Charges of “Acts of Terrorism” will stand against thirteen of fourteen defendants arrested at a July 2nd protest against water privatization in Suchitoto, a judge ruled Saturday. Judge Ana Lucila Fuentes de Paz of the Special Tribunal of San Salvador denied bail for the accused, sending them to an estimated 90 days in jail while prosecutors gather evidence for trial.
Fuentes de Paz threw out “Public Disorder” and “Illicit Association” charges against all the defendants, arguing that prosecutors had failed to generate proof in those cases. A fourteenth defendant, Facundo García, had all charges dropped. Judge Fuentes said García had only sought to aid other arrestees, and that act did not constitute a crime. García remains hospitalized as a result of blows suffered at the hands of National Civil Police during his arrest.
Charges remained, however, for Lorena Martinez and Rosa Maria Centeno, President and Vice-president of the well-known CRIPDES-CORDES community development organization. The two were led out of the Special Tribunal with Martinez’ right wrist handcuffed to Centeno’s left. They chanted, “We are not terrorists, we are citizens!” in unison as they were muscled into waiting police vehicles.
“When we look at the video, we see that there are no acts of terrorism. We believe that these detentions are arbitrary,” defense attorney Raúl Antonio López told the left-leaning Diario CoLatino newspaper. The paper reported that defense attorney Karla Albanés was stunned by the Judge’s decision in the case. Albanés noted the severe lack of evidence presented by prosecutors against defendants. Both members of the defense team vowed to appeal the judge’s decision.
Before the hearing on Saturday morning, thousands of supporters of the arrestees marched on the building where charges were aired. The march stretched the entire half-mile from El Salvador del Mundo park to the upscale Galerias shopping mall along the Paseo Escalón Boulevard, before terminating at the plaza in front of the Special Tribunal. Participants carried signs that said, “Freedom for the 14 political prisoners.” Organized by the opposition FMLN political party, marchers argued that the “Acts of Terrorism” charges were aimed at silencing public dissent toward President Antonio Saca’s controversial national “decentralization” policy.
Many marchers expressed concern that the 14 detainees were El Salvador’s first political prisoners since Peace Accords were signed in 1992. Most agreed that the malicious application of the Anti-terrorism Law against protesters could signal a dangerous retrogression to the past, when the State openly targeted opposition political expression. They said that the July 2 protest had been peaceful until police shot tear gas and rubber bullets as they violently dislodged protesters who had blocked streets.
A July 4 statement signed by more than 60 Salvadoran social organizations demanded an immediate release of all detainees. Barring that, they exhorted respect for the physical integrity of the accused by police and other state authorities. The demands were made in the wake of claims that police had threatened to throw some arrestees out of a transport helicopter as it hung over Lake Suchitoto on July 2. Such threats resonate deeply here, sparking memories of human rights atrocities of the 1980’s. A 1993 UN report found that the Salvadoran Army and National Guard were responsible for 95% of human rights violations committed during the 1980-1992 period of civil conflict.
Meanwhile, US solidarity organizations working with a wide range of Salvadoran groups demanded guarantees for the physical integrity of the arrestees, and for their immediate release. The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) added a call for the repeal of the Anti-terrorism Law.
"If the US Government publicly supported the approval of the Anti-terrorism Law, as they did, then they should denounce it when it is being applied for political purposes," said Krista Hanson, Program Director for the New York-based CISPES.
Representatives from the US-El Salvador Sister Cities organization announced that efforts to launch a “Dear Colleague” letter in the US Congress had netted two co-sponsors. They said final wording of the letter was finished and that the group would start searching for Congressional co-signers in the coming weeks.
The US groups have launched a joint fax-in campaign to call for the freedom of the detainees and to draw attention to what they argue is a politically-motivated application of the Anti-terrorism Law. Representatives of the groups (including the author of this report) met with US Ambassador to El Salvador, Charles Glazer on July 11. At the meeting, they asked the Ambassador for a public pronouncement about the US Embassy’s position regarding the July 2 protest and its aftermath.
Jason Wallach is a member of the Upsidedown World editorial collective and is currently visiting El Salvador.
Take Action! (contact information has been updated)
1. Educate yourself about the situation (US El Salvador Sister Cities has prepared a timeline of events that you can find here.)
2. Send four international faxes or emails (sample letter below).
Your action is critical to helping defend the right to organize and to showing solidarity with those who are struggling to keep water accessible and public in El Salvador!
Sample letter to e-mail or fax to President Saca and Minister of Security Rene Figueroa
Please make your voice heard!
We are asking for e-mails, faxes, or phone calls to express concern about the growing repression of protest in El Salvador and the violent arbitrary arrests and to demand respect for the physical and moral integrity of the prisoners and their immediate release. Please direct your correspondence to:
All faxes begin with 011 (international code) and then 503 (the El Salvador country code)
Excelentísimo Sr. Elías Antonio Saca, Presidente de El Salvador:
Telephone (011- 503) 2248-9000.
Fax (011 503) 2243-9947
Email at this website: http://www.casapres.gob.sv/prescartas.htm
Lic. Felix Garrid Safie, Fiscal General de la república de El Salvador (Attorney General of El Salvador)
Telephone (country code 503) 2249-8412 / (503) 2249-8749
Fax: (011 503) 2528-6096
Dr. Agustín García Calderón,: Presidente de la Corte Suprema de Justicia (President of the Supreme Court of El Salvador)
Telephone : (011 503) 2231-8300, (503) 2271-8888.
Fax: (011 503) 2243-9930, (503) 22437857.
Charles L. Glazer, U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador
Tel: (011 503) 2278-4444
Fax: (011 503) 2278-6011
Sample Letter (Spanish):
4 de julio, 2007
(Title and Name)
Le escribo para expresar mi grave preocupación por las recientes acciones de represión realizadas en contra de la población rural en el Municipio de Suchitoto, así como la captura violenta y arbitraria de líderes de las comunidades.
La desmedida reacción policial se produjo contra la población en manifestación pacífica contra la privatización del agua, que no es otra cosa que la expresión legítima de descontento social ante las políticas anti-populares. Este tipo de acción represiva evidencia la violación de derechos humanos y amenazas a la libertad de organización y expresión. Los golpes, capturas, cateos, persecución y sobrevuelo de helicópteros traen a la memoria los momentos más difíciles para la población rural durante el conflicto armado, y veo con alarma este retroceso en el proceso de construcción de la democracia iniciado con los acuerdos de paz.
A la vez quiero denunciar la captura violenta de 14 personas incluyendo líderes de las comunidades y la organización no-gubernamental, CRIPDES, entre ellos Marta Lorena Araujo, Rosa María Centeno, María Haydee Chicas, y Manuel Antonio Rodríguez. Exijo para ellos el respeto a su integridad física y moral, y el proceso justo de ley que lleve a su inmediata liberación. Tambien me preocupa mucho que el gobierno pueda acusar a las y los participantes en una manifestación pacifica de terrorismo y crimen organizado – le urjo a retirar estas acusaciones.
Por último quiero expresar mi solidaridad con las comunidades rurales y con CRIPDES en su labor a favor del desarrollo social y económico del país, un trabajo que he visto importante para la construcción de paz y democracia. Rechazo cualquier alegación directa o indirecta para vincular a CRIPDES con actividades terroristas, o con el caso de Mario Belloso y los sucesos del 5 de julio del 2006
(your name, affiliation)
Translation (send the Spanish version, though)
July 4, 2007
(Title and Name)
I am writing to express my grave concern about the recent actions of repression carried out against the rural population in the Municipality of Suchitoto, as well as the violent and arbitrary capture of community leaders.
The disproportionate police reaction against the population came in response to a non violent protest against the privatization of water, a legitimate expression of social discontent toward policies that hurt the people. This type of repressive action gives evidence of the violation of human rights and threats to the freedom of organization and expression. Beatings, arrests, searches, persecution and helicopter fly-overs bring to memory the most difficult moments for the rural population during the past armed conflict, and I am alarmed by this step backwards in the process of building democracy that was proposed with the signing of the peace accords.
As well I want to denounce the violent arrests of 14 people including leaders from the communities and the non-governmental organization, CRIPDES, among them Marta Lorena Araujo, Rosa María Centeno, María Haydee Chicas, and Manuel Antonio Rodríguez. I ask that you respect their physical and moral integrity, and follow the just process of law that leads to their immediate release. It is also of extreme concern that the government might charge peaceful protestors with terrorism and organized crime – I urge you to drop all those charges.
Finally, I want to express my solidarity with the rural communities and with CRIPDES in their work for the social and economic development of the country, which I have seen to be very important for the construction of lasting peace and democracy. I reject any direct or indirect allegations that try to link CRIPDES with terrorist activities, or with the case of Mario Belloso and the events of July 5, 2006.
(your name, affiliation)