El Salvador Government, Politics

Defense Minister David Munguía Payés

Yesterday afternoon, President Funes appointed Minister of National Defense David Munguía Payés as Minister of Justice and Security. It is the first time since El Salvador ended twelve years of civil war that a military official has been in charge of El Salvador’s domestic security. Minister Munguía Payés is replacing former Minister Manuel Melgar who resigned just over two weeks ago.

As Minister of Defense, Munguía Payés oversaw the deployment of troops in San Salvador neighborhoods controlled by El Salvador’s notorious gangs. He made the news earlier in 2011 when he warned that Mexican drug cartels were building a presence in the region and targeting Central American police and military bases as a source for weapons.

When President Funes made the announcement yesterday, he said he “asked for concrete results in the fight against crime.” In his first statement as the new Minister, Munguía Payes said that he “is convinced that has not come to work miracles, but he is committed to taking concrete steps.” He also said that he was committed to respecting the Constitution and human rights, and managing public security as a civilian as mandated by the Peace Accords.

According to ElFaro.net, during the ceremony to swear in the new Minister of Security, President Funes made a tacit admission that the government had not made significant advances in combating murders in the past 2 ½ years.

The FMLN objected to appointing Minister Munguía Payés because of his military background. They argue that his appointment is a step backwards in El Salvador’s democracy, and a violation of the Peace Accords. Former leftist guerillas who were integrated into the National Civil Police also expressed concern that Munguía Payés’ appointment would result be detrimental, but President Funes assured them that there would be no structural changes within the police force.

According to an article on netorivas.net, the FMLN has had a good relationship with Munguía Payés in the past. The former colonel had a falling out of sorts with ARENA politicians when Presidents Calderon Sol and Francisco Flores refused to promote him to General. In 2003, Sanchez Ceren, who was then the head of the FMLN party, announced that Munguia Payes was joining the FMLN, and would serve as an advisor on national security issues. One of the reasons for bringing him on was to bring other old soldiers into the FMLN fold. If the FMLN had won the 2004 Presidential elections, Munguía Payés would have likely been appointed Minister of Defense. His appointment is another reminder that the Funes Administration and the FMLN party are not working as closely together as they might be.

El Salvador Government

Minister of Security, Manuel Melgar, Steps down

This week, El Salvador’s Minister of Security, Manuel Melgar, submitted a letter of resignation to President Mauricio Funes, who accepted it. While there are many discussions about why he resigned, many are also speculating on who will take his place.

Former Minister Melgar was a Comandante in the FMLN militancy during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war. When journalist turned politician Mauricio Funes won the country’s presidency in 2009, he appointed Mr. Melgar to the post of Security Ministry.

During the 2 years and five months that Mr. Melgar held the post, El Salvador’s murder rate continued its steady clime upward, averaging 12 murders a day. The United Nations recently reported that El Salvaodr has the second highest murder rate in the world, behind only Honduras.

Many have blamed Minister Melgar for the increase, though others have noted that the numbers were steadily climbing in the final year of the Saca administration. And the rise in violence is also a region-wide issue and not specific to El Salvador.  Whether Mr. Melgar is to blame for the violence and insecurity or not is a question that will likely be debated for some time.

There are reports that the United States government conditioned the signing of the Partnership for Growth on Mr. Melgar resigning his post. While there is any confirmation of this report, his resignation came just days after the agreement was signed, and much of the Partnership for Growth action plan revolves around reforms that aim to improve security. There are also reports that he was planning to submit his resignation in October, a month before the Partnership for Growth agreement was signed, but put off his resignation due to Tropical Storm 12-E that caused historic flooding throughout the region.

Days after his departure, the conversation has now turned to his replacement. Members of the leftist FMLN party and rightwing ARENA party have said the next Minister of Security should not be a military figure. Sigfirdo Reyes, the President of the Legislative Assembly, recently stated that if the military were given a larger role in domestic affairs, it would be a “terrible regression” on what the country accomplished since the signing of the 1992 Peace Accords that ended 12-years of civil war.

The Peace Accords demilitarized the national police force and El Salvador’s Constitution prohibits the military from taking a role in domestic security issues. Under the Funes Administration, and Mr. Melgar’s leadership, the military has been deployed to patrol urban neighborhoods controlled by El Salvador’s notorious gangs. The Funes administration has also used the military to help close the nation’s porous borders and limit the trafficking of people, guns, narcotics, and other contraband.

According to former Attorney General, Romeo Melara Granillo, no matter what kind of background the new minister has, civilian or military, he or she must be able to exercise “inter-institutional cooperation that would fortify investigations [and operations] carried out by the ministry.