Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

EL SALVADOR-GUATEMALA: Lawmakers’ Murders Point to Web of Corruption

Raúl Gutiérrez

SAN SALVADOR, Feb 24 2007 (IPS) - The capture of four Guatemalan police officers suspected of killing three Salvadoran legislators has heightened the sensation of insecurity among Central Americans, who are now more than ever asking themselves just who they can trust.

The four police officers are Luis Herrera López, the head of the Guatemalan National Civil Police (PNC) organised crime unit, another high-ranking officer and two organised crime investigators. Two other police officers from that country are also being sought in connection with the crime.

Authorities in Guatemala also reported that two vehicles have been seized in connection with the murders, one of which belonged to the PNC.

The intellectual authors of the murders were presumably Salvadoran.

Both Guatemalan President Oscar Berger and his Salvadoran counterpart, Antonio Saca, confirmed that the police officers involved have ties to drug trafficking rings.

“The latest report I received is that a band of drug traffickers with ties in both countries (was responsible for the killings), and that elements of Guatemala’s National Civil Police form part of the gang,” said Berger.

Saca added that “all of the evidence indicates that a specific group touched political structures in El Salvador.”

“Organised crime is a reality in Central America and can be related to contraband, and to drug trafficking,” he said.

No authorities have so far referred to the motivation for the murders.

However, the Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre reported that “The police officers who were arrested told investigators that they had been paid to intercept the vehicle driven by the legislators and steal the drug shipment that they were supposedly carrying or the money from its sale.”

Salvadoran Minister of Security and Justice René Figueroa promised “to get to the bottom of what happened and bring those responsible for the murders to justice.”

In a press conference he said the Guatemalan and Salvadoran police were working together in the investigation.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) plans to assist the local security forces in clarifying the murders of Eduardo d’Aubuisson, 32, William Pichinte, 49, and José Ramón González, 57, all of whom belonged to the Central American Parliament (Parlacen).

The lawmakers, who belonged to the governing rightwing Republican Nationalist Alliance (ARENA), and their chauffeur Gerardo Ramírez, a PNC police officer with the VIP protection unit, were intercepted at noon on Monday on their way from El Salvador to Guatemala City, where they were to take part in the monthly plenary session of Parlacen.

A few minutes earlier, they had pulled away from a motorcade made up of four vehicles in which other legislators were driving and two police vehicles that were acting as escorts since the lawmakers crossed the border between the two countries. There was no apparent explanation for the decision to leave the caravan.

After the victims’ vehicle was intercepted, they were taken to a house in the village of El Jocotillo, southeast of the Guatemalan capital, where they were shot, reportedly with M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles, inside their car, which was then set on fire.

The killers also set fire to the bushes around the car, to eliminate any evidence, according to the police.

The murders came at a time when Deputy Roberto Silva of the National Conciliation party, an ally of ARENA, is a fugitive from justice, accused of shady business deals and money laundering.

Also implicated in the scandal is Parlacen Deputy Mario Osorto of ARENA, who is currently under arrest for irregularities in a public works contract that he granted, while serving as mayor of the eastern city of La Unión (2003-2006), to Silva’s construction company, as well as other acts of corruption.

Silva and Osorto lost their parliamentary immunity from prosecution in order to be brought to justice. In both cases ARENA lawmakers voted to strip them of immunity.

Saca will visit the United States next Tuesday to meet with President George W. Bush, to discuss “a range of issues, including our common commitment to strengthening democracy and our joint effort to address the problem of criminal gangs, and recent regional developments,” according to a press release from the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador.

Apart from vague hints from President Saca and ARENA leaders about the crime being “a clear message for ARENA,” without specifying from whom, or why, most analysts and opposition party leaders are keeping their opinions about the possible motive for the murders to themselves.

The doors are thus open to “several lines of investigation,” although the president and ARENA leaders showed concern about the participation of PNC officers in the murders.

Salvadoran Attorney-General Félix Garrid Safie said on television that authorities in El Salvador and Guatemala have agreed not to make remarks about the incident, to avoid “unfounded theories a priori.”

“We are handling this very cautiously and prudently,” the attorney-general said, shortly before the presidents of both countries said that the arrested police officers may have been involved in the drug trade.

Political scientist Napoleón Campos told IPS that the arrest of the Guatemalan police officers tends to make the idea of any political connection less likely, and said that in his opinion the murders “were not directed” against anyone in particular, as was speculated two days after the crime.

In any case, the triple murder “is an alarm bell for stability in Central America,” the analyst said.

Experts reviewed the long history of police involvement in criminal activities in both El Salvador and Guatemala, where dozens of officers have been captured, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced.

Salvadoran police Inspector-General Romeo Melara Granilla confirmed to IPS that in 2006 alone, 400 agents and officers were dismissed for serious crimes, including extorsion, robbery, kidnapping and collaborating with criminal gangs.

D’Aubuisson was buried on Wednesday in a private cemetery, where some 200 mourners, ARENA leaders and two former Salvadoran presidents paid him homage. A military band played a funeral march and a trumpet was blown for a minute’s silence before the coffin, draped with the flags of El Salvador, Parlacen and ARENA.

When his coffin arrived at party headquarters, Saca said that “El Salvador is in mourning,” and that all three parliamentarians were “exemplary members of ARENA,” and had worked for the party’s highest ideals.

“Like his father, Eduardo was a great patriot, and today he has become an example for our country’s youth,” he said.

The murdered deputy was the son of the late Major Roberto d’Aubuisson, who founded ARENA in 1981. He was known in political circles by his nickname “Veneno” (Poison), allegedly because of his temper.

Eduardo d’Aubuisson practically grew up in political rallies and party meetings, where he was often to be seen with his father. When he was just 18, he was involved in a shoot-out with police and got a bullet through his leg.

Major d’Aubuisson spearheaded a bloody campaign against the left in the 1980s, during the civil war (1980-1992). He was known for founding the country’s brutal death squads.

The United Nations Commission on the Truth in El Salvador, which was created by the peace agreements in 1992 to investigate human rights violations and crimes against humanity, also accused him of masterminding the March 1980 assassination of the archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

 
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