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.

Compartir icon icon icon

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.

Related Content

COLECTIVOS / 28 FEB 2018

A video showing a notorious colectivo leader and alleged criminal embracing high-ranking officials in public provides further credence to the…

ARGENTINA / 12 AUG 2015

El Salvador has invoked its anti-terrorism laws to prosecute alleged gang members -- raising the debate over definitions of crime…

BARRIO 18 / 1 OCT 2020

It was late 2016 and officials in San Salvador were preparing for the grand opening of a sparkling new market…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…