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Terrorism at Home and Abroad: Free the Suchitoto 13

Community members in Suchitoto were targeted by the 2006 'Anti-terrorism Law' for standing up against water privatization. The 'Suchitoto 13' are being charged as terrorists and face up to 60 years in prison. The Salvadoran government has been the practice ground for U.S. domestic policy before, and now we see it again in action with the recent HR1955.
Terrorism at Home and Abroad: Free the 13 of Suchitoto
By: Caleb Hollatz
January 16th, 2008 marked the anniversary of the 1992 Peace Accords, an agreement of calm signed by rebel leaders of the FMLN and members of the Salvadoran government. After more than a decade of civil war, these two opposing forces seemed finally to be at a relative peace.
We see now in the new year of 2008, that although a vicious military battle may have come to an end in 1992, an increasingly intense economic battle is on the rise. For many years the ARENA government has toyed with the idea of privatizing the national water system. Not surprisingly, similar programs aimed to readjust public-private sectors throughout Latin American countries have proven to decrease access to clean drinking water, predominantly in poor and rural areas (one of the most well-known and documented accounts: Bechtel Corporation in Cochabamba, Bolivia).
Two years ago, the community of Santa Eduviges, a small, exhausted suburb of San Salvador called a town assembly. After more than a month without running water and numerous complaints that "fell through the cracks" they had decided to take justice into their own hands. During the assembly, attention and angered emotions were focused upon the director of operations, Roberto Saprissa; supposedly, he was receiving the $7 water bill each month on-time, but did nothing to enhance the waterworks. Less than a week later, the neighborhood community stood together, blocking the eastern entrance into the capital city on the Gold Highway. Although dispersed after only one day of protest, their demands were heard: "Give us clean water and put our system under government control." Eventually, the water system of Santa Eduviges, was taken over by the federal government.
Although somewhat of a rare demand, there is no scarcity of marches from concerned peoples taking the streets to oppose water privatization. On July 2nd, of last year, the Salvadoran government disseminated one of the most blatant attacks on activists that has been seen in years.
Early on a Monday morning northeast of San Salvador, the president of El Salvador, Antonio Saca was set to pay a visit to the small town of Suchitoto. The intention of this appearance was to launch the municipal water system and along with it, a "Plan for the Decentralization of Public Services," which is viewed by many as a step towards privatization.
On that same morning of July, a crowd of young and old gathered in the same town upon the highlands of El Salvador. The crowd was non-violent but wanted to express their disapproval of the trendy water privatization now occurring in their country. Numerous groups and surrounding rural communities including CRIPDES (the Association of Rural Communities for the Development of El Salvador) and the Union of Water Workers (SETA), organized the manifestation. Police arrived on the scene, tear gas and rubber bullets were fired on people attending and activists arrested.
The first four activists whom were arrested, never even made it to the demonstration. Instead, they were targeted and stopped in route to Suchitoto. The prematurely arrested were all members of CRIPDES. In fact, the four consisted of the CRIPDES president, vice-president, and a CRIPDES photojournalist. When news of their arrests reached the crowd gathered in the plaza, the rally moved from the town's center to the local police station. The people began to call on the police for information on the whereabouts of their comrades. The police, surrounded, claimed the protesters to be a threat and called on "UMO" riot police to disperse the crowd. In the end, 14 persons were arrested, "25 injured by rubber bullets, 18 suffering serious effects of tear gas, 2 hospitalized, and an undetermined number beaten by police officers".
But the repression didn't stop within the confines of this town. In the neighboring community south of Suchitoto, many more were arrested and intimidated in Guillermo Ungo. Again, police used chemical agents and rubber bullets to depress the attendance of Suchitoto protesters. People were chased into the surrounding hills and hunted through forests both on the ground and in the air with helicopters for upward to 4 hours. The pursuing forces of UMO riot police and the Police Reaction Groups (GRPs) were to have even threatened some of the detainees with being pushed from the helicopter while flying over a nearby lake. People's homes were entered by police forces without authorization or warrants. A disturbing resemblance to Suchitoto as many bystanders were also injured. Classes were cancelled in response to lasting effects of tear gas.
Aside from the tortures these people have already seen, 13 of the 14 arrested in Suchitoto are now facing charges of terrorism. Although now released from prison, the community leaders and activists are awaiting trial on February 13, 2008. Because those among the arrested are being tried under the relatively new Salvadoran "Anti-Terrorism Law", they are not entitled to a normal provincial trial. They will instead be tried in tribunals set up especially for such cases dealing with terrorism. The charges brought against the Suchitoto 13 are very serious to say the least. According to Article 5 of the Anti-terrorism law, molded from the U.S. Patriot Act in September 2006, the defendants could face up to 60 years in prison. Article 5 is a clause dealing with the intent to cause harm to high public officials such as the president, therefore constituting terrorism.
There is a whole lot to this case that I will not go into great depth here. The fact is this: people are being arrested and charged extensively to dissuade any opposition to the current government. C.I.S.P.E.S. (Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) has declared its solidarity with the political prisoners of El Salvador and has vowed to work towards a just conclusion for this case. We, as CISPES, are continuing to build relationships with Congressional Representatives around El Salvador and show that water privatization is part of the neoliberal structure stemming from the U.S. government.
The tactics of the militaristic forces in El Salvador are extremely reminiscent and familiar to the former El Salvador throughout the armed conflict in the 1980's. Repression through intimidation, invasion of homes and persecution by way of helicopter bring some of the most painful and disturbing memories of the 80's to the forefront. The growing divisions between the FMLN and the ARENA parties and actions followed through by the police forces against peaceful dissenters, represents a major deterioration of the democratic process that was outlined within the Peace Accords of 1992.
The Olympia chapter of CISPES will show support and solidarity to the Suchitoto 13 with a rally on Saturday, Jan. 19th - 1p.m. at Percival landing. This is a national week of actions being carried out by CISPES chapters across the nation to demonstrate the right to voice opposition and live freely without neoliberalism! For more information check out www.cispes.org