Sunday, December 20, 2015
A major theme in the 2015 news from El Salvador was corruption, or more specifically, the actual investigation of corruption.
The corruption case against former president Francisco Flores continues, despite a recent setback delivered by an El Salvador appeals court. Public integrity and civil society advocates were initially cheering when the trial court ruled that Flores would stand trial on charges of money laundering as well as corruption and illicit enrichment charges. The court also ruled that private complainants could participate in the case. Last week, the an appeals court threw out the money laundering charge. The appellate judges also ruled that Flores could return home under house arrest rather than being imprisoned while awaiting trial. The trial itself will take place in January 2016.
Another ex-president was arrested last week. The former president of El Salvador's national soccer federation, Reynaldo Vasquez, was arrested as part of the global investigation into corruption within the highest ranks of FIFA. The Untied States, which is leading much of the investigation is seeking the extradition of Vasquez for allegations of bribery in certain World Cup commercial contracts.
El Salvador's prison system announced this week that 27 of its employees had been arrested and charged with corruption during 2015. Meanwhile, the prison system has made little progress in reducing overcrowding in a system now at 327%. of capacity.
Much of the recent discussion on corruption in El Salvador has focused on the growth of the personal fortunes of various public officials during the course of their time in office.
Some of the corruption investigations have been instigated by the Section of Integrity (Probidad), a specialized branch of El Salvador's Supreme Court. Probidad has recently leveled charges against a deputy in El Salvador's National Assembly as well as the ex-minister of the Salvadoran social security system. It is looking at other officials including ex-presidents Saca and Funes.
US Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte expressed the support of the US for the efforts of Probidad.
Meanwhile, a Law on Integrity has been passed by El Salvador's National Assembly and is awaiting action by the president. The law was passed with votes of the FMLN and GANA. Despite its name, the law is opposed by many as representing a weakening of an existing law and possibly unconstitutional. In particular, the law does away with a presumption that if a public official's personal wealth grew significantly while in office, that the gain is presumed to be illicit unless the official proves otherwise.
It would be wrong to see these news stories of corruption as indicative that corruption is getting worse in the country. Instead, the passage of transparency laws in the country, the growth of independent journalism sources like El Faro, ContraPunto and RevistaFactum, civil society groups dedicated to good government and social media, have all made the investigation and exposure of corruption more common. It's slow progress, but it's good progress.