Democracy and rights

Abbreviated as SLV by Abbreviationfinder, El Salvador has a democratic governance in which elections are conducted under predominantly free and fair conditions. Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Constitution and there are independent media that relate critically to political actors. But widespread violent crime, corruption and weak institutions contribute to the democratic deficiencies.

Violence poses a difficult social problem that contributes to many Salvadorans moving away from the country (see Population and Languages). The widespread gang crime leaves traces in everyday life. Parts of the police force and military are also suspected of being responsible for some murders and disappearances in conjunction with corrupt politicians and businessmen.

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Organized crime affects both politics and the judiciary. In recent years, the fight against violent crime has contributed to a decrease in the murder rate, however, from one of the highest levels in the world (see Social conditions).

Dissatisfaction with the shortcomings of democracy has increased support for military rule in the country. It contributes to El Salvador losing ground in the rankings of political and civil rights. Nevertheless, El Salvador is better off than its nearest neighbors, even in the case of corruption. In Transparency International’s ranking of the world’s countries, El Salvador is ranked 113 out of 180 countries (the list is here).

Despite widespread impunity, three former Salvadoran presidents have in recent years been indicted for bribery. Prosecutions were first directed against Francisco Flores (President 1999-2004) who was suspected of receiving millions in aid from Taiwan, but kept the money for himself and for his party Arena (see Calendar). Flores was arrested but died in 2016 after a cerebral hemorrhage, before any trial could be held. Shortly thereafter, suspicions were also raised against Flore’s two successors, Arena President Antonio Saca and FMLN’s Mauricio Funes. In September 2018, Saca was sentenced to ten years in prison for fraud and money laundering and one year later for another two years (see Calendar here and here). Funes and his son have been sentenced to repay the million they were found to have stolen from the state, but both are on the run in Nicaragua (see Calendar here and here).

Freedom of expression and media

Journalists who report on sensitive topics such as corruption and violent crime risk themselves being subjected to harassment, threats and violence, and self-censorship occurs. Defamation can lead to fines and suspension, but since 2011 no longer to imprisonment. The same year also came a law to guarantee journalists access to public information. However, the authorities are often bad at following the law.

The media is dominated by a small group of private owners. There are no restrictions on access to the internet.

El Salvador ranks 74 out of 180 countries in 2020 on Reporters Without Borders index of freedom of the press in the world’s countries (see list here). This means that the country places itself much better than the other countries in the “Northern Triangle” that have similar violence problems: Guatemala and Honduras (on site 116 and 148).

Judicial system and legal security

Confidence in the judiciary is low, due to the corruption and lack of resources and impunity for the economic and political elite. Few crimes lead to prosecution.

The overcrowded prisons are a concern. According to official data, there are eight times more prisoners than prison places. Many people are locked up for a long time without getting any judgment. The prisons are characterized by violence and lack of personnel, food, water, medicines, and poor sanitary conditions. The Supreme Court found in 2016 that conditions had become so bad that it violated the Constitution. Gang leaders often continue to direct crimes from inside the prisons, sometimes with the help of prison guards. A large proportion of the inmates are gang members (see Social conditions).

Previously, prisoners from the two main gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, were held in separate prisons for the purpose of avoiding deadly violence in the prisons. But President Nayib Bukele, who took office in 2019, changed it with the motivation that it allowed the gang to introduce its own rules and take control of “their” prisons. Communication opportunities have been cut off, with interference from wifi signals and seizures of mobile phones. Bukele later decided that prisoners from rival gangs should be forced to share a cell.

The UN and human rights organizations have warned that the security measures taken against the gang since 2016 often lead to human rights violations. This applies, among other things, to long detention times in isolation and in inhumane conditions.

Post-war after the Civil War

As part of the 1992 peace agreement, an Ombudsman for Human Rights was established. A special prosecutor for human rights violations has also been set up. The Ombudsman receives numerous reports concerning the police accused of torture, assault and other abuse of power.

A UN-led Truth Commission set up after the 1992 peace agreement concluded that some 22,000 abuses were committed during the civil war of 1980-1992. More than half of the cases were extrajudicial executions and the rest disappearances and torture. According to the Commission, the state was behind 85 percent of the abuses. In 1993, the government passed an amnesty for these crimes, but in 2016 the Supreme Court ruled that the law violated the constitution. This opened an opportunity to prosecute human rights crimes committed during the war. In a couple of cases where both perpetrators and victims were resident in the United States, the perpetrators in court have been forced to pay damages to the victims.

The Truth Commission has also found that members of the Arena and military leadership were ultimately responsible for the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero (see Calendar) and the 1989 assassinations of six Jesuit priests (see Calendar). Two people were sentenced to prison in 1991 for committing the Jesuit murders, but they were released two years later with the support of the amnesty law. No one has been convicted in El Salvador, but in Spain there is a legal aftermath (five of the priests were Spaniards).

During his presidency, Mauricio Funes acknowledged the role of the state in the assassinations of both Romero and Jesuit priests. In late 2011, an apology also came from the government for a massacre in the village of El Mozote in 1981, when more than 1,000 people were killed (see Calendar).

El Salvador Crime Rate & Statistics

El Salvador Democracy and Rights
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