In recent weeks, El Salvador has seen a disturbing rise in threats and insinuations against those who would insist on exposing the truth, or advocating a path other than the government’s open fire approach to combating the gangs:
- Journalists at El Faro have received threats and report being followed following their reporting on police abuses in torturing detainees and extra-judicial killings. Some of the reporters for the periodical left the country for their own safety.
- Pastor Mario Vega of the ELIM evangelical mega-church in El Salvador announced that he had been receiving death threats for his criticisms of the government’s approach to policing as being ineffective. Pastor Vega recently expressed his concern that a church evangelist had been arrested and held without charge because gang members attended a religious event she was holding in her house.
- The country’s attorney general attacked church leaders in the IPAZ movement who have been vocal critics of the government approach and asserted they were simply trying to enrich themselves with gang rehabilitation programs.
- Even an organization as respected as UNICEF, has been attacked by FMLN party officials for UNICEF’s public service campaign “No te indigna?” (Doesn’t it make you mad?) which highlights how violence threatens the lives of children in El Salvador. The FMLN asserts that this publicity campaign might discourage foreign investment by giving the country a bad public image.
- Anonymous comments posted to news websites about all of these topics have been filled with invective against anyone who would suggest an approach short of killing all the gang members or anyone who would criticize abuses by the police.
The danger of this single-minded “kill the bastards at all costs” atmosphere is that people look the other way when death squad vigilante killings occur. The human rights law firm FESPAD has noted that conditions have favored the growth of such “exterminations”. FESPAD expressed a concern that the current atmosphere leaves such killings in impunity, killings described in the mainstream press in El Salvador just as “confrontations” between security forces and gang members.