El Salvador Mayor Sentenced to 13 Years For Drug Trafficking

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The prosecution of an El Salvador mayor for drug trafficking is a glaring example of the lack of rigor in appointing politicians in Central America, drawing attention to a corrupt system crying out for reform.

Cristóbal Benítez Canales, the mayor of San Francisco Gotera, has been sentenced to 13 years in prison for drug trafficking, reported El Diario de Hoy.

Benítez was captured in October 2010 during the alleged transaction of two kilograms of cocaine, reported La Prensa Gráfica. At the time of the arrest, Benítez was believed to be part of a drug trafficking network distributing cocaine and crack in Eastern El Salvador and in the department of Cabañas.

However, in 2011 judge Enrique Beltrán absolved Benítez of the charges on technicalities, reported La Prensa Gráfica. Beltrán was subsequently suspended and prosecuted on bribery charges in 2014.

In 2013, a court overturned Beltrán’s ruling and reopened the case.

SEE ALSO:  El Salvador News and Profiles

Despite the open case against him, in 2015 Benítez was elected mayor of San Francisco de Gotera, in the Morazán department, as a candidate for the Grand Alliance for National Unity party (Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional – GANA).

Benítez is also the former vice president of the Vista Hermosa soccer club, of the San Francisco de Gotera municipality. He also carried out the construction of the team’s Correcaminos stadium through his business Constructora Benítez, at a cost of $510,000.

The mayor’s sentencing comes shortly after the election of El Salvador’s new Attorney General, Douglas Meléndez. During his long career within the Attorney General’s Office, Meléndez has participated in processes including official corruption, organized crime, and he also founded the Anti-Corruption and Complex Crimes Unit (Unidad Anticorrupción y Delitos Complejos), reported El Diario de Hoy.

InSight Crime Analysis

Politician, soccer boss, businessman, and convicted criminal: Benítez’s track record is not dissimilar from that of numerous Central American elites who have been found guilty of involvement in organized crime. Participation in the soccer industry is in fact believed to be a way for corrupt politicians to gain public support, which in turn shields them from scrutiny. In the recent detainment of six soccer elites in neighboring Honduras, for example, those arrested included current and former ministers, mayors, and businessmen.

SEE ALSO:  Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

The long-delayed prosecution of Benítez additionally draws attention to the ease with which suspected criminals can be elected into public office. According to La Prensa Gráfica, candidates for municipal posts in El Salvador do not undergo background checks, even though people with judicial cases against them are not technically allowed to run for office. The only requirement is that candidates declare that they have no legal issues, which local Departmental Electoral Boards (Juntas Electorales Departamentales – JED) must accept in good faith.

It remains to be seen whether the appointment of Meléndez, given his background in fighting corruption, will lead to a reduction in official impunity in El Salvador, mirroring recent developments in the other Northern Triangle countries. In Honduras, authorities’ increased inclination to take down corrupt elites is considered to be behind its swathe of soccer arrests, while the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) is largely responsible for taking down corrupt members of the uppermost echelons of Guatemalan politics.

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