On Tuesday, November 7, Manuel Melgar resigned from his post as Minister of Security, to which he was appointed by President Mauricio Funes soon after his inauguration in June 2009. No official reason has been given for the resignation; however, evidence points to intervention by the U.S. State Department, which rejected President Funes’ selection of Melgar – a former commander of the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN) guerrilla forces in the Civil War – as Minister of Public Security from the beginning.
A cable from the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador published by Wikileaks, dated eight weeks after Melgar’s appointment, claimed that Melgar had “blood on his hands,” an ironic assertion considering that UN has reported that over 80% of the 70,000 Salvadorans killed during the Civil War were murdered by the Salvadoran military and death squads, whose financial lifeline came from the U.S. government. According to the cable, U.S. opposition to Melgar stems from his loose connection to an FMLN mission in San Salvador’s elite Zona Rosa neighborhood that resulted in the deaths of four U.S. marines as well as Salvadoran and U.S. civilians; Melgar was a member of the general leadership of the FMLN at that time and not the immediate mission commander. The U.S. Embassy official goes on to say that funding for the Mérida Initiative, one of the U.S. “War on Drugs” initiatives in Latin America, would be “contingent upon guidance from Washington regarding how best to work around Melgar.”
Behind closed doors, Washington continued to call for Melgar’s removal into the present day, echoing the unrelenting drumbeat of calls for the Minister’s replacement by El Salvador’s right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance party (ARENA) – the party founded by the architect of the brutal Salvadoran death squads, Major Roberto D’Aubuisson. According to the Salvadoran digital periodical El Faro, high-level sources within the Ministry of Security claim that Melgar’s removal was a U.S. condition for implementing the Partnership for Growth program, which was officially signed by both countries just four days prior to Melgar’s resignation.
The Partnership for Growth program is being touted as a new form of U.S. support for economic development in the country. Since taking office, President Funes and the FMLN have called for economic solutions to the country’s security situation, framing the issue of gangs and violence as a result of the high levels of poverty and social exclusion that must be addressed by creating economic opportunity. In contrast, the Partnership’s first report identifies violent crime as the primary barrier to economic growth in the country; thus turning an economic assistance program into another means for U.S. intervention in El Salvador’s public security.
The FMLN has expressed concern that the Partnership for Growth will only increase the militarization of public security in El Salvador, reversing the strict separation of armed forces from public security that came out of the 1992 Peace Accords. While there are currently troops supporting police details and in prisons (in posts where they have no contact with prisoners), FMLN leaders are fearful that this program will dramatically ramp up military involvement in public security decisions and implementation; in Mexico, this model has contributed to the death of 40,000 people between 2006 and 2010.
Washington’s Partnership for Growth is not the only new U.S. security initiative for El Salvador. Through its funding power, the U.S. is steering the pre-existing Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) towards the notorious models of Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative. Both programs have exacerbated problems of narcotrafficking and violence in Colombia and Mexico while generating myriad human rights violations.
The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador considers this apparent U.S. intervention in El Salvador’s internal affairs of state to be a major violation of national sovereignty. The Salvadoran government through its mandate from the Salvadoran people has the sole right and responsibility to choose its Minister of Security. It is extremely disappointing that the long and shameful history of U.S. intervention of this sort has continued under the Obama Administration. The U.S. government’s refusal to listen to the security solutions proposed by President Funes, the FMLN and the Salvadoran people – including sustainable and equitable economic growth – makes it clear that current U.S. involvement in CARSI and the Partnership for Growth responds primarily to its own agenda and will likely only intensify violence, militarization and injustice in the region.