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id: 42731
date: 10/14/2005 21:11
refid: 05SANSALVADOR2811
origin: Embassy San Salvador
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.


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E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/15/2030
Classified By: DCM Michael A. Butler.  Reasons 1.4 (b,d).
1.  (C) Summary: On October 14, the Salvadoran National Police released its September monthly homicide report, reflecting that El Salvador had, through the first nine months of this year, nearly equaled total homicide figures for 2004. The report also reflected that September was the second most violent month this year, with 343 homicides. President Saca and the GOES are clearly troubled by the spiraling violent crime rate in the country, and have, in the past few months, taken some measures to focus law enforcement efforts on violent crime.  These efforts have not yet borne fruit. One key Embassy interlocutor in the government rejects the GOES claim that the majority of homicides are committed by the "maras," and says it's an excuse for inadequacy in dealing with the crime problem.  Separately, serious rifts between the leadership in the police and Attorney General's office is a major impediment in effecting successful prosecutions and convictions, not only in homicide cases, but in money laundering and other serious crimes.  The GOES is aware that violent crime is a major issue of concern for most Salvadorans, but with national elections March 2006, the Saca administration is unlikely to carry out any major leadership changes which could be used by the political opposition in the campaign.  End Summary.
2.  (C) On October 14, the Salvadoran National Police ( Policia Nacional Civil - PNC) issued its monthly homicide report, reflecting that, through the end of September, the national homicide rate was only 45 homicides less than all of 2004.  The report also reflects that September was the second most violent month this year, with 343 homicides, which, when added to rest of year figures (through October 1), puts total number of homicides nationwide at 2,717.  The marked increase in criminality and, especially, violent crimes over the past few months, has put pressure on President Saca and Governance (Gobernacion) Minister Rene Figueroa to "do something" to decrease violent crime rates and give the general population a greater sense of security.  As such, at the end of September President Saca ordered a modest reshuffle in the police hierarchy, geared towards improving results in the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of violent criminals, especially gang ("mara") members.  Among the most notable changes were the appointment of Deputy Police Commissioner Jose Luis Tobar Prieto, renowned for his police work in 2000-03 to reduce kidnappings, as Deputy Director of Investigations.  At the same time, Governance Minister Figueroa announced the creation of a special anti-homicide strategy and of a consultative interagency council to review options to reduce violent crime.  For its part, the Attorney General's Office (Fiscalia) also announced creation of a homicide investigation unit, composed of 15 deputy attorneys general dedicated solely to this issue.
3.  (C) Despite GOES plans in recent years to reduce violent crime, including the "Mano Dura" and "Super Mano Dura" strategies aimed at the "maras," and recent organizational changes in the Police and Fiscalia to address the homicide problem, most key players in the justice sector acknowledge that the national homicide and overall crime rates continue to spiral out of control. Many of these key players, however, often resort to finger pointing or simply blame the deportation of criminal "maras" from the U.S. for the spike in homicides.  For instance, during a recent meeting with Polcouns, National Security Council Director Oscar Bonilla (strictly protect) rejected claims by the National Police that up to 90 percent of violent crimes in El Salvador are committed by "mara" members.  In fact, Bonilla claimed, no more than 30 percent of such crimes are committed by "maras," but the Police and some high level government officials make that claim to deflect criticism of the GOES performance in providing security to the general population.  Bonilla added that the majority of homicides are committed by and among traditional criminal organizations and are generally related to drug trafficking.  Bonilla was critical of the police, but was equally critical of the Fiscalia, which, he claimed, suffered from internal disorganization, lacked focus, and was being directed by an Attorney General who had shown few results in his six years on the job.  Asked if he had shared these views with Saca, Bonilla responded affirmatively. (Note: As head of the National Security Council, an agency directly dependent on the Executive Branch, Bonilla reports directly to President Saca.  Bonilla has been a trusted and valuable Embassy contact of the past few years.  As a personal friend and confidant of President Saca, Bonilla has open access to the President, and can, and does, bypass other Saca confidants, when needed.  End Note.)
4.  (C) Separately, during an October 13 lunch with DCM and Polcouns, Attorney General Belisario Artiga (strictly protect) vented openly about National Police Commissioner Ricardo Menesses, strongly implying that Menesses is corrupt and has enriched himself through his position as head of the police. Artiga also stated that the police moved certain investigations forward, or delayed them, based on political motivations rather than the merits of the case, and referred to one recent money laundering investigation in which, he claimed, the police leaked vital information to the press. Artiga prescribed changes in the police hierarchy and opined that Menesses, at a minimum, had to be removed.  In contrast to Artiga's remarks, some two weeks ago PNC Counternarcotics Director Godofredo Miranda (strictly protect) went on at length with Polcouns about the lack of cooperation on counternarcotics and money laundering investigations by Artiga and the Fiscalia.  Miranda said that his unit worked diligently to prepare cases, and that, in most instances the Fiscalia either slowed movement on those cases or outright refused to prosecute.  Miranda attributed the government's less-than-stellar record on money laundering prosecutions and convictions on Artiga and his lack of commitment and leadership, though he acknowledged that uncommitted or corrupt judges also shared part of the blame.
5.  (C) Artiga and Bonilla have also raised resource problems, understaffing, and the need for legislative reform as additional impediments to effectively combating crime. In particular, both have pointed to the absence of a rules of evidence code and the fact that first instance judges have too much leeway in deciding whether to accept or throw out evidence which, in many cases, the police and Fiscalia consider perfectly admissible. Likewise, Artiga and Bonilla have also argued that law enforcement is overwhelmed with cases, and that both the police and the Fiscalia are understaffed and largely untrained, especially in areas like money laundering investigations, which require a higher degree of sophistication. Bonilla further cites distrust and lack of coordination between the Fiscalia and Police as another determining factor.
6. (C)  Comment: President Saca and Minister Figueroa (who aspires to the presidency in the near future) are clearly concerned about the spiraling violent crime rate and its political implications. It does not escape Saca and Arena that, in most recent polls, concern over crime and safety issues follows job creation and the economy as the next most important issue for respondents.  With key national elections coming up March 2006, Saca and ARENA know that they have to come up with a workable response to this spiraling crime rate, lest voters send them a signal at the polls.  With elections so close at hand, however, Saca will be reluctant to effect any major personnel changes for fear of creating a controversy that the FMLN and other opposition parties could use in the campaign.

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