AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Back to the Future in Chile and El Salvador?

In Chile, center-right Sebastián Piñera retakes the helm to replace center-left Michelle Bachelet as president on March 11. Meanwhile, El Salvador’s March 4 legislative and municipal elections saw conservatives picking up seats at the governing party’s expense. But, in both cases, to what degree did voters turn right and to what degree did they turn against the party in control?

In this episode of Latin America in Focus, AS/COA Online's Carin Zissis speaks to Héctor Silva Ávalos, founder of Revista Factum, about why El Salvador’s governing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front—the one-time guerilla group best known as the FMLN—lost a key number of legislative seats.

He says voters were disappointed with the FMLN’s handling of everything from violence to corruption to Washington’s cancellation of Temporary Protective Status for Salvadoran migrants. “What happened in general is that the FMLN hardcore voter didn’t go to vote,” says Silva Ávalos, who is also a researcher for American University and InSight Crime. He and Zissis discuss how the election made President Salvador Sánchez Cerén a lame duck and what the FMLN loss of the mayoralty of San Salvador indicates for next year’s presidential race.

As for Chile, Sebastián Piñera’s first 100 days in office will focus on pension, tax, and education reforms, political scientist Patricio Navia tells Elizabeth Gonzalez. But while the center-right leader’s coalition, Let’s Go Chile, gained the most seats in the congress, it fell short of a majority and will have to contend with an emerging leftist Broad Front. As such, Piñera is unlikely to backtrack on some of outgoing President Michelle Bachelet’s social reforms, including abortion and gender identity legislation. Navia, a professor at New York University also commented on Chileans’ consensus on reforming immigration law to better regulate an influx of Haitian migrants, as well as the chances of expanding regional trade ties depending on upcoming elections in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.

Co-hosted with Elizabeth Gonzalez.

U.S. News & World Report | Learning from a Troubled Gang Truce

A wave of Central American children crossing the U.S. border caused President Barack Obama to label the crisis an “urgent humanitarian situation” earlier this month. With more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors making the dangerous journey since October last year, the tide of migration also draws attention to the crisis these children leave behind. Most come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, a crime-addled area considered one of the most dangerous regions in the world.

But despite bleak crime figures, one country — El Salvador — experienced a notable drop in homicides after a 2012 gang truce. Over time, the agreement between the gangs Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 frayed and, last month, then-President Mauricio Funes declared the truce dead. His successor, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, has disavowed it as well. Still, the truce offers a chance to examine lessons learned in combating the violence leading young Central Americans to seek escape.

The agreement began in March 2012, when Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 leaders were transferred from maximum-security prisons to lowen security ones...

Read the full article in U.S. News & World Report's online opinion section.

AS/COA Online | El Salvador Update: Security Top Challenge as Sánchez Cerén Takes Office

Salvador Sánchez Cerén takes the helm as El Salvador’s new president on June 1, but his government will face the old problem of security as a major public concern. An uptick in violencemarked the period leading up to the former guerilla commander’s presidential inauguration. And although his soon-to-be-predecessor President Mauricio Funes leaves office with positive approval ratings, more than two-thirds of Salvadorans feel crime worsened under his watch.

Keeping a Gang Truce at Arm’s Length

For a period of Funes’ administration, El Salvador did see homicide rates drop. The national police reported that the murder rate decreased by 41 percent between 2012 and the prior year, and attributed the sharp decline to a truce between rival gangs Mara Salvatrucha (M-18) and Barrio 18. The agreement gained the support of the Organization of American States, while the Funes administration denied serving as an architect of the truce. But six months into the agreement, General and then-Justice Minister Munguía Payés admitted a direct role—though Funes continued to reject the idea that his government organized the deal, instead saying it served as a “facilitator.” Munguía Payés was removed from his post in May 2013 and, while total homicides remained lower in 2013 compared to 2012, the murder rate began to creep back up by the end of last year.
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AS/COA Online | El Salvador Prepares for a Close Presidential Competition

El Salvador's presidential candidates wrapped up their campaigns this week in preparation for the country's February 2 election. While there are several candidates in the running, the race is coming down to three main contenders. Who are they and can any of them get the required 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election on March 9? AS/COA Online takes a look at the election.

The Candidates...

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AS/COA Online | Honduras Follows In El Salvador’s Footsteps, Declares Gang Truce

Leaders of Honduras’ two largest and most dangerous gangs announced a truce today during press conferences held in a San Pedro Sula prison. “We ask society and authorities to forgive us for the damage we have done,” said the head of the Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, of the agreement forged with the 18th Street gang. Eight months in the making, the truce was mediated by Roman Catholic Bishop Romulo Emiliano, with the backing of the Organization of American States’ Secretary for Multidimensional Security Adam Blackwell. The Honduran president voiced his support on Monday. The deal gives a heavy nod to a gang truce negotiated last year in neighboring El Salvador. That truce led to a hefty reduction in homicides, an accomplishment that Honduras—with a murder rate 10 times the global average—hopes to emulate.

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AS/COA Online | Interview: El Salvador's Ambassador to the U.S. Rubén Zamora

“[W]e have started what we call the two-track policy—continuing with the fight against crime in the country by stage agencies, but at the same time, town by town, trying to develop conditions for preventing violence and reintegrating those people into society in a productive way.”

Appointed last month as the new Salvadoran ambassador in Washington, Rubén Zamora spoke with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis about the evolution of U.S.-Central American security policy in light of President Barack Obama’s recent trip to the region, saying: “Now the Obama administration is moving towards a more comprehensive approach, using the mantra, I would say, of partnership.” The ambassador also gave an overview of the Salvadoran government’s local strategies to drive down crime, as well as how to leverage initiatives such as the Partnership for Growth and CAFTA-DR. With a political career dating back to 1970, Zamora served twice as a legislative deputy in El Salvador’s National Assembly, was a member of the country’s Peace Commission, and ran, in 1994, as the first presidential candidate of the left’s coalition after the 1992 Peace Accords. More recently, he held the post of ambassador to India.

AS/COA Online: In light of U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent meeting with leaders in Costa Rica, including with President of El Salvador Mauricio Funes, what were some of the accomplishments? And what more do you think should have been done?

Ambassador Zamora: For us, the meeting between President Obama and the seven Central American and Caribbean head of states was important because we learned about U.S. foreign policy on Central America. The discussion was very frank among the presidents and it was clear for us—and this seems to me an important achievement—that President Obama clearly was for a more integrated approach to the question of security. That was one of the main issues in the talks among the heads of states. We had mostly been used to the United States insisting more and more on the question of controlling crime; that is necessary, but is very insufficient to achieve results. Now, it seems to me, Washington is having a more comprehensive, holistic approach to the problem that we are facing in Central America, both in terms of the crime and in terms of Central America being a region through which South American drugs travel to the United States.

AS/COA Online: In connection with that, I wanted to ask about CARSI [Central America Regional Security Initiative]. In March, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William R. Brownfield gave remarks at our organization, and he said: “What we are doing today is actually very different from what we thought we were going to be doing four years ago.” What do you think needs to happen to improve security cooperation on a regional level? And how would you suggest that CARSI could evolve further?

Zamora: The starting point now is that the best strategic view when it comes to security in Central America, especially in the northern part—that means Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—is that you have to attack the problem with a two or three-track policy. You cannot do it just with a single line of policy, or the tactic of controlling crime without addressing the question of the rehabilitation of gang members into mainstream society...

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AS/COA Online - Obama's Latin Spring

This article was co-authored with Roque Planas

U.S. President Barack Obama has never traveled to South America before, but the month of March will mark an uptick in Latin America-related meetings for him. On March 3, he hosts Mexican President Felipe Calderón at the White House. Then, from March 19 through 23, Obama heads to Brasilia to kick off a five-day trip that will also take him to Rio, Santiago, and San Salvador. AS/COA Online looks at the issues likely to be discussed when Obama meets with the presidents of Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador.
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FOXNews.com | Children in Camo: Underage Warriors Become Growing Concern

In the early 1980s, Oscar Torres (search) and the other boys in his neighborhood would clamber up to the corrugated tin roofs of their one-room shacks to hide from military officers, who forcibly recruited children as young as 12 years old to fight in El Salvador's civil war. Boys who did not become soldiers often fought for guerrilla forces.

"That was our daily life," recalls Torres, 34, who fled to the United States in 1984. "We didn't think it was anything extraordinary."

Two decades later, screenwriter Torres was initially reluctant when Mexican filmmaker Luis Mandoki encouraged him to co-write a script based on his war-torn childhood for the film "Innocent Voices," which is being released Friday in major U.S. cities.

"He asked me, 'Why me?'" said Mandoki. "But by the end he realized, 'It's not just about me.'"

Before the film's closing credits roll, statistics flash across the screen about child soldiers forced to fight for national militaries and rebel groups. Although more than 190 countries agree that a person legally becomes an adult at the age of 18, the United Nations estimates that 300,000 children under that age are engaged in as many as 30 conflicts around the globe, from Uganda to Colombia, from Sri Lanka to Sierra Leone.

"It's become like a global virus," said P.W. Singer, author of the book "Children of War" and national security fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

Read the full text.