U.S. Analyst: Salvadoran Gangs Seek Political Role

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Douglas Farah, security analyst for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), testified before the House Subcommittee on Terrorism this past Tuesday. The hearing highlighted the Colombian FARC’s ties to other terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and international drug cartels, as well as the FARC’s involvement in political activities in the Latin American region.

After replying to questions on matters of regional security and the Colombian FARC’s links to political structures and organized crime, Douglas Farah spoke to El Diario de Hoy.

In your testimony before the Subcommittee on Terrorism you mentioned that a greater focus needs to be placed on the relationships between the Colombian FARC and legitimate political forces in the Western Hemisphere, amongst them the Salvadoran FMLN. How important do you think this is for the U.S. Congress?

This is a topic of interest; the subject was not discussed during the hearing because it was centered on Colombia and the FARC guerillas. But political actors in the region should not be ignored. For example, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua keeps a close relationship… we know because of the documents founds in Raul Reyes’ computer… the role played by Jose Luis Merino in the process, we also have pictures of the Salvadoran presidential candidate for the FMLN, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, in the jungle embracing the top leadership of the FARC, and we know that these relationships have been in place for a long time.

Is this something we should be alarmed about?

Yes, this gives us some information on what to expect if the FMLN wins the election, one can be for or against them, but it can’t be denied that the party’s leadership still has an active relationship with the FARC and that this plays an important role in the FMLN’s thought process.

Do you think that the Salvadoran gangs have gained a political role that will allow them to interfere in the electoral process?

There is an abundance of reliable information showing that the Salvadoran gangs intimidated people to vote a certain way, or that they stopped them from voting altogether by confiscating their identification cards before the elections. Therefore I would say the gangs have acquired a political role, and that they aspire to hold an important place in the country’s political life by offering to sell the votes they control to the highest bidder.

In your testimony you also mentioned that former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, William Walker, is involved in a communications effort to defend the FMLN from the serious accusations that have recently emerged against high-ranking party members like Jose Luis Merino. Why do you think he is doing this?

I think Ambassador Walker’s argument is false, he says: “the FMLN has a right to compete in the electoral process”; obviously that has never been up for discussion. There are very good and responsible people within the FMLN, worthy and intellectual individuals, but there is a group headed by Jose Luis Merino that has taken a different path, that has involved the party with groups like the Colombian FARC and other illegal activities. This represents an entire faction within the FMLN that needs to be exposed.

The Colombian FARC is not a left-leaning group, it is a terrorist entity designated as such by the U.S., the E.U., and others. Maintaining alliances with this terrorist group has a lot of implications. Therefore, I think Ambassador Walker’s defense of his friend Merino is not very transparent given this context.

William Walker argues that the U.S. Congress does not understand what is going on in El Salvador and that government officials still have a Cold War mentality…

I don’t think that’s true, there is plenty of good will toward the FMLN in this country, his suggestion that there is a war against the FMLN is absurd to me. People don’t understand that there is an important segment of the FMLN that exhibits healthy behavior and that deserves to compete in a free election, but it must be recognized that Merino’s management of Venezuelan Alba Petroleos funds is questionable… it is so much money… and its sources have never been fully explained… and Merino’s links to groups like the Colombian FARC… this represents a major risk to the FMLN and to Salvadoran democracy. In my opinion, this is not an ideological matter, it’s a question of corruption and of questionable money that is being injected by the government into political campaigns, and this all deserves an explanation.

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