Protests against water privatization repressed in El Salvador

From CISPES, July 3:

On July 2, various organizations and communities in the municipality of Suchitoto gathered for a protest against the official announcement of the “National Policy of Water Decentralization” by President Antonio Saca. The peaceful protest was brutally repressed by the riot police (UMO) along with specialized forces of the National Civil Police (PNC). In the end, 13 people were arrested by the police and accused of “public disorder,” including four leaders of the rural development organization CRIPDES. The riot police eventually opened fire on the protest with rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray, injuring around 75 people. Throughout the day helicopters circled Suchitoto and San Salvador, and the riot police didn’t withdraw from the scene until well into the afternoon.

Saca was planning to announce his new “decentralization” plan in Suchitoto but the protests, led by the water workers union SETA, CRIPDES, and a number of other groups, prevented him from arriving. Coordinated street blockades turned back his caravan, and Saca was forced to return by helicopter to the Presidential Palace in San Salvador, where he then held a press conference to formally announce the new policy. The Salvadoran social movement has increased its opposition to water privatization, bringing together many groups organizing at the national level to raise awareness about the effects of water privatization, while countering Saca’s plan to privatize both water and health care with concrete alternatives.

Social movement and solidarity organizations have denounced the unlawful arrests of peaceful protesters and the repression against organizers and movement leaders in general. Yesterday and today they are holding meetings with the government’s Human Rights Office ombudswoman Beatrice de Carrillo to request her accompaniment in their demand to have the 13 jailed protesters released without charges, and ask that she denounce the increasing repression against the social movement. The organizations will be presenting a resolution to the Legislative Assembly on July 3 to demand the deputies from the different parties also repudiate recent acts of repression against the movement.

Mario Belloso captured nearly a year after university repression and police shooting

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.

Student groups at the National University are bracing for more attacks by the PNC, as movement organizations strategize about how to respond to the recent spate of repression and the continued attacks that are sure to follow.

See our last posts on El Salvador and Central America.

  1. El Salvador: further details on repression
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 8:

    A protest by campesinos and others on July 2 prevented Salvadoran president Elias Antonio Saca from presiding over a scheduled ceremony in the San Juan recreation center in the northern city of Suchitoto that was to inaugurate his National Policy for the Decentralizing of Basic Services. Charging that Saca’s real plan is for privatization of the water system, campesino groups, women’s groups and left organizations demonstrated in Suchitoto’s central plaza while others blocked the highway leading to the city, keeping diplomats and other dignitaries from attending the ceremony. (Saca arrived by helicopter.)

    The Unit for the Maintenance of Order (UMO) of the national police attacked the protesters for four hours with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. Helicopters circled the area, and a military unit was deployed in armored vehicles. A total of 25 people were injured with rubber bullets, 18 were injured by the pepper spray, and 14 were arrested. Four of those arrested were leaders of the Association of Rural Communities for the Development of El Salvador (CRIPDES), a well-known nongovernmental organization. The four leaders hadn’t participated in the protests; police stopped them as they were driving toward Suchitoto. (Adital, July 6; CISPES Update, July 3; Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, July 4)

    On July 6 the Attorney General’s Office formally charged the 14 detainees before a tribunal in San Salvador with illicit
    association, public disorder and acts of terrorism. The prosecutors claimed they could apply the Antiterrorist Law because the protesters had blocked access to the city, damaged property and impeded the passage of government officials. The judge said she would consider the charges on a case-by-case basis. (Argenpress, July 6)

    Demonstrators from various social organizations and the leftist Farabundi Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) marched in San Salvador on July 7 to protest the charges. Taking different streets from the west of the capital, they passed through exclusive residential neighborhoods before arriving near the courthouse. Along the way they set off fireworks and painted slogans on walls. (Univision, July 7 from AFP)

    Ombudsperson for the Defense of Human Rights Beatrice Alamanni de Carrillo has revealed in her final report that high-ranking police officials once conspired to have her assassinated while she was visiting the Mariona prison. She declined to give details, although she said it was clear from a videotape. Alamanni de Carrillo is stepping down; her replacement, Oscar Humberto Luna, was approved in the National Assembly at the end of June by most parties, ranging from the FMLN to President Saca’s rightwing National Republican Alliance (ARENA). Alamanni de Carrillo has intervened to end police repression of protesters in the past and was investigating the case of the CRIPDES arrests. Luna said he would continue the investigation. (Argenpress, July 7)