Corruption, El Salvador Government, Organized Crime, Politics

$5 Million Dollars and 20 Kilos of Cocaine

Implicated by the Guatemalan Prosecution, Manuel Castillo

Tuesday we posted an article about a report by investigators from the UN-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) that found a parallel “security” structure that operated from within several Guatemalan institutions between 2004 and 2008.   At least a dozen arrest warrants were issued in August of this year, focusing on extra-judicial executions within the Pavón and Boquerón prisons.  The CICIG expected the network to be implicated in at least eight more crimes, including the murders of three Salvadoran PARLACEN diputados.

In February 2007, the Salvadoran diputados, who included William Pichinte, Eduardo d´Aubuisson, and Ramón González, and their driver Gerardo Ramírez were diverted from a highway outside of Guatemala City to the isolated La Parga farm. The delegates were tortured, gunned down and their bodies burned inside their vehicle. A few days after the crime scene was discovered, the Guatemalan Police arrested four of their own for the murders. While being held in a maximum-security prison in Guatemala, witnesses described a specialized unit that forced it’s way into the prison and assassinated the detained officers.

The CICIG investigation determined that the motive for the assassinations of the three diputados was robbery.  William Pichinte, an ARENA diputado, was carrying $5 million dollars and 20 kilos of cocaine in a secret compartment of his vehicle.  The parallel ‘security’ structure in Guatemala had identified the delegation, diverted them to La Parga farm, stripped the vehicle until they found the money and cocaine, and then assassinated the diputados and their driver.

The four Guatemalan police officers were not the only ones involved in the robbery/murder to be killed. The Venezuelan Victor Rivera, aka “Zacarias,” was one of the principles responsible for organizing the robbery. He arrived at La Parga farm, supposedly to confirm the orders to kill the diputados, and he also intervened during the arrests of the four police officers.  Zacarias came to El Salvador in the early 1980’s as a CIA asset to work with former CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles and Lt. Oliver North in the Ilopango Air Base “drug trafficking, kidnapping and training death squads.”(according to former DEA agent Celerino Castillo).  He was later run out of the country for ‘creating and operating irregular structures from within the National Civilian Police,’ and was linked to the 1996 police killing of medical student Adriano Vilanova (published by the human rights office in 1996 ).   Between 1997 and 2000 ‘Zacarias’ continued working with the private security sector in El Salvador and Guatemala, while picking up several public contracts with the Guatemalan government.  He was assassinated in April of 2007.  CICIG has implicated drug cartel kingpin Jorge Arturo Paredes Cordova and Rivera’s personal assistant María del Rosario Melgar for his murder.

The CICIG report also indicates that Rodrigo Ávila, who was the Chief of the Salvadoran Police at the time of the murders and later a presidential candidate in the 2009 elections, knew that Pichinte was carrying a suitcase full of money, but claims that he thought it was for a real estate deal in Guatemala. Ávila also admitted that Victor Rivera, working as the principle advisor to the Guatemalan Interior Minister Carlos Vielmann, had told him on several occasions that Pichinte was a drug trafficker. Despite these claims, he says he never saw any evidence that Pichinte was involved in drug trafficking, and that the police investigations had turned up nothing.

The information in the CICIG report is in direct conflict with the Guatemalan Attorney General’s theory that the 2007 assassinations were motivated by partisan disputes and orchestrated by the Salvadoran ex-diputado Roberto Carlos Silva Pereira and the Guatemalan ex-diputado Manuel de Jesús Castillo.  Various Guatemalan and Salvadoran functionaries have re-iterated their support for the Guatemalan Attorney General’s theory pointing the finger at Silva and Castillo. They include former Vice President of Guatemala Eduardo Stein and Salvadoran diputado Roberto d’Aubuisson, the brother of assassinated Eduardo d’Aubuisson.  This week, in fact, Guatemala’s public prosecutor Edwin Morroquín has put Silva and Castillo on trial for the murders of the Salvadoran diputados, even though Silva is still in jail in Arizona.

With all of the accusations and theories involving the parallel security operation in Guatemala, it’s difficult to imagine that anyone has shared the full truth around these murders. Presenting one theory after another has long been a strategy for ensuring that those guilty of crimes are never punished. In a related example, the investigation of the 1998 assassination of Guatemalan Archbishop Juan Gerardi went on for 9 years, and prosecutors and government officials offered as many as four separate theories as to who was responsible. Finally the government convicted Sergeant Obdulio Villanueva and two others for the murder. Villanueva was decapitated in the Pavón Prison in 2003.

While the CICIG’s determination that the diputados were murdered over the $5 million and 20 kilograms of cocaine they were carrying is more than valid, their mandate limits the scope of their investigation to Guatemala, meaning that they have not been able to answer some very important questions. Where did the $5 million and 20 kilograms of cocaine come from? Why did Victor Rivera (aka Zacarias) go to El Salvador and try to meet with Rodrigo Avila the day that the four police were killed in Boquerón? What, if any, Salvadoran names or networks would CICIG investigators have turned up if they could have expanded their investigation across the border?

Economy, El Salvador Government, Mauricio Funes

New Administration Will Face Historic Deficit

According to the most recent economic indicators, El Salvador’s economy continues to deteriorate.  Though the Internal Revenue Ministry projects significant budget deficits over the next three years, the Saca administration recently increased government spending by 23%, as they prepare to transfer power to the new Funes administration on June 1st. Analysts contribute the increased spending to the rising cost of transportation and energy subsidies.  Other rumors point to the million dollar mansions high funciontaries of ARENA have acquired int he past months, including President Saca and ex-candidate Rodrigo Avila.

In the first quarter of 2009, tax revenue fell 9.6% ($87 million), while Salvadorans living abroad sent home $68.9 million less than they did in the first quarter of 2008.  In addition, Salvadoran exports fell by 8.3% and employment in the industrial sector fell by 35.8% with over 4,000 lay-offs in the maquila sector alone. The National Foundation for Development (FUNDE) reported 9,675 lay-offs in the last two months of 2008.  Inflation remains steady at 2.3%.

With the decrease in revenue and increase in spending, the government is struggling to pay its bills.  The government spends 8 of every 10 dollars on salaries, contractors, and wire transfers.  The government owes $127 million for operational expenses, including electricity, gas, and water, for January 2009 alone.

To cover the costs of social programs, the government relies on loans, which now exceed $355 million.  Over $200 million of these loans are with the Inter-American Development Bank (BID). The Saca administration reports that the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), BID, and the Central American Economic Integration Bank (BCIE) have approved another 2.5 billion dollars in loans, which will be distributed for social programs in the near future.

The Internal Revenue Ministry and the Funes transition team are discussing numerous measures to increase government revenue and close the current budget deficits.  Some of their proposals include directing natural gas and electricity subsidies to families in need instead of providing assistance to everyone.  They are also considering new taxes on soft drinks and new cars, as well as fees for new ID’s and license plates.  The Ministry and transition team are also considering a tax system for street vendors and others in the informal markets. None of their proposals, however, include measures to collect the more than $2.7 billion that El Salvador’s largest companies did not paid in 2008.

Economist Santiago Ruiz sees the worst to come in the coming  months, and a recovery period lasting until September of 2011.  This recession compares  to the 1980’s civil war economy.  He believes the Funes administration will inherit a government without the resources to confront the economic crisis in it’s first two years in office.  Measures he recommends would be to invest in infrastructure and implement a Moratorium Law to help families or businesses in danger of losing their homes or other assets.  Funes’s economic advisor, Alex Segovia, and others on the transition team have not yet released concrete plans for their government, citing the need for further information from the Saca administration.

Elections 2009

An Historic Election, No Matter the Outcome

For most of the campaign season, the FMLN’s Mauricio Funes has enjoyed a large lead in the polls, and if he were to win, it would be the first time in El Salvador’s history that a leftist candidate would be elected president. This has inspired numerous stories in the media calling these elections an historic opportunity for the left.

But Juan José Martel, the campaign manager for the Democratic Change Party and member of the Supervisory Committee of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, views these elections as historic regardless of which candidate wins the presidency because this election has the potential to cause a profound shift in the nation’s entire political culture. Click here for the rest of the article.