Cross-Border Protests Denounce 'State of Exception,' Demand Release of Political Prisoners

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As repression deepens in El Salvador, resistance and international solidarity also persist. From San Salvador to Mexico City to Los Angeles over the last few weeks, social movement and solidarity organizations have held rallies denouncing the authoritarian Bukele regime and demanding an end to mounting human rights violations.

Regressive setbacks and suppression of rights have been a hallmark of the Bukele presidency from the beginning; even so, this last year has seen an egregious escalation in tactics. Beginning in 2021, the Bukele administration has illegally imprisoned or forced into exile over 40 former opposition leaders from the leftist FMLN party. Since March 2022, those targeted captures have been expanded to the population at large: Under the ongoing State of Exception,  tens of thousands of regular citizens have been arbitrarily and illegally rounded up and incarcerated in the country’s already overcrowded prisons.  As of mid-August, approximately 60 people have died in custody. 

Cross-border protests

San Salvador, El Salvador

In San Salvador, the organization COFAPPES (Comité de Familiares de Presas y Presos Políticos de El Salvador / Committee of Family Members of Political Prisoners of El Salvador), which was founded in the wake of the illegal arrests of political leaders, held vigils and demonstrations to mark their now year-long, relentless struggle to set these prisoners free. In a statement, they said:

“This year has been very difficult for the political prisoners and for their families, and in general, for the entire Salvadoran society that has been subjected to the loss of constitutional rights through a spurious “State of Exception” that threatens the freedom and life of innocent people; violates due process and the presumption of innocence, and manipulates the justice system to obtain resolutions that violate their rights. . . In spite of all this, we continue in the struggle.”

Also in San Salvador, the social movement rallied on “J30”—the annual march commemorating the July 30, 1975, student massacre.  Although this march takes place every year, this year’s demands on behalf of organized students and youth carried deep urgency and commitment, in light of Bukele’s increasingly violent repression of young people, especially poor and rural youth: “Just as at that time the abuses committed by the regime were denounced, students now denounce the abuses committed by the current regime, specifically the abuses committed in the State of Exception promoted by the ‘puppet’ legislators," they said. Among those demands and rallying cries:

  • July 30, never again!
  • Long live the consistent student struggle!
  • Long live critical thinking and transformative action!
  • Down with the State of Exception!”

These targeted marches take place in a broader context of growing and diverse social movement mobilizations against government abuses. With hallmark creativity and courage, organized labor, youth, LGBTI, and civil society groups demonstrate regularly, including last week when friends and family of those detained under the State of Exception marched to the Monument to the Constitution in central San Salvador. Holding up signs and photos of disappeared friends and relatives, they demanded return of their loved ones and an end to the State of Exception. 

Mexico City, Mexico

In Mexico City, the Comité de Solidaridad con El Salvador en México demonstrated “in solidarity with the organized Salvadoran people struggling against authoritarianism. From outside the Salvadoran embassy, they denounced the State of Exception imposed by the Bukele regimen:

“People have been captured, slandered, accused of crimes they did not commit, with the clear intention of silencing the allegations they expose. . . We call on the Bukele administration to restore the state of law and people’s constitutional protections.”

Los Angeles, California, USA

In Los Angeles, members of the Salvadoran diaspora from the LA CISPES chapter alongside allies from Resistencia Comunitaria, Anakbayan, and Guatemaya Mujeres Resistiendo rallied outside the Salvadoran consulate. With banners, music, speeches, and popular street theater, groups expressed solidarity with the Salvadoran social movement, which is confronting one of its greatest crises under Bukele: “From here, we too, join in rejecting the fascism and hate that has been unleashed in El Salvador!”

Protesters highlighted the importance of historic memory, detailing the ways the current regime is employing some of the most sinister tactics of civil-war era dictatorships in El Salvador to silence dissent. These include:

  • Forced disappearances and arbitrary arrests
  • Government secrecy
  • Censure of the press
  • Threats and harassment
  • Consolidation of power over independent branches of government
  • Military intervention into all dimensions of daily life.

Speakers also emphasized the fact that those tactics–then and now–are funded by the United States.

“The US is doing the same thing now,” said an LA-based activist whose family came to the United States from El Salvador in the 1980s. “US Aid and military projects continue to militarize countries across the world. So when Nayib Bukele says he’s an anti-imperialist. . . claiming he’s not in cahoots with the US State Department. . . we all know that’s [a lie] because his security plan and the State of Exception is funded by USAid and by military and security aid from the US State Department. When it comes down to it, Bukele is carrying out an extension of US empire and the militarization of Central America.” Likewise, a CISPES representative reminded that “This is an ongoing struggle–against neoliberalism, neocolonialism in an ongoing war against our people... this is an intergenerational struggle.

Speakers stressed, however, that historic memory also teaches about the role of the “conscious diaspora” and international solidarity in times of crisis. Cross-border solidarity is as important now in confronting the current repression as it was during the military dictatorships of the 1980s: “Why are we here?” Because it is the duty of each generation. Salvadoran history is replete with revolutionary moments and a revolutionary culture, in which the population takes to the streets to denounce abuses. . . now it's up to us.  As Salvadorans in the diaspora we also reject and condemn the actions of the Bukele dictatorship. From Los Angeles, we also raise our voices to accompany the victims, those who have fallen and those who are incarcerated under this regime.”

Finally, speakers highlighted the colonial roots of repression and recognized the long history of Indigenous resistance against it. Drawing lessons from an ancestral cosmovision, another protester from the Salvadoran diaspora who shared poetry and history with the crowd reminded folks gathered that “Cosmic energy brings us here and unites us in resistance.”

Action to take right now!

Given that people in El Salvador now have little to no  legal or other protections within the country after the takeover of institutions by the Bukele administration, international presence and pressure is urgent.

At the end of August, representatives from COFAPPES will hold a press conference calling for the release of political prisoners and all those held without due process, representation, medical attention, and other constitutional guarantees. Support this demand by signing on to the accompanying petition that allies in El Salvador will deliver to the Attorney General, the Human Rights Ombudsman, and Supreme Court magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber.

Go to: cispes.org/politicalprisoners

Deadline to sign on: August 22, 2022.

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