The ongoing debate over the ILEA

Organizations which advocate for human rights in El Salvador continue to differ over the US-run International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA). At the ILEA, law enforcement instructors from the US teach courses to police, judges and prosecutors from El Salvador and the rest of Latin America. The courses taught at the ILEA cover topics such as trafficking in persons, anti-gang activities, drug crimes and crime scene management. I have previously expressed my support of the ILEA concept.

The most recent embodiment of the debate over the ILEA began with an article in the NACLA Report on the Americas by Wes Enzinna, a UC-Berkley graduate student in Latin American Studies and freelance journalist. Enzinna's article contains a variety of attacks against the ILEA including the refusal of the school to release its list of graduates or its training materials, the opposition of Salvadoran human rights groups, the clear human rights abuses of El Salvador's National Police, statements by US officials that law and order is good for US business operating in the country, and the Saca government's use of anti-terrorism laws against demonstrators.

Some of Enzinna's arguments rest on who else opposes the ILEA. He points to opposition in Costa Rica which prevented the academy from being located there. He also points to opposition by the FMLN in El Salvador. Yet Costa Rica now sends its police to the ILEA, and the FMLN's candidate for president, Mauricio Funes, has said in interviews here and here that he does not oppose the operation of the ILEA in El Salvador, recognizing the country's need to improve its ability to combat criminal rings which traffic in drugs and persons.

In addition to these arguments, much of Enzinna's argument consists of an attack on Benjamin Cuellar, the Director of the Human Rights Institute at the University of Central America (IDHUCA for its initials in Spanish). The IDHUCA acts as human rights instructors and monitors at the ILEA. Enzinna essentially argues that Cuellar has sold out, and is being used by the US to give the ILEA a sheen of respectability.

Now there has been a rebuttal to Enzinna's attack on Cuellar in the form of a letter to the editor published in the NACLA Report. The letter is signed by a variety of academics and members of human rights organizations and includes the following:
As the article notes, IDHUCA decided to engage with the ILEA, offering a human rights course to police trainees similar to a one it has offered since the early 1990s. IDHUCA thought it important to offer the human rights training and believed that access to the institution would allow it to examine the curriculum and materials, and the courses offered. IDHUCA saw this as an opportunity to review the content and scope of the courses being given and to press for greater transparency and accountability within the institution. One may agree with this strategy or not; other organizations in the human rights and legal community in El Salvador chose not to participate in the ILEA. But agree or disagree, it is unjust and false to suggest, as the article does, that IDHUCA’s work at the ILEA implies a blanket endorsement of the academy and all its practices, or an indifference to concerns about transparency and accountability.

U.S. support for police assistance and training has been a controversial issue in El Salvador and other countries in Latin America, particularly given the history of U.S. policy in the region. That concern has been exacerbated by U.S. treatment of prisoners in Iraq and concerns about the treatment of prisoners at the U.S. base at Guantánamo. The debate over how best to professionalize the police forces of countries with histories of gross human rights violations and to promote much needed reforms is a valid one. Police training programs ought to be conducted transparently, there should be civilian oversight, and there should be clear assurances that both students and trainers will be civilians, rather than military personnel. As the article notes, there are concerns about all these issues at the ILEA in El Salvador.
However, the article removes the ILEA discussion from an institutional context, instead focusing on Cuéllar as an individual, emphasizing its view of him as a loner in engaging with the academy, calling his beliefs “misguided,” painting him as secretive and unwilling to work with others, and questioning his legitimacy as a human rights defender. This is unfair to Cuéllar.

Enzinna's reply, which calls the letter to the editor a "spurious censure" appears as well on the NACLA website.

I had a chance to speak with Benjamin Cuellar about the controversy when I was in El Salvador recently. Frankly, the idea that this leading figure for advancing the cause of human rights in El Salvador would allow the IDHUCA to be manipulated to cover up a school for training human rights abusers, is preposterous. What was clear to me was that Cuellar is convinced that the professionalism of law enforcement in El Salvador must be improved. This is not the training of the military as ocurred at the School of the Americas during the 1980s; this is the training of college-educated, civilian police officers as well as judges and prosecutors. The problem for El Salvador is crime -- both organized and unorganized -- not the fact that the US is offering training, watched by the IDHUCA, to help combat that crime


Anonymous said…
In Iraq the U.S. puts panties over the head of prisoners while the insurgents behead their prisoners and the U.S. is the bad guy. It's that '80's liberal paradigm that if the U.S. does it, it has to be bad.

But what El Salvador, and the whole region for that matter, needs is better trained police. And the U.S. is offering to help with that, and bear the expense of it I assume. Would they rather that Hugo train the police, with his skyrocketing crime rate in Venezuela, or Fidel, whose solution to crime is a police state where everyone informs on everyone else?

Interestingly enough, according to the U.S. embassy here, the Salvadoran police force is actually the most professional in the region, albeit the competition for that honor may not very tough. But this academy can only make it an even better force. What is it that the left has to hide that they don't want a better trained police force to discover?
Anonymous said…
"In Iraq the U.S. puts panties"over the head of prisoners...

What a lier!!

Do you work at the ILEA?

What about Abu-Graib? and guantanamo? And the old history of torture, dissapeared all over Latin America. In El Salvador D'abuisson, Chele Medrano and other criminals were trained by the american government in the school os assesins of the Americas. Of course you say that the "benevolent" US government it is helping salvadoreans to fight crime, drugs , but if you see the results, according with the data, crimen is rampant in the country, drug trafficking, money laundering is spreading, even the recient data from the united nations control of drugs pbulished reciently says that El salvador has the highest consumption of amfetamins in the world.Cuellar and IDHUCA have been coopted by a few dollars.
El-Visitador said…
Tim, a well written comment.

However, a "most of Enzinna's arguments rest on who else opposes the ILEA" would have sufficed.

Having said that, with "This is not the training of the military as ocurred at the School of the Americas during the 1980s" you help perpetuate the myth that mere training is somehow "bad."
Jorge Ávalos said…
Wes Enzinna's article in NACLA is nothing but poor journalism.

He clearly frames the article to attack Benjamín Cuéllar. Why? Because IDHUCA, the human rights institution that he leads, provides training to police officers on human rights, and as long as they do that, its difficult to argue that ILEA's secret agenda is to teach torture.

One of Enzinna's main claims is that the school was created through a "semi-secret" process. Now, this is just a plain lie. I can point to hundreds of newspaper articles published in El Salvador by all of the major newspapers that demonstrate that this is not true. In fact, it's an absurd claim. What is "semi-secret", anyway?

He claims that he interviewed the human rights community in El Salvador. He didn't. He only interviewed political activist who are part of a network that mirrors the School of the Americas Watch in El Salvador. He knew this but fail to explain it. Besides his interview with Cuéllar, he didn't interview a single attorney who works in the human rights field.

One of the activist that he interviewed was Guadalupe Erazo of the Bloque Popular Salvadoreño. Now, he fails to explain that she is a member of the Political Commission of the FMLN (its directorate) and that she was a congresswoman in the National Assembly at the time of the proposal of ILEA. In other words, she had full access to all of the information about ILEA, including course subjects. As a congresswoman and as one of the FMLN top leaders, she had access to the American Embassy officials who were in charge of the project, could ask any question that she had on the subject, and request any document or information that she wanted on the issue from government officials. Furthermore, the information given to the National Assembly by the proponents of the ILEA is public, available to anyone who asks for ir.

Since ILEA is currently housed at the National Police Academy, anyone who wants to visit it can ask permission and simply wander through the school. It's just like any other college. And the courses are fascinating only to career officers, for an outsider like me they are deadly boring, too technical. A couple of weeks ago, forensic students graduated. Those graduations are announce routinely to the media, but journalist hardly ever go because newspapers don't usually cover short technical courses, it's just not done. But it means that any journalist can go to these graduations and talk freely to the students. That's why when I read Enzinna's article I had a hard time refraining histerical laughter. He can fool the NACLA editors but in El Salvador his tone and his angle is just plain ridiculous.

Enzinna makes unjustified claims throughout the whole article. On the street vendors, for example. The vendors didn't clash with ILEA trained police. They clashed with Metropolitan Agents (CAM), those are the guards who work for the municipality of San Salvador, which is governed by Violeta Menjivar of the FMLN. Metropolitan Agents are not police officers, nor do they receive training at ILEA. The police intervened only when legal businesses where destroyed by fire and looting by street vendors spread.

Also, note that Enzinna does not quote any recent report on the police, he only uses those that refer to the few years right after the creation of the civilian police force immediately after the end of the war. His article is not a real investigation. He reproduces the blueprint of attacks against Cuellar promoted by Guadalupe Erazo when it was fashionable to criticize ILEA, but since the FMLN presidential candidate, Mauricio Funes, now says ILEA is okay, the blueprint has changed. Now we know, because Funes explained it, that the FMLN held talks with the American Embassy a year ago, and agreed to maintain ILEA if they ever won the presidency. There you have it.
Anonymous said…
USA only puts pantines over prisoner's heads? Such humour. Unfortunately... it is wrong! Truth of the matter is that USA's military and CIA are the heirs of the darkest legacy of Holy Inquisition. First of all, let us not forget continous air-raids in places like Iraq and Yugoslavia, imagine all the mutilations that happen to go there, but if you are fortunate enough, you'll be killed in those raids instead of being caught. Because being caught is when things really get ugly. Sleep deprivation, water-boarding, electrocutions, psychological torture.... *swoon* Just take a look at what the students from Latin America have learned to begin to understand the sick and twisted corridors that compose USA's criminal mind in the treatment of not only enemy combatants, but: women, children, informants, sympathizers, etc.

About ILEA, I am not completely sold on the subject. Tell me why should we trust that the recruits being taught Human Rights will make any difference? Didn't they teach human rights in the School of the

Who is to say that ILEA ism't the continuation of The International Police Academy, and that the only reason they hired IDHUCA is as a preventive measure against critics?
Of course, bears mentioning that the IPA, was responsible for teaching "law enforcement" torture techniques. I, for one, believe that USA is simply keeping up with the times. Seeing how the Latin American militaries have been beaten to stay locked in their cages, now they need to restructurize their approach in controlling the different populations of the region. And what better for this than the police, with their constant contact with the population? Are we seriously to believe that USA won't take the advantage to sell armoured vehicles, crowd-control weaponry and gadgets, and many other spiffy materials to better counter days when public manifestations is increasingly more common and acceptable? And this is without taking into consideration "intelligence" aspects that ILEA recruits can be taught, like wire-tapping, not for crime prevention, mind you, but as mentioned before, monitor populations that are becomming increasingly discontent with USA favored corrupt regimes, and that more and more want to distance themselves from a country that purposefully presents itself as a rogue gambit that is out of control?

Of course, I won't deny to you that we need a more efficient police force, I won't deny to you that USA has more knowledge and experience in this field in the region, but frankly this problem could've long ago been solved if countries like El Salvador simpy fixed their budgets, increasing the Police budget while eliminating the army's. That would've been the greatest of starts, this would've prevented the decline of an institutions that according to human rights groups still carry on extrajudicial executions, disappereances and are entrenched with criminal groups.

But I have to ask you, what is the main purpose of ILEA, if it isn't communist terrorist that they are supposed to fight with, then who? Gangs, drug-dealers?

Part of the problem, gangs, narcotrafficking, is that it is all part of a blowback that has come to explode on the hemisphere's face in large part due to the principal patron for such illicit activities, which at one point in time didn't only turn its nose elsewhere in the face of such actions ranging from human torture up to trafficking tons upon tons of cocaine/marijuana/opium in the region, but also helped set-up the framework necessary to give such operations continuity. Now that gangs and drug dealing are "out of control" (even though one can argue that as long as these factors are in play, USA will have excuses to continue interventionist policies within the region), we see USA trying to impart _palliative_ measures to try salvage the region, when the right approach would be stop harboring drugdealers-money launderers in the first place, and imprison the top dogs that have acted under their protection in the first place. Of course, that would mean going after the ilk of Alvaro Uribe. A better approach would be weeding out the corrupt regimes that are green-light by USA so as long as they mantain a pro-USA stance and perhaps instill a Latin American centered Marshall Plan. Then you'd see crime, poverty, narcotrafficking, plummet into low levels. But the question is, is this really the goal?

Anonymous said…
Tim, I agree, this is a well written comment.

The Salvadoran police is - in part - bad for many reasons that have no link with the ILEA. For a human rights defender, the police is key to fight for respect for these rights. It is therefore logical that an institution like the IDHUCA have the courage to train police and monitor the work of Ilea.

blah blah .... is easy.

Benjamin Cuellar, director of IDHUCA, has had a career in human rights. Cuellar is the only Salvadoran who signed an Amicus Curia defending those detained in Guatánamo and can be read here:
Anonymous said…
sorry this is the link:

(the same anonimous)