U.S. said Bukele gov't negotiated with gangs (Dec. 9, 2021)
The U.S. accused El Salvador's government of secretly negotiating a truce with the country's violent street gangs, reports the Associated Press. The U.S government alleges President Nayib Bukele's government bought the gangs' support with financial benefits and privileges for their imprisoned leaders including prostitutes and cellphones. Bukele called the accusations a lie on Twitter.
The U.S. Treasury made the accusations as it announced sanctions against two Bukele administration officials -- Osiris Luna Meza, chief of the Salvadoran Penal System and Vice Minister of Justice and Public Security, and Carlos Amilcar Marroquin Chica, chairman of the Social Fabric Reconstruction Unit. The U.S. said the officials negotiated with gang leaders to reduce homicides and obtain gang support for the governing Nuevas Ideas party in this year's legislative elections, reports El Faro.
This morning the U.S. also added Bukele's chief-of-staff, Carolina Recinos, to its sanctions list, accusing her of heading "a multiple-ministry, multi-million dollar corruption scheme involving suspicious procurements in the construction of a hospital, in addition to directing various government ministers to authorize several suspicious pandemic-related purchases." (U.S. Treasury)
El Faro reported the gang negotiation allegations in September of last year, and former Attorney General Raul Melara said he would investigate the report at the time. (See post for Sept. 4, 2020.) But Melara was ousted this year when Nuevas Ideas obtained a congressional majority. El Faro reports that the U.S. announcement yesterday confirms its investigation, and adds previously unknown details, including payments to gangs, the provision of cellphones to imprisoned gang members, and authorization for prostitutes to enter jails.
The U.S. also announced sanctions against Luna's mother, Alma Yanira Meza Olivares, who officials accused of collaborating with Luna in stealing pandemic relief supplies and then re-selling them to the government. Earlier this year, El Faro reported that Luna embezzled $1.6 million worth of food from a government program meant to feed Salvadorans during the pandemic, according to a criminal investigation led by ex-Attorney General Raúl Melara. (See Sept. 21's briefs.)
Melara's replacement in the attorney general's office, Rodolfo Delgado, rapidly dissolved the specialized teams of prosecutors investigating Luna's embezzlement scheme and the Bukele administration's negotiations with gang leaders, reports El Faro.
The U.S. accusations add to what was already a rapidly deteriorating relationship between Washington and San Salvador, reports the Washington Post.
In a series of Twitter messages, yesterday, Bukele said that in his last meeting with interim U.S. chargé d’affaires Jean Manes, she asked him for several things, including the release of a former San Salvador mayor, not to re-elect Delgado and to not pursue former President Alfredo Cristiani and former Attorney General Douglas Meléndez. He said he rejected the requests and said that after the meeting he cut off communication with Manes. (Associated Press)
Manes resigned last month, citing what she called the Bukele administration’s lack of interest in crossing “a bridge” of dialogue, as well as El Salvador’s refusal to extradite senior MS-13 leaders wanted on terrorism charges and concerns about a proposed foreign agents law. (See Nov. 23's briefs.)
More El Salvador
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