On Jan. 23, the administration of President Mauricio Funes named retired general Francisco Ramón Salinas as the new director of El Salvador’s National Civil Police (PNC), replacing former director Carlos Ascencio—thus removing the last high-ranking member of the public security cabinet linked to the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). Prior to his naming, Salinas was vice-minister of Defense and an active-duty general; he officially retired from military service several hours before Funes appointed him.
This cabinet change has been extremely controversial. The PNC is a civilian institution that was created by the 1992 Peace Accord negotiations that ended the Salvadoran civil war with the intention of removing the armed forces from any role in public security, specifically because of the long history of human rights violations by the military. FMLN secretary general Medardo González called Salinas’ appointment unconstitutional and a violation of the Peace Accords. Funes claims this is not true; however, Article 168.17 of El Salvador’s constitution states that the president is responsible for, “Organizing, leading, and maintaining the National Civilian Police for the protection of peace, calm, order, and public security both in urban zones as well as rural zones with a strict respect for human rights and under the direction of civilian authorities.” (Emphasis added.)
Upon hearing of Salinas’ appointment to head of the PNC, the force’s Inspector General Zaira Navas promptly resigned. Navas has aggressively investigated and purged hundreds of corrupt police officers of all ranks, earning praise from many—including Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA)—and death threats from others.
Salinas’ appointment is the latest in a series of changes announced by Funes that has swept every single FMLN member out of the security cabinet, and placed military officers in the highest-ranking public security posts. These changes began last November when Public Security Minister Manuel Melgar, an FMLN member appointed by Funes in 2009, was replaced by then-minister of defense Mungía Payés, another recently retired general. The US State Department had been pushing Funes to remove Melgar since 2009, while at the same time using economic and security cooperation initiatives like the Partnership for Growth and the Central American Regional Security Initiative to pressure El Salvador to use more militaristic approaches in its fight against narcotrafficking and gangs.
Minister Munguía Payés has declared a “War on Gangs,” fought with aggressive strategies to regain control of “gang territories” throughout the country. As part of the new “war,” Munguía Payés has created specialized anti-gang police units that are being trained by the Salvadoran military and US security personnel. He has also proposed a new “subsystem” of justice with special prosecutors and judges that only deal with accused gang members. Payés’ “War on Gangs”—essentially, a war on the young and impoverished who have been forced into gangs by the lack of opportunity—is a far cry from ex-minister Melgar’s focus on fighting the shadowy network of powerful organized crime figures, many with documented connections to El Salvador’s oligarchy and political elite.
When Melgar was replaced by Munguía Payes in November, FMLN spokesperson Roberto Lorenzana predicted that additional high-ranking FMLN security officials would also be replaced, furthering the shift in public security from civilian to military control. Lorenzana named both Ascencio and Roberto Linares, director of the State Intelligence Organization, (OIE) as likely candidates for removal. Now, about two months later, Lorenzana’s predictions have come true and both of these FMLN functionaries have been replaced. Prior to Ascencio’s dismissal, the Funes administration announced the removal and replacement of Roberto Linares a few weeks ago. The new director of OIE is Ricardo Perdomo, who served as minister of Economy under the right-wing José Napoleón Duarte administration (1984-1989), which closely collaborated with the US in the civil war. Since Perdomo has no professional experience in the area of intelligence, many expect that active-duty Col. Simón Molina Montoya, who is the newly-appointed number two man at OIE, will be calling the shots . Col.l Molina was Munguía Payes’ intelligence advisor when he was minister of Defense. (CISPES, Jan. 24)