Friday, May 17, 2013

Constitutional Chamber tosses out Minister of Security and head of PNC

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The Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court declared today that the Minister of Public Security and the Director of the National Civilian Police (PNC) were both named invalidly because both were ex-military officers who had retired just before taking their civilian jobs.

President Mauricio Funes had named the former Minister of Defense general David Munguía Payés to be Minister of Public Security and retiring general Francisco Ramón Salinas Rivera to be Director of the PNC in November 2011 and January 2012 respectively. These appointments came despite criticisms from his own party and human rights groups about the appropriateness of naming military men to be in charge of civilian policing.

One of the achievements of the 1992 Peace Accords which ended El Salvador's civil war was the removal of the military from domestic affairs. This principle, which became a part of the post war constitution, required a complete separation of the military and the police so that the abuses of the preceding decades of military dictatorships and support of oppressive oligarchies would end.

Today the Constitutional Chamber ruled that the appointment of these two ex-generals violated that prohibition. A general may not take off the uniform of a soldier one day and put on the suit of the Minister of Public Security the next. The Chamber was not persuaded that these military men had first retired to civilian life before being appointed to their positions. A general in El Salvador's armed forces had been formed and trained by the military, and that did not disappear when he retired.

Munguía Payés has played a high profile role since he was named Minister of Public Security. On taking the post, he declared that the homicide rate would be reduced by 30% within a year, a prediction which most doubted. Yet following the gang truce, which he now publicly supports, the homicide rate has fallen more than 50%.

The Constitutional Chamber has once again shown itself to be unafraid to deal with major constitutional issues and to challenge president Funes or the National Assembly. This ruling adds to its other pro-democracy rulings including the requirement that voters be allowed to select individual deputies and declaring unconstitutional the manner in which almost 2/3 of the justices of the Supreme Court had been selected.

The ruling is in effect immediately, and the Chamber urged Funes to move forthrightly to name new civilians to the posts.

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