El Salvador: anti-privatization protesters jailed

From CISPES via Upside Down World, Sept. 11:

Eight members of the Salvadoran General Hospitals Union (SIGEESAL) were illegally arrested on September 4 for participating in a demonstration against the privatization of the national health system back on July 6. The eight jailed union members are: Ana Luz Ordoñez Castro, Mirian Ruth Castro Lemus, Elsa Yanira Paniagua, Noemí Barrientos de Pérez, Ana Graciela de Carranza, Jorge Emilio Pérez, Manuel Trejo Artero and Anemias Armando Cantadeiro. All being charged with public disorder and damage to private property.

SIGEESAL is a member of the Salvadoran Union Front (FSS) and has strengthened its organizing and mobilizing following a merger with the national hospitals association (ANTMPAS). The new union brings together workers in the entire national health care system, and they have organized a campaign to denounce the corruption within the system, the extreme shortage within hospitals, and the privatization of some services within the largest hospitals.

Last week the FSS presented a resolution to the Legislative Assembly calling the captures a blatant violation of the constitutional right to protest, and more specifically, a violation of the recently approved International Labor Organization (ILO) agreements 87 and 98 which grant workers the right to organize and unionize. The demands of Salvadoran Union Front are for the immediate release of the protesters and for the respect of the ILO agreements. Health Minister Guillermo Maza has been clear about government intentions to privatize health care and has declared “zero unions” as one of the goals in his administration.

These arrests have reminded the social movement of the extent to which Saca and his government are willing to go to fulfill their plans of water and health care privatization. Just two months ago, 14 people were arrested in the department of Suchitoto for protesting against the privatization of water and will soon go to trial under the anti-terrorism law; now, eight more members of the movement have been jailed for protesting against the privatization of health.

“Social cleansing” groups inside Salvadoran Police

Almost a year after both the governmental Human Rights Defense Office and the Catholic Church’s Human Rights Commission reported the existence of social cleansing groups inside the National Civilian Police (PNC), lawyers have found enough evidence to prosecute Sergeant Nelson Arriaza and police officer Carlos Chevez Hidalgo for the assassination of eight people in the departments of San Miguel and La Union. In total there are six PNC officers under investigation for having participated in the execution of the victims and for having aided and concealed evidence about the murders.

The western municipality of Chalchuapa has been in a state of alarm as this past week after an anonymous letter was circulated in town calling for all citizens specially youth to obey a curfew so that the self-titled “E.L. death squad” can operate without obstacles. The FMLN mayor of Chalchuapa is calling for the authorities to investigate the situation, especially since the municipal government has recorded 50 murders for the month of August while police records show there have only been 17. PNC director Rodrigo Avila has made weak and uninformed statements about the nature of the investigations, calling it a case of “a few bad cops.” Meanwhile, respected Human Rights Defense Office worker David Morales has publicly criticized Avila’s response and has called for a thorough investigation and a “purging of the National Police” at the highest levels, starting with director Avila.

See our last posts on El Salvador and Central America.

  1. Salvadoran unionists released on bail
    From CISPES, Sept. 14:

    On Sunday, September 9, the eight members of the General Health Workers Union (SIGEESAL) were released from police detention after the union leadership mobilized legal support for the detainees. The unionists had been arrested a week earlier under charges of public disorder and “damages to private property” for their participation in a July 6 protest against corruption and privatization in the public hospital system. Although there had been damages to property during the protest – some graffiti with protest messages got painted on hospital walls – in the days after the protest the unionists agreed with the hospital officials to repair any damages. The unionists themselves repainted the hospital walls long before they were arrested for those “damages.” The unionists will face trial in approximately three months, meanwhile the prosecution has time to “investigate” and look for evidence against them.s national convention later this year.

    The Salvadoran Union Front (FSS) believes that these arrests represent another threat from the government to unions and other progressive groups mobilizing against the Saca administration’s privatization plans, against the high level of corruption and the deterioration of the national public health care system. The Salvadoran Union Front is also continuing their support for the eight unionists with legal support and pressuring for the charges to be dropped. The SIGEESAL arrests come just two months after the attack on the Suchitoto protest against water privatization. The terrorism trial against those protestors is scheduled to move forward in early October, when the state will present its evidence in a hearing. If a judge rules there is sufficient evidence at that point, the terrorism trial will move forward as soon as October.

    FMLN launches “Social Open Dialogue” initiative

    This past Monday September 10, the political commission of the FMLN held a public event to present their draft Government Program 2009-2014 to various social organizations. The purpose of the event was to open up dialogue with various social sectors so their input can be incorporated into the party’s government platform for the 2009 elections. The public consultation process is expected to last a year, with different sectors of society consulted through a series of meetings, assemblies, public tribunals, and workshops.

    The event was widely attended by social movement organizations such as the Salvadoran Union Front, the National Vendors Movement, youth and campesino organizers, church and women’s organizations. Well respected journalist and potential FMLN presidential candidate, Mauricio Funes, was also present at the event. Many organizations took the opportunity to express their support for Funes. Over the course of the past month there have been a series of public conferences and meetings in which social organizations have called on the Political Commission of the FMLN to offer the presidential candidacy to Mauricio Funes. Just this past week, there were 5 events in which various social and community organizations held public events showing their support for the possibility of a Mauricio Funes presidential candidacy. In response, Funes assured that for as long as there is “a demand from the social organizations, groups of professionals, intellectuals, communities and political parties, it is an opportunity to which I am open.” The FMLN will officially decide on its candidates at the party’s national convention later this year.

  2. US bars Salvadoran unionists
    From CISPES, Sept. 20:

    US Embassy Declares Salvadoran 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.