On Sunday, Linda Garrett from the Center for Democracy in the Americas published a defense of Funes’s first year in office. She argues that his administration “assumed the mantle of power of a polarized country nearly bankrupt, wrought with poverty, violence, corruption and fragile democratic institutions.”
She applauds the administration for providing new social programs, financing agreements for the next five years, and his public apologies for such past crimes as the assassinations of Monseñor Romero in 1980 and the Jesuits in 1989. She also cautions readers of the importance of supporting his administration in the face of the current violence and public insecurity that has dominated the news in the past few weeks. This week’s headlines are evidence of this administration’s harried response.
Funes has reacted to each mounting case of violence with bolder and more repressive measures. He deployed the military to work along side the civilian police soon after his inauguration. On June 1st of this year he announced that the military would also intervene in the prisons, which they rushed to implement after the Sunday bus massacre in Méjicanos. They are now partnering with Migration to patrol the un-manned border crossings, notorious for moving drugs, stolen vehicles, and undocumented people.
In a widely distributed public announcement Funes says social and preventive programs are important for the long term, but repressive measures are necessary now. The Ministry of Public Security is expected to present a bill to the Legislative Assembly in the coming days to outlaw gang membership. During a press conference reporters asked how police would identify gang members. Henry Campos, the vice minister for public security responded “by tattoos and other types of evidence”. A law based on the same premise was declared unconstitutional in 2004.
But Funes made a pointed demand from the Attorney General’s office during his June 23rd speech addressing the bus massacre – the same speech where he announced the new bill.
“The fight against organized crime, delinquents and criminal groups is a task of every State institution. This means not only the government must do its job well. We need the public prosecutors and judges to also do theirs.”
The Attorney General’s office is an autonomous institution, and appointments come from the Legislative Assembly. The ex-attorney general Astor Escalante told the press on Monday that of the 100 homicide prosecutors, only 30% have actually received any training. The institution appoints prosecutors with very few requisites; there is no policy to recruit prosecutors who have actually won convictions. At the end of 2009 this group of elite homicide prosecutors had 16% conviction rate.
Garrett is right to call for continued international support of a Funes administration battling violence and weak institutions with very few resources. That does not mean an acceptance of reactionary and repressive measures – often the most accessible means for the ‘commander in chief’. Funes needs public pressure to uphold ethical and progressive reforms more than ever; and he especially needs allies for strengthening institutions that he has little power to control.