US pushes police powers at Salvador “anti-gang” summit

From the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), April 18:

US Ambassador Uses Anti-Gang Summit to Intervene in Salvadoran Domestic Security Issues
During an April 8 “Anti-Gang Summit” in San Salvador, United States Ambassador Charles Glazer urged Salvadoran authorities to quickly approve certain laws and reforms to the penal code, stating that, “it is necessary to make several critical reforms to get criminals off of the streets.”

The three demands put forward by Ambassador Glazer are the prompt approval of a new Criminal Processing Code, new powers of telephone surveillance, and a new extradition law. Glazer justified these proposed reforms by insisting that they would help El Salvador’s economy. In a clear allusion to the massive stream of Salvadorans immigrating the United States, Glazer stated that “extortion and the threat of violence impede economic growth and force your citizens to leave in search of safer streets and better economic conditions.”

Minister of Public Security René Figueroa expressed his hope that Glazer’s interventionist statements will help pressure the Legislative Assembly to approve the legal reforms. Figueroa joined the ambassador’s call, declaring to the Assembly that “it is necessary that we provide ourselves with the ability to carry out telephone surveillance, and that it always be authorized by a judge.” According to Figueroa, the reforms are necessary because “security is synonymous with development.”

However, telephone wiretapping powers such as those proposed by the pending reforms have the potential to be used arbitrarily, according to social organizations that challenge the proposal. The general sentiment of leaders in the social movement is that given the control that the executive branch exercises over the judiciary, there is not a guarantee that telephone surveillance will not be used as a means of coercion against civil society and social movement groups.

According to Benito Lara, Legislative Deputy from the leftist FMLN party, “The proposed changes in the criminal processing code amounts to a new version of the ‘Iron Fist’ Plan, and therefore should be profoundly discussed.” Lara similarly questioned the proposed wiretapping powers.

It was also announced at the Anti-Gang Summit that US Government agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be taking part in the new Transnational Anti-Gang Center, to be located in El Salvador. Currently, US intervention in El Salvador already involves the presence of FBI detectives working with the National Civilian Police (PNC), presumably to help combat gangs.

See our last posts on El Salvador and Central America.