Controversy rages over military man as Salvadoran security minister


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REPORTING FROM SAN SALVADOR -- It’s been nearly 20 years since peace accords ended the civil war in El Salvador, but the decision of President Mauricio Funes to put a military man in the sensitive post of security and justice minister has revived raw emotions and dark memories.

El Salvador is reeling from the deadliest violence since the war, most of it blamed on gangs and drug traffickers. The tiny country has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and Funes is under mounting pressure to rein in crime and lawlessness. This week he named retired army Gen. David Munguia Payes to the security post, the first time since the 1980-92 war that it has been occupied by someone from the military.


‘I have asked him for concrete results in the fight against crime,’ Funes said as Munguia was sworn in, pointedly dressed in a business suit (link in Spanish).

A coalition of violence-prevention groups, in a news conference Wednesday, condemned the appointment as a sign of a ‘gradual, dangerous return’ to the heavy-handed repression of the past. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) said the decision violated the spirit of the hard-fought, internationally brokered peace accords, which sought to distance the military from civilian government.

The naming of Munguia will also further drive a wedge between Funes and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), the former guerrilla group that became a leftist political party and carried Funes to the presidency as its candidate in 2009 (link in Spanish). FMLN officials were highly critical of the move.

Munguia replaces Manuel Melgar, who resigned this month. Melgar was a former guerrilla commander, and U.S. officials had essentially blackballed him, refusing to deal with him because of his possible role in the killing of four U.S. Marines in San Salvador during the war. That has led to speculation that Washington might have pressured Funes to remove Melgar (link in Spanish).

And there was also rebellion from the top leadership of the National Civilian Police, a postwar creation of a civilian law enforcement body that included both former guerrillas and former soldiers. Today, most of the top officers are former guerrillas, and on Wednesday they were threatening to quit over Munguia’s appointment.



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-- Alex Renderos