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, violence

Payés Takes a Bus Ride: Something Smells Bad

Yesterday, El Salvador’s Minister of Justice and Security David Munguía Payés did something most unusual for a high-ranking government official – he rode a bus in San Salvador.

Dressed in a blue polo shirt, some serious sunglasses, and a ROLEX (yes, as in a super-expensive gold watch) Payés boarded the 29-F on the Juan Pablo II (a major road through San Salvador) bound for the shopping center in Soyapango. Once he paid his $0.25 fare, the Minister of Justice and Security took his seat amongst “the people.”

Photo credit: La Prensa Grafica

Payés’ bus adventure, which lasted only 10 minutes, wasn’t really meant to be an act of solidarity with his Salvadoran brothers and sisters, many of whom travel long distances by bus everyday just to get to their low-paying jobs. Nor was it an effort to raise awareness of climate change by ditching his chauffeured, gas guzzling, SUVs for public transportation.

According to La Prensa Grafica, Payés’ excursion was meant to prove that his use of military and police have made bus routes throughout San Salvador safe. He seemed to want to show the poor, who rank security among their greatest concerns, that things aren’t as bad as they make it out to be – and he was even willing to risk loosing his gold Rolex to prove it.

Payés could have done a few things to make his demonstration/publicity stunt a little more credible. For example, he could have left his three bodyguards and the Rolex at home. I’m sure most people would feel pretty safe on a bus in Soyapongo knowing they’ve got three bodyguards with them and a security detail waiting at their stop. And the Rolex surely distinguished him from anyone else riding a bus in El Salvador yesterday.

One person indicated in the comment section of the LPG article that Payés would have more credibility if he rode the bus after 7 or 8 at night when they are a little more dangerous.

And by arguing that militarization of San Salvador’s streets have made them safer, he seems perfectly comfortable with reports indicating that what Salvadorans, especially young men, fear most are the military and police.

A woman on Payés’ bus summed it up pretty well. According to the LPG article, when Payés and his bodyguards got on the bus, she was overheard telling the young boy she was riding with, “all these men getting on the bus at the same stop – something smells bad.”