El Salvador's Attorney General's Office has reportedly been forced to postpone 15 hearings on drug crimes every day because of a lack of resources, underscoring how underfunded institutions impair attempts to curb crime and impunity in Latin America.
There are just 10 cars available to the 16 prosecutors assigned to the anti-drug trafficking unit within the Attorney General's Office, according to La Prensa Gráfica. Half of those cars no longer work or are being repaired, which officials say is due to a lack of funds. Some mechanic shops have refused to work on the official vehicles because of outstanding debts, while others take up to three months repairing the cars because the prosecutor's office can't pay for the entire service up front.
The lack of transportation and prosecutors caused the division to suspend or postpone an average of 15 court hearings related to drug offenses every day, reported La Prensa Gráfica. Some 40 percent of all trials at the First Sentencing Court in Santa Tecla, located just miles from the capital of San Salvador, have to be rescheduled. The amount of time suspects spend in pretrial detention is often extended because there is no prosecutor to show up at their hearing.
"Once again the prosecutor didn't come and we were already hoping that he would leave [prison]," said the mother of one inmate who is being held on marijuana possession charges.
InSight Crime Analysis
When discussing weak institutions in Latin America, the conversation often revolves around corruption. But underfunded institutions often play just as important a role in enabling crime and impunity to take root. Indeed, the head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comision Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG), a celebrated international commission that has investigated numerous top officials for corruption, has said the only way to bring down impunity rates is by providing local prosecutors with more resources.
SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles
In Mexico, a cut in funding to an anti-money laundering unit within the Attorney General's Office has corresponded with a drop in the number of investigations launched into this type of crime. This despite the fact that an estimated $10 billion in illicit revenues is being laundered in Mexico each year.
La Prensa Gráfica's report illustrates how a lack of resources has aggravated problems that are particularly acute in El Salvador, like prison overcrowding and low clearance rates for criminal cases. The country's prisons are operating at three times their maximum capacity, the second highest occupancy rate in all of Latin America. Yet only one in ten murder cases were prosecuted in 2015, creating a system in which there is a great deal of punishment but very little justice.