Fugitive ex-President Gets House Arrest, Public Demands Judicial Reform

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On Friday, September 5, former president of El Salvador Francisco Flores (1999-2004), wanted for misappropriating $15 million in public funds, shocked the nation by turning himself in after nearly five months in hiding as an international fugitive. The judge assigned to the case deemed that the ex-president, who was last seen on January 28th when caught trying to flee across the Guatemalan border, was not a flight risk and placed him under house arrest, sparking public outrage and calls for judicial reform.

Judge Levis Italmer Orellana has come under heavy criticism from government officials and social movement groups alike for not ordering Flores behind bars, and Attorney General Luis Martinez has appealed the decision. In the meantime, Orellana has become a poster-boy for judicial corruption—he is the target of at least five complaints filed with the Supreme Court’s Judicial Investigation Department since 2011, none of which have been resolved.

While the previous and present administrations of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) began the courageous work of cleansing the police force of corrupt agents tied to powerful organized crime networks, the judicial system remains plagued by historical corruption, impunity and inequality.  In response to popular outcry around the Flores case, however, Minister of Security Benito Lara and other administration officials have taken up demands long voiced by social movement groups, calling for a “purging” of judicial ranks: “[Flores] is a gentleman who has vast resources with which to cheat justice in this country,” Lara commented, “It is a fact that we should take a lesson from this and not allow it to continue to happen.”

Protesters gathered outside the court Friday as news of Flores' appearance spread Protesters gathered outside the court Friday as news of Flores' appearance spread

Many questions have arisen regarding the motives for Flores’ sudden reappearance. While Flores has given no explanation, speculation in social media has suggested that his emergence was timed to divert national attention from an emerging story in last weeks’ new cycle that appeared to tie powerful Salvadoran business figures to a massive child sex trafficking ring.

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