Many organizations which form the opposition in El Salvador are steadfastly opposed to the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) which will use US personnel to provide training of police, judges and prosecutors from around Latin America. Critics like CISPES and others, argue that the ILEA is simply a reincarnation of the discredited School of the Americas, where the US trained Latin American military forces in counter-insurgency tactics which often led to human rights abuses when the trainees returned home.
But the issues are not so simple. El Salvador needs police with more training and professionalism if it is to solve its crime problems. And an important voice for human rights in El Salvador, the Human Rights Institute at the University of Central America is participating in the ILEA. Benjamin Cuellar, director of the Institute, was asked:
Q. What do you say to people who criticize the institute for collaborating with the ILEA?
There are two levels, the people who are not informed, who don't know, who believe it's another School of the Americas (SOA). We were never going to work with the SOA. The SOA is located in the United States, and it's for the military. This is for police officers and law enforcement agents in the region. To those who are not informed or misinformed, we're happy to educate them and ask them to come along with us. The school is open so that journalists, human rights groups, victims and other interested people can enter with us.
To those that say it's secret and that they're not sharing any information, when many of them were there in the U.S. Embassy receiving the same information as we did, I say that's no longer a question of bad information. It's a foregone conclusion, in which they're not being open to see if this is what really happens in practice. The social movements and political forces in the legislative assembly knowing that they didn't have the votes to defeat it could have negotiated things like the conditions we've put in place. It would have been great if those conditions were in the agreement. Frankly, it would have been better if the other human rights groups, civil society organizations and political forces had accompanied us and together we could have guaranteed that the ILEA fulfill its mission of training police and law enforcement and not be used for other terrible, evil things.
They say that it's violating El Salvador's sovereignty, for example. But who says this country is sovereign? If they believe it is, that the Salvadoran government is independent, autonomous, I'd be grateful if they could convince me of that. It was approved in the legislative assembly, right? Formally, they completed all of the steps. So I would say to those people: look, please at least respect the institution's decisions.
At least, let us do our job without causing more complications than what we already have from our adversaries and assume that we are going to support all of these victims that struggle against impunity and want to find justice. And that they join us in denouncing the case of the Jesuits, not because it's the Jesuits, but because it is one of the symbols like Romero, El Mozote and Sumpul that can help to begin to tear down the wall of impunity. I would also like everyone to know that if anything happens that is out of line, if we begin to see that the ILEA could turn into another SOA, the IDHUCA will be the first institution to denounce it, and the only ones with objective knowledge because we're going to be inside and know what's going on.
Read the rest of the interview here.