Update: Twelve rogue deputies split from ARENA legislative fraction
Included in this update:
* Armed Forces granted domestic security role
* Salvadoran anti-mining activists honored in Washington, DC
* Former ARENA ministers charged with corruption
In a midnight legislative plenary on October 31, the composition andleadership of the National Legislative Assembly was dramaticallytransformed, following the desertion of 12 deputies from theNationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party’s fraction. Thispolitical division within ARENA gained public attention on October 12,when over a third of ARENA’s 32 deputies announced plans to voteagainst the rest of the fraction. The rogue deputies cited deliberateexclusion from the party’s elected leadership as the primary reason fortheir official split from the party, during a press conference giventhe day after the new ARENA leadership was ratified.
The new party leadership, headed by ex-President of the RepublicAlfredo Cristiani, is replete with representatives of El Salvador’straditional, wealthy elite and noticeably omits representation of theparty’s business class, associated with ex-President of the Republicand party Antonio “Tony” Elias Saca. The twelve dissident deputies,known as the “G-12”, are all politically associated with Saca, thoughthey deny acting under his orders.
During Saturday’s midnight plenary, the Legislative Assembly elected a new Board of Directors, granting posts to the new G-12 fraction and reducing both ARENA and the Christian Democrat Party (PDC) representation by one post each. The body also negotiated a new plan for the Presidency of the Legislative Assembly. The National Conciliation Party (PCN), which has held the presidency ever since a controversial vote on May 1, will occupy the post for the next 15 months, after which Sigfrido Reyes of the FMLN will take over the presidency for the remaining 15 months of the legislature.
Political analysts expect the new composition of the Legislative Assembly to change the “deadlock” dynamic that has existed since the new Assembly took their seats last May. Before the appearance of the G-12, the right-wing parties (ARENA, PDC, PCN) voting as a block could control the movement of legislation, despite the fact that the FMLN holds the most seats of any party (35 seats). FMLN General Coordinator and legislative fraction president Medardo Gónzalez acknowledged that the appearance of the G-12 fraction and ARENA’s shrunken fraction offer new opportunities for negotiating legislation.
Armed Forces granted domestic security role
This past Tuesday, November 3, President Mauricio Funes officially announced his plan to deploy more military agents to augment the ranks of the National Civilian Police (PNC) as a measure “to protect tranquility, internal peace and security for citizens of the country”. Beginning on November 6, at least 1,300 additional soldiers will patrol the streets of 19 municipalities located in the 5 departments with the highest incidence of crime: San Salvador, Santa Ana, La Libertad, San Miguel and Sonsonate. Soldiers will participate in neighborhood patrols, search and seizure operations of individuals and vehicles, and may detain individuals caught in the act of committing a crime, although detainees must immediately be handed over to PNC agents. After a 6 month period, the Executive office will submit a report for review by the Legislative Assembly, analyzing the effectiveness of employing El Salvador’s Armed Forces alongside the PNC as a domestic security measure.
The initiative falls within the rights of the Executive as written in El Salvador’s Constitution, which grants the President of the Republic the right to deploy the military for the purpose of domestic security, should there be an extraordinary risk to internal peace. According to poll results reported by the right-wing Salvadoran daily El Diario de Hoy, 94% of residents of the capital city, San Salvador, agree with employing the military for domestic security purposes. The current FMLN government has been under intense pressure from the Salvadoran populace to quickly address the grave security situation, the inherited product of 20 years of structural violence and destructive economic policies implemented by ARENA party administrations. The new plan accompanies other longer-term security strategies of the Funes government that are already in operation, such as the creation of municipal crime prevention councils and economic measures intended to alleviate poverty.
Criticisms of the plan have been aired since Funes began discussing the possibility of expanded joint military-police efforts this past month. Opponents of the initiative, including the Foundation for the Study and Application of the Law (FESPAD) and Supreme Court Magistrate Mirna Perla have claimed that this new role for the Armed Forces will not reduce crime, but rather serve to increase repression and continue the failed anti-crime policies of the previous ARENA administrations. “Unfortunately, thousands of people are captured in the country on a daily basis and this has not meant fewer numbers of extortions, murders, robberies, thefts,” stressed Magistrate Perla.
Salvadoran anti-mining activists honored in Washington, DC
On October 15, five members of the Mesa Nacional Frente la Mineria Metálica en El Salvador, or the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador, were celebrated in Washington DC with the prestigious Letelier-Moffit Human Rights Award in recognition of their outstanding work against mining in El Salvador. (Watch Mesa delegates receiving the award: Part 1, Part 2). La Mesa was founded in 2005 when regional groups—including community, environmental, faith-based and development organizations—united in their efforts to close the El Dorado gold mine in San Isidro, Cabañas, a project of Canadian mining firm Pacific Rim. Since then, the Mesa has evolved into a broad-based national coalition representing all 8 departments currently resisting the 29 foreign mining projects in El Salvador.
While in Washington, DC, Mesa representatives met with members of the U.S. Congress and the State Department to discuss recent lawsuits filed against the Salvadoran government by the North American mining companies Pacific Rim and Commerce Group under the investor protections chapter of the U.S. Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). According to Mesa delegates, the lawsuits are a way to blackmail the Salvadoran government. “These companies want full access to pillage and exploit our natural resources. If we don’t allow it, the people have to pay millions,” insisted William Castillo of the Mesa. The delegation encouraged the U.S. solidarity community to join in the fight against the mining lawsuits and to organize for a renegotiation of CAFTA.
The delegation also emphasized the political violence ravaging their communities—including the brutal torture and assassination of anti-mining activist Marcelo Rivera last July—which the Mesa believes to be tied to international mining companies and the local governments that have been paid off by the companies. The delegation called on U.S. government officials to demand that El Salvador’s newly-elected Attorney General Romeo Barahona conduct a comprehensive investigation into Marcelo’s death as well as death threats and attempted kidnappings of anti-mining organizers that have occurred in Cabañas.
Former ARENA ministers charged with corruption
On Thursday, October 1, Minister of the Interior Humberto Centeno presented five written reports of corruption involving René Figueroa and Juan Miguel Bolaños, two ex-Ministers of the Interior. Charges include bribery, illicit negotiations, perjury, failure to fulfill duties, and the embezzlement of over 3 million dollars. The Ministry of the Interior asserts it has sufficient proof in the form of testimonies and physical evidence, such as falsified documents, to merit a full investigation by the Attorney General of the Republic. Centeno told the press that the reports were not presented four months ago, when the crimes were discovered because he did not have confidence in the interim Attorney General Astor Escalante.
The corruption charges will be a first test for the new Attorney General Barahona, sworn in on September 18. Barahona’s election was criticized by some as a continuation of the trend of previous Attorney Generals that failed to investigate and expose corruption, opting to perpetuate impunity among State functionaries. Social movement leaders have expressed hope that the new FMLN administration will bring justice to the population by holding government officials and ex-officials responsible for their crimes.