This comes only weeks after the arrest of 8 members of the executive board of the Trade Union of Nursing Workers of El Salvador, SIGEESAL, members of the Salvadoran Trade Union Front (Frente Sindical Salvadoreno).
As reported in Green Left Weekly (GLW) the union leaders were arrested in the city of Ahuchapan and Santa Ana, early in the morning of September 4 by members of the National Police. There are also arrest warrants issued against other union leaders as well.
The arrests, comments GLW, were a result of solidarity actions undertaken by SIGEESAL members in support of other union members in the Department of San Vicente. In San Vicente, the union had called for work stoppages in the administration of the National Hospital of Santa Gertrudis and other health units to protest against privatisation of health services and the acute shortages of medicines in public health clinics. The SIGEESAL union in San Vicente had also denounced embezzlement and misuse of funds on the part of the regional public health director, Manual Abarca. SIGEESAL branches throughout El Salvador participated in these protests.
These unionists were eventually released as a result of public pressure placed on the government.
IPS recently reported the head of the non-governmental penal affairs section of the Study Foundation for the Application of the Law, Nelson Flores, said that "El Salvador is a failed state in which authoritarianism predominates. Laws are being passed that instead of democratising the country, are causing greater repression and criminalising social protests."
Two weeks ago the governing right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and its ally in congress, the Party of National Conciliation, approved reforms to the criminal code which punish persons convicted of creating public disorder with up to 10 years in prison.
"This does not favour the consolidation of democracy," Flores said.
And their are the Disappeared.
The president of the UN Working Group on Forced Disappearances, Santiago Corcuera, visited El Salvador this summer and stated flatly that “forced disappearances are a continued and permanent occurrence.” El Salvador’s human rights ombudswoman, Beatrice de Carrillo, and the Legal Assistance Office of the Archbishop of San Salvador have, in separate reports, echoed claims that “extermination groups” tied to “people with power” are operating in the country. President Tony Saca and Public Security Director Roberto Ávila have largely ignored these claims.
At about the same time Santiago Corcuera was visiting Salvadoran national police detained and imprisoned leaders of the Association of Rural Communities for the Development of El Salvador (CRIPDES), a social organization which has worked since the 1980’s with over three hundred organized communities to advocate for their rights. Along with 10 community members, the leaders were placed in “preventative detention” for up to three months pending trial by special tribunal on charges of terrorism.
And how about one more example of what is going on in El Salvador.
This from the El Salvador 2009 Organizing Committee.
On July 2 a non-violent protest had been organized in Suchitoto by the Association for the Development of El Salvador (CRIPDES), its regional branch in Suchitoto (PROGRESO), people in the rural communities in the area, the Union of Water Workers (SETA), and other social organizations. This protest was planned around the visit of President Antonio Saca and his cabinet to Suchitoto, to discuss plans for the privatization of water in El Salvador.
Four members of CRIPDES were arrested before they even reached the protest, when their vehicle was stopped by National Civilian Police
(PNC) several km outside Suchitoto: Marta Lorena Araujo (President of the CRIPDES National Directive Council), Rosa Valle Centeno (Vice-President), Maria Haydee Chicas (CRIPDES journalist and photographer), and Manual Antonio Rodriguez (driver). They were first taken to Suchitoto police station, and shortly after to Cojutepeque, the Cuscatlan capital, where they are currently being held.
Later, when news of the arrests spread, protestors in Suchitoto moved to the police station to demand information and the release of those arrested. The police then called in the Unit for Maintenance of Order (UMO), who dispersed the protestors with tear gas, rubber bullets, and wooden batons. Police also attacked other protestors outside Suchitoto, and fleeing community members were followed by police by land and air for more than 4 hours, with several arrests made. In all, 14 people were arrested (including the 4 CRIPDES members and 9 local community members), dozens injured by rubber bullets or tear gas, and many people beaten by police officers. These violent actions by the police reminded many of the worst moments of the armed conflict in El Salvador in the 1980s, during which tens of thousands of Salvadorans were murdered by right-wing death squads backed by the military.
But the Bush government would rather you not hear about any of this.
The following is from CISPES.
Alert! US Embassy Declares Salv. Union’s Anti-Privatization Work “Dangerous” to U.S. Public
**Take Action to demand that the U.S. government stop denying visas to opposition voices!**
On Thursday 20, the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador denied Salvadoran union leader Maria de los Angeles Pleitez Carcamo a visa to come on a speaking tour of the U.S. Pleitez is scheduled to participate in CISPES’s “We Are Not Terrorists, Organizing is Our Right!” tour from Oct 16-31. During the tour Pleitez will talk about her union’s work to stop the privatization of the public health care system and the increasing repression that social movement and union leaders are suffering from the Salvadoran government.
On the morning of September 20, Pleitez went to the U.S. Consulate in San Salvador and presented all of her documents, including proof of work, family ties, and over a dozen letters of invitation from Congressional Representatives and other community groups. In the visa interview, the U.S. consular representative questioned Pleitez about her ties to CISPES and her union work. The official rejection letter cited lack of “economic and social ties” to El Salvador, but the interviewing officer made it clear that the rejection was a political decision when he concluded the interview, saying “this is very delicate situation…you cannot travel because we need to protect U.S. security.”
Pleitez believes she was denied the visa because the U.S. government does not want people in the United States to know about repression against the social movement and union leaders in El Salvador. Pleitez is a national leader in the Salvadoran General Hospitals Union (SIGEESAL), and SIGEESAL has recently been targeted for its work to stop privatization. On September 4, eight SIGEESAL members were illegally arrested for participating in a demonstration against the privatization of the national health care system. A number of other organizations have also been attacked for their activism recently. In July, 14 people were arrested in Suchitoto for participating in a peaceful protest against the privatization of water. Those protesters are being charged with “terrorist acts” and face up to 60 years of prison. The SIGEESAL activists are being charged with public disorder and could also face years in prison.
The U.S. Embassy in El Salvador is contributing to the repression of the social movement and union organizing by denying this visa and not allowing Ms. Pleitez to tell their stories in the United States As long as the U.S. government is supporting this repression in El Salvador it is critical that communities in the U.S. be allowed to meet with people like Pleitez to share experiences and build common strategies. The only “danger” we face is allowing the government to keep us uninformed! Take action to demand that the U.S. Consulate grant Ms. Pleitez a visa immediately.