Friday, March 16, 2012

Mano Dura Again

William R. Brownfield, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs will visit Honduras in the next few days. Reportedly, he will call for a return to "mano dura" policing of gangs in Honduras based on his assessment that such a policy worked in El Salvador.

Except that it didn't work.

The source is La Prensa Gráfica of El Salvador, which reports that in a video conference held in Washington, D.C. Brownfield previewed his trip to Honduras and Guatemala. Brownfield reportedly said:
I think the most effective anti-gang program that we will support at this time, is in El Salvador. My vision is to try and replicate the success of Salvadoran anti-gang program [in Honduras and Guatemala]. We will see concrete results of these programs in El Salvador in the coming years and I'll be optimistic about this year....We will see detentions and arrests. We will see the dismantling of the gangs, or parts of gangs....and we will see a reduced participation of the gangs in illicit drugs.

La Prensa Gráfica wrote that it was unclear which of the two anti-gang initiatives, named "Mano Dura" and "Super Mano Dura" respectively, Brownfield was referring to, but that neither had disrupted the gangs significantly or reduced the homicide rate.

They are not alone is describing the failure of these two programs. Sonja Wolf, a social scientist based on Mexico writing in March 2011 for Sustainable Security documented some of the failures of these plans:
Contrary to the official discourse of success, Mano Dura was spectacularly ineffective: the homicide rate escalated, and the gangs adapted to the climate of repression by toughening their entry requirements, adopting a more conventional look, and using heavier weaponry. More importantly, confinement in special prisons allowed gang members to strengthen group cohesion and structure. Moreover, the large-scale incarceration of gang members fueled the need for more resources for both the inmates and their families and resulted in an upsurge in extortion, particularly in the transport sector.

She says the Salvadoran government switched the strategy under President Funes starting in 2009 so that now
gangs are being tackled through the overall crime policy rather than a specific gang programme. The police – now under a new command – has stopped conducting mass raids in gang-affected zones and begun to strengthen its investigative capacity.

Her analysis says this is what is showing results in El Salvador.

But that is not the policy the US reportedly intends to advocate in Honduras.

Mo Hume of the University of Glasgow, in a 2007 article on Mano Dura in the journal Development and Practice, notes that repressive policies tend to be adopted by weak states that lack the capacity to develop other strategies to contain violence and crime:
The government's discourse dehumanizes gang members in order to justify the reintroduction of coercive measures. ....More dangerously such rhetoric reinforces a politics of fear that is not reliant on hard evidence. Instead it is a strategic project to protect the interests of a hegemonic elite and to deflect attention from the broader weaknesses of the government such as corrupt institutions and heightened inequality.

If the evidence of these scholars aren't enough, then let's consider what the US government has to say in its own research.

A 2006 USAID study on gangs in El Salvador and Mexico notes that the two programs in El Salvador had a series of bad, unintended consequences, like filling up the prisons to overflowing, and saturating the ability of the police and judicial system to handle the cases. They also note that the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruled several key parts of the law unconstitutional, like the ability to round-up supposed gang members for illicit association solely on the basis of having tattoos.

The policies of "Mano Dura" and "Super Mano Dura" are widely considered to be failures.

They weakened democracy, advocating instead for authoritarianism, and violated the constitutional guarantees of those accused and arrested under the program. They did not reduce violence or crime, though they did impede gang recruitment. These policies led to prison overcrowding in El Salvador. They crippled the police and judicial system's ability to investigate and handle cases.

Honduras already tried "Mano Dura" in 2002 during Ricardo Maduro's term as President. It was introduced by Oscar Alvarez as a solution to gang violence. It filled Honduran jails to overflowing and resulted in prison riots in 2003 and 2004.

These are the failed policies that Brownfield reportedly intends to recommend to Honduras and Guatemala.

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