New Civilian Authorities Replace Military Officers in Security Administration

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President Funes swears in new officials in public security.

On Tuesday, May 28, El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes swore in José Ricardo Perdomo as Minister of Security and Rigoberto Trinidad Pleités Sandoval as Director of the National Civilian Police (PNC). The new officials replace the former Security Minister, retired General David Munguía Payés, and the former PNC Director, retired General Francisco Salinas, who were removed from their posts 11 days earlier by a ruling from the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s Supreme Court that found the participation of military officers in public security administration unconstitutional.

Perdomo, the new Minister of Security, was Minister of Economy during the administration of José Napoleón Duarte (1984-1989) and had been serving in the Funes administration as Director of the State Intelligence Agency (OIE) since January 2012. He took the reigns of the OIE as part of the security cabinet shuffle pushed by the US government that took place in late 2011 and early 2012. Retired General Salinas, the ousted Director of the PNC, will now take his place as head of the OIE.

Pleités Sandoval, the new PNC Director, had served as Director of Immigration since January 2012, when former Minister of Security Munguía Payés named him to the position. He had previously served as the Director of Human Development for the Ministry of Education.

While many human rights organizations applauded the Constitutional Chamber’s ruling to remove Munguía Payés and Salinas from their security posts, the mass media and political analysts raised concerns about what the transition would mean for the nation’s public security. However, according to President Funes, the new officials, close colleagues of the former ones, will continue the programs and strategies of the previous security administration.

Indeed, Funes announced he will keep Munguía Payés on staff as a presidential advisor for the gang truce that was initiated during Munguía Payés’ administration and that has resulted in a significant reduction in murder rates.

Following the initial Constitutional Chamber ruling, Roberto Lorenzana, legislator and spokesman for the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party, said his party agreed with the Chamber’s rationale that the participation of military officers in public security posts is unconstitutional, a position they had expressed following Munguía Payés’ naming in November 2011. However, in a television interview, he also questioned the motives behind the timing of their ruling: “This is a decision that the Constitutional Chamber could have taken a year and a half ago…they took a lot of time and in other cases their rulings have been quick.”

Lorenzana went on to note that the Chamber’s ruling had served as a distraction from the primary news item at the time, fractures and internal divisions within the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, and coincided with an increase in corporate media coverage aimed at delegitimizing advances that the Funes administration had made in public security. Certainly, criticism of the current administration’s security policy has already become a major theme of ARENA’s campaign against the FMLN for the February 2014 presidential elections.

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