David Munguía Payés made his way into President Funes’ inner circle with two promises: to guarantee the army’s peacefulness and obedience to the country’s first leftist government in history and to protect it from the FMLN, with whom it kept up a test of strength over power.
Funes increased the defense budget and General Munguía Payés renovated the motor pool and improved conditions for the troops. He took control of the high command and broadened the range of military functions taken on after the end of the armed conflict.
So he placed the military in national intelligence, in police intelligence and in police management after his move into the Ministry of Public Safety, which he also militarized. Then he negotiated with the gangs in a controversial process, all with President Funes’ approval. Until the Supreme Court removed him from Public Safety and, even so, Funes gave him back his post in Defense, where he is currently operating.
First was the open defiance of the presidential order not to honor military men who had violated human rights, as evidenced by the lack of action to remove from the altars of the army and the Third Brigade the name and the image of the person responsible for the massacre at El Mozote.
Not even a direct order in public from the commander in chief of the armed forces, clearly in homage to the victims, could move the military chiefs to obey the order.
Two years later and less than a year before Funes’ departure, the military chiefs last weekend put on an homage in public to Colonels Domingo Monterrosa and José Azmitia, who were responsible for the El Mozote massacre, one of the most terrible chapters in Salvadoran history. Aside from the implications for the democratic process of the fact that some heads of the military continue honoring violators of human rights and perpetrators of crimes against humanity, there is also a troubling political message to the commander in chief of the armed forces: his army is disobeying him in public.
The other message arrived the same week, in the voice of the Minister of Defense himself, who regretted on the radio that the Salvadoran armed forces have no way to defend the national territory against Honduran aggression. Clearly, pressure on the president again to buy the airplanes that General Munguía has been asking for since his first term in Defense. Planes that El Salvador does not need to attack Honduras, especially if, as President Funes said later, the policy on national security is based on diplomacy and dialogue and not on giving in to Honduran provocations, which are related mostly to its electoral campaign. Although the purchase of these airplanes would mean a juicy business deal for whoever acts as intermediary between the Salvadoran government and the supplier.
But why has the army, which has gained more power and better conditions from this president than from any of his predecessors, chosen to put the president publicly in a complicated political situation? How do they expect Funes to react to the official homages to Monterrosa and Azmitia? What are they trying to provoke?
The questions are still unanswered. But in a calculated test of strength with Funes, the army is revealing a troubling regression, inconsistent with the peace accords. In the midst of an electoral campaign, the army’s activities could not be more inopportune.
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