New government Advocate for the Defense of Human Rights - PDDH
|Raquel Caballero de Guevara|
El Salvador's Legislative Assembly has elected Raquel Caballero de Guevara, as El Salvador's new Procuradora para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos or "PDDH". Into English, this is usually translated as Human Rights Ombudsman, but I think a better translation is Advocate for the Defense of Human Rights. Caballero previously held this same position from 2016-19.
In her interviews with the Legislative Assembly, Caballero, like all other candidates interviewed by the legislature, expressed no concerns over human rights violations as part of the ongoing State of Exception. Her new appointment had critics who pointed out that she was sanctioned in 2019 by El Salvador's Government Ethics Tribunal for nepotism when she gave a promotion and salary increase to her daughter-in-law who worked in the office of the PDDH. Caballero is also on record favoring El Salvador's absolute ban on abortions.
The current PDDH, Apolonio Tobar, sought to have another term, but was not selected. Tobar has recently been seen by the human rights community as an apologist for the actions of the Bukele regime during the State of Exception. According to a report in La Prensa Grafica, as he leaves office Tobar is receiving an appointment as a judge in the Salvadoran court system.
On Saturday, October 15, after Caballero was elected, Nayib Bukele summoned his Security Cabinet of high command of the national police and military. Included in the meeting was Caballero, and Bukele commenced the meeting with a series of questions to Caballero to illustrate that in 2016 she had been elected PDDH by votes from both ARENA and the FMLN, and was never removed from office by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Judicial Court. Bukele also gave her the opportunity to tout her qualifications for the office. For Bukele, the point was "none of the opposition ever questioned your qualifications then" and so they should not be able to criticize the work you do during my government.
Bukele then told Caballero he would like her to prepare an "independent report":
I think it is important that the Procuraduria...make an evaluation of what we are doing, using a perspective credible and valid to [opposition human rights critics], legitimate and compatible with the rule of law and democratic norms, and with everything they are always saying they defend.
Bukele told the gathered officials to open to the PDDH the doors of all the prisons, and all the operations of the PNC and the armed forces.
Under the State of Exception, prison overcrowding has skyrocketed and reports of abuse are widespread. Will Caballero provide a report which is independent and credible? In 2016 the Sanchez Cerén administration resorted to its own "Exceptional Measures" to deal with gang violence which also produced overcrowded prisons. At that time, El Faro quoted Caballero when she observed the prison conditions:
"The overcrowding…all in the same cell for 24 hours! It’s like…the torture facilities of the past. You would think that all of that was over. You would think that Hitler was a thing of the past. Once the doors are opened, what will we see?”
The statement was from Raquel Caballero, Procuradora para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos – PDDH, who was left speechless as she tried to describe what she saw in the prisons where the government’s extraordinary measures have been implemented.
Today the level of overcrowding of the prisons in El Salvador is much worse, and overseen by a government which delights in telling how harshly it has treated those who are incarcerated.
During her previous term as PDDH, Caballero also oversaw the release of a damning report about the practice of extrajudicial executions by Salvadoran security forces during the administration of Salvador Sanchez Cerén.
Bukele ended his security cabinet meeting with a long diatribe against his human rights critics, asserting that they are only concerned with the rights of criminals and terrorists and never with the human rights of honest Salvadorans to be free from extortion, threats and deadly violence. It is clear what kind of a report he hopes to get from the new PDDH.