, the way which ANEP has taken up the problem presents inconvenient aspects as well. Among these inconvenient aspects, there are two which should be given special emphasis: (a) to focus the debate on violence exclusively with rega
However all this may be, the UCA opened the way for dealing with the topic of violence. Now the government and ANEP have incorporated it into their respective agendas. It remains to be seen whether joint and coordinated work among the three formations might be hoped for. This in order to continue advancing in the analytical comprehension and practical treatment of the problem.
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