The Drug War and the Caravan

lunes, 19 de noviembre de 2018


By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

CNN’s Jim Acosta used his physical advantage as a man over a female White House intern last week when he didn’t want to give up the microphone during a Trump press conference. It’s a good thing the lady was well-mannered, or there might have been a brawl.

In an age of heightened awareness about respect for women, Mr. Acosta’s boorish behavior was tone-deaf-or perhaps simply revealing. It left me wondering if all the gushing about equality for the sisterhood is merely political. (Irony alert.)

Speaking of phony outrage, the Jim Acosta Show also featured his disagreement with Mr. Trump over the nature of the Central American caravan. The reporter’s sympathy for the migrants is touching. But it is less convincing when you consider the silence of the press in the pre-Trump days, when Washington was aiding and abetting the disintegration of rule of law in the home countries of the migrants.

As the Journal’s Robbie Whelanreported Nov. 3, El Salvador estimates that the gang known as MS-13 now “operates an extortion racket with little pressure from authorities in 248 of the 262 of the country’s municipalities.” Its chief rival, Barrio 18, “runs its own protection scheme in nearly as many regions.” In other words, most of the country is now ruled by transnational criminal networks that terrorize the population.

El Salvador has long complained about the U.S. deportation of convicted Los Angeles gang members, the children of Salvadorans who fled the country’s 12-year civil war during the 1980s and early ’90s. When MS-13 and Barrio 18 deportees arrived back in El Salvador after the war ended, they confronted a young democracy with weak institutions.

The mobsters didn’t gain power overnight; in the ’90s the violence was not yet a crisis. But there is a high demand for recreational cocaine in the U.S., and as any first-year economics student can tell you, under prohibition that creates a healthy cash flow for entrepreneurs. When trafficking routes shifted from the Caribbean to Central America, the Salvadoran gangs gained power.
Reportedly the preferred route for trafficking drugs to the U.S. from South America is now Honduras, causing crime there to soar. MS-13 and other Salvadoran hoodlums didn’t quit when the routes went east. Instead they launched Honduran subsidiaries while diversifying into other trades at home.
Salvadoran law enforcement now seems helpless to defend against systemic shakedowns, the forced recruitment of youngsters, the killing of those who resist, and thriving kidnapping and car-theft businesses. One seasoned journalist there told me: “The gang identifies the kid it wants. Either he joins or he is killed or his family has to move. In very few cases is he allowed not to join if he doesn’t want to.”

In the early stages of gang expansion, the Salvadoran government may not have recognized the threat. In July 2003 President Francisco Flores, of the center-right Arena party, launched a comprehensive plan to combat it, with some success.

President Tony Saca, also of Arena, took office in June 2004 and crime picked up again during his notoriously crooked government. Still the George W. Bush administration favored Mr. Saca, presumably because he kept Salvadoran troops in Iraq and mouthed support for the war on drugs. In September he was convicted of embezzlement and money laundering.

The (former guerrilla) FMLN party, in power since 2009, has taken things from bad to catastrophic. Crime groups have helped it win elections, and the U.S. has not objected to its assaults on judicial independence. I reported on this in 2013, when the FMLN’s manipulation of justice was so clear that even Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahyobjected to further U.S. aid. But the Obama administration insisted on continued financing, which helped the FMLN win a second term.

In October, the FMLN government’s key “mediator” of a truce with MS-13 and Barrio 18 was sentenced to 13 years in prison for aggravated extortion and complicity with the gangs.

Restoring security in El Salvador is crucial to addressing the migration crisis. Step one is to admit that the war on drugs is doomed to failure in the face of unabated American drug consumption and U.S. government funding for corruptos. But the main burden for reform rests on El Salvador itself. It needs to reclaim public spaces by re-establishing the presence of the state in neighborhoods run by gangs. Better policing requires rebuilding trust between communities and law enforcement.

This calls for political will and the right support from the U.S. Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe had that support and managed to reclaim his country. But as it stands now, the migrants are merely pawns in a right-left struggle north of the border. Maybe CNN could send Mr. Acosta to San Salvador for a closer look, warning him that drug traffickers are a lot more dangerous than White House interns.

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