El Salvador, the only Western Hemisphere country with troops serving alongside U.S. forces in Iraq, continued its support for the Coalition by dispatching an eighth contingent of troops to Iraq in December, and President Tony Saca publicly expressed his intention to deploy a ninth unit.
In September, the Legislative Assembly passed new counterterrorism legislation, which President Saca quickly signed into law. The law featured new sentencing requirements for certain terrorist-related crimes, but fell short of international recommendations on terrorist finance. Rather than distinguishing terrorism from regular crime by defining it as politically-motivated violence, the new legislation lists some 27 types of acts as terrorism1, punishable by a maximum sentence of 86-1/2 years in prison in the case of aggravating circumstances and, in a controversial provision, the law provides for 25-30 years in prison for armed occupation of public buildings (a tactic favored by some militant groups affiliated with the opposition FMLN party). The FMLN legislators, many of whom are former guerrilla insurgents, voted unanimously against the legislation, charging that its measures would restrain their right of free association. A group of different organizations is planning constitutional challenges and threatened to take the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights if necessary.
The Civilian National Police (PNC) is a professional force that is well-regarded by Salvadorans and international observers. The PNC coordinated its work with the Immigration Service, the Office of the Attorney General (FGR), and the National Intelligence Service (OIE). The new CA-4 agreement, implemented among El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, allowed for the inspection-free movement of citizens among these countries, and reduced overall inspection at land crossings. While important for improving overall integration and trade among the four member nations, the system has raised concerns that it could facilitate easier international movement of terrorists.
1 The 27 acts include: murder or grave injury of public officials, diplomats, or other international figures; kidnapping; terrorist attacks against aircraft or maritime vessels; crimes against port and maritime security; participation in terrorist finance (though lacking internationally-accepted language on cash couriers and wire transfers); tampering with chemicals and medicines; inciting acts of terror; publicly defending or supporting acts of terror; membership in terrorist organizations; use of WMD; and acts of cyber-terrorism.