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A Gang-tainted Democracy?

Central American News
A Gang-tainted Democracy?
By Central American News • Issue #110 • View online

Dear Readers,
Last Thursday, news outlet El Faro released evidence that the government of Nayib Bukele, like former governments, secretly negotiated with the MS-13 gang in prison. This allegedly resulted in prison privileges and programs for MS-13 along with a drop in homicides in the country. It appears to have worked for now: El Salvador has seen its homicide rate plummet in the past year. Nayib Bukele denied the allegations.
People discussed whether this kind of “truce” is morally acceptable – indeed, perhaps negotiation is the only way to heal the country.
Yet, the government would not have only negotiated for fewer murders. It would also have appealed to the MS-13 for electoral support for Bukele’s party – Nuevas Ideas – for the 2021 elections.
El Salvador’s democracy is at risk, again. Can elections be truly free and fair if a powerful gang favors one party over others?
This has not been discussed in the op-eds and other commentary I’ve read, yet it is fundamental to take into consideration.
Negotiation for less violence is not the same as negotiating for votes.
The intention of the first could be for the public’s interest. The intention of the latter – using the gang as a tool – is undoubtedly for Bukele’s own interest.
Happy newsletter reading and see you next week.
PS: We are looking for a volunteer news correspondent for Panama (2h/week)! Please reply if you are interested in joining the team.
Photo of the week
Osiris Luna Meza, Director of Penal Centers, during a visit to the Izalco Penitentiary Center, in the department of Sonsonate, on April 27, 2020 That morning, Luna Meza announced the mixing of opposing gangs in the prisons as a plan to reduce homicides. Photo from El Faro: Víctor Peña
Osiris Luna Meza, Director of Penal Centers, during a visit to the Izalco Penitentiary Center, in the department of Sonsonate, on April 27, 2020 That morning, Luna Meza announced the mixing of opposing gangs in the prisons as a plan to reduce homicides. Photo from El Faro: Víctor Peña
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Central America
 Remittances : During the height of the pandemic, there was a significant drop in remittances to Latin America, especially to Central American countries
 Andres Guardado: Whistleblower from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department claims that the police officer who murdered Salvadoran American youth Andres Guardado was a prospective member of an internal gang of police who kill civilians as an initiation.
 Tropical Storm Nana: Nana impacted Belize and Guatemala, bringing torrents of rain. There have been no reports of deaths or injuries. 18,865 Guatemalans were affected.// Nana has not caused major damage in Honduras, but certain areas in the country have been flooded.

 Hurricane Laura: After Hurricane Laura, detained migrants at Louisiana detention centers report unlivable conditions after the hurricane’s devastation. 
 Migrant Struggles: The Trump administration aims to expand the collection of biometric data of immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship. // As the U.S. government creates barriers for asylum, asylum seekers are increasingly requesting asylum in Mexico
 ICE & Border Patrol: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted a mass operation to arrest 2,000 migrants between July and August. // Migrant justice organizations and organizers pressured ICE’s Citizen Academy to postpone opening the civilian immigration enforcement. // Documents reveal that Border Patrol did not test any detainees for COVID-19 this past spring as coronavirus spread in immigrant detentions. // Border Patrol produced a dramatized video that shows a Spanish-speaking immigrant killing a white American, drawing criticism that the agency is spreading fear of migrants. 
Court Rulings: A federal judge ruled that U.S. Customs and Border Protections agents are not adequately trained to conduct initial asylum screenings. // Federal judge ruled that the Trump administration must stop holding migrant children in hotels as part of a secretive system to expel migrants without due process. 

 COVID-19: There are over 1,000 confirmed active cases in Belize. // The national State of Emergency has expired, and the country resumes with lax quarantine protocols, including removing the curfew and lifting the lockdown in San Pedro, though the Ministry of Health continues to ask the public to stay home. 
 Repatriation During COVID-19: A repatriated Belizean spoke about their experience returning to Belize through the international airport.

Costa Rica  
 IDB Presidency: Costa Rican Ex-President Laura Chinchilla announced that she will withdraw her candidacy for the presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) because COVID-19 measures do not allow for debates and because the U.S. presented a candidate when, according to her, is against the rules (this claim is not supported by the IDB rules, however).
 Economy: On Saturday, the government of Costa Rica requested financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for $1.75 billion to help offset the economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
 Digital Platforms: Beginning on October 1st, dozens of digital platforms such as Netflix, Spotify, Uber, and AirBnB will be subjected to a 13% value added tax (VAT) in Costa Rica, which will increase the price of these services. 

El Salvador
 Gang Politics: News outlet El Faro reports that government officials with the Nayib Bukele administration have been negotiating with MS13 gang leaders for a reduction in homicides and electoral support in exchange of prison benefits. Bukele sarcastically denied the allegations. The attorney general’s office announced the start of an investigation
Police Raid: Salvadoran authorities arrested 33 members of MS13 for their alleged role in the disappearances of 25 people who went missing between 2016 and 2019. Attorney general Raúl Melara says 28 accomplices are also being apprehended. 
 Women, Overworked: A survey led by Plan International El Salvador shows that working hours for Salvadoran women has increased during the pandemic. The survey also validates a hypothesis that gendered violence is more prevalent during the quarantine. 
Suspension Denied: A civil court denied the suspension of a corruption case against former president of the Legislative Assembly Sigfrido Reyes. Reyes, an ex-combatant with the left-wing FMLN during the civil war, is accused of using public funds for personal gain.

Attacks Against Journalists: Four female journalists from Nomada denounced that for nine months they were virtually attacked for their journalistic reporting, especially on issues of justice, corruption, and sexual harassment. According to the Public Ministry and the Association of Journalists of Guatemala, there have been 43 attacks against journalists from January to June of this year.
COVID-19: More than 10,000 Guatemalans have been deported from the United States and Mexico during the COVID-19 pandemic, many without the option to appeal their cases or go through the immigration process. 

COVID-19: Specialists say that the government is not conducting enough tests to accurately determine the phase of the pandemic. While there has been a reduction of cases in urban centers, other areas in the country continue to have an increase in cases, with the likelihood of a second outbreak given the gradual re-opening of the economy. 
 Garifuna: Protests took place in Tegucigalpa demanding the State clarify the disappearances of 5 Garifuna men from Triunfo de la Cruz nearly 50 days ago.
 Environmental justice: Community organizations urged the State to sign and ratify the Escazú Agreement, considered the most important regional pact on justice in environmental matters in Latin America. 
Elections: In two weeks, primary elections will be convened in Honduras. The new Electoral Law will be discussed this week, but there has been no consensus on electoral reforms yet, causing uncertainty given the post-electoral crisis in the 2017 elections.  

Managua: The Mayor’s Office of Managua imposed “exorbitant” and “illegal” fines worth millions of cordobas to more than 200 companies in order to increase local tax collection and/or criminally pursue heads of companies. Some of these companies had been previously shut down by Ortega’s government. At the same time, the mayor’s secretary gave “simplified contracts” to other 55 companies worth 48 million dollars.
Caribbean: Several Ministries are allocating state resources to works that promote human settlements in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, an autonomous Indigenous region. Indigenous people are being displaced by settler, who are “former military men who have been illegally occupying indigenous territories for the exploitation of timber, mining, African palm monoculture and livestock.” // The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) called on Nicaragua to address a “severe problem” of malaria in the Caribbean area.
US Migration Policies: Seven members of the U.S. Congress asked President Trump to stop deporting Nicaraguan asylum seekers. The deportations occur despite reports that several deportees were victims of imprisonment and torture by Ortega’s regime. // Presidential candidate Joe Biden tweeted his support for Nicaraguan asylum seekers. 
Army’s bank: Nicaraguan Army sold its shares it had in Banco de Finanzas for $19 million dollars. Analysts presume that it’s because businesspeople are afraid of being linked to Ortega’s armed forces and negative image abroad.

COVID-19: Panama is participating in a global clinical study for COVID-19 vaccines and collaborating with the German group CureVac. Panama will begin this study with 250 participants in voluntary studies across the country.
 Police Abuse: Public Defender Eduardo Leblanc González investigates a case about a female couple who was arrested and fined for “disrespecting the police guard” when they kissed inside their car. In a press release, Leblanc González announced that “this type of action cannot continue to take place in the country.“
 Martinelli Brothers Extradited: After being in jail for two months in Guatemala, two sons of former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal will be extradited to the United States. The brothers face charges of money laundering and bribery that could result in forty to fifty years of prison. 

Our COVID-19 Map
Our interactive COVID-19 Map for all seven countries in Central America
Our interactive COVID-19 Map for all seven countries in Central America

Good Reads
📌 3 Dirty Secrets: A recap on the negotiations between Nayib Bukele’s government and MS-13, also explaining how these practices are not new for Bukele, nor for Salvadoran parties in general. (Insight Crime)
📌Pharmaceutical Hub in Panama: Pharmaceutical research sector in Panama faces limited economic resources and professional academic training, but there are advances and projects underway such as the establishment of a pharmaceutical hub in the country (La Estrella Panama).
📌Who Gets Asylum?: The asylum system has always been wrought with inequity and bias for the country of origin of asylum seekers, even before Trump (Los Angeles Times).
📌Appropriation: Against the demands of local scientists and indigenous communities, U.S. archeologist Richard Hansen seeks to privatize a Maya ancestral site for tourism and conservation (NACLA).
📌 Pupusas for a Life: Undocumented Central Americans in Washington D.C. have turned to entrepreneurship and selling pupusas to make ends meet as the pandemic has impacted their economic stability (Washington City Paper).
Honduras's environmental fight
Photo from the Guapinol Community, Honduras, where mining company " Inversiones Los Pinares" settled in, despite the rejection of the population.
Photo from the Guapinol Community, Honduras, where mining company " Inversiones Los Pinares" settled in, despite the rejection of the population.
Central American Voices & Studies
Panamanian in Russia
✍️ A Central American Editorial Voice: Izote Press aims to put Central American writers and voices on the literary map! Check out their writers and publications.
🎥 Virtual Gardens: In El Salvador, community members have started “virtual gardens” to remember and grieve victims of COVID-19 (Jardín).
✍️ Guatemala: In the report “Mining Injustice Through International Arbitration,” researchers investigate how communities have resisted the imposition and aggression of gold-ming project Kappes, Cassiday & Associates in Guatemala.
Let’s celebrate #IndigenousWomen’s Day  through this playlist, curated by Sara Curruchich.
Voces de Mujeres Indígenas IXOQI' - playlist by Sara Curruchich | Spotify
🎙️ Reveal: This podcast episode focuses on Iván Velásquez, “known for jailing presidents and paramilitaries”, linking it to Guatemala’s political and migratory relationship with the U.S. (Reveal)
🎥 “Escuela para migrantes:” How an activist in Mexico is ensuring migrant children in the U.S.-Mexico border are receiving academic classes and support (Telemundo).
🎥 Virtual Workshop: Organized Communities Against Deportation facilitated a virtual workshop about the history of U.S. deportation practices.
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The Team
Melissa Vida, Founder, Editor-in-Chief // Rodrigo Peñalba, Editor & Nicaragua News // Melissa Orellana, Editor // Jonathan Peraza Campos, Migration News // José Martínez, Podcast Producer, Social Media Officer // Natalie Leach, Social Media Officer // Cecilia Rivas, Podcast Co-host // Isabeau J. Belisle Dempsey, Belize News // Rachel Osorio, Costa Rica News // Pablo Arauz Peña, El Salvador News // Jalileh García, Honduras News // Nansi Rodríguez, Guatemala News // Fátima Ramírez, Panama News // Nicole Ramsey, Writer // Jacqui Martinez, Guest Art Curator
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