ARENA Continues to Unravel: Former VP Accused of Massive Corruption
The web of corruption woven throughout past right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) administrations, in which former President Francisco Flores (1999-2004) was recently caught, continues to widen. In separate cases, a number of high-ranking officials from the Tony Saca administration (2004-2009) have been accused of misappropriating public funds while in office. Part of the investigation concerns conflict of interest, as funds were distributed to private companies with personal and financial ties to Saca administration officials like Nicola Angelucci, then-president of the Multi-Sector Investment Bank. According to the legal representative for MINEC, there were “anomalies” in the distribution of funds, including payments for “externalities” and bonuses to such corporations as Hanes Brand International (HBI), which Salvadoran maquila workers unions have denounced for labor rights violations. In another case involving former Saca administration officials, Guillermo Maza Brizuela, who served as Minister of Health, will return to court following a February penal court ruling. In 2010, after the election of President Funes, Maza was investigated and arrested for misappropriation of funds designated to repair the national hospital system after the 2001 earthquake, including for payments made to firms whose projects never materialized. In one high-profile example, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development of the World Bank provided $28.5 million in loans to address severe damage to the National Maternity Hospital; the repairs were never completed. Charges against Maza were dropped in May of 2013 after a judge declared that he had not “intended to commit crimes” and was not consulted on any of the misappropriation of funds that took place under his watch. However, the case was recently re-opened under the premise that as Minister, Maza would have been aware of and responsible for the fiscal discrepancies that occurred further down the Ministry’s bureaucracy. If convicted, he will face three to five years in jail. Maza’s case is particularly salient in the context of the 2014 presidential elections, considering that the current Funes-FMLN government has made significant advances in the area of public health and hospital infrastructure, including long-awaited re-construction of the new Maternity Hospital, set to open in May 2014. With the March 9 election just around the corner, the continued exposure of ARENA corruption scandals may be a contributing factor contributing to the FMLN’s significant lead in the polls. High-profile action by the Funes administration since November to prosecute former ARENA president Francisco Flores for the disappearance of over $10 million in development funds represents an unprecedented political will to bring the looters of El Salvador’s public coffers to justice. FMLN legislator, Guillermo Mata - who testified against ex-Minister Maza in 2006 before the Governmental Ethics Tribunal for sending public hospital patients to pay for services at Maza's own private clinics - recently told Diario El Mundo that, "Many of the former officials are trembling because of the investigations that are being carried out." However, concerns remain that ARENA politicians will continue to elude conviction. The blatant inaction on the part of Attorney General Luis Martinez - who also served under the Saca administration - to prosecute the Flores case, for example, casts serious doubt on the willingness of El Salvador’s judiciary to pursue allegations against past ARENA administration presidents, vice presidents, and functionaries.