Dear Friend of Justice, Democracy, and Human Rights,
The people of El Salvador desperately need our solidarity.
Thirty years after the signing of the Peace Accords, their fledgling democracy is in crisis. The government is moving away from democracy and toward more authoritarianism: militarized repression, the state surveillance of journalists and dissidents, political persecution, and forced disappearances.
Click here to support grassroots organizing and communities impacted by the crackdown in El Salvador, as well as the ongoing solidarity and advocacy initiatives of the InterReligious Task Force on Central America. You can also donate at https://www.facebook.com/IRTF1981/ or mail a check to IRTF, 3606 Bridge Ave., Cleveland, OH 44113. Thank you!
When we gathered online for our annual Commemoration of the Martyrs event on November 6, 2022, we had the privilege of hearing from three guests from El Salvador: a human rights attorney, a community organizer from a small island community where there have been mass arrests, and the executive director of a community organizing/empowerment organization. They recounted, summarized, and told personal stories that echo what we have been reading and responding to these past eight months.
Our Rapid Response Network team has been writing letters almost monthly since President Bukele declared a State of Exception on March 27. We have been expressing our deep concerns about the human and civil rights violations occurring in El Salvador. Journalists, union leaders, well-known religious leaders, and others are being targeted. The country now lacks respect for democratic plurality. Furthermore, the rights of everyday Salvadoran citizens are being violated through the suppression of constitutional guarantees. This is not too dissimilar to the weakening of democracy we’re experiencing in our own communities in the U.S. where political power structures allow for the expansion of voter suppression and other forms of white supremacy.
There has been a proliferation of attacks and harassment of political opponents. Without the Attorney General’s Office having presented any evidence against them, more than a dozen members of opposition political parties have been detained for over a year. Many have been forbidden to receive visits from their families or lawyers.
Arbitrary arrests and mass detentions—without respect for presumed innocence or due process—have become commonplace. Police have detained more than 56,000 people suspected of being gang members, many the victims of visual profiling (e.g., they have tattoos). Tens of thousands are in pre-trial detention awaiting investigation for criminal proceedings. People are rounded up and placed before judges in mass hearings. In one hearing alone, 552 people were accused! Individuals are denied the right to defense.
Abuses in prisons that were already notoriously overcrowded are widespread. Human rights organizations have collected information on more than 3,186 cases of abuse and torture, including 87 people who have died in prison since March. The University Observatory of Human Rights (OUDH) has documented dozens of cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. These same systems of oppression and state-sponsored killings have deadly consequences across the Americas, including here in NE Ohio. In the Cuyahoga County Jail, for instance, three more people have died in detention since October, for a total of at least 16 people in the past four years.
Here is an example of one of the most emblematic cases of torture by Salvadoran police:
A 14-year-old was detained and tortured by agents of the National Civil Police (PNC). To force the teenager into confessing that he belonged to a gang, police submerged his head in water and clamped his fingers with pliers. Although the teenager was not a gang member, he was later taken to a gang cell, where the inmates also beat him. For twelve days, the police continued to beat him. His mother found him vomiting blood when he was finally released after a hearing.
Journalists’ hands are tied when they try to report on what is happening. Bukele’s State of Exception has weakened democracy by limiting access to information and classifying security policies as confidential to “protect national security.” Neither the press nor civil society has had access to detailed information on security policies and the fight against violence. The culture of secrecy that was status quo during the civil war is disturbingly reemerging.
Our solidarity is more important now than ever!
Please support IRTF’s advocacy efforts in urging the US State Department and the US Congress to move the government of El Salvador to:
- stop using the criminal justice system to persecute political opponents
- order the release of political prisoners against whom they have not provided evidence that demonstrates their culpability in the crimes for which they have been charged
- play an active role in the face of these serious acts to defend the physical safety and constitutional rights of Salvadorans
- present a report that accurately describes the reality of people detained under the State of Exception
Since 1981, IRTF has been building bridges of solidarity with oppressed communities in Central America and Colombia. IRTF challenges and organizes for change in the policies and practices of US corporations, military, and government. We can take on this necessary work with a prophetic voice thanks to independent funding that is not tied to large foundations or government.
More than 80% of IRTF’s support comes from individuals like you who care deeply about social justice and human rights. As needs and circumstances change in Central America and Colombia—as well as immigration enforcement policies in the US—this crucial support from individual donors gives us the autonomy to be flexible carry out our mission of cross-border solidarity. We need, appreciate, and thank you for your financial support.
Brian J. Stefan-Szittai and Christine L. Stonebraker-Martínez, Co-Coordinators
Board of Trustees:
Rachel Rosen DeGolia, Victoria Hamilton, Yolanda King (chair), Kai Kyles, Melaak Rashid, Akshai Singh, Kimberley Spates (treasurer), Lisa Splawinski (treasurer), Emily Terry
P.S. In honor of IRTF’s four decades of solidarity work, please consider a gift of $40 or more. We’ll put your gift to work right away: in solidarity with marginalized and vulnerable communities in Central America & Colombia, at our border, on the streets of Cleveland, and in immigration detention facilities. All people deserve safety, care, and dignity.