A leading, yet elusive figure of El Salvador’s primary political opposition party has come under legal and political scrutiny in his country for allegedly offering to sell weapons and arrange business deals with Latin America’s largest home-grown terrorist organization, the Colombian FARC-People’s Army. If this link is confirmed, the impact of this finding goes well beyond the confines of this tiny, yet vibrant Central American country. It is a reminder that terror knows no boundary or ethnic bounds and that the links can be rather complex, even in the Western Hemisphere.
According to various news reports in the U.S. and El Salvador, the former Communist organizer and rebel leader, Jose Luis Merino, had been corresponding via e-mail with FARC leaders in Colombia for several years. The messages were discovered as part of Colombia’s ongoing investigation of the FARC/Reyes computers. Salvadoran officials believe that an alias e-mail belongs to Merino. Merino allegedly offered to sell weapons, including Chinese-made ground-to-air missiles, through two Australian arms dealers to Colombia’s FARC. In addition to the arms sales, it also appears that Merino was arranging business deals throughout the Americas for which Merino would split the profits 50/50 with the FARC. Why does any of this matter to the U.S.?
For starters, Merino is one of many supporters in the region of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Communist government. Merino has brokered several deals with Chavez and local Salvadoran mayors to deliver cheap or free Venezuelan diesel fuel in exchange for who knows what. Rest assured nothing good for El Salvador or the U.S. will come of these transactions. Some of these deals have reportedly included money and support by Venezuela for use in the 2009 Salvadoran elections. When a regional power seeks to hijack democracy, that clearly impacts regional stability and U.S.
Merino’s alleged involvement in this matter, however, also raises serious and deeper questions about the acitivities of El Salvador’s largest opposition party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), and its commitment peaceful and democratic governance. If a key leader is fomenting violence in Colombia by supporting a terrorist organization overthrow the government, then what are he and his associates planning for their own country?
The FMLN has undergone many transformations since it agreed to formally cease a violent overthrow of the government. FMLN leaders have created their own political parties or joined others, however, the FMLN remains the leading opposition to the ruling ARENA party. If FMLN officials or supporters such as Merino have been involved in assisting terrorist groups to destabilize democracies, it stands to reason, given the FMLN’s past, that they did not act alone and that other FMLN leaders may also be involved.
These events may also starts to call into question whether factions or key leaders of the FMLN were ever truly committed to the Chapultepec Peace Accords of the 1990s? If they are supporting the violent overthrow of a foreign government, what are they planning for El Salvador if they re-gain complete control of the government in the 2009 elections?
If FMLN leaders are serious and committed to strengthening and enhancing Salvadoran democracy and its institutions, it should call for an immediate investigation into this matter. Merino should be expelled from the FMLN, along with any other individuals who have supported the FARC. The FMLN leadership should order an independent forensic audit of FMLN books. The results of this audit should be publically released to the people of El Salvador. Anything less, and the terrorist taint will only make matters worse as the 2009 election season begins. Salvadoran elections must be free of Venezuelan/Cuban money and advisers. A purging and public viewing of FMLN books would go a long way in mollifying the Salvadoran peoples’ concerns about external meddling.
If Salvadoran government officials ultimately determine that Merino facilitated support to a terrorist organization in another country, the U.S. should move swiftly, investigate, and, if warranted, add Mr. Merino to our specially designated nationals list managed by the Department of the Treasury. If the FMLN refuses to come clean on this matter, serious consideration should also be given to whether the FMLN, as a political party, should also come under scrutiny. Petro-democracy – a practice used by Venezuela to destabilize the Western Hemisphere by dumping oil and money to buy off political leaders and parties- must also come under closer scrutiny of the U.S. and our allies.
El Salvador has been a solid partner in the war against terror, drugs, and thugs. Despite challenges at home, El Salvador has sent troops to fight for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this matter involving the FMLN, the U.S. should provide any reasonable assistance requested by Salvadoran President Antonio Saca. Saca will need to get to the bottom of this matter and ensure that the tentacles of the Bolivarian movement do not take root in his country as they have started to do in neighboring Honduras.
The economic, social, and political ties between our two countries are strong and growing. We must see to it that it remains so. This recent event provides yet another opportunity to demonstrate to our regional allies that working together we can combat terror and closely cooperate to maintain peace and security in the Americas. It will also send a clear signal to lawbreakers and the anti-freedom movement that the U.S. shall not sit idly as it seeks to destroy the market-based democracy from the Americas.