El Salvador is a territory of displaced people

Thousands of people have been displaced due to violence in Salvadoran territory. This report, built on the basis of an alliance between journalists from Revista Factum and El Diario de Hoy, with the support of the Gabo Foundation, reveals that harsh reality.

The internally displaced persons in El Salvador have a young face, with families just started, children still young. Sometimes they live with their older relatives. They reside in the municipalities on the outskirts of the capital, in the most populous neighborhoods, in the so-called “dormitory cities.”

They work in the private sector, such as maquilas, customer service. Or sometimes in government entities. Your options to resolve an emergency flight are to go to the State, or to a handful of organizations that deal with the phenomenon. Both with few resources.

Before internal forced displacement was recognized in El Salvador as a phenomenon resulting from violence, the Penal Code of this country already stipulated a crime that succinctly described the life experience of people who had to flee to stay alive: the illegal limitation of free movement.

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In June 2016, the Legislative Assembly incorporated this figure as a crime and established variable penalties depending on the seriousness of the circumstance. If a person is prevented from leaving or staying in a place, through threats or violence, the penalty reaches up to eight years in prison. If the threats are carried out by two or more people, the penalty increases to 10 years. But when the result is abandoning the place of residence, the sentence could be up to 12 years in prison.

A year later, the Salvadoran congress added one more reform to the recently approved crime: if the limitation was caused by a public official, whether he was in office or not, the prison sentence would rise to 15 years. That is to say: although the government of Salvador Sánchez Cerén (2014-2019) systematically refused to recognize the hundreds of families that had to leave their homes under threats, there was a legal mea culpa of the problem and who were its main actors. The gangs and the representatives of the authority on the ground, the Police and the Armed Forces.

From the government, then, displacement was called “human mobility” or “internal mobility” and attributed it to a multiplicity of factors, such as the search for a better quality of life or other situations of their own free will. The Ministry of Justice even worked on a report called: “Characterization of internal mobility due to violence in El Salvador.”

Since forced displacement was not considered a crime before, there are no official data that help to know how the phenomenon evolved; although various organizations agree that it has been happening for many years.

In recent years, when cases of displacement began to be reported more publicly, the victims also had to bear the surrealism of the matter: the Police were not capable of providing security so they would not have to leave their homes and save their lives, but they did He helped them get out safely.

Resident of the Pajales de Panchimalco canton, where his neighbors have left the place. EDH Photo / Jessica Orellana

A request for information that this medium submitted to the National Civil Police (PNC) on the complaints and attention to families who fled their homes in the last five years, related to the crime of illegal limitation of free movement, gives an idea of ​​the dimension of the phenomenon and how displacements have been occurring. Two other requests for information asked about the data of those detained for this crime.

The most complete response covers the data from 2016 to June 2021. A new request for access to public information, which included the information from July 2021 to July 2022, was answered concisely by the Police: no more than the total number of complaints, nor details of places, municipalities, number of victims or dates, as requested, alleging that it is “reserved” information.

Interviews were also requested with the Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security to gain insight into this phenomenon, but those in charge of the respective communications departments only read the messages and did not reply.

Since Nayib Bukele assumed the presidency of El Salvador (2019), public institutions have constantly restricted access to data that, according to the Law on Access to Public Information (Laip), are of a public nature. Some lawyers and organizations have accused this government of abusing information reserves.

The Salvadoran government has chosen to declare confidential even the statistics of crimes such as femicides, information related to Covid-19 vaccines, purchases made by the State with public funds of Bitcoin cryptocurrency, among others.

Despite the opacity of the data, it is possible to get an idea of ​​the incidence of forced displacement in the country. Civil society organizations that are dedicated to providing care to victims of this phenomenon, such as Cristosal and the Passionist Social Service, assure that the reported cases are minimal. Most of the victims just run away without telling anyone. For terror.

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The constitutional sentence that ordered the Salvadoran State to recognize the phenomenon of internal forced displacement, as well as its victims of July 2018, gave the State a period of six months to set up a bureaucratic infrastructure to provide care to the victims, as well as recognize them officially.

Some of those steps began to take place. But the arrival of Bukele to the Presidency has made it even more difficult for the victims to preserve the little attention achieved. The regulation has not yet been implemented and the budget of the Victims Unit has been reduced.

The paradox that leads the besieged to ask the Police for help to get out of their guarded homes in a safe way, means that this entity has the data that comes closest to describing the phenomenon. Between 2016 and June 2021, it provided protection in 4,038 cases of forced displacement, under the official name of “illegal limitation of circulation.” This is not the total number of victims. Some events can accumulate more than one casualty. There are some, even, that list up to 15 victims. Others, many, strangely, zero victims.

El Salvador is a territory of displaced people