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Five suspects arrested in investigation into filmmaker's murder

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders notes the rapid progress apparently being made in the investigation into the 3 September 2009 murder of Franco-Spanish filmmaker Christian Poveda. The Salvadorean police announced on 9 September that three gang members and a police officer suspected of being a gang ally have just been arrested for his murder.

They also announced that a fourth gang member arrested a few days ago in connection with another case is now also being treated as a suspect in Poveda's murder, while an alleged senior gang leader already jailed in connection with other murders is suspected of ordering the Poveda murder from his prison.

"It is encouraging to see the Salvadorean criminal police giving their full attention to the case even if the guilt of the suspects remains to be confirmed," Reporters Without Borders said. "Before the stir created by Poveda's murder fades, it is important that the authorities demonstrate that the maras, these violent street gangs, are not always above the law."

The press freedom organisation added: "The presence of policeman among the suspects is shocking, especially as Salvadoreans have more need of their security forces than ever to maintain law and order. We urge the authorities to continue acting with the same rigour until the case is fully solved and we hope those responsible will receive they punishment they deserve."

According to the online newspapers "El Faro" and "El Salvador", the three latest "mareros" (gang members) to be arrested for Poveda's murder are Roberto Luis Romero Vásquez, also known as "El Tigre", Calixto Rigoberto Escobar, aka "El Toro", and Miguel Ángel Ortiz, aka "El Cholo", while the marero who was arrested a few days earlier for another crime is José Alejandro Melara, aka "El Puma".

The policeman arrested on suspicion of complicity and conspiracy was named as José Napoleón Espinoza, an officer assigned to the 911 emergency phone system in Soyapango, near the capital. The marero suspected of masterminding Poveda's murder is Nelson Lazo Rivera, a detainee in Cojutepeque prison.

According to statements taken by the police, the police officer Espinoza, himself an alleged Mara 18 marero, told gang members that Poveda was a police informant and had provided the police with videos, photos and personal details about certain gang members and where they hid their guns.

As a result of this information, Nelson "Fantasma" Lazo Rivera, a Mara 18 section chief in La Campanera, an area outside the capital, allegedly sent word to Poveda to come to a meeting on 30 August to defend himself against the charges. If they had been confirmed, gang members would have been assigned to kill him and bury the body.

Poveda did not go to the meeting and, according to the police, this confirmed the allegations in the eyes of the gang members. Poveda finally went to La Campanera on 2 September and was seen leaving in a car with several individuals towards the place where his body was found. The police said the killers forgot to bury his body as originally planned.

Despite Espinoza's allegations, many residents of La Campanera have said Poveda was regarded as a "friend" by Mara 18. As well as his documentary about the gang, La Vida Loca, he supported Mara 18 in various projects including the creation of a bakery that would provide gang members with a way of transitioning into non-criminal activity.

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