HomeNewsBriefEl Salvador FMLN Leader Investigated for Drug Trafficking
BRIEF

El Salvador FMLN Leader Investigated for Drug Trafficking

EL SALVADOR / 5 JUL 2016 BY HÉCTOR SILVA ÁVALOS EN

El Salvador's attorney general has opened an investigation to determine whether José Luis Merino, one of the three chief leaders of the ruling FMLN party, is involved in drug and weapons trafficking.

Merino is a member of the political commission of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional - FMLN) and a congressman in the Central American Parliament. He has been one of the financial brains of the former guerrilla army turned political party since the end of El Salvador's 12-year civil war in 1992.

Attorney General Douglas Meléndez said he has reopened an old investigation of Merino and will add to it accusations made by US Senator Marco Rubio in a June 29 hearing.

"You've got the right hand man of the president of El Salvador, José Luis Merino. This guy is a top-notch, world class money launderer, arms smuggler for the FARC as well as corrupt Venezuelan officials," Rubio said during a hearing on global corruption at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Why is this guy not sanctioned?"

The FMLN was quick to dismiss Rubio's accusations in a press statement that characterized the senator as a "political loser" mounting a politically-motivated attack.

The attorney general, however, said he was looking into it. "There is an investigation of events related to Mr. Merino that was opened in 2014," Meléndez told reporters in El Salvador, adding that it was "related to the issue of drugs and weapons."

"We are going to review that information and pick it up," Meléndez said.

A source in Meléndez's office told InSight Crime that the attorney general has asked his staff to review the old accusations and include them in a new file that he decided to open after hearing Rubio's statement. "He has asked for everything we have on Merino, and will go on from there," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"Given these statements from a public official of another country, and given that they are addressing a politician and public official of our country, we can't not investigate," Meléndez told reporters.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

The pre-existing investigative file was opened in 2014 by the attorney general at that time, Luis Martínez, after Spanish newspaper ABC published a story alleging that one of Merino's staffers had made contact with officials of President Nicolás Maduro's administration in Venezuela to arrange flights presumably carrying illegal drugs. Meléndez's staff said former attorney general Martínez failed to advance with that investigation.

The ABC story, based partly on US sources, said that in 2011 one of Merino's deputies asked Maduro's secretary to expedite flying permits for an airplane bearing the US registration N769M, owned by Execuflight, a company linked to Salvadoran businessman Enrique Rais. Venezuelan sources told InSight Crime that N769M had asked permission at least twice to fly over Apure, an area signaled by the US State Department as a cocaine hub.

Insight Crime Analysis

This is not the first time José Luis Merino, alias "Comandante Ramiro Vásquez," has been mentioned in connection with drug crimes.

In 2008, Colombian officials reported emails from Merino showed up on the laptop of slain guerrilla commander Raul Reyes, of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia FARC). Reyes was killed in a Colombian air strike and assault on a guerrilla camp across the border in Ecuador. The recovered emails linked Reyes and the FARC to Venezuelan officials and others, including Merino. Merino's name appeared in several emails related to an arms trafficking operation.

El Salvador also opened an investigation, but -- as with the 2014 investigation -- it never advanced. Merino and the FMLN have consistently dismissed the accusations as politically-motivated attacks fabricated by right-wing opponents and the media.

US law enforcement officers told InSight Crime that Merino has been a person of interest for Washington for almost a decade now. "He has been there long enough," said an official, who asked not to be named due to lack of authorization to speak publicly.

The file that Meléndez is opening now will be at least the fourth investigation in which José Luis Merino's name is included. None of the previous investigators pursued drug and weapons trafficking allegations, and to have a Salvadoran attorney general say he is investigating the FMLN strongman for those alleged crimes is unprecedented.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

EL SALVADOR / 29 OCT 2013

A recorded phone call between MS13 members imprisoned in El Salvador and leaders in the United States indicates an increasingly sophisticated…

FARC / 2 JUN 2011

Venezuela has started the process of sending a captured leading member of rebel group the FARC back to Colombia, from…

CHEPE DIABLO / 5 APR 2017

El Salvador's Attorney General's Office arrested José Adán Salazar Umaña, alias "Chepe Diablo," the alleged leader of the Texis Cartel,…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Who Are Memo Fantasma and Sergio Roberto de Carvalho?

24 JUN 2022

Inside the criminal career of Memo Fantasma  In March 2020, InSight Crime revealed the identity and whereabouts of Memo Fantasma, a paramilitary commander and drug trafficker living in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…

THE ORGANIZATION

Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…