Wednesday, January 25, 2012

El Salvador Accused of Militarizing Security

El Salvador’s left-leaning President Mauricio Funes has angered many by appointing an army general to head the police force (PNC), which critics say is constitutionally defined as a civilian body. The move has stoked fears of a new militarization of El Salvador’s security apparatus.

The president’s choice of retired Major General Francisco Ramon Salinas Rivera stirred particular criticism amongst his own party, the FMLN. The party was formed from a coalition of guerrilla organizations which fought the 1980-1992 civil war against a military junta ruling the country.

The appointment of Salinas has caused an outcry because one of the conditions set out in the peace accords was the establishment of a civilian police force, and the dissolution of the old police bodies which were run by the defense ministry. As El Faro puts it;
For the first time in the history of the PNC a soldier is taking the reins of an institution which was conceived as separate from the military establishment responsible for the grave violations of human rights during and before the civil war.
El Faro notes that the police force is divided between those officers who came from the army and those who demobilized with the FMLN, with the FMLN-aligned faction arguing that the military lack the experience of policing work to head the organization.

This latest appointment follows Funes’ naming on November 22 of retired GeneralDavid Munguia Payes as minister of justice and public security. Munguia is the first military man to hold the position since the end of the war, and replaced a former FMLN guerrilla. Funes also dismissed the head of the State Intelligence Agency (OIE) in December, leaving as the acting head Colonel Simon Alberto Molina Montoya, a former advisor to Munguia. Another Munguia associate has now been appointed in his place, with Molina as deputy head. The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) comments that “Since Perdomo has no professional experience in the area of intelligence, many expect that active-duty Colonel Simon Molina Montoya, who is the newly-appointed 2nd in command of OIE, will be calling the shots.”

Taking these appointments together, El Faro comments that:
In two months the president has dismantled the civil scaffolding of the public security cabinet in order to bring in soldiers.
The president has responded to his critics by denying that a militarization is taking place, and implying that their objections are based on the political implications of his decisions, namely the removal of FMLN figure from high-ranking positions. He said that the discussion
may be revealing the loss of shares of power within institutions that need not be under the control of any particular party. The police are an apolitical body and respond to the interests of the state.
However, the warnings about a militarization of public security seem to be borne out by the new police director’s statements that, “It is necessary to use units of the navy in [troubled parts of the country] to restore order, econonmic activity, and reduce crime."

Some have accused Funes of acting at the beck and call of the US, with the FMLN’sRoberto Lorenzana commenting at the time of Munguia’s appointment “This was not a decision that the President made; he is simply a spokesperson. It’s a decision that was made somewhere in the US capital.” However, it is possible that it could also be related to Funes’ wish to assert his will against that of his party. As Al Jazeera reported, a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks commented that the previous security minister had been chosen more by FMLN “hardliners” than by Funes himself.

Funes has spoken in favor of bringing a more military element into security in order to battle the soaring rates of crime. As Just the Facts notes, the president has in recent months;
warned that the country is in a “new war” whose “enemy” is “strongly armed criminal bands.” Funes added that critics who worry about “militarization” have “prejudices” that are “anchored in the past.”
However, many disagree that bringing in the military is the solution to organized crime. Benjamin Cuellar of the Central American University told the BBC that "betting on the Armed Forces as a solution to our problems" would land El Salvador in a war on drugs which "is already lost and whose victims will be on our doorstep".

When Funes came to power in 2009, he was the first FMLN candidate to win the presidency since the party was formed in the peace deal that ended the civil war in 1992. The party was helped to power by Funes’ status as a moderate who had not fought in the war, unlike many of its members. However, this same independence now seems to be behind him taking steps to remove FMLN officials from power -- whether to follow his own agenda and shake up the security apparatus to bring about a safer El Salvador, or to follow the agenda of Washington.

News Briefs

  • Opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez has pulled out of the race for Venezuela’s presidency and placed his support behind Henrique Capriles. The opposition coalition MUD will hold a vote on February 12 to select a single candidate to go up against the towering President Hugo Chavez, and Capriles is currently in the lead. The Associated Press notes that Lopez had been lagging in the polls, but that his support will give a significant boost to Capriles' chances. This move will help the opposition, long viewed as divided and incapable of rallying behind a single candidate to beat Chavez, to have a chance of winning power in the October elections. One analyst quoted by the Wall Street Journal said that with Lopez’s pull-out, "It is almost a certainty that Henrique Capriles will face President Chavez in October's watershed elections."
  • Colombian rebel group the FARC have released the names of three military hostages who they say they will release in the coming days, some of whom have been held for over 12 years. This follows the rebels’ murder of four hostages amid a botched rescue attempt in November, and could be a good sign for peace, as the release of all hostages is the main condition placed by the Santos government before negotiations can begin. There are still several military and police hostages being held, and an unknown number of civilians.
  • Enrique Peña Nieto, front-runner in the Mexican presidential elections, has seen his reputation take another blow, when he admitted that he had had two children outside of his previous marriage. He said that they had been conceived during a “crisis” in relations with his wife, who died in 2007 leaving him with their three children. This will be a blow to the image of Peña Nieto, whose popularity is based in part on his image as a handsome young widower, who remarried to a soap actress three years after his wife's death. The mother of one of his children born outside of marriage went on Facebook to accuse him of being a bad father who does not know how many children he has
  • The New York Times Latitude blog has a piece on how Venezuela’s Chavez is using the distribution of social housing to win support. The author reports that: “Every resident I met on a visit last week expressed gratitude and support for Chavez. I didn’t hear the jittery, coerced support of a North Korean; I heard what sounded like deep personal affection for our leader -- coupled, I soon realized, with generalized disdain for the government he leads.”
  • Chavez suffered an embarrassment when his teenage daughter Rosines apparently posted a picture of herself online with her face partly concealed behind a fan of dollar bills, the trading of which is tightly controlled by her father’s government.
  • The New York Times reports that Brazil may be falling behind on its record of protecting the Amazon rainforest, granting more concessions to large-scale development projects and now putting forward a bill to reform the Forest Code.
  • The LA Times has an article on the curious case of Bogota’s disappearing manhole covers. The Colombian capital loses some 10,000, or 4 percent of its stock, each year, according to the report, and now one manufacturer has managed to track many to the city of Neiva, defying the mafias that deal in the stolen parts.
  • The Miami Herald comments on violence in Honduras, calling on the US government to take action against the wave of crime in that country, given that “elements of the U.S.-backed government are complicit in the violence and criminality.”
  • In the country’s latest step to bring about justice for the victims and perpetrators of abuses in the 1970s dictatorship, Uruguay’s president has approved a payment of more than half a million dollars for a woman who was taken from her dissident parents and illegally adopted, reports the Associated Press.
  • Colombia’s government has declared that it will not cancel a propsed expansion of the Fuero Militar, which allows military officials accused of human rights abuse to be tried in special military courts, despite criticisms from Human Rights Watch, reports Colombia Reports.

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