Government threatens arrests of those who march on International Workers Day

Press Release

Minister of Labor accuses unions and popular movement leaders convening Sunday’s marches of being “collaborators, financiers of the criminal gangs of El Salvador”

For immediate release

During a press conference on April 28, El Salvador’s Minister of Labor, Rolando Castro, effectively criminalized any International Workers’ Day march planned for Sunday, May 1. As is customary in El Salvador and throughout Latin America, labor unions and other popular movement organizations had planned mass marches, this year calling for respect for the right to organize and nationalization of the pension system and denouncing illegal mass firings of public employees.

Echoing the Bukele administration’s recent attacks on critics as gang sympathizers, Castro stated that all those convening the marches “are family members, collaborators, financiers of the criminal gangs of El Salvador.” He went on to name high-profile leaders in the leftist FMLN party, Norma Guevara, Lorena Peña and Medardo González as conveners, and warned that no “legitimate” unions would be marching on Sunday, only people associated with criminal groups.

These are serious charges in a country where association with gangs carries heavy criminal penalties and in the current context of a State of Exception resulting in mass raids, arbitrary arrests, and multiple deaths reported in prisons in recent weeks.

Within hours, several major unions and labor federations formally called off their marches planned for Sunday morning, while others pledged to take to the streets as planned.

The Popular Resistance and Rebellion Bloc reacted: “We reject and condemn the irresponsible accusations of the Minister of Labor against the working class that will march on May 1. We will hold Castro’s union mafiosos responsible for any aggression or acts of violence.”

Similarly, the Salvadoran Popular Movement Coordination stated, “Marching on May 1 is honoring the struggles and victories of the working class for a dignified life and for rights on the job. We condemn the declarations made by public officials that seek to criminalize an internationally recognized commemoration. We reissue our call to march on May 1, International Workers Day, against corruption, the criminalization of poverty and young people, illegal firings, precarious labor conditions and threats of repression against the working class.”

For decades, labor unions and popular movement organizations in El Salvador have held massive marches on May 1 drawing tens of thousands to the streets to uplift working-class priorities, from wages, working conditions, and union rights to broader issues such as the human right to water.

Several organizations convening marches this year also planned to denounce the government’s attacks on democracy, and the suspension of constitutional rights, including the right to due process, under the current State of Exception.

The State of Exception has resulted in the arrest of over 19,000 people in recent weeks with widespread denouncements of both arbitrary and politically motivated arrests under the pretext of President Bukele’s “War on Gangs,” with many unable to locate family members who have been arrested and lacking access to public institutions to which to appeal for their release.

Statement from the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES):

“What we heard from Minister Castro was the wholesale criminalization of the Salvadoran labor movement and any other popular movement organization that takes to the street to exercise their right to dissent. Given the State of Exception and the already prolonged detention of political prisoners in El Salvador, we are extremely worried about the safety and well-being of union members, popular movement leaders, and of members of the leftist FMLN party whom Castro has accused by name. We call on labor unions, human rights organizations, governments, and international institutions to condemn these dangerous accusations and to be vigilant of the march on Sunday.”

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Media Contact: Alexis Stoumbelis, Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), (202) 521-2510 ext. 205, [email protected]

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