Update: Funes and Clinton Discuss More Central America-US Security Cooperation
Also included in this update:
Inspector General Challenged by Right Wing for Fighting Police Corruption
New Anti-Gang Law Responds to Public Clamor, Meets Criticisms
Health Care Reform Expands Medical Services to Poor Communities
FMLN Women's Secretariat Elects Coordinating Collective
OnWednesday, September 29, in an official state visit to Washington DC, President Funes met with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. In a joint speech following their meeting, Funes pleaded for more US aid to fight drug trafficking and organized crime and Clinton affirmed the US government's commitment to support El Salvador in this area. The Funes administration has proposed joint coordination between Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and the United States, separate from the already existing Mérida Initiative - a bundle of US military and police aid for Mexico and Central America. According to Funes, the Mérida Initiative, "was created to emphasize the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico...the amounts provided for Central America aresmall. They don't compensate us for the efforts we're making."
Funesinherited a severely underfunded police force with notable levels of corruption and has repeatedly stated that one of his government's priorities is strengthening institutional capacity to fight drug trafficking and organized crime. In his speech with Clinton, he also emphasized his administration's efforts and plans to fight poverty and inequality as the root causes of violence in the country. In response, the US expressed a greater willingness to provide military and security aid than investment in social programs.
Duringa speech in the capitol on September 29, Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) lauded Salvadoran Inspector General Zaira Navas for her "courageous" efforts to root out corruption from El Salvador's Civilian National Police (PNC). His statement is a direct response to a new commission created on September 9 by the right wing parties in the Legislative Assembly to investigate Inspector Navas. FMLN deputies are boycotting the commission. Since her appointment by PNC Director Carlos Ascencio in July of 2009, Inspector Navas has purged over 150 agents from PNC ranks for police misconduct, from beat cops to high-ranking officers, and in the process become the target of numerous death threatsby those who wish to prevent a "clean" police force in El Salvador.
Theright wing deputies who created the commission, led by Deputy José Antonio Almendáriz of the PCN (National Conciliation Party), claim that the Inspector is discriminating against ex-military in internal police investigations. The office of the Inspector General is currently investigating a number of high-ranking officers for corruption and ties to narco-trafficking and organized crime, including Douglas Omar Garcia Funes, director of the Transnational Anti-Gang program - a joint US-El Salvador initiative - as well as former Police Commissioner Godofredo Miranda, former Police Director Ricardo Menesses and the Salvadoran Interpol Director Ángel Barquero Silva. Many of these officers are former military, like Interpol Director Barquero Silva, who is also allegedly a member of a notorious group of former and current police officers known to operate with impunity and considered "untouchable" by former administrations.
PresidentFunes, PNC Director Carlos Ascencio, and Human Rights Ombudsman Oscar Luna have voiced unwavering support for the work of Inspector Navas in the face of these allegations from the right wing. Inspector Navas has pledged to continue her agency's investigations and legitimate expulsions of corrupt agents while she is subject to investigation by the commission. The commission itself lacks authority to sanction her, and is only authorized to submit a recommendation to the Funes Administration regarding her work.
OnSeptember 19th, a new Anti-Gang Law came into effect in El Salvador after, approved by unanimous vote from all parties in the Legislative Assembly and later signed into law by President Mauricio Funes followinga security crisisprovoked by threats from supposed gang members in protest of the law. Minister of Public Security Manuel Melgar expects the law - officially called the Law to Prohibit Gangs, Groups, Organizations and Associationsof a Criminal Nature - to allow the PNC and Armed Forces to respond to the population's stringent demands for increased public security. According to a poll commissioned in July by the Funes Administration, 41.6% of Salvadorans name violence and insecurity as the country's biggest problem; whereas only 28% are primarily concerned with the high cost of living.
Thelaw modifies Article 345 of the Penal Code that prohibits "illicit associations", providing clearer definitions for criminal organizations,increasing prison terms for members and leaders of gangs and organized crime syndicates and explicitly prohibiting financing or supporting criminal organizations. The leftist Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN) party hopes that this latter element - targeting people who finance and support criminal groups - will allow the government to investigate and prosecute the major forces behind organized crime, many of which have ties to El Salvador's political and economic elite. President Funes recently commented on a troubling connection between gangs and organized crime, remarking in an LA Times interview that organized crime groups have begun using gang members as "killers for hire" to carry out their criminal activities.
Unlikeanti-gang policies of past administrations that rarely resulted in convictions because of lack of evidence, PNC Director Ascencio said the new law will be combined with current initiatives to increase the police's investigative capacity. He added that the PNC did not plan to begin mass raids in the poor, gang-populated neighborhoods, but did not rule out the possibility of mass arrests in cases of sufficient evidence. The language of the law provides for exceptions when a formergang member has gone through a process of rehabilitation and reinsertion; however, while the Ministry of Security has drafted a Law of Rehabilitation and Reinsertion, it has yet to be presented in the Legislative Assembly.
Thenew law has generated controversy and denunciations from gang prevention organizations that consider the law a continuation of past administrations' repressive policies that have failed to address the root causes of gangs and organized crime. Legal advocacy and human rights organizations criticize the law for criminalizing poor, young people and increasing the strain on El Salvador's overcrowded prisons. Despite these criticisms, President Funes, the FMLN and social movementorganizations devoted to gang prevention and rehabilition agree that the gangs are a phenomenon resulting from extreme poverty, economic inequality and family disintegration that stems from mass migration. TheFMLN legislative fraction considers the new law a necessary tool to address the immediate concern of violence and crime while the new government's social investment programs begin to resolve root causes of gang membership.
OnSunday, September 21st, President Mauricio Funes inaugurated his administration's massive Health Reform Plan, representing a massive increase in funding, personnel and service. The plan will first be implemented in El Salvador's 74 poorest municipalities and expanded to anational level by 2014. In 2011, the Ministry of Public Health's budget will increase by $110 million. By 2014, the number of public health personnel will increase by 58%, creating thousands of new jobs for Salvadorans. There are also plans to expand the pilot program of mobile medical units recently implemented in Cabañas, that has brought medical services to the homes of families who normally travel long distances for medical attention. "We are taking a fundamental step in primary care. The entire system will be at the service of the Salvadoranpeople," said Minister of Health María Isabel Rodríguez.
Thenew health reform is part of a broader effort by the Funes Administration to increase government spending on social services: in 2011 the Ministry of Education will receive a $70 million budgetary increase, the PATI Program (Temporary Income Assistance), which providessubsidies for youths and single mothers in poor municipalities, will receive an additional $50 million, as well as substantial increases for disaster response, the Ministry of Public Works and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security.
Continuingwith the FMLN's internal election process, on September 19th, 520 womengathered in San Salvador to elect the new coordinating collective of the party's National Women's Secretariat. The Women's Secretariat promotes political leadership of women and fights discrimination againstwomen both within the party and throughout the country. Vice-president and FMLN leader Salvador Sanchez Cerén addressed the women gathered and reiterated that the work of the Women's Secretariat is the entire party's work and represents the party's commitment to eradicating discrimination against women within party structures and throughout the nation. Historic party leader, Nidia Díaz reminded the women that, "when a woman participates in politics, it changes the woman. But when all women participate in politics, it changes politics." Of the 11 women elected to the new coordinating collective, 30% were new candidates and 25% were under the age of 30, completing with the party'sstatutes. Lilian Coto viuda de Cuellar was unanimously selected by thenew collective to continue as the Secretariat's coordinator.
Love reading CISPES analysis? Help us keep it coming by donating today!
Subscribe to Action Alerts against US intervention and corporate greed in Latin America.