A few days ago, I noted the Obama administration’s plans to pour even more public money into funding Central America’s repressive security forces. Rudy Giuliani wants his cut.
The former NYC mayor, through his security consulting firm, has been advising Salvadoran business leaders on security issues. In May, he told them that their country’s two major gangs “need to be annihilated,” a remark that received some attention among those who pay attention to Central America. Belén Fernández here puts Giuiliani’s advice in a larger context of unbearable daily violence. Michael Busch, the editor of the invaluable Warscapes magazine, said in Jacobin that the remark was part of a proposal that “calls for heftier crackdowns on criminal activities, changes to the country’s legal system, and, curiously enough, reforms to the law governing private investment.” Curious in that advocates of “free trade” don’t usually argue that economic “liberalization” both generates and profits from greater police repression. But it does.
Those gangs that Giuliani wants annihilated are a wholesale creation of Washington’s war on El Salvador during the 1980s: “Over a half-million impoverished and war-shocked Salvadorans fled to the United States. Once in Los Angeles, and later in other cities, Salvadorans formed street gangs as a way to protect themselves from more established gangs. When many of them were deported to their home country in the 1990s, they imported the US gang culture and levels of violence not seen previously in El Salvador, or in the rest of Central America,” writes Carlos Rosales at Open Democracy. The same pattern holds for Honduras and Guatemala. In these three countries, refugees fleeing Washington-funded death squads were treated like criminals when they arrived in the United States. So some of them became criminals. In contrast, Nicaraguan refugees in the 1980s fled a country, governed by the Sandinistas, that the United States was at war with, so they were treated much better, along the lines of anti-Castro Cubans. This differential is an important reason (though not the only one) why Nicaragua today doesn’t have the same gang problem as does Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Hilary Goodfriend, who works with CISPES in San Salvador, tells me that Salvador’s center-left FMLN government is under intense pressure to conform to the security demands of the Obama administration. As I, Laura Carlsen, Kevin Young, and others have written, these demands come under the guise of many different names—the Merida Initiative, the Central American Regional Security Initiative, Partnership for Growth, and the Plan for the Alliance for Prosperity. Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose—all part of the same program of a militarized political economy that wants to turn the Central American isthmus, anchored by Colombia in the south and Mexico in the north, into a profitable security corridor. Partnership for Growth funds, for example, go to “modernize” Salvador’s police force and reinforce its maximum security prisons.
It is doubtful that Giuliani’s multi-pointed proposal will have much success in reducing crime—not least because for Salvador’s elite to annihilate the gangs would be like having Vito Corleone do away with Luca Brasi; as in Guatemala and Honduras, street gangs and drug cartels are the shock troops of Salvador’s more respectable classes, the front lines of profit and enforcement.
Busch has pointed out that after Giuliani’s firm advised Mexico City, crime rates increased. But that’s the beauty of the militarized political economy the United States is putting into place in Central America. It’s all win-win. International security consulting is a grift. And Giuliani is a world-class grifter. As crime goes up, so do his profits, as Tim Shorrock recently described in The Nation.
Giuliani’s advice—not just in Salvador, but Guatemala and Honduras—dovetails nicely with the vision of the prosperity plans Washington is pushing: security first, then social development. “You are not going to solve” crime with “schools, libraries, nice neighborhoods and sports teams” he told Guatemalans: “You have to emphasize law enforcement.” Giuliani said it took him “four months reviewing Guatemalan crime data” to come up with that insight.
To get a sense of the scale of the con, consider Nicaragua. It is poor, just like Honduras and even more so than El Salvador and Guatemala. But it has nowhere near the murder rate or gang problem of Giuliani’s clients because, in addition to the historical explanation above, its government does the exact opposite of what Giuliani proposes. According to a PBS report from last year,
“The Sandinista Party has relatively good forms of grass-roots organization that incorporate young people into healthy activities,” said Richard Feinberg, a professor at the University of California San Diego…. When police and community organizations “see kids are headed in the wrong direction, they try to get them back into school, or sports,” Feinberg said…. Nicaraguan police are active in identifying and helping at-risk youth, [journalist Tim] Rogers added, “and not cracking down on them with heavy-handed policing policies that we’ve seen in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.”
Giuliani’s counsel generally entails suggesting “best practices” worked out in the United States. In San Salvador earlier this year, the president of Giuliani Security and Safety, John Huvane, a former NYC police officer, said, “if a child of 14 commits a crime, they should be treated as an assassin.” You know, like Michael Brown or Tamir Rice.