Violent Arrest of Union Activists Continues Wave of Repression in El Salvador

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On Wednesday, July 19, union leader Ricardo Monge and three other members of the STISSS health care workers union were violently arrested after occupying a San Salvador hospital in protest of recent actions by the Salvadoran Labor Ministry. At least 200 officers of special units within the National Civilian Police (including riot police, known as the UMO) were used in the operation to remove the protesters, even though less than a dozen union members were actually in the hospital. Photographs the next day showed the harsh treatment received by Monge and the others, but President Saca immediately defended the police action and said that anyone who violates the law should be forced to confront Salvadoran justice. Leaders of the STISSS later denounced the police conduct in a press conference, saying that the UMO had entered without a judicial order or permission from the hospital administrators, and that no effort was made to negotiate with the peaceful protesters.

The arrest by the UMO comes on the heals of the violent July 5 protest at the National University in which two police officers were eventually killed, and dozens of people injured. The Salvadoran government and the National Civilian Police (PNC) have used the July 5 violence to smear the leftist FMLN party and various student organizations, and to step up its harassment of social movement activists. Indeed, a PNC spokesperson justified the presence of 200 riot police at the hospital and the violent arrests by saying that conditions had changed following July 5. CISPES organized protests at Salvadoran consulates in the week following the violence, and has pressured the US Congress to respond as well.

Meanwhile, a forum against water privatization was held on Friday, July 14, as labor unions, consumer groups, community organizations, and representatives from international solidarity came together to strategize about stopping the government's plan to privatize the public water utility in El Salvador. The groups pledged to continue working together on a more permanent basis, as part of a growing movement to stop the privatization plans expedited after the CAFTA free trade agreement went into effect last March. Meanwhile, on Saturday, a major protest for peace and against police violence will be held in San Salvador.

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