Salvadoran Labor Activist Freed Thanks to International Pressure

On July 6th “Daniel Morales” became a household name for union members and labor activists around the world. The youth was arrested the night of July 5th after a student protest in front of El Salvador’s National University turned ugly and resulted in the shooting deaths of two policemen.

In response to the shootings, authorities initiated a wave of repression against unions and student organizations. On the night of July 5th, fifteen riot police raided the offices of the Union Coordinator of Salvadoran Workers (CSTS in Spanish) where Daniel serves as Secretary of Press and Propaganda. Daniel was tortured and beaten and told by police agents that, “you just lost all your rights.”

When police uncovered a rifle at the scene, Morales was charged with illegal possession of a fire arm. (The rifle was registered to a security guard who is a memeber of a CSTS-affiliated union.)

That’s when international union solidarity kicked in. A shocking photo of a jailed Morales surrounded by members of the “Mara 18” street gang was circulated in labor and activist circles around the internet. Letters started pouring in. Unions in Chile , Uruguay , Pais Vasco , Honduras , Nicaragua , Italy , Switzerland , Spain , Germany and the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center in the US sent support.

“I didn’t know so many [unions] existed,” says Morales as he displays an impressive pile of letters that demanded his freedom.

Now free to speak about what happened on the night of July 5th, Morales met with reporters in the same CSTS office which was the site of the police raid and Daniel’s arrest.

He pointed to a couple of stains on the wall. “That’s blood,” he says calmly. The stains have faded to gray and look like they may have come from his nose. “First they put me face down on the floor. They wouldn’t let me look to the side.” There were five agents standing over him, their boots on his back and head, he says.

“Then, they made me stand on my knees facing the wall. If I leaned back, they knocked me into place with their rifle butts.”

Things got even rougher when police found the gun in the search, “Even though I was hand-cuffed, they tried to put the rifle in my hands to get my fingerprints on it. I kept my hands clenched,” he says. Morales also relays how he was thrown in the back of a pickup truck as police drove him around in an effort to intimidate him. He was taken to five jails in a row. He finally landed at the Casa de Monserrat, Bartolina 911, where the famous photo with the gang members was eventually taken.

“The government wanted to scare us and stop us from organizing. They want to use the CSTS as an example of what could happen to an organization that was struggling for basic rights. But exactly the opposite happened. Thanks to the show of support, we feel stronger now knowing that we are not alone.”

Still, Morales is taking precautions. He says he received death threats before July 5 th, and that he continues to receiving intimidating phone calls at home. Now, he says, even his mother is getting calls inquiring about him at her home.

“After 20 years of this dictatorship…and we have to call it what it is: a civilian dictatorship,” says Morales, “The Government is afraid that the people organized will expose their criminality and fraud.”

“That’s why they are attacking our organizations.”