Friday, April 13, 2012

Signs of stress and distress

I get a Google alert on El Salvador each day - basically an updated clipping service, with links to news items in English that mention El Salvador.  Usually it's mainly soccer news and stories about Salvadoran immigrants living in the U.S.   Today's alert, though, led to two startling and disquieting stories.  First, a story in reported a poll of how people in countries all across the world rated their lives.  Participants were asked to rate their current lives and what they thought their lives would be like five years from now on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best life that person could imagine.  Those who rated their current lives and prospective lives at 4 or below were classified as "suffering": the other possibilities were "thriving" and "struggling."  I was shocked to learn that El Salvador followed Bulgaria, Yemen and Armenia as the country with the 4th highest level of "suffering" with 33% of the respondents reporting that level of pessimism.  What was even more surprising was that the other Central America countries, where violence, impunity, and lack of opportunity are just as strong, registered much lower levels of "suffering," and that no other Central American country was among the 20 with the highest level of suffering.

On the other hand, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras all registered steep increases in the level of suffering over the past year - in Salvador, 24% more responded as suffering than a year ago.  That makes more sense: the drug trafficking and gang violence that has struck all three countries in Central America, the level of murder, extortion, and unchecked criminal activity coupled with lack of trust of the police and judicial systems, means that people live with constant fear, stress and uncertainty about their own most basic safety.

That was the other disquieting article in today's clutch of stories: an article by Hannah Stone in In Sight - Organized Crime in the Americas about El Salvador's failure to move on police reform.  While the murder rate has dropped significantly since a gang truce that was apparently mediated by the Catholic Church, the government has taken no significant steps to really reform or police the police.  I know from my Salvadoran friends that many do not trust the police, that they will not take extorsion attempts to the police, and that they believe many police are allied with the gangs.  As the In Sight article details, police members have been credibly accused of beating people up, torture and even murder.  I also know some policemen and women who are good and decent people.  They deserve, as do all Salvadorans, a real effort to curb violence and intimidation.  And then hope could grow.

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