HF: Even if ARENA’s hopes for Supreme Court nominations in 2009 fell short of stacking the entire bench with sworn party allies, my article outlines the numerous occasions on which the magistrates have demonstrated their allegiance to the political Right: they ousted the Constitutional Chamber’s loan progressive magistrate, and they have repeatedly undermined administration-led policy. That some of these decisions are based on dubious procedural technicalities hardly bears on their political nature.
Tim: My problem with that response is that you base your views on whether the outcome had the result the FMLN wanted, and not whether or not the court correctly applied the law. I would submit that El Salvador needs a court and judges who follow the law in order to be an effective democracy. You also don’t deal with the fact that the Court has also issued rulings which the right did not favor.
HF: You write that “there is no basis to think that gangs have a partisan interest to help either political party,” but while the magazine El Faro may disregard connections between the right-wing opposition and organized crime, there is in fact ample evidence to the contrary. It’s worth disclosing, incidentally, that El Faro is owned by the oligarchic Simán family, which has deep ties to the right-wing opposition. In recent days, in fact, the bodyguard of the head of the ARENA legislative group was arrested with several known gang members, and a wake was held in the ARENA party headquarters in the town of Apopa for a dead gang member who had murdered a police officer. Furthermore, the Attorney General has confirmed that he is investigating the mayors of Apopa and Ilopango, both from the ARENA party, for ties to gang structures, and municipal employees in Apopa and Zacatecoluca, also governed by ARENA, have been charged with conspiring with gangs.
HF: Finally, you claim that I merely echo the FMLN and Sánchez Cerén administration, but you ignore the numerous Salvadoran civil society groups that have denounced and continue to denounce the Supreme Court and other right-wing destabilization tactics (including violence) publicly: The International Democratic Federation of Women of El Salvador (FEDIM), which includes well-known and respected feminist and women’s organizations like Las Mélidas; the broad-based Social and Union Coordinating Committee (CUSS), which includes public and private sector unions, community organizations, agricultural cooperatives and more; and the Social Alliance for Governability and Justice, of over 30 groups, including youth organizations and community media groups like ARPAS, just to name a few. Margarita Posada, of the National Healthcare Forum, said in June: “The Constitutional Chamber is not a super power; but it has disrespected the Executive power and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Those four magistrates act in parallel with the protests of the ARENA party, when they should strengthen the country’s democratic system.”
Frankly, and in closing, your unconditional support for the crown of El Salvador’s judicial branch, which remains ridden with corruption despite repeated calls for judicial reform from political and civil society alike, surprises me; certainly, you must recognize that the regional Right has in recent years focused much of its oppositional efforts to undermine progressive governance by way of Supreme Courts, giving rise to the infamous “constitutional coups” that ousted democratically elected leaders in Honduras and Paraguay in recent years. I wrote my article precisely out of concern that the State Department-lead discourse of “institutionality” is blinding otherwise well-intentioned progressives to the political nature of the Court’s interventions, and in hopes of contributing to a critical analysis of the complex issues facing El Salvador today. As someone who shares your commitment to the cause of justice in El Salvador, I hope you can be receptive to my arguments.