The trial in absentia of former president Funes began in El Salvador for his alleged pact with the gangs

FILE – In this June 1, 2012 file photo, El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes attends the National Assembly ahead of his speech to commemorate his third anniversary in office in San Salvador, El Salvador. Funes was brought to trial in absentia on Wednesday, April 26, 2023, to face charges of brokering a truce with notoriously violent gangs operating in the Central American country. (AP Photo/Luis Romero, File) (Luis Romero/)

A Salvadoran court installed on Wednesday the trial against the former president Mauricio Funes for allegedly arrange a truce with the gangs or maras to reduce the homicide rate in the Central American country besieged by these criminal groups.

Funes, who lives in Nicaragua under the protection of the dictator Daniel Ortega who granted him Nicaraguan nationality in 2019 to avoid his extradition, is not present at the trial in which his former Security Minister, General David Munguía Payés, is also being prosecuted.

A criminal reform approved on September 21, 2022 allows trials to be held with defendants absent, so that the judicial process can continue in absentia.

Funes faces charges for the crimes of illegal groups and breach of duty and, if found guilty, could receive a sentence of up to 11 years in prisonwhile General Munguía Payes, who faces the same charges, is charged with arbitrary acts and could receive a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

From Nicaragua, where he lives under Ortega’s protection, Funes, who claims to be politically persecuted, denied the accusations and described them as “ridiculous.” “Of all the lawsuits mounted against me, this is the weakest of all. The FGR has not presented evidence of the crimes charged against me.

The former president stated on his official Twitter account that the truce negotiators did not act on behalf of the government, that their role was not to negotiate concessions or benefits, and that what they did was observe the truce process agreed upon by the gangs.

This is not the first case of alleged negotiations between Salvadoran government officials and gangs. Journalistic investigations and United States authorities have accused the government of President Nayib Bukele of also negotiating with the gangs.

05/24/2017 A member of a Salvadoran gang in prison.  CENTRAL AMERICA POLITICS EL SALVADOR SOCIETY JOSE CABEZAS

the digital newspaper The lighthouse has published reports documenting negotiations by Bukele administration officials with the three main gangs in El Salvador and an indictment by the United States Attorney’s Office against gang members of the Mara Salvatrucha, filed in federal court in New York, points out to two senior government officials of President Bukele for having negotiated a reduction in homicides with the gang in exchange for alleged benefits between 2019 and 2021.

But neither in El Salvador nor in the United States is there a formal accusation that is specifically directed against officials of the Bukele government for this issue.

In the trial against Funes, the Attorney General of the Republic maintains that there is intervention in telecommunications where “categorically they speak of the events developed in the truce with the gangs and that there was indeed an agreement between the gang members and the then Minister of Security, David Munguía Payés, with the approval of the President of the Republic (Mauricio Funes)”.

According to the accusations, the leaders were taken out of the maximum security prison and sent to jails where they received visits from other gang members on the loose to plan their criminal activities. In addition, the prison authorities allowed them to bring in all kinds of electrical appliances, sound equipment, televisions, and also to organize parties with women who came and went without any problem.

Funes also wonders that, if the presence of the observers in the meetings with gang members was illegal, why “the OAS representatives, the Military Bishop (Monsignor Fabio Colindres) who acted as a delegate of the Catholic Church or Commissioner (Mauricio) Arriaza (Chicas) who was a delegate of the PNC (National Civil Police)”.

For his part, General Munguía Payes, who is present in the hearing room, avoided speaking to the press and, before the barrage of questions, said: “My lawyers have recommended that I not give statements, so I am going to abstain. I already told you, please, don’t insist.”

Once in the courtroom, the reporters insisted on knowing his opinion of the trial and when they asked him about his health and his situation in the prison, he answered briefly “fine, fine.” He looked away while holding in his handcuffed hands a plastic bag with personal belongings, including medicines.

(With information from AP)

Keep reading:

How El Salvador disguised the homicide figures to justify the emergency regime

Bukele prevented the publication of a critical IMF report and a loan for El Salvador is delayed again

The Parliament of El Salvador authorized a new extension of the exception regime imposed by Bukele