PITTSFIELD >> Human rights are our ultimate certificate that separates us from other species. They uphold our most basic equality, that one of being human. They are true and fair for every person, because no person can deny their humanity.
The United Nations was created to make sure that these rights were not a privilege but a mandate. And in most "First World" nations, the thought of these rights being taken away from a single individual creates an uproar that threatens to overthrow the government of such nation.
Yes, human rights are important and essential. But often, in times of despair, they can become an obstacle to peace.
Gangs afflict nation
El Salvador is a country situated in Central America with a population of six million. It is a poor country whose economy depends mostly on the U.S. Along with poverty it is afflicted with one of the most horrid diseases affecting the Global South — terrorism, the cancer of the poor.
Gangs in El Salvador were the product of the civil war of the 1980s. They kept growing and expanding during the 1990s. The matter escalated until finally, in 2015, the major gangs and eternal rivals MS13 and Barrio 18 were pronounced "terrorist groups" by Congress because of the violence and number of deaths attributed to them.
On April 20 of this year, the chief of the National Civil Police (PNC,) Howard Cotto, announced the enforcement of FES (Specialized Response Forces of El Salvador), a group of 600 soldiers and 400 national police agents who plan to battle gangs in the countryside. "We will make an effort to go after 100 gangheads that are currently not incarcerated and keep transgressing against the population." Cotto said to the press.
Five days after the announcement, 189 confrontations between the FES and the gangs were reported. Weapons and drugs started to be confiscated, and 23 gang members were arrested, two killed. Cotto highlighted the low number of homicides in the 10 municipalities that the FES was installed in. in April up to the 25th, only 58 homicides were committed, as opposed to January and February that ended with 188 and 148 respectively.
Everything was in full swing until April 26, when the attorney of Human Rights, David Morales, accused the Ministry of Security and the PNC of "unnecessary police brutality." Morales was referring to two massacres that happened in March and August of 2015 that resulted in 13 victims, all gang members. He also brought up the more than 30 cases under investigation where more than 100 died in "extralegal executions."
This created hostility from the people towards the procuratorate for the Defense of Human Rights, which is a branch of the Public Ministry, essentially the Department of Justice. It was seen as an argument for opposing the FES. Why bring this up now? Why make the police look like the bad guys? Cotto responded that he is only doing his job, and most Salvadorans felt indignant because of the decision to defend criminals who stay silent about the innocents who die daily.
Regardless of the "abuse" or lack thereof, a fact cannot be denied: Thirteen criminals died during those massacres. Thirteen criminals that, if it wasn't for the brave members of the military and the national police who risk their lives every day and night, would still be out there robbing, murdering and raping.
Striking a balance
If we are going to speak up about those who die under the name of a gang, we should also, and must stand up for those who die under the name of a hard-working nation. As a Salvadoran who needed to leave his family to get a better chance of literally living, I am more concerned about the safety of an 8-year-old who might die on his way to school, or of the farmer that might get shot while working under a tropical sun to put a plate of food on his family's table, than for the impunity that the death cases of these mercenaries are apparently being treated with.
If such violation of the human rights is necessary to eradicate this cancer once and for always, then so be it. There is no chance these terrorists can be classified as humans anyway.
Gerardo Aguilar, who will be entering his junior year at the BART charter public school in Adams, is a Pittsfield resident who came to the Berkshires from El Salvador three years ago. This opinion piece was based on an an English class assignment.