U.S. Ambassador and ARENA promote role of private sector in ensuring public safely

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Also in this update:

- Food security damaged by CAFTA

- ARENA chooses presidential candidate

Recent comments by Charles Glazer, U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, regarding the state of public safety in the country have exposed the ARENA partys security policies as a failure, according to FMLN party legislative deputy Benito Lara. Lara is a member of he Legislative Assemblys Security Commission. In recent weeks, Glazer has publicly stated that high levels of insecurity and crime in El Salvador are scaring away foreign investment, and that private security companies could play a larger role in cracking down on crime.

The governing ARENA party supported Glazers call for the private sector to provide public security. Without referring to his partys history of failed public security policies, ARENA deputy Ernesto Angulo affirmed the importance of collaboration between private companies and the National Civilian Police, stating we all know there are many private security officers that have contracts with businesses, but there is no system for them to collaborate with the police.

For FMLN deputy Walter Duran, these declarations are worrisome. According to Duran, many members of ARENA are owners of these private agencies, [who are] asking that they be legally allowed to carry out police duties, which is very dangerous for the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Alongside the FMLN, various social organizations have denounced the proposal to involve private companies in public security. The real problem, they insist, is that the criminal justice system is inefficient and arbitrary. Community leader Mario Chávez said his biggest preoccupation is that El Salvadors attorney general responds to the interests of the Executive and specifically the ARENA party. Chávezs son, Omar Chávez, disappeared three years ago and the family has yet to receive a response from judicial authorities about the case. Social organizations and the FMLN party continue to demand that this case, along with others such as January 2008 assassination of Mayor Wilber Funes and Zulma Rivera in the town of Alegría, be investigated.

The current controversy began several weeks ago when U.S. Ambassador Glazer spoke at a meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce of El Salvador. As the businessman and investor that I am, I want to emphasize that the crisis of public security in El Salvador is also an economic crisis, as it puts a brake on foreign investment, Glazer stated. The Ambassador also recognized the failures of El Salvadors criminal justice system, citing six consecutive years of U.S. State Department Human Rights Reports, which found that judicial inefficiency and corruption were impeding the countrys development. Though he pointed out that some judges were honest and efficient, Glazer categorized the judicial system as arbitrary, unpredictable and very slow.

Salvadoran president Antonio Saca gave a limited response to Ambassador Glazers tough criticisms, stating that there have been advances in the reduction of homicides and extortions. Meanwhile, Francisco Rovira, newly appointed director of the National Civilian Police, downplayed the importance of Glazers remarks, saying he is aware of the level of the problem that exists, but the word crisis is very extreme. Roviras comments did not include steps for improving the security situation.

Food security damaged by CAFTA

March 2008 marked the second anniversary of the implementation of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and to mark the occasion social organizations have been carrying out various activities to highlight the negative effects of the accord, specifically in the agricultural sector.

Rafael Alegría, representative of Via Campesina of Central America, declared, it is not possible to talk about exporting when the country is importing basic grains to meet the demand of the citizens. Alegría went on to explain that El Salvador is not prepared to meet the demands of free trade with a market as powerful as that of the United States.

Representatives of various agricultural sectors have argued that, under CAFTA, they are losing their productive sovereignty, and that El Salvador is being flooded by basic grains including corn and rice - imported from the United States. These imports are sold at prices lower than those that Salvadoran producers are able to offer, thus driving those producers out of business.

Additionally, El Salvadors trade deficit has increased since the inception of CAFTA. In promoting the accord to the Salvadoran people, President Saca claimed that CAFTA would enable the country to export more of its products. However, official statistics demonstrate that the trade deficit increased by 18.5% in CAFTAs second year.

According to Mateo Rendón, leader of the National Agricultural Board, in the countryside we are in big trouble. They said we were going to export our products, and this basically hasnt happened. Rendón added that, on the contrary, production of basic grains has diminished. At this point they are importing 40,000 tons of white corn and 70,000 tons of rice per year. In the process of wiping out local production, these imports are allowing the creation of a grain monopoly for a small group of wealthy financiers and importers in El Salvador. Citing alarming statistics that confirm the displacement of local producers, Rendón stated that 20 years ago close to 600,000 manzanas [858,000 hectares] of corn were cultivated; today we dont even reach 300,000 [429,000 hectares].

The increasing food insecurity that the population finds itself in, along with the loss of productive sovereignty, demonstrates that the promises made by the ARENA government about CAFTA were false. The only agriculture-related sector that has benefited from CAFTA seems to be a small group of agro-industries such as Diana, a brand of snack foods owned by Hugo Barrera, the former Minister of the Environment who resigned when he was accused of a number of high-profile violations of El Salvadors Environmental Law.

The organizations taking part in the activities marking CAFTAs second anniversary point out that the four promises made by the government in relation to the accord have all proven false. There has not been an increase in employment, nor more foreign investment. Similarly, consumer prices have not fallen, nor have exports increased.

ARENA chooses presidential candidate

After a long, drawn-out, confrontational process, the right-wing ARENA party finally chose its presidential candidate last week. The winner was Rodrigo Avila, former head of the National Civilian Police (PNC), who left the institutional in turmoil when he stepped down to vie for the ARENA candidacy in February. Avila has been blamed for the worsening conduct of the PNC in recent years, and given his police background he is seen by many as the law and order candidate. Current vice-president Ana Vilma de Escobar immediately challenged the process and accused a relative of President Tony Saca, among others, of working to manipulate the internal process in Avilas favor. One of the first major polls to be published following the announcement shows FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes with a 44% to 23% advantage over Avila (see from CID-Gallup polling data here.)

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In 1989, six Jesuit priests, five of them Spaniards and one Salvadoran, were brutally murdered at the Central American University Jose Simeon Cañas (UCA) along with their housekeeper and her daughter. Following the news about Colonel Montano’s extradition to Spain, and with the law overturned, human rights defenders believe that now is time for the case to be reopened in El Salvador. Photo: Internet