El Salvador gets a new attorney general

Deputies in El Salvador's National Assembly have elected a new attorney general. The deputies passed over current attorney general Douglas Melendez to elect Raúl Melara as the country's new top prosecutor.  It is an important role in a country with high levels of criminal violence and corruption.

Melendez had been actively campaigning for a second term, and had the backing of the US.  But perhaps his anti-corruption work had made politicians in El Salvador too uncomfortable.  From Reuters:
SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - El Salvador’s legislative assembly on Friday denied Attorney General Douglas Melendez a second term, after he pursued tough anti-corruption investigations and put a former president in prison. 
In less than three years, career prosecutor Melendez also jailed his predecessor, a judge and a top businessman, among others, and faced death threats for his work. 
But after several days of backroom negotiations, El Salvador’s main political parties decided not to reinstate him.
Melendez described the sources of opposition to him to Reuters:
“There’s been a tremendous backlash against the attorney generals who attempt to be independent,” he said. 
Tiny El Salvador borrowed practices from its neighbors for its anti-corruption drive. Similar to graft-busters in Honduras and Guatemala, Melendez created a separate unit called the “Group Against Impunity”, which now has some 25 handpicked prosecutors working on the most high-profile corruption cases. 
Local civil society has criticized the attorney general’s office for its lack of investigative ability, pointing out that successful cases have often relied on evidence gathered by others, such as the Supreme Court or journalists. 
Melendez says he is working with a lean budget, and the attorney general’s office was infiltrated by organized crime when he arrived. He is currently prosecuting his predecessor Luis Martinez for money laundering, illicit negotiations and a slew of other crimes.
Despite announcing numerous corruption prosecutions, Melendez has actually had limited success in getting convictions.   His signature result was a plea bargain with former president Tony Saca on corruption charges which many viewed as too soft.  His conviction of former attorney general Luis Martinez after three years of investigation, related to the improper disclosure of compromising telephone wiretaps of a prominent priest, and not from any of the more serious corruption charges against Martinez.   Under Melendez command, the attorney general's office was largely unsuccessful in prosecuting elements of the police and army for committing extrajudicial executions.    His office has reopened several civil war era cases for crimes against humanity but has not moved any of them forward. 

The new attorney general, Raul Melara, was elected with 83 out of the 84 votes in the National Assembly.  Only the independent deputy in the legislature abstained from voting.   Although one would hope to have an attorney general with a background in criminal law and investigating gangs, organized crime and corruption, Melara has been a private and government lawyer with specialization in telecommunications and commercial law.   He does not appear to have any particular background in constitutional law or human rights despite the responsibility of his office to prosecute human rights cases from the civil war era. 

Most recently, Raúl Melara served as a magistrado suplente of the the country's Supreme Judicial Court from 2015-17.  The new attorney general has strong ties to business groups, having served as the head of the National Association of Private Enterprise ("ANEP" for its initials in Spanish)  from 2004 to 2010.  He also served as a legal adviser to Carlos Calleja, who is currently the ARENA candidate for president in the 2019 elections, and Melara can be seen with other supporters in the background of photos taken when Calleja received his party's nomination.  Melara's father, Romeo Melara Granillo, was attorney general from 1993-1996 immediately following the end of the country's civil war.   

Despite those apparent ties to ARENA and private business, Melara received the votes of all the FMLN deputies and received the votes of GANA, whose presidential candidate Nayib Bukele, leads in all the presidential election polls.

With several members of the National Assembly from every political party facing some kind of corruption inquiry, one might wonder about their focus on the selection of the attorney general who would be responsible for prosecuting such cases. 

US Ambassador Jean Manes sent out a tweet offering the support of the US to the new attorney general.  ANEP issued a statement calling on the new attorney general to continue the fight against corruption without conflicts of interest and without partisan bias.