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El Salvador - Corruption

Life in El Salvador is cheap and murder is sewn into the fabric of society. Killing someone is like killing a chicken. Gang violence is one of the defining features of life in El Salvador today. El Salvador is counted among the world's most dangerous nations. Awash with weapons and torn apart by the internecine struggles of rival criminal gangs, the country is experiencing violence at levels unseen since the aftermath of its long and brutal civil war. The notorious MS-13 gang rules the roost through fear and terror. With an estimated 60,000 "soldiers" nationwide - many of them bearing distinctive tattoos to mark their allegiance - and more than half a million affiliates, from lookouts to family members, MS-13 claims to both protect its own and look after the interests of the economically marginalised. According to online digital newspaper El Faro, 70 percent of businesses in El Salvador have to pay extortion money to MS-13 or the Barrio 18 Gang. Their tentacles stretch across all aspects of society.

While the state struggles to find an effective law enforcement and judicial solution to the problem - the Salvadoran authorities have tried the iron fist of military force, prosecuting gangs into oblivion and even, briefly and unsuccessfully, negotiation - things have become so bad that others have started taking matters into their own hands by forming vigilante groups and tracking down and murdering gang members who are threatening their community.

A death squad, called Los Exterminio, came to prominence in the summer of 2015. Assisted by police and financed by local businessmen, they want respite from life under the shadow of MS-13. Desperate and defiant people who have lost all faith in the authorities, they are filling the lawless vacuum created by a lack of police response.

The problem of corruption was not perceived as a serious matter for most Salvadoran citizens. A comparison with the other countries in the region included in a 2006 round of studies indicated that El Salvador was not among the countries showing the highest levels of corruption. On the contrary, El Salvador was among the countries where corruption is least prevalent. Only Panama, Colombia, and Chile showed lower levels in 2006.

Numerous public opinion polls reveal that corruption is perceived as a problem of lesser importance than issues such as crime and the economy. Furthermore, one study of corruption in El Salvador found that a sizable portion of the population, mainly those with less formal education and fewer resources, do not even have a clear idea of what corruption or the lack of transparency in public proceedings means.51 When asked what corruption means, more than 25% of the respondents said that corruption is linked to criminality, lack of public safety, and gangs. Some respondents went as far as to say that corruption of a problem of sexual morality.

The most common experiences with corruption in El Salvador during 2006 were: bribery in hospitals or clinics (6.7%); police demanding a mordida, (6.6%), bribery at city hall (6%), bribery at a school ,(3.4%), bribery as work (3.3%), a public employee demanding a mordida (2.5%), a mordida demanded in a court (2.4%) and paying a mordida to avoid having electricity disconnected (1.7%).

Corruption can be a challenge to investment in El Salvador. El Salvador ranks 72 out of 168 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions 2015 Index. El Salvador has laws, regulations and penalties to combat corruption, but their effectiveness is questionable. Soliciting, offering, or accepting a bribe is a criminal act in El Salvador. The Attorney General's Anticorruption and Complex Crimes Unit handles allegations of corruption against public officials. The Constitution establishes a Court of Accounts that is charged with investigating public officials and entities and, when necessary, passing such cases to the Attorney General for prosecution. Executive-branch employees are subject to a code of ethics, including administrative enforcement mechanisms, and the government established an Ethics Tribunal in 2006.

Corruption scandals at the federal, legislative, and municipal levels are commonplace and there have been credible allegations of judicial corruption. El Salvador has an active, free press that reports on corruption. Former president Francisco Paco Flores, charged with embezzlement and illicit enrichment for allegedly stealing $15.3 million, remained detained on house arrest in 2015. On 15 June 2015, the Institute for Social Democracy criticized the attorney general for failing to pursue adequately the prosecution of former president Flores on embezzlement charges. Flores was scheduled to have a case hearing before the First Appeals Court of San Salvador on 03 December 2015. On 05 September 2015, approximately 1,000 demonstrators in San Salvador called for an end to impunity and the creation of an international commission against impunity.

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The NGO Institute for Social Democracy stated that officials, particularly in the judicial system, often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.





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