No Place to Hide: Gang, State, and Clandestine Violence in El Salvador

No Place to Hide: Gang, State, and Clandestine Violence in El Salvador


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No Place to Hide: Gang, State, and Clandestine Violence in El Salvador by Laura Pedraza Fariña, Spring Miller, James L. Cavallaro, S. Miller

Almost two decades after the civil war in El Salvador came to an end, violence and insecurity continue to shape the daily lives of many Salvadorans. Much of this violence stems from the proliferation of youth gangs, insufficient and abusive state responses to gangs, and the crimes of clandestine groups.

In the midst of this social and political conflict, individual Salvadorans living in poor and marginalized communities have no place to hide: they are targeted by violent actors on all sides. Young people and other residents of areas with a gang presence, active gang members, and inactive gang members are targeted for threats, abuses, and even killings by gangs, police, and clandestine actors like death squads. No Place to Hide examines the phenomenon of youth gangs and documents human rights violations associated with gang violence and Salvadoran governmental responses to it. The book complements its analysis of gang, state, and clandestine violence in El Salvador with narrative excerpts from interviews with victims and witnesses.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780979639531
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication date: 05/01/2010
Series: International Human Rights Program Practice Series , #3
Pages: 236
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Laura Pedraza Fariña is a Research Fellow at Georgetown University Law Center.

Spring Miller is a Researcher at the International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School.

James L. Cavallaro is Clinical Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments v

Executive Summary vii

Methodology xi

Chapter I The History of Violence in El Salvador 1

A Brief Overview of the Salvadoran Civil War 5

Chapter II The Aftermath of the War: A Culture of Impunity and Ineffective Institutions 11

A Lack of Judicial Independence 12

1 Initial Efforts: The Post-War Reconstruction Period 12

2 Current Efforts and Challenges 17

a) Judicial Interpretation and Application of the 2003 Anti-Gang Law 20

b) The Organized and Complex Crimes Law and the Creation of Specialized Tribunals 25

c) Ordinary and Expert Witness Protection Measures 28

d) Proceedings to Strip Judges of Immunity from Criminal Prosecution 30

B Failure to Build Effective Police Institutions in El Salvador 35

C Failures of the Prison System 44

Chapter III The Gang Phenomenon in El Salvador 49

A The Emergence of Youth Gangs 50

B How Gangs Function Today: From Small, Independent Clikas to Sophisticated National Structures 56

1 Sophisticated Organizational Structure 57

2 Power 68

3 Violence 71

a) Entry into the Gang 72

b) Gang Life and Barriers to Leaving the Gang 77

c) Women and Gang Violence 81

C Targets of Gang Violence 88

1 Those Who Oppose Gangs 88

a) Those Who Refuse to Join Gangs 89

b) Those Who Try to Leave a Gang 92

c) Other People Targeted for Living in the Same Territory as Gangs or Refusing to Comply with Gang Demands 96

2 Killings of Suspected Gang Members by Rival Gangs 99

Chapter IV State Responses to Crime/Gang Phenomenon 107

A Direct State Responses to Violence 108

1 Legislative Background 108

a) The Anti-Gangs Act and the April 2004 Supreme Court Ruling 110

b) Súper Mano Dura 115

c) Victim and Witness Protection Law 117

d) Anti-Terrorism Law 124

e) Organized and Complex Crimes Law 126

f) Reform of the Criminal Process Code 129

2 Institutionalized Discrimination Against Targeted Groups, Including Tattoed Persons and Youth 132

3 Police Violence and Arbitrary Arrests 135

4 Prison Overcrowding and Violence 148

5 Targeted Law Enforcement Efforts Aimed at Deportees 154

B Secondary State Responses to the Gang Phenomenon: Impunity 157

1 Failure to Ensure Public Security/Provide Effective Protection 158

2 Lack of Effective Witness Protection 160

3 Persistent Impunity: The State's Failure to Investigate and Prosecute 164

C Relationship between Political Polarization and Violence in El Salvador 166

1 July 5, 2006 Protests, the Anti-Terrorism Law, and its Aftermath: The Apopa, San Salvador, and Suchitoto Cases 168

a) July 5, 2006 Protests 168

b) The Anti-Terrorism Law: Street Vendors in Apopa and San Salvador 171

c) The Anti-Terrorism Law and Suchitoto's Water Rights Protest 173

2 Conflating Political Opposition, Gangs, and Terrorism 177

3 Pre-Election Violence 178

D Victims' Narratives of State Violence 181

1 Targeting of Actual and Alleged Gang Members 181

a) Police Harassment and Violence Against Suspected Gang Members 183

b) Targeting of Suspected Gang Members for Discrimination in School Enrollment and Employment 192

c) Persons Deported from the United States 193

Chapter V Clandestine Violence 197

A Indications of Extrajudicial Killings and the Apparent Re-Emergence of Death Squads 200

B Organized Crime 217

Index: Proper Names 221

Index: List of Places 222

Index: List of Organizations 223


Figure 1a El Salvador Homicide Rate by Year and Gender 4

Figure 1b El Slavador 2007 Homicides by Age Group and Gender 4

Figure 2a Institutions Responsible for Deficiencies in Prosecutor's and Judicial Case Files 42

Figure 2b Prosecutorial and Police Deficiencies in Prosecutor's Case Files 43

Figure 3 Salvadorans Deported from the United States by Criminal Status 53

Figure 4 Violent Acts Directed Against Gang Members in 1999, by Gender 83

Figure 5 Type of Aggressor by Victim's Gender, 1999 84

Figure 6 Complaints Received by the Human Rights Ombudsperson, 2007 145

Figure 7a Initial Assignment of Responsibility for Human Rights Violations, 2007 145

Figure 7a Final Assignment of Responsibility for Human Rights Violations, 2007 146

Figure 8 Pamphlets Distributed in the Town of Chalchuapa Instituting a 10:00pm Curfew 204


Table 1 Youth and Non-Youth Homicide Rates 3

Table 2 Executive Influence on Judicial Decision-Making, Survey of Judicial Perceptions 19

Table 3 Gang-Related Legislation 110

Table 4 Killings with a Possible Political Motive, 2006-2008 212

Highlight Boxes

The March of the Judges 33

Mass Arrests at the San Bartolo Parish 140

A Peaceful Riot 152

The Suchitoto Case 175

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