One year ago, two sets of murders contributed to the growing polarization in El Salvador. Today, the different way the cases have been handled since then shows the institutional weakness of El Salvador's criminal justice system.
One set of murders took place on July 5, 2006 during disturbances on the outskirts of the University of El Salvador. In actions which were photographed and videotaped by Salvadoran media, a masked shooter fired an assault rifle at riot police. After the melee, two policemen lay dead, presumably from the shooter's bullets.
Today, in an early morning raid, the PNC netted their most-wanted suspect. The alleged shooter, Mario Belloso, was arrested without a struggle in the area around Mejicanos on the outskirts of San Salvador and charged with the crime.
In contrast to the very significant police efforts and the press coverage of the search for Belloso, the double-slaying of Don Francisco Antonio Manzanares, age 77, and his wife, Doña Juana Monjarás de Manzanares, age 75, has gone uncovered by the Salvadoran mass media and unsolved by the PNC. They were the parents of "Mariposa" Manzanares who was an announcer on Radio Venceremos, the covert radio station of the FMLN during the civil war in El Salvador. The double murder was particularly gruesome, and had the hallmarks of a death squad killing. Today Amnesty International issued a statement decrying the lack of investigation:
"How far does the violence against political activists in El Salvador have to go for the authorities to take notice?," said Guadalupe Marengo, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Americas Programme.
"The brutal killings of Francisco and Juana show all the signs of the death squads that operated in El Salvador during the 1980's, which local organizations fear have resurfaced. The government's response also mirrors the years of impunity that have followed the end of the armed conflict."
Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting for a minute that a killer who shoots police in a premeditated fashion should not be pursued and prosecuted with the full force of the law. If Belloso is that masked shooter and his bullets killed the police, he should pay the penalty for his crimes. But by not devoting very significant resources to the investigation of an apparent death squad political murder, the government continues to permit an atmosphere of freedom to act for those who would threaten political activists.
Tribute to the Manzanares and announcement of a religious service in commemoration of their lives and martyrdom.