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BRIEF

Washington Eyes El Salvador Attorney General Race

EL SALVADOR / 8 DEC 2015 BY SAM TABORY EN

Six members of the US House of Representatives have sent a letter to legislators in El Salvador urging them to elect a new Attorney General, highlighting the issue of US influence over local efforts to tackle corruption and impunity in Central America.

The letter, dated November 23 but only recently made public, was addressed to Lorena Peña, a member of leftist party the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the current president of El Salvador's Congress. In the text of the letter, the US Representatives make reference to an aid package being considered for Central America's Northern Triangle--including El Salvador--and urge El Salvador's Congress to elect a "new attorney general focused on defeating corruption and organized crime," reported La Prensa Grafica

The letter was signed by six US Representatives including Albio Sires (D-NJ), Norma Torres (D-CA), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Eliot Engel (D-NY). 

El Salvador's attorney generals are typically nominated by civil society groups, or other interest groups, in order to be considered by Congress. Congress has the final say in selecting the attorney general, who serves a three-year term with the possibility of re-election.

Current Attorney General Luis Martinez's term ended on December 3. El Salvador's Congress has yet to re-elect Martinez or pick a successor. 

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By urging for the election of a "new attorney general," the US Congressional letter is basically a vote of no-confidence for Luis Martinez. 

The political wrangling surrounding the attorney general post has also arguably been influenced by the wave of anti-corruption protests seen in Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America earlier this year. With the heightened sensitivity to concerns of corruption and impunity comes significant political pressure to make sure that El Salvador's Congress makes the right choice regarding its top law enforcement officer.

SEE ALSO:  El Salvador News and Profiles

Notably, this past year Martinez has faced allegations of corruption. In particular, his office's handling of a money laundering and tax evasion case against the presumed leader of the Texis Cartel, Jose Adan Salazar Umaña, alias "Chepe Diablo," has drawn public scrutiny. 

Journalist Hector Silva Avalos told InSight Crime that the "Washington factor" is likely not helping Martinez's prospects for re-election, saying that a letter from six US representatives is a big deal in the El Salvador political landscape. However, Silva Avalos noted that the possibility of Martinez being re-elected should not be ruled out. He said that it is unlikely that the next attorney general will be named before the end of the year.  

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