Wednesday, August 22, 2012

El Salvador Resolves Constitutional Crisis under US Pressure

A dispute between El Salvador’s legislature and judiciary has been resolved with an agreement to re-elect two-thirds of the Supreme Court judges, and put a pro-ruling party figure as court president.

The crisis broke out in June, when the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber ruled that the National Assembly’s election of judges to the Supreme Court in 2006 and in 2012 had been unconstitutional. In both instances, the members of the legislature had voted on court members twice in a three-year session. As Tim’s El Salvador Blog sets out, this meant that two thirds of the Supreme Court judges would be illegitimate. The legislature could have held new elections,  but “refused to go along with this attack on its powers,” choosing instead to appeal the  Central American Court of Justice (CACJ).

The CACJ ruled in favor of the legislature, but the Constitutional Chamber rejected the decision, saying that it was the highest authority on constitutional matters.

Funes announced Sunday that the political parties had reached an agreement that those judges elected in 2009 would stay in place, while those from 2006 and 2012 would be re-elected. Supreme Court president Ovidio Bonilla will be replaced by Jose Salomon Padilla.

El Faro reports that the talks began on July 24, spurred by pressure from the US Congress and State Department, after two US senators called on the Obama administration to consider cutting aid to El Salvador.

Members of the FMLN ruling party had wanted Bonilla, elected by the legislature in April, to stay in place, and the removal of at least one of the Constitutional Chamber’s magistrates, according to El Faro.


As El Faro sets out, on July 16 Bonilla declared that he was taking over a Supreme Court president, breaking in to the court with the help of a locksmith. This meant that the court had two people claiming to be its head, with Florentin Melendez in the position of interim president. Bonilla’s replacement, Salomon, is also close to the FMLN.


This deal may not resolve the frictions between the legislature and judiciary. As WOLA pointed out in July, "Underlying the immediate crisis is the challenge posed to all the political parties by the newly independent and activist bloc of judges on the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court."


More from ConfidencialLa Pagina


News Briefs

  • In Venezuela, at least 25 people died and many more were wounded in a battle for control between two rival gangs in Yare I prison outside Caracas, reports the AP. The fight broke out during visiting hours on Sunday afternoon. El Universal reports that it was sparked when a gun went off accidentally during peace talks between leaders of one sector of the prison, who are mostly ex-police officers, and the inmate bosses of another sector. The fighting continued for several hours, and many of the dead were left unrecognisable after being hit by grenades. Most of the casualties were in an area called “The Pit,” where inmates who weren’t able to pay their weekly extortion fees are sent by the gang leaders. Prison Minister Iris Varela said "We are taking all the necessary steps to avoid a repeat of such an incident, and we are proceeding with the disarming of the prison population," reports the BBC.
  • Mexico’s Supreme Court has ruled that crimes committed by soldiers against civilians must be tried in civil courts, overruling a piece of military code that attempted to give military courts jurisdiction over all crimes committed by the armed forces, reports the APReuters comments that the judgement could “[clear] the way for sterner prosecutions against military misconduct in the country's drug war.”
  • The Mexican army has unearthed burned human remains in seven clandestine graves in the Pacific state of Michoacan, along with an oven two meters long, reports Milenio. The AP points out the Michoacan is home to the Familia Michoacana drug cartel. According to Provincia, the authorities think there were at least six victims, and that they were business owners who were extorted and then kidnapped. Meanwhile a group of Argentine forensic scientists are excavating a mass grave of unidentified migrants in Chiapas, near the Guatemalan border, reports the AP. The bodies were buried by the Mexican authorities after being found near popular migrant routes over the last 12 years.
  • Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog has a post arguing that the Chavez government has turned its back on the poor, lacking the political will to carry out poverty-reduction programs once its political survival was no longer at stake. It says that many social programs have collapsed, and that poverty has actually risen in the last four years, while many remain unemployed and excluded from education. “Of course, there are fewer people living in poverty than before, but what the government’s discourse and propaganda hides is that almost 30% of the country’s population is still poor.”
  • Chavez is set to launch a new ad campaign for the upcoming presidential election that portrays the president, who has been fighting cancer, as youthful and energetic. According to the Miami Herald, the images show “Hugo Chavez dunking a basketball. Hugo Chavez dancing rap. Hugo Chavez with a teenager haircut, boxing, riding a motorcycle, screaming with joy while doing a wheelie.”
  • A Chilean judge has ordered the arrest of eight former members of the police and military accused of the kidnap of a US citizen in 1985, reports the AP. Boris Weisfeiler went missing while hiking near the Argentine border, and according to the indictment the officials suspected he was trying to sneak into the country to help overthrow military leader Augusto Pinochet. They are accused of taking him to a torture and detention center and executing him.
  • Eight members of the Honduran police’s elite anti-kidnapping unit have been suspended in connection with the murder of four young people who were tortured, asphyxiated with plastic bags, and thrown in a river, reports Honduras Culture and Politics.
  • The United Nations refugee agency has called for an inquiry into the murder of its honorary liaison on the island, human rights activist Clover Graham, who was found with her throat slashed on Sunday. Two people were recently convicted for the murder five years ago of her son and his girlfriend, who also has their throats cut, reports the BBC.
  • InSight Crime analyzes public banners hung in west Mexico in which the Knights Templar gang declare war on Zetas leader Z-40.
  • The charity headed by actor Sean Penn has offered to demolish Haiti’s presidential palace, which was badly damaged in the 2010 earthquake, reports the Miami Herald. Soon after the quake the French government offered to rebuild the palace as it was, but, according to the newspaper, many Haitians “balked at the notion.”