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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Suchitoto 13 facing charges of terrorism -- Report from SHARE Emergency Delegation

The constitution gives me the right to express myself freely! I am not a terrorist!

Photos from the SHARE Delegation visits with the "Suchitoto 13" who were arrested on charges of terrorism during peaceful protests in July 2007. Patricio (left, with Marina Pena who is the director of SHARE's office in El Salvador) was tortured during the police detention. Rosa, Facundo, and Lorena (right) were among those protesters detained for 20 days.

Watch this YouTube video of some of the detentions.

Claudia Rodriguez recently returned from El Salvador where she was a member of SHARE's emergency delegation in response to the July 2nd arrests of 13 protesters in Suchitoto who are facing charges of terrorism. The delegation
met with several of the defendants, the Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman Humberto Luna, representatives from CRIPDES, and others. Thank you to Claudia for sharing her personal report and photos from the experience.

Dear Friends,

I am back from El Salvador. My time as part of the SHARE emergency delegation was great and very intense. Below this message there are some pictures that I want to share with you.
We visited Suchitoto and the Guillermo Ungo community outside of Suchitoto that was repressed by police and military forces on July 2, 2007. The Guillermo Ungo community started in 1992 as a settlement for peasants communities that were in refugee camps and for ex-combatants of the FMLN that has just demobilized. I visited this community in 1992 as a high school student doing research for my sociology class. Back then I remember being moved by the spirit of this community. People had just settled, were extremely poor and had only a few belongings (the UN had given some people small kitchens and basic furniture). But people were happy and eager to start a new life without the horrors of war.

Going back was special for me. I was impressed on how the community had progressed. I was glad to see the corn fields, the women's organizations and the school, that unlike most rural schools offers from kindergarten to high school. I was not surprised though. I knew of the amazing social capital that characterized this community. For example, they have installed 19 water systems to supply the community (made up of about 7 villages). People contributed their labor and CRIPDES (Christian Communities for the Development of El Salvador), CORDES and the European Union provided the funding. A woman told me, "I got splinters in my hands digging the holes for the wells". But the community's self determination is not a characteristic that the government appreciates, on the contrary, it is seen as a threat, particularly because the town is considered a supporter of the FMLN.

This is why when President Saca chose Suchitoto to announce his "water decentralization program" the community got very suspicious. They do not want the government to take away their water system to give it to private corporations. They wanted to participate in the presidential event but they were not invited. For this reason they decided to hold a forum in Suchitoto at the same time as the presidential event as a way to protest. In their forum they were going to explain how they manage their water supply. But little did they know that they were going to be attacked by the police and anti-riot units before they could even start the forum.

My heart ached when I heard the testimonies of people beaten up and being chased back to their communities by military forces who were spraying tear and pepper gases even inside the houses without caring about the children and the elderly. The school also had to be evacuated. The police and army forces basically took over the community and stayed there over 8 hours. About 25 people were also injured by rubber bullets. This situation: the military presence and repression, and the helipcoters flying over the community brought to the Guillermo Ungo Community bitter memories of the civil war.

We talked to 5 of the people who were detained. Patricio Valladares talked about his head injuries from the beating he received during detention. He spent three days in the hospital until the judge ordered him back to jail. He still suffers dizziness and headaches. The testimony of the women was heartbreaking, the way they were treated, the inhumane conditions in prison and the arbitrariness of the whole process. These women are so amazing that they also became advocates for the other inmates, denouncing the barbaric conditions that all the women prisoners face.

The thirteen people that were detained were released on bail but are still facing charges of terrorism. The judicial system is so corrupt that the chances on them being sentenced are quite high. This is a political case, and the government's message is clear: any protest critical of government policies will be prosecuted as terrorism. The anti-terrorist law establishes convictions of 40 to 60 years in jail. There is a great concern among people and community organizations that the new policies represent a return to State terror. The accused people and their supporters are afraid that the government will sentence them in order to get its message across. They have a great hope that the international community can help change the direction of this crazy situation.

For the above reasons we need to activate local and international solidarity once again until the charges are dropped. The SHARE Foundation is planning to hold a congressional hearing to speak about this situation. If possible they want to bring Human Rights Ombudsman, Humberto Luna to give his testimony. Political pressure might be the only way to free these social leaders. After being there, listening to the testimonies and looking up the people's eyes, I feel very committed and motivated. One more time, I really appreciate your support on this cause!

Claudia Rodriguez