From the National Catholic Reporter:
A Salvadoran judge ruled that Spanish Passionist Fr. Antonio Rodriguez, known for his work in rehabilitating gang members, should remain in jail, accused of various crimes regarding gang activities.
Rodriguez, known as Padre Tono, was arrested July 29 and charged with several offenses, including illicit associations, influence peddling and introducing prohibited items -- including cellphones -- into prisons where members of the Barrio 18 or Calle 18 gang are held. He was arrested in connection with a huge police raid against 127 gang members on charges of extortion, among other crimes.
On Monday, he was granted parole, but he was arrested again after the attorney general's office added new charges Tuesday. He is being held by the national civil police.The new charges expand the scope of things Padre Tono is accused of:
"I do not understand why [the attorney general] has arrested me, and not Francisco Flores," he said to local media, talking about the former Salvadoran president accused of various corruption charges. Rodriguez rejects the accusations and says he is the victim of political persecution by El Salvador's government.
Public prosecutor Alvaro Rodriguez told reporters the priest is accused of “illegal association and smuggling banned objects into prisons,” directly linking him to jailed Gang Mara 18 leader Carlos Mojica, alias “El Viejo Lin.”
The link between father Rodriguez and the gang leader was uncovered in phone tapping during a probe of extortion cases in Santa Ana, the prosecutor said, adding that the accused was not linked to that crime.
According to the prosecutor, as a result of his “permanent contact” with Mojica, the priest facilitated the transfer of several gang members to more lenient prisons. Father Rodriguez allegedly also negotiated with unidentified officials to decrease cellular signal-blocking devices in Cojutepeque prison. Other charges include the smuggling of televisions, fans, jewelry and mobile phones, all of which are prohibited in prison centers.
Rodriguez’s lawyer, Bertha de Leon, told reporters the accusations “are just mere interpretations and speculations of the prosecution.” Leon maintained that “there is no voice recognition (system)” to prove that Mojica and Antonio Rodriguez are the ones speaking in the recordings of the calls intercepted by the FGRThe Spanish government is closely following the case according to EFE.
Padre Toño's involvement with the so-called "tregua" or truce between El Salvador's two leading gangs has been complex. InsightCrime summarizes that complexity:
Father Antonio Rodriguez, a Spanish priest who heads a church in the greater San Salvador area, has been an important and often controversial intermediary between civil society and El Salvador's two main street gangs -- Barrio 18 and the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13).
Padre Toño has long advocated for dialogue with the gangs but was initially opposed to the truce struck between the two sides in March 2012. However, he climbed on board with the initiative after a close associate of his who worked with former gang members was murdered.
Rodriguez was a member of one of two camps of intermediaries, the other of which was led by Raul Mijango and Bishop Fabio Colindres, who were instrumental in brokering the initial agreement. These original mediators were largely sidelined by the previous government after former Security Minister Ricardo Perdomo -- a major truce critic -- came into office in mid-2013. Since then, the truce has slowly fallen apart, and murders are now back at pre-truce levels.
The priest later teamed up with Perdomo to plan a new peace process -- which had the backing of the US government but was flatly rejected by the gangs -- leading to accusations he was attempting to usurp Mijango and Colindres. Perdomo shut down the communication channels that had previously been used to facilitate gang negotiations, but reportedly gave Padre Toño permission to enter the prisons.A Salvadoran TV station aired this report Who is Padre Tono?" (in Spanish):