The 'cry' in El Salvador to clean house

A new president with an anti-corruption mandate starts to set up an international investigative body that might help curb violence and reduce emigration.

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele speaks at the Sept. 6 signing of an agreement to create the International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES).

Latin America must be doing something right about transparency and accountability in government. A rising number of people in the region tell pollsters they believe they can make a difference in the fight against corruption. A recent example comes from El Salvador, one of the region’s smallest and poorest countries.

A new president, Nayib Bukele, who enjoys 90% popularity, just signed an agreement with the Organization of American States to set up an international investigative body in El Salvador to battle corruption and reform law enforcement. The United Nations is eager to support it.

Mr. Bukele says the launch of the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador is a “cry” of the population. Thousands of Salvadorans flee the country each year because of violence. But it is corruption that fuels the criminal gangs and hinders police and the courts. And it is a growing anti-corruption sentiment among voters that allowed Mr. Bukele, a former ad executive who promised clean governance, to defeat the country’s traditional parties in an election last February.

For now, the proposed body, known as CICIES for its initials in Spanish, would work only with police to strengthen investigations. Both the attorney general and the legislature have yet to back the project. The established parties in El Salvador might be wary of an independent CICIES run by foreign experts unearthing old corruption. 

A similar body set up in neighboring Guatemala in 2007 was fully independent and achieved remarkable success, but it was closed down this month after it began to probe President Jimmy Morales. Honduras opted for a weaker version of an international commission, although that body has introduced modern prosecution techniques.

If El Salvador’s politicians need any convincing about CICIES, they should note that the anti-corruption commission in Guatemala is credited with reducing homicide rates by an average 5% a year over the course of its work. Integrity in government translates into saving lives. Ordinary people in El Salvador know that. And they chose a president who wants to make it happen.

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