Since 2003, the United States has been providing funds and equipment to paramilitary police forces that have been involved in extrajudicial executions of gang members and high-profile criminals in El Salvador, CNN claimed in its exclusive report.
The U.S. government has reportedly been giving millions of dollars to law enforcement and military agencies in the Latin American country in order to facilitate its Firm Hand program. According to the network, there are no public records for which police units received the $68 million and $73 million U.S. aids in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
One such elite force, reportedly known as the Special Reaction Forces (FES), reportedly executed at least 43 gang members without trial. The network also obtained text messages between the officers trying to hide their alleged crimes and discussing the killings – many of which are being investigated as murders by the authorities in El Salvador.
At least two sources told the publication the FES, which was disbanded earlier this year but saw many of its officers join another U.S. backed force, was receiving assistance from Washington D.C.
“Yet the country’s police will be broadly accused next month of ‘a pattern of behavior by security personnel amounting to extrajudicial executions’ in a United Nations report, seen in advance by CNN, that will also call on Salvadoran security forces to break a ‘cycle of impunity’ in which killings are rarely punished,” read the report.
A spokesperson from the U.S. Embassy to El Salvador also reportedly confirmed the allegations “when confronted with the evidence obtained by CNN.”
“The US government takes allegations of extrajudicial killings extremely seriously, and has consistently expressed concerns regarding allegations of security force abuses, the need for accountability, and the critical role of rights-respecting security forces in a healthy democracy,” the official told the publication, adding local police units that receive U.S. assistance were not only evaluated but also had to show a “fundamental commitment to effective police mechanisms and respect for human rights.”
It is important to mention the embassy did not clarify if these Salvadoran units received any lethal help.
“The American assistance to the FES and its successor exposes the stark moral compromises undertaken in the fight against groups like MS-13, a Salvadoran criminal gang that started in Los Angeles in the 1980s but has since spread across the Americas and has around tens of thousands of core members in El Salvador,” the report continued. “MS-13 recruits have been described by the US government as a ‘transnational threat’ and as ‘animals’ by US President Donald Trump.”
MS-13, previously known as La Mara Salvatrucha, is an international criminal gang that started in Los Angeles in the 1980s.
Citing the forthcoming U.N. report on illegal killings in El Salvador, the CNN also pointed out how the current administration has reportedly been arming police units with advanced weapons while simultaneously deporting hundreds of suspected MS-13 members back to the country marred with gang violence.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters, Jose Cabezas