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El Salvador gets 'tough' amid worsening crime

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Luis Romero/AP

(Read caption) El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes speaks at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the signing of the peace accords that ended the war between a right-wing dictatorship and guerrillas of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, in El Mozote, El Salvador, Jan. 16.

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El Salvador’s government says it is taking a radical stance on crime, using the military to police the country's most violent areas and now appointing military men to top security posts. But the changes sound more like a return to the failed “iron fist” policies of the past.

In November, Mauricio Funes -- the first president elected under the banner of guerrilla group-turned-political party FMLN since the civil war ended in 1992 -- named David Munguia Payes, a retired general and former defense minister, as security minister. On January 23, Funes selected Francisco Ramon Salinas Rivers as head of the police (PNC) (in Spanish), a former army general who had handed in his resignation just days before.

Since he took power two and a half years ago, Funes has also expanded the army by some 57 percent to more than 17,000 people, and has periodically deployed the military onto El Salvador’s streets to share policing duties.

The trend began prior to Funes' term. As El Faro reports (in Spanish), the defense budget has risen 32 percent in the last 10 years. And Funes is also following a region-wide pattern. Former General Otto Perez was elected Guatemala's president last year, while HondurasPresident Porfirio Lobo has given policing powers to the armed forces in Honduras.


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