Thursday, September 23, 2004

Post misses the story on gangs

I guess I should pay more attention when the Washington Post comes to town. Last week, Mary Jordan wrote about gang violence in El Salvador, in the aftermath of a bloody prison riot in August.

To me, it's pretty much the same-old-same story, and adds nothing new. However, the Post should have been better in one respect. About the anti-gang laws, she wrote this:
Governments across the region have adopted popular get-tough measures against gangs, including laws that make it easy for police to detain people with telltale tattoos. Critics said such methods, some of which have been ruled unconstitutional, had not stopped the gangs, but rather forced them to disperse to rural areas and to other countries.
The problem is --and I can't believe that even the government minister she interviewed failed to mention this, or perhaps they did-- that Jordan fails to note the first and most important accomplishment of the Saca administration, namely, the consensual process in which a new anti-gang law was developed in June and July, with the participation of all political parties and key civil society groups. This is something not to be frowned upon -- or ignored -- and sets a tone for a different way of governing. No one is currently criticizing the law, for that reason. FESPAD's criticisms are quite outdated. It wouldn't have required much effort to figure this out.

UPDATE: After talking to someone, a couple of additional notes. First, the process by which a new law was written in July apparently wasn't exactly done by "consensus," since votes were taken. It probably couldn't have been done otherwise. Second, I understand a new "mesa" that was set up to discuss the penitenciary system--in light of the recent uprising and other problems-- is not really a roundtable discussion, but rather a series of bilateral meetings with different sectors. The possible conclusion to be drawn from the implementation of this new mechanism is that the government may have felt that they didn't get everything they wanted in the previous process, and that a new system -- one in which they could exercise greater control -- should be tried.

Nevertheless, all agree that the process instituted by Saca was a qualitative step forward from the previous governing posture of President Flores.


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