Solidarity with Lorena Peña in face of Misogynistic and Defamatory Attacks

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, express our solidarity with Lorena Peña, a lifelong feminist activist and leader within El Salvador’s leftist party, the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN), who is currently facing political persecution at the hands of the Bukele government in El Salvador.

Lorena Peña is a long-time FMLN leader who has dedicated her life to the revolutionary struggle of the Salvadoran people to build a just society. She was a delegate for the FMLN’s negotiating team at the signing of the 1992 Peace Accords. She later served as a Legislative Deputy for the FMLN for nearly a decade and was elected to serve as President of El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly in 2015 - 2018.

In February 2023, the Supreme Court of Justice announced a civil case against Lorena on charges of financial misconduct during her tenure as the FMLN’s Cultural Secretariat, notified the Attorney General and suggested that his office could open a criminal trial for the same cause, putting her in imminent danger of being unjustly imprisoned given that the guarantee of due process for no longer exists in El Salvador due to having a failed justice system. Notwithstanding that Lorena has already presented all the required evidence to absolve her of the baseless accusations, the fact that she is being threatened with arrest for non-criminal charges of an administrative nature affirms that the Salvadoran judicial system has become a weapon of persecution against President Bukele’s political opponents and cannot be trusted to uphold the law, let alone guarantee due process or a fair trial to any citizen.

We express our solidarity with Lorena, who has endured years of misogynistic and defamatory attacks against her person and character as a high-ranking woman in Salvadoran politics and due to her outspoken leadership on issues of social, economic and gender justice.

When she was the President of El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly, the right-wing ARENA party conducted a media-fueled smear campaign accusing her of financial misconduct, which proved empty.

President Bukele and his party have intensified the attacks against her, likely in response to her outspoken critique of his government’s rollback of fundamental democratic standards and countless irregularities in government spending.

In 2021, an special legislative commission formed by deputies from Bukele's New Ideas party and others loyal to him publicly questioned Lorena Pena for twelve consecutive hours about the use of public funds when she was president of the Legislative Assembly’s Treasury Commission and Special Budgets. This interrogation took place outside of the legislature’s constitutional mandate, as financial investigations are the responsibility of the Court of Accounts. Furthermore, the “investigation” was carried out under the false pretext of holding Lorena responsible for the use of funds that were approved by the entire plenary of the Legislative Assembly and thereafter managed by the Ministry of Finance. During this interrogation, she fought back against misogynistic verbal abuse and disproved accusations of having diverted $580,000 from NGOs, claims that had already been proven false during multiple special audits conducted by Bukele’s own administration into the finances of the historic feminist organization Las Mélidas, which she co-founded. Popular support and lack of evidence prevailed in that instance.

Now, in a clear instance of lawfare, a judicial branch beholden to the Bukele administration is persecuting her once again, this time based on a 2022 investigation into alleged illicit enrichment during her tenure as the FMLN party’s Cultural Secretariat, which she directed for 7 years. Despite her diligence in providing documentation in response to every request from the Probity section of the Supreme Court of Justice, the court has sent the case to civil trial for illicit enrichment of $200,000.

Additionally, the Supreme court publicly suggested that the General Prosecutor's Office of the Republic could open a criminal trial for the same cause, despite the fact that the case is civil in nature.

These actions illustrate that many elements of the Salvadoran judiciary now systematically act at the behest of the Bukele administration following New Ideas legislators having illegally removed and replaced of the five magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice and Attorney General in May 2021 and subsequent removal, replacement and transfer of judges and prosecutors across the country in violation of the Constitution.

We furthermore denounce the hypocrisy of the Bukele administration for dismantling the many hard-fought advancements in government transparency that were secured by Salvadoran civil society under the FMLN’s executive leadership, including shuttering of the Secretariat of Citizen Participation, Transparency and Anticorruption and deep rollbacks to the Transparency and Access to Public Information Law, and now using a submissive judiciary branch and Attorney General to pursue unfounded accusations of corruption against the FMLN, resulting in the imprisonment and exile of dozens of party members and leaders since 2020.

Additionally, the misogyny directed towards Lorena Peña is cause for increased concern.

During her career as a legislator, she played a leading role in the defense of women's rights in decision-making spaces. She introduced and promoted legislative proposals that that El Salvador’s right-wing elite routinely opposed and often obstructed including: to decriminalize abortion in certain circumstances; to create the state  financial institution for women, FOSOFAMILIA; to reform the penal code to designate crimes against LGBT people as hate crimes, and to better address violence against women and children; the Special Law for a Life Free of Violence; the Equality, Equity and Eradication of Discrimination against Women Law; and advocated for quotas for women’s political participation, among other important efforts.

The attack against Lorena is the latest in a long series of unacceptable misogynistic attacks that is characteristic of Nayib Bukele as a politician, of his administration, and of some of his supporters who have routinely harassed, threatened, and defamed women within the opposition, particularly leftist women with affiliations to the FMLN and ties to the Salvadoran popular social movement.

When he was mayor of San Salvador, Bukele’s verbal assault against a woman city council member was a catalyst for his eventual ouster from the FMLN on multiple ethics violations. Since becoming president of El Salvador, he has continued to target women who dare to criticize his administration, often from his official Twitter account, including Daniela Genovés, former FMLN legislative candidate, Karina Sosa, Adjunct National Secretary of the FMLN, and Claudia Liduvina Escobar, former magistrate at the Institute for Access to Public Information, putting public targets on them and exposing them to widespread online and in-person violence and harassment.

Throughout the many attacks she has endured, Lorena has conducted herself with courage, honesty, a fighting spirit, and unwavering commitment, many of the same notable characteristics she has demonstrated throughout decades while leading grassroots women’s movements in El Salvador and building international solidarity.

In the coming weeks Lorena Peña will be prosecuted in a civil trial. As U.S. and internationally-based women’s, solidarity, legal, and human rights organizations and groups, we call:

On the judge presiding over the case and others in El Salvador’s judiciary branch not to act in submission to the Bukele administration’s political agenda but to fulfill their mandate to uphold the law.

For the state to respect and uphold Lorena Peña’s constitutionally and internationally protected rights to due process

On the prosecution to not act illegally by opening a criminal trial with fabricated charges

On the Salvadoran government to cease its lawfare tactics against Lorena Peña and other political opponents.

Signers:

A Legacy of Equality Leadership and Organizing (LELO)
Anti-Imperialist Action Committee
Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests
ATALC (Amigos de la Tierra America Latina y el Caribe)
BMDC - Boston May Day Coalition
Cambridge United for Justice with Peace
Cambridge/ El Salvador Sister City project
Casa Baltimore Limay
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Centro Latino Cuscatlán
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN)
Ciudadanía en Oregon at Temple Beth Sholom
CODEPINK
Colectivo Kawsay
Comité de Solidaridad con El Salvador en México
Community Organizing Center
Denver Justice and Peace Committee (DJPC)
Doctors for Global Health
Echoes of Silence
Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA)
Frente Internacionalista de Mujeres por la Justicia y la Paz
Friends of Latin America
GABRIELA Washington, DC
Global Justice Committee of Portland Jobs with Justice
Grassroots Global Justice Alliance
Grupo primero de Abril
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Guatemala Solidarity Project
GuateMaya L.A. Mujeres Resistiendo
Hesperian Health Guides
Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America
International Migrants Alliance - US Chapter
International Women's Alliance
Kickapoo Peace Circle
La Chispa
Massachusetts Peace Action - Latin American Caribbean Working Group
Minnesota Workers United
Minnesota Anti-War Committee
MNAAC - Minnesota Abortion Action Committee
Movement 4 People's Democracy - Midwest
Mujeres Internacionalistas Por la Justicia y La Paz
National Lawyers Guild
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)
Nicaragua Center for Community Action (NICCA)
Palestinian Youth Movement - Bay Area
Portland Central America Solidarity Committee (PCASC)
Portland chapter, Jewish Voice for Peace
Prairie Sage Protectors - Canada
Red Mundial Salvadorena en Defensa de la Democracia
Redes Amigos de la Tierra Uruguay
Resistencia Comunitaria
RocUbuntu
San Carlos Foundation
San Francisco Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (SFCHRP)
San Francisco chapter, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (SFLCLAA)
School of the Americas Watch
US El Salvador Sister Cities
US Women and Cuba Collaboration
Women's International Democratic Federation
Women's International Democratic Federation - Americas and Caribbean Regional Office
Womens International League for Peace and Freedom - Cuba and the Bolivarian Alliance Issues Committee
Women Against Military Madness
Women of the Americas, Fuerza Mundial Continuum

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