Friday, February 08, 2008

Suchitoto 13 Update: Time Expires for the Prosecution

Social Organizations Increase the Pressure as Time Expires for the Prosecution

(Bulletin from U.S. - El Salvador Sister Cities)

The case of the "Suchitoto 13" is at a boiling point as both sides prepare for the upcoming preliminary hearing to present evidence and testimony. An extension solicited by the Attorney General's office and granted by Special Tribunal Judge Ana Lucila Fuentes de Paz, expires on Friday, February 8th. This will be the final day that the prosecution has to present its evidence, witnesses, and final accusations. Following that date, the defense team will have 5 days to respond with its own evidence, information, and witnesses.

This preliminary hearing represents a key moment in the case. Since their release from prison in late July, 2007 under conditional liberty, the Suchitoto 13 have remained in a state of uncertainty. The legal requirements for their conditional liberty are restrictive, but it has been the stress of not knowing what to expect, while still facing up to 60 years in jail, that is weighing on the group the most. This preliminary hearing will be a glimpse at the strategy that the Salvadoran Government has decided to take, and the results will dictate how the case proceeds.

After the prosecution's presentation and the subsequent response of the defense team, Judge Fuentes de Paz must decide that either:

  1. There is not sufficient evidence for a criminal case. The Special Tribunal then decrees that all charges are dropped.
  2. There is not enough evidence for charges of Acts of Terrorism. The Special Tribunal declares itself incompetent to hear the case and passes it on to the regional court system for Cuscatlán under lesser charges.
  3. There is sufficient evidence presented by the prosecution to proceed on to trial. Judge Fuentes de Paz schedules the trial date within 20-60 work days.
The legal and social response teams for the Suchitoto 13 are preparing for each of those possibilities, and have ramped up their activities leading up to the hearing. Lorena Martinez, CRIPDES President and member of the Suchitoto 13 said that "We have to be proactive and win this case before a trial ever begins. We know that there is no evidence to maintain terrorism charges, and logic suggests that we should be freed. But there was no logic to our initial capture and jail time either, so we know that we must keep our eyes focused on our common goals of justice, and work for it, too." The Suchitoto 13 legal and social teams have been doing just that in recent weeks.

CRIPDES and CORDES put pressure on the Attorney General

On Tuesday, February 5th a group of community leaders from Suchitoto, as well as CRIPDES and CORDES national leaders travelled to the District Attorney's office in Cojutepeque, in charge of the Cuscatlán Province that includes Suchitoto. There, observed by several journalists and members of the Salvadoran press, they presented a letter to Oscar Castro, the District Attorney, also directed to Felix Garrid Safie, the Attorney General, outlining the irregularities in the arrests of the Suchitoto 13. The letter correctly states that "...the extension granted [to the prosecution] expires on February 8th, and [the prosecution] has not made any movement during this time. It is clear there is no incriminating evidence.... We demand that the Attorney General of the Republic and the Judge Ana Lucila Fuentes de Paz respect the Rule of Law, stop risking the incipient process of democracy in the country and drop all charges."

Human Rights Investigation Delegation returns home

The Human Rights Investigation delegation that Sister Cities coordinated on the ground in El Salvador returned to the United States on January 27. Ten people from the United States, representing a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and sectors, but each with a strong history and commitment to the communities of CRIPDES and the struggle for social justice in El Salvador, formed the Human Rights Investigation delegation. The following are words directly from the delegates:

"We set out to meet with government officials to call their attention to the international human rights concerns around the case of the Suchitoto 13. We held meetings with Dr. Augustín García Calderón, President of the Supreme Court of Justice; Eduardo Calix, Vice-Minister of Foreign Relations, sent as a delegate of President Saca; Oscar Luna, the Human Rights Ombudsperson of El Salvador; and John Speaks, the secretary in charge of human rights issues in the United States Embassy.

"In each of these meetings, we presented the government representatives with our concerns about human rights violations and informed them that we were in coordination with our Congressional representatives in the US. At the same time we reminded them that 42 US Congresspeople signed letters of concern to President Saca about the case in July, and that this same Congress is responsible for allocating Millennium Challenge Account funds to El Salvador, which are dependent on standards of respect for political rights and ---, among others. We also asked the officials their perspectives on the case and more specific questions depending on their role in government.

"The conclusions that we drew after holding these meetings are available in our delegation report on the Sister Cities website."

"The most powerful and important meetings that the delegation had were with the Suchitoto 13 themselves and with community members from Suchitoto who were witness to and victims of the police repression and military presence on July 2. Meeting with these people and having the opportunity to accompany them as they struggle against this injustice served to inspire and strengthen us in our shared resolve that this case needs to come to a swift and just resolution, and the rights for political expression and assembly that are guaranteed in the Constitution and reasserted by the Peace Accords must be respected."
The delegation received quite a bit of coverage in the Salvadoran media, both throughout the week and following the January 25 press conference that the delegation held to share their conclusions publicly. The media coverage included an hour-and-a-half interview on the national radio station YSUCA, coverage on television Channel 21 and Channel 33, and three full-length articles, including two front page articles, in the Diario Colatino newspaper. The coverage on television Channel 21 included interviews with the Vice-President of El Salvador and the Minister of Foreign Relations of El Salvador, publicly asking their perspectives on the conclusions of the delegation.

Since returning to the United States, the delegation has been in contact with a number of Congresspeople and Senators, including the 42 Congresspeople who sent letters of concern about the case to Salvadoran President Saca last July.

Rural communities and social movement organizations to march from Suchitoto

The communities of CRIPDES, together with other social organizations including CORDES, PROVIDA, and the MPR-12, among others, will be walking from the Central Park in Suchitoto to the Special Tribunal building in San Salvador, with over 1,200 people participating in the three-day walk. The walk has been named the Perigrinacion Nacional por la Verdad, la Justicia y la Libertad Total de los Luchadores y Luchadoras Sociales: the National Pilgrimage for Truth, Justice, and the Total Liberty of the Social Organizers (the Suchitoto 13). Sister Cities will be posting live updates at throughout the three days of the walk.

As the case proceeds in court the coming week

As the case proceeds in court in the coming week, the eyes of the international community are focused on the important precedent the Salvadoran government and judiciary is about to set, and our hearts are with the dozens of communities and hundreds of people marching for justice and the freedom of the political prisoners. Sister Cities will be posting news as soon as it is available, including information about what actions of support we can take. Something we have seen and heard again and again in the past months is about the importance of social organizing and international solidarity in the case of the anti-terrorist law, because it is a case that is not just in the courts, but rather is political, and will depend on political and social action to resolve with justice.

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