Alert: Salvadoran Government Charges Organized CD/DVD Street Vendors with Terrorism
Take Action to Stop U.S. Support for Repression in El Salvador
Salvadoran police attack market vendors on May 12
On Saturday, May 12 the Salvadoran National Civilian Police (PNC) provoked violence and chaos in downtown San Salvador, targeting the organized CD/DVD Vendors Movement. Early in the afternoon, the Finance Unit of the police carried out a massive, aggressive confiscation operation targeting the organized vendors working downtown. A number of people unaffiliated with the organized vendors movement responded by ransacking businesses and setting fire to a police car and a truck from the right-wing media. Two hours after the chaos began, 150 anti-riot police showed up and responded by throwing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets at protesters. At the end of the day, four of the movements members had been arrested: Victor Mauricio Luna, Rene Salvador Mendoza, Hector Mauricio Mendoza and Fredi Medina. There were also 15 other individuals, including two minors, captured in the round-up.
Immediately after their arrests, President Saca and Minister of Security Rene Figueroa came out calling the vendors terrorists. When asked about the vendors at a press conference the next day, Saca replied, they are terrorists the correct word is terrorists for anyone who flips over a car and burns it or attacks a business anyone who sells something illegal on the streets must go to prison. The state has violently attacked the vendors movement since its inception, and now President Saca and the ARENA government are attempting to apply the newly created legal forms of repression: the Anti-Terrorism Law and Anti-Organized Crime Law. These laws take crimes formerly defined as acts of vandalism or public disorder and redefine them as terrorism punishable with decades in prison. (For more information on the Anti-Terrorism Law, click here or go to www.cispes.org.)
The vendors movement is in their second year of organizing at the national level in response to the imposition of CAFTA, the Central America Free Trade Agreement, and the related laws criminalizing those who challenge new intellectual property laws by selling pirated goods. Since the beginning of their movement, the state has repressed the vendors organizing with arrests, threats, confiscations and violence.
The ARENA governments economic model is creating the conditions of poverty and desperation that leave people with no other choice than to sell goods in the streets, yet the governments response to the growth of the informal sector has been the implementation of repressive laws and violence. The vendors and the broader social movement are calling for international solidarity activists to pressure their government and the U.S. government to stop equating protest with terrorism and to release the arrested vendors!
1. Fax and email President Saca and Minister of Security Figueroa to demand that they immediately release the vendors and drop the charges of terrorism. See below for sample letters and fax numbers.
2. Call your Congressional representative through the Capitol Hill switchboard [202-224-3121] to express your concern that the Salvadoran government is accusing social movement organizers of being terrorists. The National Civilian Police (PNC) continues to attack the Salvadoran social movement, and now their attacks are backed by presidential claims of terrorism. The U.S. legitimizes the PNC through the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), or the School of Americas for police in El Salvador! See below for talking points, and see CISPESs report on our visit to the ILEA this May, and other outreach and lobby materials at www.cispes.org/ilea)
Sample letter to e-mail or fax to President Saca and Minister of Security Rene Figueroa
President Antonio Saca
San Salvador, El Salvador
Minister of Security Rene Figueroa
Lunes 14 de Mayo, 2007
Sr. Presidente Saca y Sr. Ministro de Seguridad Rene Figueroa
Le comparto que me sentí perturbada al saber sobre los ataques a los vendedores de San Salvador este 12 de mayo y aun más sorprendida al saber que su gobierno esta llamando a estos vendedores terroristas. Los y las vendedoras de CD/DVD en El Salvador a duras penas están sobreviviendo en una economía que no les ha proveído más otra opción que vender productos en las calles. En vez de estar buscando y creando verdaderas soluciones ante tan cruel realidad de miles de personas, las acciones de la Policia Nacional Civil demuestran que la única solución que ofrece su gobierno es más y más represión, incluyendo el decomiso violento de la única forma de subsistencia para estas personas.
La protesta y el luchar por sobrevivir no es terrorismo. Aun esas personas que no forman parte del movimiento organizado de vendedores y quienes cometieron actos de vandalismo NO son terroristas. Por lo tanto, le pido que libere los vendedores inocentes y que retire todos cargos de terrorismo y crimen organizado en contra de las personas que fueron arrestadas este sábado.
______________ (city, state, country)
Translation of letter:
Dear President Saca (or Minster of Security Rene Figueroa),
I was disturbed to hear about the attacks on street vendors in San Salvador on Saturday, May 12, and I was even more shocked to hear your government call these vendors terrorists. The CD/DVD vendors in El Salvador are left without formal employment in an economy that has provided them no other option than to sell goods on the streets. Instead of looking for real solutions to the harsh reality for tens of thousands of people, the actions of the police this past Saturday show that your governments only solution is more and more repression, including violently confiscating peoples only means of sustenance.
Protest and struggling for survival is not terrorism. Even those individuals, unaffiliated with the organized vendors movement, who committed acts of vandalism are NOT terrorists. Therefore, I urge you to release the innocent vendors and drop all charges of terrorism and organized crime against all those who were apprehended on May 12.
____________ (city, state, country)
ILEA Talking Points more information at www.cispes.org/ilea
* Salvadoran Government using anti-terrorism law to target social movement organizing: The Salvadoran right wing passed an anti-terrorism law in September 2006, followed by an anti-organized crime law later that year. The language in these new laws is very vague, leaving them open to interpretation and a wide variety of applications. The anti-terrorism law is similar to the Patriot Act in that it threatens civil liberties supposedly protected by the constitution of El Salvador. The laws criminalize and labels terrorist with long jail sentences protest tactics commonly used by Salvadorans, such as street blockades and building occupations. The US Ambassador to El Salvador even expressed explicit support for this law in a speech earlier this year, condoning the use of police force in protecting US trade interests.
* Resurgence of death squad-style threats and murders: In early May the Archbishops Legal Aid and Human Rights Defense Office (Tutela Legal) released a report implicating the Salvadoran National Police (PNC) in eight death squad style assassinations in 2006 alone. CISPES has published a list of recent repression beginning with the July 2006 murder of the Manzanares couple, the parents of long-time activist Mariposa. Since then, threats and assaults on activists have increased; death threats have been sent to SETA, the water workers union; two FMLN activists have murdered in Coatepeque; Rev. Antonio Romero was murdered in September; and two student activists have been disappeared: Jose Omar Chavez, son of a historic community organizer, who has been missing since July 8, 2005, and Francisco Contreras, a youth activist who has been missing since February 6 of this year. In both cases, their families have evidence that leads many people to believe the police and/or death squads were involved in their disappearances, but their calls for investigation have fallen on deaf ears. These political attacks are reminiscent of the intimidation tactics used in the 80s, and social movement groups have called for immediate investigation into these acts of repression!
* ARENA is militarizing the police, which is a direct violation of the Peace Accords. The separation between police and military in El Salvador has declined dramatically since originally established by Peace Accords in El Salvador. It is now common to have groups of soldiers patrolling rural and urban neighborhoods in El Salvador, something that current President Saca has promoted. El Salvadors National Civilian Police, or PNC, was created by the 1992 Peace Accords to do the work of law enforcement in El Salvador. However, the PNC has increasingly been used to violently repress protests in El Salvador, especially the protests against the CAFTA free trade agreement and against vendors struggling under new-CAFTA imposed intellectual property laws.
* El Salvador has become the satellite for U.S. military and police training in Latin America, despite its poor human rights record: El Salvador is already the second largest recipient of military training in Central America, is the host of a U.S. military base at the Comalapa airport, and in early 2005 an FBI office was opened in San Salvador. The ILEA has the capacity to train 1500 students per year, more than the current Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation, also known as the SOA. Salvadorans fear a return to the sort of torture and repression practices used by the graduates of that US-sponsored school in the 1980s. Meanwhile, U.S. officials refuse to acknowledge the corruption, misconduct and human rights violations committed by the PNC, and continue to support the Salvadoran police, both through explicit statements and by sponsoring the ILEA in El Salvador.
Cut Funding for the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA). The U.S. Congress will vote on funding for the San Salvador ILEA through the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill in June of this year. CISPES is calling for an amendment that would withhold funding for the ILEA in El Salvador.