Tuesday, November 5, 2013

El Salvador Sees Lingering Civil-Military Divide

In recent weeks, Salvadoran news site El Faro has had some interesting coverage of the tense relationship between President Mauricio Funes and the leadership of the country’s armed forces. More than twenty years after its end, the civil war continues to shape El Salvador’s political climate, with the country’s first leftist government unable to exert full control over the military.

In January 2012, President Funes ordered the army to cease honoring members of the armed forces who have been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. This move, he insisted, was necessary in order for the country to recognize the atrocities committed during its armed conflict. In a symbolic gesture Funes gave the speech at El Mozote, site of a brutal 1981 massacre that left some 1,000 people dead.

Rather than following the instructions of the president -- the commander-in-chief, according to the constitution -- the army created a special committee to “analyze and interpret” the order. Nearly two years later, it has not reached a conclusion, and the military continues to celebrate the legacies of controversial figures like Lieutenant Colonel Domingo Monterrosa and Major Jose Armando Azmitia Melara, who commanded the troops responsible for the El Mozote killings.

Just last month, the army had a ceremony in the town of Joateca, located just twenty minutes from El Mozote, bringing together some 200 troops to commemorate a battle in which Monterroza and Azmitia are remembered as heroes. One of the units involved, the Third Brigade of San Miguel, is even known as the “Domingo Monterrosa Brigade.”  

On top of their resistance to Funes’ order, the armed forces have put pressure on the administration to increase military spending, as El Faro noted in a recent editorial.

The irony of this is that Funes is one of the most military-friendly presidents in El Salvador’s post-war history. In addition to appointing military figures like General David Munguia Payes to top cabinet posts, he has approved budgets allotting record amounts to the army, and its ranks have grown by some 60 percent under his administration. If, in spite of this, the Salvadoran armed forces feel entitled to push back against the president’s orders, it may be worth asking whether they represent a threat to the health of democracy in the Central American country.  

News Briefs
  • Lawmakers of Nicaragua’s ruling Sandinista party have submitted a reform package which could pave the way for President Daniel Ortega’s indefinite reelection. The AFP reports that the legislation would cement a Supreme Court decision which ruled that term limits violate an individual’s right to political participation, and allowed Ortega to run for reelection in 2011. According to Confidencial, a special legislative committee will begin assessing the bill today, and the ruling party is hoping to pass it before the end of the year.
  • The Argentine government has announced the discovery of some 1,500 secret files kept by the 1976-1983 military junta. Telam reports that Defense Minister Agustin Rossi told reporters the files contained secret transcripts of junta meetings from March 24, 1976 to December 10, 1983, kept in chronological order and organized by subject, which would be released to the public soon.
  • On Monday, Folha de São Paulo published a report alleging that Brazil’s intelligence agency spied on foreign diplomats in the country, tracking their movements and keeping tabs on their meetings with political and business figures in Brazil. The report implied some hypocrisy in Brazil’s indignant response to revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on personal and official communications of government officials, but the New York Times’ Simon Romero points out that Brazil’s actions stand “in sharp contrast” to the NSA’s eavesdropping operations.
  • The Colombian government and FARC rebels have decided to extend the latest round of talks by yet another day, the AFP reports. Expectations are mounting that the two will announce an agreement on the current agenda item, democratic political participation, soon.
  • Semana has obtained some interesting details about the recent Colombian Constitutional Court ruling which overturned a law seeking to expand the military’s internal jurisdiction over crimes committed by its personnel. According to the magazine, the court’s debate over the decision was extremely heated, with justices accusing each other of having vested interests in the issue.
  • A visit to Haiti by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was disrupted yesterday by protesting students in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, who burned tires and clashed with police outside the presidential offices. The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog questions the merits of Duncan’s Haiti visit, arguing: “It’s hard to see how [the U.S. education reformer’s push for standardized testing] is going to do much good in Haiti — but, then again, it hasn’t been successful in the United States either.” 
  • Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, speaking to reporters in Mexico City on an official visit, confirmed that efforts to improve diplomatic relations with the United States have frozen, and will remain so as long as the U.S. continues “interventionist activities.” Meanwhile, in another development sure to complicate U.S.-Venezuela relations, officials in the South American country have seized oil equipment owned by U.S. contractors. According to Reuters, the company had refused to work after failing to receive payment from the Venezuelan government.
  • Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights looks at President Nicolas Maduro’s combative stance against critical media coverage, which has resulted in an increased crackdown on some private outlets. While the opposition is attempting to fight this by promoting online media, it is unclear how successful this effort has been in reaching the broader public.
  • As part of its ongoing efforts to rein in criminal activity in the troubled state of Michoacan, the Mexican government has announced that it has deployed armed forces to secure the key port of Lazaro Cardenas. El Universal reports that a combined force of federal police, military and navy personnel will take over police duties in the area, as the local police have been largely coopted by the Knights Templar drug gang. Security analyst James Bosworth notes that the fact that criminal group has shown itself willing to go after infrastructure targets is a potential threat, as an attack on the port could have a sizeable impact on Mexico’s economy. 

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