Civil society’s opposition to the rapid changes in El Salvador’s Public Security Ministry continues to gain ground. On March 26, the Supreme Court accepted a lawsuit seeking to annul the appointment of two former general David Munguía Payés as Minister of Public Security and former general Francisco Salinas as director of the National Civil Police (PNC). The petition had been presented a month earlier by 31 civil society groups from across the political spectrum. The plaintiffs criticize the naming of these two career military officers, both retired from the military mere days or hours before their respective appointments, as unconstitutional due to amendments that explicitly exclude the military from involvement in the Ministry of Public Security and the PNC.
The cabinet appointments, made by President Mauricio Funes under direct pressure from the US State Department, are part of an alarming trend towards re-militarized Public Security cabinets across Central America, under the rubric of the “War on Drugs”. The militarization of police and counter-drug strategies are characteristic of US-sponsored and funded policies in the region, including Plan Colombia and the Merida Initiative (Plan Mexico), which have failed to stop drug flow into the US and have drastically increased drug-related violence in these Latin American countries.
The civil society plaintiffs argue that there is a difference between stopping the practice of one’s military career and terminating one’s military career. They claim that the conditions surrounding the retirement of these two officials constitutes a mere stoppage in their military careers – given the extremely short time-frame between Salinas and Payes’ retirement and their new ministerial appointments – which therefore constitutes a violation of articles 159 and 168 of the constitution, prohibiting military involvement in public security.
Although the plaintiffs regard the acceptance of their case as a small victory, this is the first step in a long process. Furthermore, the Court denied the plaintiffs’ request to temporary remove the officials the court deliberates. The Constitutional Court will rule on the case in the coming months.