viernes, 29 de noviembre de 2013

Presentación de "Infiltrados". NYC 25-11-13

Segundo despliegue territorial de la PNC. Septiembre 1993. Foto cortesía de La Prensa Gráfica.

Fue un honor. Ahí estaban Álvaro de Soto, el asesor personal del ex Secretario General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar. Álvaro tuvo la gentileza de comentar Infiltrados, el libro sobre la corrupción en la Policía Nacional Civil de El Salvador que recién finalice y que se encuentra en las últimas etapas de corrección en UCA Editores. Es un libro "escalofriante", dijo Álvaro. La reunión, organizada por el Centro de Investigaciones de Estudios Sociales de Nueva York a petición del Centro de Estudios Latino Americanos de American University, fue una charla off the record en la que Álvaro De Soto y otros protagonistas del proceso de supervisión internacional del proceso de pacificación salvadoreño reflexionaron sobre aquellos días, sobre la esperanza y las deudas. Ahí estuvieron también Martha Doggett, autora de "Crónica de una muerte anunciada", y Teresa Whitfield, autora de "Pagando el precio"; ambos libros hablan sobre la masacre de la UCA, la trama de encubrimiento oficial alrededor de aquellos asesinatos y de cómo esa trama cimentó la cultura de impunidad que tanto ha crecido en estas dos décadas de posguerra. A ellos y a los organizadores agradezco por pemitirme hablar de Infiltrados. Dejo aquí el discurso que pronuncié en la reunión de Nueva York (en inglés).

Copia del cable en que la Embajada de EUA en El Salvador informa a Washington sobre negociaciones entre FMLN y el Gobierno, en el marco de las pláticas de paz, para crear una policía civil. Archivo Nacional, College Park, MD.

Thank you for coming here today.

Thank you to Mr. DeSoto. Ambassadors.

Thank you Renata and Sabrina.

Thank you Teresa and Marta for being here.

Last year I wrote a book about the National Civilian Police of El Salvador, la Policía Nacional Civil, the PNC ,the police body created by the Peace Accord that ended our civil war in El Salvador in 1992. I have known about the PNC both as a reporter and as diplomat.

Let me first tell you a little bit about myself. I am a journalist by training. I studied at the Central American University, la UCA, where I registered in 1991, a year and a half after six Jesuit priests and two of their aids were killed on campus by a US elite trained battalion of the Salvadoran Armed Forces, and a year before peace accords were signed in Chapultepec, México. In 1994 I started working as a staff reporter at La Prensa Gráfica, a major Salvadoran newspaper. Almost from the start, I wrote about the PNC: its dealings with the rise of kidnappings of rich people, or with sea pirates that seized shrimp-cargo from mid-sized vessels near the Pacific shore-line, and its relations with small to mid-sized bands of smugglers mainly in Eastern El Salvador in the mid 90s. I also witnessed the deployment of the PNC’s special units as the Counter narcotics Division and the Finance Division in the ill-guarded border posts; and the PNC’s struggles to overcome the sins of the past associated with the old police corps, such as political repression, torture, disappearances and corruption.
As a reporter, and years later as an editor of investigative units, I witnessed the ways of the PNC, of its officials and how post-war politics shaped the institution.

In 2009, I left journalism for a little while and came to Washington to work as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Salvadoran Embassy for the Funes administration. While in post I was mainly in charge of the security portfolio in the bilateral relation; security was, in fact, the main item in the conversation between the Obama administration and San Salvador. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when talking about Central America, said security, violence and organized crime -all issues close to the PNC- were to be at the center of the regional dialogue. And they have been. From within, I came to understand better how the mechanics of power were related to the Police, how politicians have neglected its improvement by letting particular interests -their own or those of their allies and clients- interfere even with the idea of a clean, strong, independent Police. As Juan Faroppa, a UN official some of you know that worked closely with the PNC in its early years, stated when I interviewed him for my book: “The elites in El Salvador wanted to make sure to control the newly created law enforcement unique body. In order to seize control, those elites did whatever was necessary with the PNC, even if it meant compromising its independency and its capacity to enforce.”

In 2012, I left the Embassy and the Government of El Salvador due to a personal disagreement with the Presidential House in how the administration was dealing with the Police and with the security issue. I could not represent a Government that had decided to bring back the military to the security cabinet and had backed away on its initial and promising intention of cleaning the Police of an elite that had used its connections with dirty politicians and with organized crime to ensure its own power.
So, I left and decided to write a book about the PNC.

Let me use two stories to talk about what Infiltrados is about and how it relates to the process, the unique and hopeful Salvadoran process, that the United Nations helped achieve and supervise back in the 90s. A process several of you know well because you were at the very core of it.

By telling you these stories I intend also to turn the page to the next chapter, to talk about what are the challenges ahead.
As I said, this story begins in 1992, when the National Civilian Police, one of the institutions that came to exist as part of the Peace Accord. The accord was a groundbreaking milestone for our political history that the FMLN commanders, La Comandancia, signed with the Government presided by Alfredo Cristiani, the moderate right-winger that fought his way to overcome the dark forces aligned at the extreme military and paramilitary wing of his party. Those were times of hope, of uncertainty, yes, but also of hope. We all witnessed the struggle of a lot of agents, officials and a few honest, committed politicians to create, as Peruvian former UN adviser Gino Costa wrote, “something new from the ruins of the old.” Did we as Salvadorans succeed in that task? Because let´s make no mistake here: whatever happened after the UN left the ground of the tiny embattled Central American country where I was born is our responsibility; it is for us, Salvadorans, to take the credit and the blame of what we did good and bad. When history´s accountability is demanded, it is us who must respond.

Let me tell you the first story, the story of a massacre.

The lieutenant stood by the door, his face covered by stripes of black camouflage. It was time. He called one of the men standing in a garden some 25 mts ahead guarding the four suspects lying in the ground. “When are you going to proceed?”, asked the lieutenant when the man arrived at the door. 

The soldier understood he had been given an order. He went back to the garden and whispered to one of his fellow soldiers: “Let´s proceed”.

Within seconds, the soldiers emptied their machine guns into the bodies of the men lying in the garden: four Jesuits priests. Their names: Ignacio Ellacuría Beascoechea, Segundo Montes Mozo, Ignacio Martín-Baró and Amando López Quintana. Four others were to be killed that night: Joaquín López and Juan Ramón Moreno, also priests, and their cook, Elba Ramos, and her daughter, Celina Marissette, age 16, who was soon to be married.

All of you know about these events. Martha and Teresa wrote thorough and brave descriptions of those killings. Teresa gave us a complete profile of Ellacuría and an intense recount of how the traditional powers in El Salvador –the economic and military elites– made those who opposed them pay with their lives. Martha told us how the last massacre of the war was planned and executed by the military and how the first big act of impunity of the post-war was performed through a massive cover-up operation by all levels of those traditional powers, all the way up to the Commander in Chief. One of the main instruments of those operations was Cnl. Manuel Rivas Mejía, a young official trained and nurtured from 1984 on by the US military as part of a strategy to modernize the ESAF, respond to worries in Washington about human right violations by the army and guarantee full support for the Salvadoran ally in its “fight against communism”. Rivas Mejía became head of, the Special Investigative Unit of the National Police, the SIU, and in 1989, Rivas Mejia became the leading investigative officer in the Jesuit massacre. His main role, as the Truth Commission later established, was to cover-up the massacre. Despite that, the Salvadoran Government, backed by the US, positioned him as head of the new PNC, but after his involvement in the Jesuit case came to light, he was not offered the position. Nonetheless, his students, detectives that had learned in the worst years of the war how to fabricate, obstruct or kill the means for justice, did make it to the new PNC. And with them, the culture of impunity infiltrated our new Police from its foundation. Here is where my book begins.

The good news is, I think, that El Salvador is better off now than it was 20 years ago, when a lieutenant could whisper the order to kill that a Clnl had given him –order that now a Spanish judge claims was given to that Clnl by the high command of the ESAF– and get away with it. It is fair to say that a crime committed by the State, such as one of such magnitude, is now highly unlikely. The bad news is violence is an ongoing epidemic in El Salvador and impunity is an unanswered challenge, one that political power is yet to address.
This translates to the PNC. The good news is that after 20 plus years we don´t have an institution whose main role is to eliminate the adversary, although it was even when the old PN was fully dismantled
What we don´t have, though, is an institution committed to justice for all. That being, as former CICIG commissioner, Francisco D´Allanesse, describes, officers committed to answering to no one but the law, not to a politician or a drug dealer. That we don´t have. Back in 1999, Salvadoran scholar José Miguel Cruz -himself an UCA graduate and a Jesuits pupil- wrote that the new Police, when formed and deployed, had a double task: besides the inherent one of enforcing the law and keeping peace, it was to be the face of the new process, democracy and the new country. The New Police, wrote Cruz, had to secure the country while convincing Salvadorans that the rule of law, not political repression or corruption, was its unique standard. Well, if we are optimistic, it is fair to say that the PNC had a good start in the first of its tasks as it was able to overcome the firsts blitz of violence in the post war period, but if we are to be realistic, it has to be said that the PNC failed in its second task, that of becoming an agent of change. By neglecting its own internal cleansing and empowering without accountability, the rise of an elite of officers that were educated in the ways of the past, the PNC failed.

Let me tell you the second story:

The old man arrived to the detective section of the PNC in the morning as he had done almost daily since three hit-men killed his son, a young engineer
At the crime scene, in front of the house of a relative whom his son was visiting, the old man had help put the bleeding body of his son into a pick-up truck that took him to the hospital. Before the old man got into his own car to follow the pick-up truck, a construction worker approached him: “Mr. I saw everything. They came in a dark car; two of them stepped out and opened fire, the third one stayed in the car. That guy, the one that stayed, had just two fingers in one of his hands”, the worker said. The young engineer died five hours later at the hospital. The day after, the old man started a quest for justice that was going to uncover how contaminated the new Police was only two years after it took control of all law enforcement power in El Salvador.
The old man arrived at the precinct that morning, as he had done daily, but the officer that usually talked to him about his son´s case was not there. Another detective came. As both were chatting, and the old man became anguished, the new detective posed his arm around the old man´s shoulder. The victim´s father noticed at one: the policeman lacked three fingers in one of his hands.

The name of that detective was Carlos Romero Alfaro, aka Zaldaña, a former PN hit man and Clnl. Rivas subordinate. The young engineer’s name was Ramón Mauricio García Prieto.

A former assistant to the AG office in El Salvador told me that Romero Alfaro leaded an assassin´s squad in the PNC DIC or División de Investigación Criminal, heir unit to the SIU. The hit squad was called Assassins Inc. Before being involved in the García Prieto murder, Romero Alfaro had killed FMLN fmr. Commander Francisco Velis, a murder that in 94 was characterized by a UN SG as the worst violation to the peace process. Romero Alfaro was convicted for the Velis case, but barely: two lawyers that back then were advisors to the DIC helped him escape. One of the lawyers hid an arrest warrant and the other misled the investigation and tampered with witnesses. One of the lawyers became Inspector General in the 2000s; the other became Attorney General of El Salvador.

With the arrival of the new century, the old vices were there still in the Salvadoran Police and now validated by the new acronym: La PNC, one of the proud children of the Peace Accord. Again, in all fairness it is imperative to say that the PNC is a different institution but El Salvador is, as a whole, a different country thanks to what happened in 1992 and the process we then started. If we were to say, here and now, that our institutions are the same as they were 30 years ago we would probably still be killing each other. What the PNC is not is a suitable institution to face the ever growing challenges to our fragile democracy, which in the case of Public Security have to do with the action of sophisticated organized crime that find in those old rings of corruption and impunity a great place to grow.
The second half of Infiltrados is about how old criminal bands, that began their criminal careers in the 80s as weapon or drug smugglers, used their new found connections with the PNC to develop into sophisticated drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). These new DTOs are now capable of money laundering, have secured pacts with major criminal players in the region –such as Mexican and Colombian cartels- and learned how to use the formal economy and financial system. Nowadays, this “entrepreneurs” of crime, long-time tolerated and nurtured by law enforcement an politicians in El Salvador, are regional players themselves.
U.S. Professor Bruce Bagley, from the University of Miami, when addressing organized crime in the Americas, refers to the cockroach effect which is when crime goes to the filthiest and darkest places. Regrettably, El Salvador´s PNC is, in so many areas, a very dark and filthy place. What happened? I proposed here two of the four pillars of the infiltration of crime in the PNC which I talk about in the book and that I think might be interesting to folks that oversee pacification and institutional reform processes around the world.
  1. The power of the past. Supranational powers will always have a limit when dealing with the status quo. The case of El Salvador was extraordinary: both parts agreed to end the war and also agreed on the basic reform necessary to engage in the construction of a new society. The best results of that are for all to see: alternation in power, freedom of speech, freedom of association and in terms of violence, the evolution of the State from an entity engaged in the act of producing it to an entity merely incapable of containing it. But the worst and unfinished rooms of that house are still plenty and important: even in those early days, the parts –las partes– understood that whatever power they were able to retain while the referee was present would allow them to set the rules for the times to come. In the case of the PNC, the deal was clear: the traditional economic and military elites managed to set the rules and establish their command after what was known as Plan 600, a pact that allowed the military to transfer their own –the Rivas, DIC type– to the PNC’s highest level in the chain of command and to the FMLN to cut a better deal in Plan 600 of its mid-level war commanders. As Gino Costa wrote: on the road, they settled for the future, the forces of the past made sure to maintain a safety net. And, in the case of the PNC, that was very harmful: it compromised its capacity to enforce the law, to investigate and track down crime within those powers. As US researchers David Holiday and William Stanley wrote: UN capacity as referee was to go as far as those powers agreed on in all fairness. In the case of the PNC, las partes decided to overstep the referee in essential parts of the deal. Pressure coming from well recognized and influential external powers, nonetheless, have proven effective to start changes: the CICIG model in Guatemala and recent pushes coming from the US Senate for El Salvador to address pending issues in security are examples of that. Maintaining accountability over those changes is another story, though. That, I am afraid, can only be asked to do by an internal player: civil society. In El Salvador five post-war administrations have failed the PNC´s debt with transparency; it is time for civil society -non-committed with the old political schemes of the war, as the two major parties are- to step in.

  2. The unfulfilled changes. The politics of change are, as you know, very complex. But in these scenarios international pressure and dialogue should be focused always on institutions, and mainly on the legal and formal framework. An example: One guarantee for impunity in the PNC has been the lack of an effective Internal Affair unit. They do not exist. Inspector Generals, besides two very outstanding exceptions –two women–, have been mere puppets in the hands of PNC ruling elite (the current one just told a journalist that he doesn’t have any notice about the involvement of police officers with organized crime; this when UNODC and US DOS have said otherwise unequivocally and, most importantly, when all serious academia and journalism in the country have proven otherwise). Even when the empowerment of an IG is a matter of political will, it could also start as a formal issue: in the case of El Salvador, the IG is named by the Director General; a legal reform to create an autonomous unit that could bring more independence has been proposed several times but has always been overlooked or blocked. PDDH, another child of the Peace Accord, is a good example of how autonomy can guarantee transparency: despite marginalization by the political formal power and its own flaws, the Ombudsman office has been one of the most effective watchdogs in El Salvador. The problem is that PDDH does not have prosecutorial capacities. The IG does.
I will finish with the three ideas that I consider key to addressing the PNC´s challenges in the future. The challenges of the Police have to do with those threats that have put at risk the hope with which we faced peace back in 1992. I have said that we are better now. I truly believe that. But I also believe that if unanswered, the same realities that have overwhelmed the PNC, such as corruption, obscurity, penetration of crime and lack of accountability will destroy the foundations of the idea we envisioned after Chapultepec.

Formal accountability, empowerment of the new power, a civil society uncompromised with the ways of the past and willing to move forward beyond the boundaries of the war that are still alive. Information; the right to know what has happened and who has done it -- the only reason Clnl Rivas Mejía didn’t become the first head of the PNC is that his name was mentioned by the Truth Commission. So, naming the names is essential. That is why I wrote Infiltrados.

New York, November 25th 2013.

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