U.S. Ambassador Uses Anti-Gang Summit to Intervene in Salvadoran Domestic Security Issues

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During an April 8 Anti-Gang Summit in San Salvador, United States Ambassador Charles Glazer urged Salvadoran authorities to quickly approve certain laws and reforms to the penal code, stating that, it is necessary to make several critical reforms to get criminals off of the streets.

The three demands put forward by Ambassador Glazer are the prompt approval of a new Criminal Processing Code, new powers of telephone surveillance, and a new extradition law. Glazer justified these proposed reforms by insisting that they would help El Salvadors economy. In a clear allusion to the massive stream of Salvadorans immigrating the United States, Glazer stated that extortion and the threat of violence impede economic growth and force your citizens to leave in search of safer streets and better economic conditions.

Minister of Public Security René Figueroa expressed his hope that Glazers interventionist statements will help pressure the Legislative Assembly to approve the legal reforms. Figueroa joined the ambassadors call, declaring to the Assembly that it is necessary that we provide ourselves with the ability to carry out telephone surveillance, and that it always be authorized by a judge. According to Figueroa, the reforms are necessary because security is synonymous with development.

However, telephone wiretapping powers such as those proposed by the pending reforms have the potential to be used arbitrarily, according to social organizations that challenge the proposal. The general sentiment of leaders in the social movement is that given the control that the executive branch exercises over the judiciary, there is not a guarantee that telephone surveillance will not be used as a means of coercion against civil society and social movement groups.

According to Benito Lara, Legislative Deputy from the leftist FMLN party, The proposed changes in the criminal processing code amounts to a new version of the Iron Fist Plan, and therefore should be profoundly discussed. Lara similarly questioned the proposed wiretapping powers.

It was also announced at the Anti-Gang Summit that U.S. Government agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be taking part in the new Transnational Anti-Gang Center, to be located in El Salvador. Currently, U.S. intervention in El Salvador already involves the presence of FBI detectives working with the National Civilian Police (PNC), presumably to help combat gangs.

Rising prices threaten the population

The prices of several staple products have dramatically increased in recent months adding to the economic hardship that Salvadoran families are facing. On top of this, last week, the executive branch of the Salvadoran government decided to increase the price of the standard 25 pound propane gas tank 95 cents. Such a change would only benefit the Z Gas company, which is not only supported by the right wing ARENA party, which granted it a government subsidy, but also has the Saca administrations backing to pass onto Salvadoran families the burden of high international gas prices.

These rising prices add to the economic crisis that has become more serious with the ongoing implementation of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA). With the agricultural sector having been abandoned by the government, and cheap, subsidized imports from the United States undermining El Salvadors food sovereignty, the country now depends upon imports of staples such as corn, beans and rice to meet the needs of the majority of the population.

The crisis is worsened by the fact that a veritable monopoly of large business interests imports these grains, free from government oversight or price regulation. Consequently, prices for these products have become too high for the majority of the population to afford in the past six months.

In the face of such a terrible economic and social situation, more than twenty social organizations, including the Salvadoran Union Front (FSS) and the National Agricultural Coordination (CNA), held a press conference on April 9 to promote participation in the annual May Day march, in which the social movement will continue to denounce ARENAs favoritism of corporate profit for companies like Z Gas Company over the welfare of the general population.

This march has historically been celebrated by diverse social organizations and unions in defense of the rights of the working class, but this year its message will go even further. According to organizers of the march, this May Day will be the day that the people declare Enough already with life as dictated by the government of ARENA!

The FMLN party, along with civil society organizations, has proposed a law that would reduce the value added tax by 50% for the six principle staple products in El Salavdor (beans, rice, milk, wheat flour, corn and oil.) At this point, no other party has expressed support for the idea, nor put forward other proposals for dealing with the ongoing economic crisis facing the Salvadoran people.

FMLN denounces Sacas fundraising activities in the United States

On April 10, the FMLNs faction in the Legislative Assembly sent official correspondence to President Antonio Saca requesting that he account for the collection of more than $250,000 during an early April visit to Los Angeles, California.

According to information published in the Spanish-language newspaper Diario Hoy, Enrique Alejo, a Cuban-American, hosted a fundraiser for the ARENA partys presidential campaign at his Los Angeles-area ranch. Alejo promoted the event by means of an invitation on his companys letterhead, urging attendees to make the maximum contribution that you are able to offer to President Saca to help him in the most difficult political campaign that the country has faced since it joined the community of democratic nations. Alejo specifically requested donations of $1,000-$10,000, with checks made payable to the ARENA party. (Click here to see a copy of the invitation.)

Upon being questioned about the event, Saca declared the seemingly-indisputable evidence as rumors; they are lies. The chief of ARENAs Legislative faction, Guillermo Gallegos, affirmed Sacas assertions, stating, It is a lie of the FMLN. They are worried because it was discovered that Venezuela was giving them financial assistance. ARENA has not been able to substantiate this claim.

In January, Saca likely requested that the Bush Administration include in a national intelligence report a line about how the U.S. expected the Venezuelan government to fund the FMLNs presidential campaign. Saca subsequently warned the FMLN that such foreign financing, which the FMLN denies, is both illegal and undermines El Salvadors sovereignty. Clearly, foreign financing is only viewed as illegal when it benefits the FMLN, and such rebukes do not apply to the presidents own party.

Salvadorans criticized the double standard of President Saca and his ARENA party around campaign fundraising. According to FMLN deputies Sigfrido Reyes and Walter Duran, the President used the official state travel for political reasons, since he also apparently participated alongside ARENA presidential candidate Rodrigo Avila in fundraising activities to finance the 2009 ARENA campaign.

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