Salvadoran bakers hold national protest in response to rising cost of flour

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Also in this update:

National Civilian Police attack school (check out videos here)

Presidential candidate Mauricio Funes denounces political intimidation, harassment

On February 20 more than three thousand Salvadoran bakers participated in a march to protest the high cost of flour and other commodities used by their sector. The marchers demanded that the government step in to alleviate the crisis by means of a subsidy. Thousands of Salvadoran families remain unable to put bread on the table, in part due to the rising cost of flour, which bakers are then forced to pass along to their customers.

Heriberto Hernández, vice-president of an independent bakers organization, declared that it is a lie that we can compete with the transnational companies, and for this reason we are motivated to be in the streets exerting pressure. Hernández based his organizations demand of a government subsidy on the precedent set in December 2007 when the Legislative Assembly approved a specific subsidy to offset rising fuel costs in the transportation sector. The bakers seek a similar subsidy to ensure that bread is affordable in the country.

According to official statistics, the prices of flour, butter and yeast have doubled in the past year. According to El Salvadors Minster of the Economy, Yolanda de Gavidia, the skyrocketing costs for bakers are the result of high prices for wheat on the international market. In her statement, de Gavidia did not mention the broader economic crisis facing the country.

 

In support of the bakers demands, legislators representing the FMLN opposition party put forward a law providing for a wheat subsidy in the Legislative Assembly on February 21. The right wing bloc in the Assembly promptly defeated the proposal, recommending instead that a more technical study be carried out, according to Francisco Merino, deputy from the PCN party. FMLN deputy Gerson Martínez stated that the proposal seeks to defend the bread on the table of the Salvadoran family, and that its approval should not be put off until a later date.

National Civilian Police attack school

On February 15, 25 officers of the National Civilian Police (PNC), accompanied by students from the national police academy, violently entered the Humberto Romero Alvergue Education Complex, where they physically assaulted students and a man who they sought to arrest, who is the father of children attend the school.

The man resisted his arrest after the PNC officers could not produce a warrant, and as a result was assaulted by the officers. Several students who came to the mans aid were also attacked, and 7 were seriously injured. This most recent incidence of police aggression was captured on film by student witnesses; you can see a video on the CISPES website by clicking here.

In a statement that was later echoed by the Vice-Minister of Public Safety and the Director of the PNC, Minister of Education Darlyn Meza dismissed the police brutality against the students as one bad experience that cannot impugn the work done collectively with the police in the area of crime prevention. The officials apologized and expressed their consternation over the event without mentioning the ever-worsening record of the PNC.

According to El Salvadors Human Rights Ombudsman, Óscar Luna, the National Civilian Police is the countrys principal agent of human rights abuses. Luna denounced the violence against the students, which he described as unnecessary and disproportionate. Despite its cursory apology, the PNC has yet to seek any disciplinary measures against the officers involved in the attack.

Presidential candidate Mauricio Funes denounces political intimidation, harassment

During his February 22 visit to the municipality of Tonacatepeque, FMLN presidential candidate Mauricio Funes publicly denounced the political persecution that has been aimed against him over of the last several months. Funes stated that he has detected an increase in such activity in recent weeks. Specificaly, Funes condemned the surveillance carried out by armed individuals stationed in vehicles outside the house of a civic organization that supports his campaign called Friends of Mauricio. According to Funes, they must be vehicles from the police or the State Intelligence Agency (OIE), or from another parallel structure that is dedicated to monitoring, following and intimidating [my campaign].

In his statement, Funes insisted that he does not worry for his physical wellbeing, explaining that the harassment to which he is subjected is the result of the desperation of the governing ARENA party, which still has not selected its candidate for the March 2009 election. As a result, Funes stated, AREANA must fall back on dirty campaigning and intimidation.

Funes has yet to present a formal accusation to the government, as he has neither documented proof of his harassment nor confidence that the police and judicial systems would investigate the situation. Mr. Rodrigo Ávila [former director of the PNC] expressed his inability to control the OIE In the face of the OIE, neither he no anyone else can do anything, declared Funes.

Minister of Security René Figueroa rejected Funes accusations, which also implicated Figueroa as the creator of a structure where old, retired generals and colonels are working at the hand of this departmental director [Figueroa]. Figueroa, without bothering to respond to the content of Funes claims, threatened to consult with his lawyers as to the viability of bringing legal action against Funes in retaliation for his accusations.

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