Desde agosto de 2019 Ronald Galicia, soldado destacado en la Brigada Especial de la Fuerza Armada, desapareció. La Policía y Fiscalía no han dado respuesta a los padres. Foto: Foro HUMANOS.

The anguish of families leads them to search for their missing loved ones on their own, while social organizations seek international assistance due to the lukewarm response from government institutions.

By Nancy Hernández


“Brother, hurry up then,” is heard in the distance while Ronal Galicia sent a voice note on WhatsApp to his relatives. Those were the last recorded words of the young 22-year-old soldier, who on Saturday, August 3, 2019, went out to “chat” with alleged companions from a special brigade of the Armed Forces of El Salvador (FAES), after leaving on leave.

According to part of the Galicia investigation report, he left at around 4:00 pm, along with four acquaintances, to a nearby bar, from where he later moved to another popular bar in the capital, San Salvador, a place he left at 7: 19 pm, from that moment nothing was heard from him.

La angustiosa búsqueda de la familia

In August 2023, Ronal was missing for four years. The young man sent the audio to a relative, who notified his mother the next day.

After learning the content of the audio, at 1:00 pm the next day, his parents Rodrigo Galicia and María Zetino de Galicia, residents of the Pushtan canton, in the municipality of Nahuizalco in the department of Sonsonate, in western El Salvador, left desperately. looking for his son, who was no longer answering his cell phone.

María still regrets that her family did not look for her at the time to tell her about the disturbing message.

“She (sister-in-law) couldn’t come to tell me when he had left, they didn’t come to tell me and she called me one Sunday and told me – look, the sipote (person who is in childhood) has arrived, Ronal went out yesterday and was drinking with his friends – that day at half past one we got dressed, went to the brigade and they told us that he had already left. In the audio he had told him that he did not know if he was going to get out of where he was alive. We don’t understand why they didn’t come to tell me, we live about two blocks away,» said the mother.

Given the lack of news and after a distressing search, they decided to file a complaint on Monday, August 5 of that year at a police station in the capital.

El salvador
The parents of the young soldier have searched for him throughout El Salvador, from hospitals to the Legal Medicine. Photo: Foro HUMANOS.

Challenges in rural areas

The difficulties faced by families in rural areas of the country force adolescents to abandon their studies to work and help their families financially. At the age of 14, Ronal learned carpentry, a trade with which they earned $5 a day, which contributed to their family’s expenses, but he longed to turn 18 to join the Armed Forces and earn more income.

“Sometimes it is the needs of a job that makes them separate from you, they feel the need to win, they leave and you don’t know what may happen, but God always gives us the strength, encourages us to move forward even in the difficulties that we may have,” commented Doña María.

Heart-wrenching experiences with the Prosecutor’s Office

From that moment until today, the Galicia spouses have not obtained any response regarding the whereabouts of their son. “I have a disagreement with the Prosecutor’s Office because in some actions I see that they have acted a little badly, they have not been responsible regarding our needs and rights,” said Don Rodrigo.

And he added: “a prosecutor made fun of me and told me – because of me you can come every day, I have my salary – instead of presenting a word of motivation, they put more burden of pain on you. «I am not satisfied with the work of the Prosecutor’s Office,» the distraught father continued, broken.

Rodrigo Galicia always carries a photo of his son to ask if he has been found. Photo: Foro HUMANOS.

Disappearances without answers

The case of Ronal Galicia is one of the 732 cases of missing persons that the Police officially registered in 2019, according to data collected by the local media, La Prensa Gráfica. That year, in El Salvador there were 2,390 violent deaths and 732 officially registered disappearances.

It should be noted that in 2022 the Police registered 306 cases of missing persons, less than half of the 732 in 2019. The official speech indicates that this is the result of the exception regime approved by the Legislative Assembly on March 27, 2022 and that it continues in force as part of the government’s security strategy Territorial Control Plan in its so-called «war against gangs.»

As a background and due to the breaking of a government-gang pact, according to a journalistic investigation, between March 25 and 27, 2022, there was an increase in homicides that left 87 deaths, with 62 homicides on Saturday, March 26 the most lethal, becoming the day with the highest number of murders since records have been recorded on the matter.

While between January and August of this 2023, the Police registered 292 reports of missing persons, of which 130 cases, 45% are still active, to these are added cases such as that of Ronal, pending resolution since 2019.

Humanitarian crisis and insufficient responses to the disappeared

But this security model, according to a consolidated group of civil society organizations that ensures human rights in the country, has allowed the migration from gang repression to military repression, since it has generated arbitrary arrests, cases of torture, ill-treatment. treatment and short-term disappearances.

These organizations reported 5,775 complaints about cases of people who suffered human rights violations. The death of 193 people in state custody has also been verified, of which 4 people were located in common graves, according to the statement in the document: “The IACHR examined El Salvador for the disappearances,” dated November 9. .

Among the organizations leading the feature Azul Originario, the Center for the Study of Sexual and Gender Diversity (AMATE), Cristosal, the Foundation for Studies for the Application of Law (FESPAD), the UCA Human Rights Institute (Idhuca), Salvadoran Network of Human Rights Defenders, Passionist Social Service (SSPAS) and the Salvadoran Association for Human Rights (ASDHEU).

The struggle of organizations for truth and comprehensive reparations

Likewise, and contrary to official discourse, disappearances persist during the current government administration and there have been short-term disappearances attributable to state agents. Between 2019 and June 2022, it is estimated that the complaints amounted to 6,443 complaints, of which 2,397, equivalent to 37.20%, may be active cases, according to data from the signatory organizations.

Desaparecidos en El Salvador. Foto: FORO HUMANOS.

“Human rights organizations reiterate our firm commitment to the victims of disappearance and their relatives who are searching for them. We will accompany them in their efforts to find the missing people in El Salvador and promote access to justice, since it is necessary for the State to assume the responsibility of bringing their perpetrators to justice to obtain truth, justice and comprehensive reparation,» he states. the joint statement.

The Foundation for Studies for the Application of Law (FESPAD) counts 2,170 missing people in El Salvador in the current administration. While “The authorities” report a significant decrease in the issue of disappearances, however there is difficulty in being able to corroborate with alternative sources. The information is restricted,” said FESPAD director of access to justice, Héctor Carrillo.

Call for international action

For Idalia Zepeda, a lawyer from the Salvadoran Association for Human Rights (ASDEHU) and who provides advice to families of missing persons, the lack of interest of the Prosecutor’s Office in acting ex officio has led to seeking international alternatives to do justice.

“There is no transparency, the doors to requests for information are closed, so perhaps that is why we organizations turn to international organizations that have both political and legal jurisdiction. In this case, El Salvador has not signed the two conventions, one of which is from the OAS system. and another from the UN on the issue of disappearances. Signing them would open many doors for organizations and families,” he said.

The weak approach of the state towards the disappeared in El Salvador

The situation in El Salvador is complex, according to Zepeda, since institutionalization is weak and fails to respond to the needs of families searching for their missing people for any reason. This situation, according to the specialist, undermines the democratic aspirations of a country. .

“There is no institution specialized in the subject, there is no state policy, there is not enough budget. We have a lack of a public and modern registry, there is no DNA bank, there is no legal medicine that helps because when caring for the population they recognize that their cameras are deteriorated and that they cannot keep the lifeless bodies there because they decompose quickly. and they have to bury them in public cemeteries. They do not have photocopiers or color printers where a family can identify the clothes their relatives had based on the colors,” he noted.

The human rights activist confirms the testimony of Mr. Rodrigo Galicia, who affirms that a prosecutor smiled at him and said, «You can come for me every day, I have my salary,» stating that «there is no staff, neither professional nor technically, nor with empathy, security or a human rights approach. All of this further deteriorates the institutions of the State or the relationship that the State has with the population because it becomes an abandoned, neglected population because it is not the same as someone going to report a crime that has already been committed or complex crimes such as murders. or rape than a disappearance,” he said.

The relentless search of the Galicia family

Don Rodrigo is an example of the situation of a family member who is missing in the country. “I regret it and think about what else I can do. I have searched for my son throughout El Salvador, in Forensic Medicine, hospitals and delegations, but so far no clue; We have searched to see what information we can get, but we get nothing. “For a year and a half we didn’t know about the investigation,” lamented the affected person.

The Galicia family affirms that they have already exhausted all possible means to find the whereabouts of their son Ronal. They affirm that the only thing they seek is to clarify the facts and to return the peace and tranquility that was taken from them that August 2019.

“I ask the Attorney General (Rodolfo Delgado) to see that we have the right for them to work for the pain that is taking away the joy that with humility and simplicity we ask of them and mainly of the President of the Republic (Nayib Bukele). ), to work and give us a response as soon as possible. We have also made requests for hearings to send to the president, the minister of defense (Gustavo Villatoro) and the prosecutor, but they do not attend to us,” lamented the father.

Rodrigo has traveled from department to department searching for his son. He hopes that the investigation progresses and he can find out what happened to him. Photo: Foro HUMANOS.

Justice and clarity for the disappeared

Regarding the reduction of missing persons, which is around more than 50%, according to official data, Rodrigo Galicia affirms that it is a political strategy. «Well, from my way of thinking, it is a campaign strategy of theirs and that is fine, but I do not know that there are no disappearances, but only the father and mother of a family who have experienced these difficult situations feels in their hearts the sincerity of the pain when they loses a son. There are no laws that favor us as we poor people would like, because if there were, as the Government says, it would have love for those who suffer,” said the citizen.

The Galicias’ search is shared by other Salvadorans who advocate for answers before the competent authorities. “There are thousands of people like me, for example, this friend who lives there in Nahuizalco (a neighboring town) has his son who disappeared working in the Armed Forces for six years and they have not given him an answer,” concluded Rodrigo Galicia.


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