FGR Investigating Minister of Defense for Arms Trafficking and Raul Mijango for Gang Truce

The new Sanchez Cerén Administration has been in office for two weeks and is already having to manage in its first conflict between government agencies.

Attorney General Luis Martínez recently opened an investigation into Minister of Defense David Munguía Payés, in part for arms trafficking. The military was supposed to have destroyed hundreds of weapons but it seems they never got around to it. The Attorney General alleges they were instead sold to gang members.

The Minister Payés clarified this week in a conversation with La Prensa Grafica that the Attorney General “did not say that I was involved, he said that I was part of investigation.” While that might be the case, the Attorney General seems to be going after Payés pretty aggressively.

In fact, this last President Sanchez Cerén called on the Attorney General to make sure he has sufficient evidence before making accusations or filing charges, underscoring the sensitivity of the situation. The current Minister of Justice and Security, Benito Lara, also called on the Attorney General’s investigation to be thorough and objective. “This will have a big impact, because we are talking about the institution of the armed forces of this country, and that is why I say this should be a very objective and serious investigation.”

According to El Faro, Martínez has been investigating Payés since he became the Attorney General in December 2012. On May 30, 2014 just a couple days before Sanchez Cerén was inaugurated, the Attorney General’s Office tried to get records and archives from military bases concerning their arsenals, but they were denied access citing national security interests. Diario CoLatino reports that instead the Attorney General will interview the Minister of Defense on June 18 to discuss the allegations of arms trafficking.

In a related case, Attorney General Martínez is also investigating Payés and former FMLN diputado Raul Mijango for their roles in negotiating the gang truce, which was signed in March 2012. The truce, which reduced the murder rate from 70 per 100,000 own to 41, fell apart at the end of May when the homicide rate spiked to new highs.

Last week, Mr. Mijango met with the Attorney General’s Office for more than 12 hours talking about the truce and the role that he and others played in lowering El Salvador’s murder rate. The investigations are focused on alleged payments made to those who were a part of the process. Earlier in the year, members of the ARENA party said that while serving as the Minister of Justice and Security, David Munguía Payés made at least 10 payments between $2,000 and $5,000 to Mijano and others. The payments, which were allegedly made from the government coffers, would be a violation of Salvadoran law. Mr. Mijango admits that he received monthly payments of $1,500 for his role in negotiating the truce but he says the funds came from a nonprofit organization called Interpeace and not the government.

Last week when Mr. Mijango left his 12-hour interview with the Attorney General he told reporters, “I feel politically persecuted… but I’m not one of those people who pee in their pants in difficult situations.”

It is still unclear whether the investigations into Payés and Mijango are legitimate or the Attorney General is just out to inflict some political damage. Perhaps we’ll know more on June 18th when Payés goes in for his interview with the Attorney General.

El Salvador Government

6300 More Salvadoran Soldiers

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.”


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.