Thursday, July 05, 2007

URGENT RESPONSE NEEDED: CRIPDES Members and Leaders Charged with Terrorism

PICA Friends-

Your urgent action is needed! In what appears to be a clear escalation of the repression against the Salvadoran popular movement, 4 national leaders of CRIPDES have been arrested and charged under that country's "anti-terrorism" laws. Their preliminary hearing is scheduled for this Saturday, July 7, so a fast response is essential. The message below from US - El Salvador Sister Cities has details, sample letters, and Salvadoran and US officials who should be called, faxed, or E-mailed.

Marta Lorena Araujo, the president of CRIPDES, has visited Bangor, and has met with many of us on our delegations to El Salvador. Please help send the message to the Saca government that this assault on human rights can not be allowed to go unchallenged.

Jon Falk
PICA Director


Breaking News: The Case Takes a Dangerous Turn; CRIPDES Members and Leaders Charged with Terrorism

We learned late Wednesday night that the 13 people arrested last Monday, July 2, including CRIPDES leaders and community members, are now being charged with “Creating Public Disorder, Destruction of Property and Acts of Terrorism.” They will be tried under the new Anti-Terrorism Law, (read the specifics here) created by the Salvadoran government and President Saca. This means that they are taken out of the provincial court system and will be tried in special tribunals, created specifically for cases under this law.

Everything seems to indicate that these arrests were strategically planned by the government to discourage social protest and take apart the Salvadoran social movement. There are reports that the Attorney General has planned to call on witnesses from within the National Civilian Police (PNC) and Riot Police (UMO). At the time of publication of this message, CRIPDES members and supporters from the rural communities have peacefully gathered outside the courthouse in San Salvador, the UMO Riot Police has surrounded the entire block, with helicopters circling overhead.

Charges were heard this morning, and preliminary information puts the public hearing of the case for this Saturday, July 7, at 10:00 am.

This turns up the pressure for action on our part. Under the anti-terrorism law possible jail time can reach nearly 40 years! We need to show our solidarity now more than ever, and let the government know that CRIPDES leaders are not terrorists!

Please send faxes and emails to:

1. Excelentísimo Sr. Elías Antonio Saca, Presidente de El Salvador:

Telephone (country code 503) 2248-9000.

Fax (503) 2243-7857 / (503) 2243-9930.

2. Lic. Felix Garrid Safie, Fiscal General de la república de El Salvador (Attorney General of El Salvador)

Telephone (country code 503) 2249-8412 / (503) 2249-8749

Fax (503) 2528-6096


3. Dr. Agustín García Calderón,: Presidente de la Corte Suprema de Justicia (President of the Supreme Court of El Salvador)

Telephone (country code 503) 2231-8300, (503) 2271-8888.

Fax (503) 2243-9930, (503) 22437857.


4. Charles L. Glazer, U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador

Telephone (country code 503) 2278-4444

Fax: (503) 2278-6011


Also please contact your congressional representatives and urge them to pressure the Salvadoran government about this situation!

Again, the timeline of events and new sample letters are below. Changes include stronger language around the charges of terrorism. (also please note that we have taken "affiliation" off the letter. If you are affiliated with a civic or religous group, feel free to put it on, but we would like to refrain from writing "US-El Salvador Sister Cities" as our direct affiliation.

----------------------TIMELINE OF EVENTS-------------------------

- A non-violent protest had been organized in Suchitoto for Monday morning, July 2nd, 2007. The protest was organized by the Association for the Development of El Salvador (CRIPDES), its regional branch in Suchitoto (PROGRESO), and the people of the organized rural communities in that municipality, as well as the the Union of Water Workers (SETA) and a number of other social organizations.

- This protest coincided with the visit of President Elias Antonio Saca and his cabinet to Suchitoto. The purpose of this visit was to inaugurate the public water system in the municipality and with it a “Plan for the Decentralization of Public Services,” a policy which is viewed as a step towards privatization of the public water system. The communities, organized and accompanied by CRIPDES, staged a demonstration and other public protest activities around the visit of President Saca and in opposition to the movement toward privatization of water.

- Four members of the Association for the Development of El Salvador (CRIPDES) were arrested before their vehicle reached the protest, when their vehicle was stopped by National Civilian Police (PNC) several kilometres before they arrived in Suchitoto, outside the community of Milingo. There a police car pulled in front of them and blocked their path, and officers forcefully arrested the following people: Marta Lorena Araujo, President of the CRIPDES National Directive Council; Rosa Valle Centeno, Vice-President CRIPDES National Directive Council; María Haydee Chicas, CRIPDES journalist and photographer; and Manuel Antonio Rodriguez, driving the CRIPDES vehicle.

- Manuel Antonio Rodriguez, the driver of the vehicle, was struck violently by police officers immediately after the officers approached the car. All four CRIPDES members were handcuffed and thrown into an army vehicle, which took them through back roads to the police station in Suchitoto.

- Shortly thereafter, the CRIPDES leaders arrested were taken from Suchitoto police station to Cojutepeque, the capitol of the Cuscatlán Province. From there they were then taken to the police station in Santa Cruz Analquitos, to the south of Cojutepeque. As of July 4, all the detainees were being held once more in Cojutepeque.

- Those arrested were charged with “Creating Public Disorder,” and lawyers who had been in contact with the police headquarters in Cojutepeque confirmed that their case will be designated under those charges to the Cojutepeque departmental attorneys and court system. Under Salvadoran law the departmental prosecutors have 72 hours (that is, until late morning or midday on the 5th of July) to present charges at a public hearing.

- Despite the charges of “Creating Public Disorder,” the CRIPDES leaders arrested never came close to the protest activities being carried out in Suchitoto. News footage shown on the Salvadoran Tele-Corporation (TCS) channels clearly showed the police vehicle overtaking the CRIPDES truck on the paved road between Suchitoto and San Martín, swerving in front and stopping the CRIPDES leaders. The video also shows the police forcefully removing the passengers from the pick-up truck, and taking them away in handcuffs, several kilometres away from where the protest took place. (Some news footage can be viewed at: Also watch this video for footage of the arrests.)

- When news of the arrest reached the protesters in Suchitoto on the morning of July 2, the people moved from the central park protest site to the police station to demand information and the liberation of those arrested.

- The police found themselves surrounded, and called in the “UMO” (Unit for Maintenance of Order) Riot Police, who forcefully dispersed the crowds with tear gas, rubber bullets and wooden batons.

- Repression of the protest was not limited to the crowd at the police station; rather it was widespread. As of the evening of July 3, preliminary reports indicate that a total of 13 people were arrested (including the 4 CRIPDES members and 9 local community members), 25 injured by rubber bullets, 18 suffering serious effects of tear gas, 2 hospitalized, and an undetermined number beaten by police officers.

- In the community of Guillermo Ungo, several kilometres south of Suchitoto, where the UMO riot police attacked community members on the road on their way to the Suchitoto protests, again using rubber bullets and tear gas, forcing the community members to flee into the hills. Police also entered the homes of community members in Guillermo Ungo without legal warrant to do so.

- Fleeing community members were followed by the UMO riot police and the Police Reaction Groups (GRPs) by land and by air for more than 4 hours, with several arrests made. School classes in the nearby community were suspended because of the effects of the tear gas.

- The local community members captured report psychological intimidation after their arrest. One report reveals that detainees were taken in a helicopter above Lago Suchitlán and told by the police holding them that they were going to be thrown out of the helicopter.

- These specific tactics of repression, intimidation, persecution by helicopter, and invasion of homes are reminiscent of the most painful and disturbing moments of the armed conflict in El Salvador during the 1980’s. This repressive events of July 2 represent a step backwards in the process of building democracy that was proposed with the signing of the Peace Accords of 1992.

- Meanwhile, on the same morning as the protests in Suchitoto, the PNC and Salvadoran Armed Forces concluded a massive operation of some 300 officers who worked to capture Mario Belloso, the man accused of killing two police officers during a protest last July. Belloso was apprehended in his own home during the early morning and then paraded in front of news cameras shortly thereafter. The story filled newspaper and television reports and gave Minister of Security Rene Figueroa and PNC Director Rodrigo Avila the opportunity to attack youth organizations and the FMLN, insinuating that these groups have been aiding Belloso in his efforts to evade arrest over the last year.

- In the raid of Belloso’s home, the PNC claims to have found FMLN paraphernalia, along with specific documents in his computer that tie him to various youth organizations. Perhaps the most ridiculous claim made by President Saca is that Belloso was the “intellectual author” of the disturbances in Suchitoto; Figuero and Avila, meanwhile, accused the FMLN of being behind the protests. In an official communiqué following the arrest of Belloso the FMLN stated that, “We reject and repudiate the coarse pretenses of extreme right-wing politicians, as well as certain news media aligned with the party in power, who are blaming our party for the regretful events of July 5, 2006. Only perverse minds would have the courage to make such unfounded accusations”. Human Rights Office ombudswoman Beatrice de Carrillo called the arrest a “political show” by the government, while Ricardo Alfaro Barahona of the Forum for the Defense of the Constitution raised questions about the timing of the arrest, as it coincided precisely with the police repression in Suchitoto.

-------------------------------------SAMPLE LETTER-----------------------------------

Sample Letter (Spanish):

5 de julio, 2007

(Title and Name)

Le escribo para expresar mi grave preocupación por las recientes acciones de represión realizadas en contra de la población rural en el Municipio de Suchitoto, así como la captura violenta y arbitraria de líderes de las comunidades.

La desmedida reacción policial se produjo contra la población en manifestación pacífica contra la privatización del agua, que no es otra cosa que la expresión legítima de descontento social ante las políticas anti-populares. Este tipo de acción represiva evidencia la violación de derechos humanos y amenazas a la libertad de organización y expresión. Los golpes, capturas, cateos, persecución y sobrevuelo de helicópteros traen a la memoria los momentos más difíciles para la población rural durante el conflicto armado, y veo con alarma este retroceso en el proceso de construcción de la democracia iniciado con los acuerdos de paz.

A la vez quiero denunciar la captura violenta de 13 personas incluyendo líderes de las comunidades y la organización no-gubernamental, CRIPDES, entre ellos Marta Lorena Araujo, Rosa María Centeno, María Haydee Chicas, y Manuel Antonio Rodríguez. Exijo para ellos el respeto a su integridad física y moral, y el proceso justo de ley que lleve a su inmediata liberación.

Por último quiero expresar mi solidaridad con las comunidades rurales y con CRIPDES en su labor a favor del desarrollo social y económico del país, un trabajo que he visto importante para la construcción de paz y democracia. Rechazo cualquier alegación directa o indirecta para vincular a CRIPDES con actividades terroristas, y asimismo los cargos de esta índole presentados contra ellos. Las personas arrestadas no son terroristas ni deben ser juzgadas bajo la ley anti-terrorista; son ciudadanos comprometidos con la justicia y el desarrollo de su país, y no deben ser criminalizadas.


(your name)

Translation (send the Spanish version, though)

July 5, 2007

(Title and Name)

I am writing to express my grave concern about the recent actions of repression carried out against the rural population in the Municipality of Suchitoto, as well as the violent and arbitrary capture of community leaders.

The disproportionate police reaction against the population came in response to a non violent protest against the privatization of water, a legitimate expression of social discontent toward policies that hurt the people. This type of repressive action gives evidence of the violation of human rights and threats to the freedom of organization and expression. Beatings, arrests, searches, persecution and helicopter fly-overs bring to memory the most difficult moments for the rural population during the past armed conflict, and I am alarmed by this step backwards in the process of building democracy that was proposed with the signing of the peace accords.

As well I want to denounce the violent arrests of 13 people including leaders from the communities and the non-governmental organization, CRIPDES, among them Marta Lorena Araujo, Rosa María Centeno, María Haydee Chicas, and Manuel Antonio Rodríguez. I ask that you respect their physical and moral integrity, and follow the just process of law that leads to their immediate release.

Finally, I want to express my solidarity with the rural communities and with CRIPDES in their work for the social and economic development of the country, which I have seen to be very important for the construction of lasting peace and democracy. I reject any direct or indirect allegations that try to link CRIPDES with terrorist activities, as well as the charges of this nature brought against them. Those arrested are not terrorists nor should they be tried under the anti-terrorism law; they are citizens committed to justice and the development of their country and should not be criminalized.


(your name)

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