Repression worsens in El Salvador

El Nuevo HeraldBy Roger F. Noriega

[Translation by IASW]

Since the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) came to power in El Salvador in 2009, the former guerrilla began harassing its perceived enemies to gain a foothold in power. The FMLN not only attacks the political opposition, but also other government branches, businessmen, and NGOs.

Among the tactics used by the FMLN is electronic espionage, a practice that has had an exponential growth this year.

The first reported incident occurred in November 2009—only two months after the administration of former president, and now fugitive Mauricio Funes started—when the Supreme Court reported an eavesdropping network inside its offices. In October 2013, interim Supreme Court President Florentín Meléndez denounced the second case alleging that his phone had been tapped, apparently by the Executive. In May 2015, the eavesdropping continued when the president of the Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development, Roberto Rubio, denounced “electronic intimidation.” In August 2016, the Attorney General of El Salvador reported that he was being subjected to “persecution and harassment,” referring to telephone tapping and the use of drones to eavesdrop against him. Since the beginning of 2017, electronic espionage has grown exponentially. In January alone it has been reported that sophisticated listening devices have been found in the Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUSADES); the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of El Salvador; the National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP); in the Salvadoran Banking Association (ABANSA); and in FUNDE, an NGO that watches over transparency in El Salvador and that represents Transparency International in the country. It is believed that more organizations have found the same type of devices but are fearful of the repression they may be subject to if they report anything to the authorities.

The government of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has denied any involvement in these activities. The Secretary of Communications of the Presidency, Eugenio Chicas, commented on January 26th “as a government we have strongly condemned any intimidation, persecution or violation of the rights that any institution has in this country.” However, it is virtually impossible to take these statements seriously, especially when two consecutive FMLN governments have systematically committed themselves to attacking the opposition and the private sector, just like the governments of Cuba and Venezuela, with which the FMLN has a close friendship

It is important to emphasize that the central government is not the only entity committing these types of crimes. The mayor of San Salvador, Nayib Bukele, also a member of the FMLN, has been accused in his country of financing and promoting cyber-attacks against printed media.

In addition to intimidation, the FMLN has also dedicated itself to protecting criminals. The most notable case is José Luis Merino, a former guerrilla commander who now serves as Vice Minister of Foreign Investment and Financing, and has pending investigations for drug trafficking and arms trafficking. He is also directly linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and is suspected of laundering money for this terrorist organization. Merino, thanks to the protection of the FMLN and actors in both Cuba and Venezuela, has managed to expand his crime network in several countries in the region. Merino is precisely one of the officials who has promoted the most intimidation against Salvadorans who seek to push their country forward through democracy and free market policies.

That the government of El Salvador says it condemns “intimidating activities” is not only a bad joke but an insult to the intelligence of anyone who has observed the tactics of the FMLN since it came to power.

So far, and almost eight years after the first case of electronic espionage was reported, the government has not found or punished anyone responsible for these acts of authoritarianism, maybe because they would have to arrest themselves.

Because of this type of repression, and many others committed by the FMLN government, the administration of President Donald Trump should condition economic aid that goes to El Salvador. The policies of persecution and criminality within the government of El Salvador and the anti-American attitude of Sánchez Cerén cannot and should not be backed by our institutions nor by American taxpayers. When a government in El Salvador is willing to eradicate corruption, impunity, and authoritarianism, the United States will surely be there to support the transformation so desperately needed by Salvadorans.

Click here for original article in Spanish.

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

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