International Law Enforcement Academy

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) issued a lengthy memorandum this week criticizing the Bush administration's plans to establish an International Law Enforcement Academy in El Salvador for training Latin American police forces. Here is a taste of the memorandum:
On June 10, the National Center for U.S. - El Salvador Sister Cities reported Saca'’s remarks that “all Salvadorans should feel proud that the United States has chosen us” to host the ILEA. The Center also reprinted a statement by Jaime Francisco Vigil, Director of the Salvadoran National Public Security Academy (ANSP), in which he suggested that the choice of El Salvador was made, in part, because its police force is the "most honest, nearest to the people, and is not corrupt like in other parts of the world.”" To the contrary, during the height of the Salvadoran civil conflict, tens of millions of dollars were passed under the table to senior officials of the Salvadoran security forces by U.S. embassy officials. The Salvadoran Ombudsperson for Human Rights, Dr. Beatrice de Carrillo, serves at the head of on office which was institutionalized at the end of the Salvadoran civil war to monitor human rights abuses; she has written a long report on the corruption and the poor human rights record of the Salvadoran police force, and energetically opposes her government'’s plans for the ILEA. She thereby joins with the denouncement of the Farabundo Marti­ National Liberation Front (FMLN) as well as of the multi-organizational Salvadoran Popular Social Block (BPS), in opposing the ILEA.

The memorandum makes a mistake of many on the Left. It continues to filter evaluation of government actions in El Salvador and US ties to the country through the filter of the civil war. I am no fan of either the ARENA government or the Bush administration's foreign policy. However, statements which condemn the ILEA proposal because Salvadoran security forces were corrupt and aligned with death squads in the 1980s, fail to recognize that the creation of the civilian PNC (national police) under the peace accords was a real accomplishment of the accords. The El Salvador of 2005 is not the same country as the one where death squads roamed the night streets. The ILEA concept was originally proposed by Bill Clinton, not George Bush.

A better analysis of the ILEA proposal would consider the fact that El Salvador's police are in desperate need of resources and improved training in investigative techniques. That is a point which the PDDH, Dr. Beatrice Carrillo has also regularly pointed out. Professionalism in civilian police forces is a goal with which few could disagree. The COHA article admits that ILEA academies in other parts of the globe have generally been a success.

Balanced against this must be the question of Tony Saca making the policies of his country subservient US foreign policy. The COHA rightly points to dollarization, troops in Iraq, CAFTA and Saca's fawning remarks about his relationship with President Bush as signs that the leaders of ARENA have the inability to say "no" to anything suggested by the US as important to "friendship."

Bottom line -- the ILEA proposal is not intrinsically evil and should not be viewed as such simply because the US proposed it. The ILEA is, however, clearly a reward to El Salvador's leaders for following Washington's lead in lock-step fashion.