Piling on Fake-legal Precedent in Latin America – Next, El Salvador

Mauricio Funes sits during a press conference.
“Since I left the Presidency of the Republic I knew that the right wing oligarchy was going to intensify its political persecution of me,”
Mauricio Funes said during a press conference.

Tortilla con Sal

Last Monday the Nicaraguan government officially confirmed political asylum for the ex-President of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, and his family. The plight of Mauricio Funes is the latest case of how the region’s right wing elites manipulate and abuse local justice systems seeking to achieve political power they cannot win via elections.

The soft coup against President Fernando Lugo in Paraguay in 2012 was based on pseudo-legal conjuring tricks by corrupt right wing prosecutors, judges and legislators. So too are the current judicial persecutions of former President Cristina Fernandez in Argentina and of former President Lula da Silva in Brazil. Last month in Brazil saw the culmination of this kind of utterly corrupt abuse of justice with the removal of democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff.

When national justice systems lack the required mechanisms, the US and its allies oblige installing UN bodies to achieve the desired result. They did this in Guatemala with the International Commission against Impunity, managing to overthrow the right wing government of Otto Perez Molina when he resisted US policy demands in 2015. Molina was succeeded by Jimmy Morales, a different front man for a different faction of Guatemala’s corrupt elites. With culpable naivety, much of the progressive movement in Honduras has welcomed the installation of a similar UN body in their country. The spurious pretext for these Commissions is to strengthen local judicial structures and legal culture against corruption and impunity. But a long set of antecedents has shown beyond argument that these UN bodies are just as wide open to political abuse and ideological manipulation as existing local legal systems and in fact serve as precedents for precisely that kind of abuse.

For now, the latest victim is El Salvador’s former President Mauricio Funes, who himself wrote on his Facebook page:

“Since I left the Presidency of the Republic I knew that the right wing oligarchy was going to intensify its political persecution of me in revenge for the decisions I took during the five years of my government. The right wing, the ARENA party and the economic power elite could not tolerate losing their influence over decisions of the Executive power. They were used to using the mechanisms of government to favor their economic interests and enrich themselves at the cost of the State. Losing those privileges is something they are never going to forgive and they’ll do everything possible to recover them.”

Funes goes on to explain that he is by no means a fugitive from justice, noting:

“The political asylum requested from the Nicaragua authorities does not mean I am evading justice in El Salvador and much less does it mean that I am giving up my defense in the relevant instances. I am sure I can prove my innocence and undo the process of arbitrary accusations against me… I have sought political asylum in Nicaragua because I have well-founded reasons to think some factions of the Salvadoran extreme right wing are planning to physically hurt me. Their intolerance is as extreme as their concept of doing politics. As en ex President of the Republic and predecessor to a government which has begun important transformations that have changed the course of our country’s history, I will not renounce my struggle to continue building democracy and social justice in El Salvador.”

This latest development in the persecution of Mauricio Funes takes place in the context of a vicious constitutional battle in which the corrupt right wing magistrates of the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber, illegally appointed by the outgoing right wing controlled legislature in 2009, have consistently acted to destabilize the country’s revolutionary government under the Farabundo Martí National Front for Liberation. Last July 13th, the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber annulled the country’s 1993 Amnesty Law on the pretext that that it violated the country’s constitution. The decision was an entirely arbitrary procedural abuse completely overturning all the precedent established subsequent to the historic 1992 Peace Agreement. Paradoxically, it was the right wing ARENA government at the time that rushed the Amnesty Law into effect in order to circumvent the Peace Agreements’ Truth Commission’s findings which attributed 5% of 22,000 cases of human rights violations to the FMLN and 95% to the government and the army.

The court’s ruling renders those findings moot, leaving FMLN government functionaries effectively at the mercy of El Salvador’s elite-controlled justice system. So while the case against Mauricio Funes has moved swiftly, by contrast around 900 cases against judicial functionaries are on hold. Perhaps more seriously, the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber has revoked the parliamentary status of the National Assembly’s 84 supplementary legislators, rendering virtually inoperable the usual workings of the country’s legislature. Subsequently, the same Constitutional Chamber has used this very judgment to block as invalid government efforts to issue bonds worth US$900 million which the government needs to implement its social programs and fund its campaign to defeat the country’s organized crime gangs, the maras. Likewise, again hindering the government’s policy program, the Constitutional Chamber also declared unconstitutional very moderate fiscal measures aimed at increasing government revenue.

The Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber has deliberately applied extreme and illegal abuse of the country’s justice system to destabilize the FMLN government. A tiny ideologically driven clique of corrupt right wing jurists have amended the Constitution at their discretion, displacing the role of the legislature and the government. They even annulled a legislative commission charged with investigating the very legality of the Constitutional Chamber’s own composition. But, as the writer Dieter Drussel put it in a recent article for Nicaragua’s Revista Correo:

“When a majority of the Legislative Assembly tried through 2011 and 2012 asking the Central American Court of Justice to defend the legislature a huge international outcry went up in defence of the ‘independence of justice’ supported by US congress members, US media, human rights organizations and the US embassy in San Salvador. The FMLN and the government gave in so as not to worsen an already bitter conflict between the constitutional powers. That same year in 2012, the Honduran strong man, President Juan Orlando Hernandez, simply dismissed all the magistrates of the country’s Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber for voting just once against him. The same ‘international community’ maintained absolute silence.”

The FMLN’s Analysis Collective has explained how the US government and its European allies are applying tremendous pressure to the FMLN authorities in El Salvador to try and skew the government’s anti-corruption measures in a direction politically favorable to the Salvadoran right wing. They point out that President Sanchez Ceren’s government is the one that has done most to promote transparency but is the one that has been most savagely attacked on the pretext of corruption. The US government and its European allies are working together with the corrupt magistrates of El Salvador’s Supreme Court to overthrow the FMLN government before the national elections scheduled for 2019. This is the context in which the legal attack on Mauricio Funes is taking place. It amounts to yet more confirmation that the spurious legality of the elites is merely a coercive tool broken out to get what they want when they cannot do so short of staging a military coup