FMLN and ARENA paid gangs for votes in 2014 elections according to witness

There is currently a trial going on in El Salvador where the defendants are government officials and mediators charged with improperly granting concessions and benefits to leaders of El Salvador's gangs in connection with the so-called 2012 gang truce or "tregua".   In the course of that trial, a gang leader who cut a deal with prosecutors testified last week that the country's leading political parties delivered a combined $350,000 to the gangs in return for delivering votes in the 2014 presidential elections.

The witness goes by the moniker "Nalo" and his real name is Carlos Eduardo Burgos Nuila.   Nalo was part of the leadership of Barrio 18 Revolucionarios -- one of the two factions of the Barrio 18 gang in El Salvador.   Nalo was one of the gang leaders outside of the prisons who were called on to execute the orders of the imprisoned gang chiefs in connection with the 2012 gang truce.

The ex-leader of the 18 Revolucionarios gang testified that the FMLN paid a total of $250,000 to the three principal gangs in El Salvador to help procure the victory of president Salvador Sanchez Ceren in the 2014 presidential elections.   He also testified that ARENA paid $100,000 to the gangs for the same purpose.

Nalo described a meeting in December 2013 in which representatives of all 3 major gang factions met with FMLN party figures, including current government ministers and the highest ranking members of the FMLN.  The FMLN offered $150,000 to receive 120 thousand votes in the first round of the presidential election.  Nalo testified that mediator Raul Mijango and provided assistance in the negotiation.

According to Nalo, the FMLN leaders refused to sign a written agreement for this corrupt deal, but suggested that a protestant church leader could help guarantee the deal.  The $150,000 was divided with $75,000 going to MS-13 and $37,500 going to each of the two Barrio 18 factions, Sureños and Revolucionarios.

After striking the deal, gang leaders instructed their members, relatives and collaborators to vote for the FMLN in the presidential elections.   They also went to the homes of ARENA sympathizers in their territories and told them it would be better if they did not go to the polls on election day, or took away their identity cards (DUIs) so that they could not vote.

The first round of the 2014 presidential election did not result in a winner and required a second round with just Sanchez Ceren running against Norman Quijano of ARENA.   The FMLN again asked for the support of the gangs, and were told it would cost more money.   The FMLN agreed to pay another $100,000.

Before the second round of elections, officials from ARENA also met with the gangs according to Nalo.  The gangs told the ARENA representatives that they needed $100,000 from the conservative party for a balance of powers.   Nalo described a meeting at which the $100,000 in cash from ARENA was delivered in a suitcase to the gangs.

Despite this testimony in the hands of prosecutors, no official of the FMLN or ARENA is being prosecuted for electoral fraud.  Prosecutors would not confirm or deny the existence of an open investigation into the corrupt vote buying.

The testimony of Nalo about vote buying stands unverified at the moment.   These events, if they occurred, really do not involve the crimes charged in the trial which centers on the negotiation of la tregua in 2012 and benefits given to the gangs in return for a reduction in homicides in the country.   Nalo's testimony does, however, fit with prior secretly-recorded videos which have been released showing representatives of the political parties in meetings with gang leaders discussing the upcoming elections, although not discussing these cash payments.

The events described in Nalo's testimony portray corrupt, cynical politicians whose only interest is the pursuit of power.  Has the country not progressed from the years when the military and the national guard were used to make sure that the right-wing oligarchy always won the elections?

For more detailed descriptions of Nalo's testimony (in Spanish) read the articles at El Faro and Revista Factum.