HomeNewsAnalysisPurging El Salvador’s National Police: Mission Impossible
ANALYSIS

Purging El Salvador's National Police: Mission Impossible

CHEPE LUNA / 15 NOV 2013 BY HÉCTOR SILVA ÁVALOS EN

In the past fortnight, two newspaper articles have sought to address impunity within El Salvador's Civil National Police (PNC). One revealed the links between a Texis Cartel associate and the PNC's sub-director of Investigations, the other highlighted how many among the PNC's high command rose through the ranks despite questions over the academic qualifications which are essential requirements for their positions. The country's police chief and security minister have offered explanations, but no actions. This article reveals the background of two officers holding key positions within the police internal tribunals.

According to an investigator from the Prosecutor General's Office, one of them, Commissioner Godofredo Miranda Martinez, was negligent in his treatment of a crime scene in which lay the body of his own niece, Katya Miranda. The nine-year-old girl had been raped and murdered.

At that time, Miranda was being investigated by another officer from the Prosecutor's office under suspicion that he had links to the drug gang the Perrones; an allegation pursued since 2009 by the internal investigation unit of the Salvadoran National Police (PNC).

SEE ALSO: Perrones Profile

In 2008, after eight years as head of the Anti-Narcotics Division, another police director demoted Miranda to a lower position due to the accusations.

In 2012, a different PNC internal investigator -- a judge whose college degree is currently under scrutiny -- dismissed the investigations. That same year, Miranda's career was resurrected, and today he is the main link between the PNC, the Salvadoran army's anti-narcotics team and the US Navy. He is also president of the tribunal for incomes and promotions within the PNC; the body with the most power over the futures of agents and officers.

According to a 2004 Salvadoran Treasury report, another official, Commissioner Oscar Hernandez Aguilar, had been receiving bribes from smugglers and drug traffickers in eastern El Salvador since the late 1990s. A security minister had to silently remove him from the police intelligence team in 2008, following internal complaints regarding his corruption. He returned to the team at the behest of General Francisco Ramon Salinas in 2012 and is currently a member of the PNC's disciplinary tribunal.

The Sins of Miranda

In December 2003, police in Costa Rica seized 66 kilos of cocaine owned by Reynerio Flores Lazo -- the leader of the Perrones arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 80 years in prison for drug trafficking -- from a truck in Liberia, northern Costa Rica. Jose Natividad Luna Pereira, alias "Chepe Luna" -- a man already on the DEA's files -- had also invested in the shipment. In February 2004, further south, in Esparza, Costa Rican authorities intercepted a second truck loaded with 570 kilos of cocaine.

SEE ALSO: Reynerio Flores Lazo Profile

By then there was an investigation in Costa Rica that involving Costa Rican , Nicaraguan and Salvadoran nationals and the Costa Rican Judicial Police had tapped the phones of drug traffickers identified as "Octavio," "Waner," "Venegas" and "Victoriano." In March 2004, Waner made the first call to "Chaparro" -- Flores' alias in Nicaragua  -- to arrange the transfer of cargo. Four days and four calls later, Waner and Chaparro closed the deal.

That year, Costa Rican authorities made three more seizures of truckloads owned by Flores (188 kilos in April, 219 kilos in September and 1.1 tons in November). By then, the Costa Ricans had already communicated with their Salvadoran counterparts and had shared intelligence with the DEA.

All this information was part of the package that the United States brought to the highest level of the newly inaugurated Salvadoran government of Antonio Saca in 2004 and resulted in the creation of an multi-institutional anti-organized crime committee that attempted to capture Chepe Luna, but was shut down in 2005 following leaks to the drug traffickers, which had emanated from the highest levels of the PNC.

In 2008, during a series of interviews, two agents of the Salvadoran Prosecutor's Office, three from the Finance Ministry, one from the Security Ministry and an official from the Presidential Office, confirmed that the Anti-Narcotics Division (DAN) of the PNC -- led by deputy-commissioner Miranda -- had received all of the reports from Costa Rica in 2004 but had done nothing to investigate members of the group that would later be known as the Perrones; the largest drug trafficking organization in El Salvador up to that date.

Also in 2008, something very similar happened when another elite operation -- this time led by the Prosecutor General and executed by the DAN under the command of Miranda -- attempted to capture Flores. Prosecutors revealed they suspected a leak from the police had scuppered the operation. Later that year, Commissioner Jose Luis Tobar Prieto, the newly appointed Director General of the PNC, removed Miranda from the DAN and relegated him to a minor post as head of the northern department of Chalatenango.

In July 2009, acting Prosecutor General Astor Escalante announced he had been investigating Miranda for possible links with eastern drug smuggling organizations. In August of that year, the PNC suspended Miranda from his post in Chalatenango. In August that year, the PNC's internal investigator opened another investigation into Miranda for having information on a drug gang but failing to investigate the matter. Three days later, newspaper La Prensa Grafica reported the investigator's case against Miranda for alleged negligence in the care of the scene of the murder of his niece.

The first black mark on Miranda's work history appeared in a May 2002 report by the Attorney General for the Defense of Human Rights (PDDH) in connection with the rape and murder of Katya. The PDDH said Miranda neglected the crime scene, located a few meters from the family ranch where Miranda and his family took summer vacations. The Attorney General's Office concluded in its report that the negligence of Miranda -- then second in command of the Division of Criminal Investigation (DIC) -- hampered the collection of evidence that may have been essential to solving the crime.

"The negligent actions of the Prosecutor General and the police irreparably damaged the development of the investigation into the murder and rape of minor Katya Miranda, since visual inspection of the crime scene is a fundamental pillar of research, because of its irreproducible nature and importance as the first stage of evidence collection needed to identify the author or authors of the crime" said the report.

Prosecutor General Romeo Barahona, meanwhile, said Miranda, "at that time had the moral and legal responsibility of guarding the crime scene and assessing the work of the forensics team."

In November 2012, General Francisco Ramon Salinas, then the director of the PNC, sent Miranda to Panama for a course on transnational organized crime and drug trafficking. By the end of that year, according to a US police source in Washington, Miranda had become the main counternarcotics link between the United States and El Salvador.

Cachorro

In mid-2004, according to a report by the Salvadoran Finance Ministry, which at that time was investigating suspicious financial transactions in eastern El Salvador, the influence of the drug lord Chepe Luna went far beyond local rank-and-file officials. The report stated, "(Commissioner) Oscar (Hernandez) Aguilar, alias 'Cachorro,' allowed the growth of the activities of these eastern smugglers that later became known as the Perrones. He had direct contact with the most important structures and those below."

SEE ALSO: Chepe Luna Profile

According to the report, Hernandez only pursued the smaller operatives, who would be detained and released following payments to the police. If the cases ever arrived at court and contraband goods were confiscated, the smugglers would often pay local judges for both their freedom and the return of the goods. At the time, Hernandez was the head of the Police's Finance Division. In 2010, the internal inspector of the PNC opened a case against him for allowing Chepe Luna to operate unfettered.

Since early-2012, Hernandez has been the head of the Police Intelligence Center (CIP), and more recently became a member of the PNC's disciplinary tribunal. The CIP handles the PNC's major investigations into drug trafficking, organized crime and the more sophisticated criminal networks in the country. Meanwhile, the tribunal decides on the future of all the agents and officers for crimes and offenses reported. Hernandez is therefore at the same time an important figure within the PNC, as well as being one of the most questionable officers in El Salvador.

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