Supreme Court Declares Public Security Minister’s Naming Unconstitutional

News

Today, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the appointments of David Munguía Payés as Minister of Public Security and Justice, and Francisco Ramón Salinas as Director of the National Civil Police (PNC), violated the Constitution of El Salvador. Payés and Salinas are both former military generals who retired from the Armed Forces before assuming their positions.

The Court’s decision invalidates both officers’ appointments as of today, and mandates that the President immediately name new civilian security officials that guarantee the “organic, functional and subjective separation between national defense and public security.”

Payés and Salinas were named to their posts following enormous US pressure to remove FMLN leaders from the public security cabinet in January 2012. The move was met with widespread public outcry and charges that the US was pushing for the re-militarization of El Salvador. In March of that year, 31 civil society groups filed the constitutional challenge to the two officials' appointments.

According to the Chamber’s ruling, the appointments violated article 159 of the Constitution, which establishes a separation of national defense and public security functions, and article 168, which mandates that the PNC be led by civilian authorities. Both articles were incorporated into the Constitution as part of the 1992 Peace Accords that ended the nation’s 12-year civil war.

María Silvia Guillén, director of the Foundation for the Study and Application of Law (FESPAD), a legal aid NGO that filed the original suit along with other organizations, expressed satisfaction with the ruling. But she also lamented the impact that major changes to the cabinet would have on the effectiveness of the current security strategy: “Of course, I would say that a whole series of things they have been doing, some of which inspired a lot of hope but sadly were not institutionalized, are going to be left in a very fragile position.”

In El Salvador, issues of violence and security are often used to manipulate public opinion during electoral seasons, and for the past week the country’s main corporate newspapers have been filled with headlines about the failures of the current security strategy. The mainstream media will likely incorporate the latest Supreme Court-mandated changes to the security cabinet into their electoral fodder in benefit of right-wing presidential campaigns, trying to paint a picture of an out-of-control situation of violence and failed security policies.

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