During the first two and a half years of the Funes Administration, the military has grown by 6300 soldiers, a 57% increase, to a total of 17,000.
ElFaro.net reports that in recent years the Funes Administration has approved three proposals from the Ministry of Defense that in part increased the number of soldiers at a cost of $25 million a year.
The additional troops are part of a $29.4 million increase in military spending for 2012, putting the entire defense budget at more than $144 million. This is the largest growth the military has experienced since the 1992 Peace Accords ended 12 years of civil war.
News of the increase comes weeks after President Funes named General David Munguía Payés as Minister of Public Security. Minister Munguía Payés, who until recently served as the Minister of Defense, says that the troop increases are in response to the growing role the military is taking in domestic public security issues.
Since taking office, President Funes has deployed three battalions to address domestic security. One battalion is charged with guarding the perimeters of Salvadoran jails, while two others are patrolling El Salvador’s boarder with Guatemala and Honduras, and urban neighborhoods with high rates of violence. Minister Munguía Payés says the increase is necessary to help the police combat youth gangs in El Salvador.
When President Funes first announced plans to deploy soldiers for domestic security issues, opponents said that in addition to being a constitutional violation, Salvadorans would be exposed to human rights violations. In February 2011, 14 months after the first troops hit the streets the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights reported that they had received 158 complaints of human rights violations by soldiers patrolling Salvadoran streets. One hundred and twenty of the complaints were made against soldiers patrolling in different parts of the country. Another 38 were made against soldiers providing security in the Salvadoran prisons. We reported on one of the complaints in January, when soldiers killed two Salvadorans they accused of smuggling lumber from Honduras to El Salvador.
The El Faro article highlights the paradox that the increase of soldiers and defense spending was undertaken by a President elected from the FMLN, the political party born out of the leftist militancy that spent 12 years fighting the military.
President Funes’ selection of a former military leader to lead the Ministry of Security was also controversial – a first since the end of the war. Some have called the appointment unconstitutional and a representation of the re-militarization of El Salvador. FMLN officials denounced the appointment stating that it “goes against the peace accords,” which de-militarized public security.
President Funes responded, “no one with good intentions should think that this appointment might imply a militarization of security, nor that it means a step backward in terms of the spirit of the peace accords.”