A military official in El Salvador was sentenced to seven years in prison for arms trafficking, an indication the country could be cracking down on the widespread practice of military officials selling off weapons to street gangs and civilians.
On November 28, army lieutenant and lawyer Jose Aristides Figueroa was sentenced in a San Salvador federal court on one charge of trafficking military weaponry, reported La Prensa Grafica. Two other charges of arms trafficking against Figueroa were dropped due to lack of evidence.
Figueroa used his post as a legal aide within the military’s logistics division to sell more than 50 military firearms, including two AK-47s and four AR-15s, reported La Pagina.
Figueroa was arrested in December 2012 alongside Colonel Salvador Alberto Gonzalez Quezada on charges of arms trafficking, reported El Mundo. The two military officials initially stood trial together; however, their cases were separated in July when the Attorney General’s Office suspended Quezada’s trial, according to La Prensa Grafica.
According to El Faro, an ongoing investigation by El Salvador’s Attorney General’s Office into arms trafficking by the military has relied heavily on testimony from Quezada, pictured below.
InSight Crime Analysis
Despite the high level of impunity typically enjoyed by members of the Salvadoran military allegedly involved in arms trafficking, Figueroa’s sentence could possibly open the door for several other military officials to be sentenced for siphoning off military-grade weapon caches into the general population.
Additionally, the timing of Figueroa’s conviction — just months after Quezada’s trial was suspended — suggests that Quezada could have supplied authorities with information that allowed prosecutors to build a successful case against Figueroa. This means it’s also possible that Quezada could provide authorities with the information needed to successfully prosecute other military officials under investigation for arms trafficking.
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Figueroa’s conviction could yet set an important precedent. For years, El Salvador’s military has sold off weapons to criminal groups, including alleged sales to the country’s most powerful street gangs, Barrio 18 and MS-13, as well as Mexican drug cartels.