A Solidarity Triumph in Suchitoto!
The latest chapter in El Salvadors repressive history was writtenon July 2 in the town of Suchitoto, where hundreds of peacefulprotesters were violently attacked. 14 community and social movementleaders were arrested, and 13 charged under the controversial SpecialLaw Against Acts of Terrorism, which was passed in 2006 by theright-wing bloc in the Legislative Assembly.
The demonstration was a peaceful action coordinated by variouswomens, rural, and social organizations to protest the centralgovernments inauguration of its Water Decentralization Plan, which,according to the organizations present, is a concrete step towards theprivatization of water in El Salvador. Social organizations such as thePublic Water Workers Union, SETA, believes that the central governmentis under great pressure from international financial institutions suchas the Interamerican Development Bank to privatize the national watermanagement and distribution entity.
Shortly after the demonstration began, the president of El Salvador gave orders for both anti-riot police and military officers to be sent to Suchitoto to repress the demonstration, violating the peoples constitutional right to express dissent, organize and mobilize in response to an issue that affects their economic and social well being.
The 14 people arrested were psychologically and physically abused by agents of the specialized national police units. One person was so terribly beaten that he was released and all charges were dropped as he was in need of serious medical attention. All of these facts were denounced nationally and internationally, yet nobody has been held responsible.
Despite national pressure, backed by international support against these repressive acts, President Saca persisted in setting an example of these 13 political prisoners to thwart any further organizing and mobilizing to defend water in El Salvador. However, as local organizations united in protest and solidarity from all parts of the world began to pour in, Sacas defense of his Anti-Terrorism Law began to crumble. Even some judges within the court system publicly criticized the governments repressive acts and the unconstitutionality of the law itself.
Seven months after the initial arrests took place, on February 19, all 13 political activists arrested in Suchitoto were set free, and all charges against them were dismissed. According to many social movement leaders, the fact that the Anti-Terrorist Law was not applied to the political prisoners represents the strength the Salvadoran social movement has in organizing and defending its rights. The leadership of the leftist FMLN party also attributes this victory to the overwhelming international support the Suchitoto prisoners and their families received during the entire process.
CISPES, along with other solidarity organizations, held a series of actions in response to the case, including two national weeks of action. U.S. organizations convinced more than 40 members of Congress to sign a letter to President Saca last July questioning the application of the anti-terrorism law in the case of the non-violent Suchitoto protestors. CISPES also solicited letters from Representatives like Jim McGovern (MA) and Jim McDermott (WA), who sent personal pleas to the Salvadoran government right before the February court date. These letters reiterated the Representatives concern for the state of human rights in El Salvador and urged President Saca to respect basic civil liberties, including the freedom of political expression.
From the beginning of the case, CISPES has maintained 4 demands: drop unjust charges, overturn the anti-terrorism law, stop water privatization, and close the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) a police school run by the U.S. State Department and located in El Salvador. We congratulate our allies on their victory while continuing the struggle against US-sponsored repression and the ILEA!