Hector Berrios, an attorney in San Isidro, Cabañas, forwarded us a letter he wrote yesterday to staff at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) in Washington DC. Hector applied for a visa to visit the United States to participate in an October 25th meeting with the Inter-American Court on Human Rights . Though Hector had all of the required documentation, including invitations from CIEL and the Organization of American States, he was denied a visa, preventing him from testifying. As Hector points out, his is not the only application to be denied; other activists from Cabañas have also been prevented from coming to the United States to participate in the meeting.
Hosting institutions such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the OAS, and many others, carries with it an obligation to give people access. The U.S. should not use the visa hurdle as a way to regulate who has a voice.
With Hector’s permission, we’ve translated and posted his letter in its entirety:
Dear Sofia Splagakis,
I would like to inform you that this morning I presented myself at the US embassy in El Salvador in accordance with the appointment scheduled by the embassy. At the moment of the interview, the consular officer asked me for a variety of documentation. She asked that I present a US visa, which has been valid for the last 10 years and previously authorized by the embassy. She also asked that I present the Invitation letter from the Organization of American States (OAS), and the letter from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). I noticed that the consular official glanced over the OAS letter and put it aside, whereas she carefully examined the letter from CIEL. After that, she began to type on her computer—transcribing the facts from the CIEL letter. A moment later she excused herself (taking the CIEL letter). From her actions I concluded that she went to consult with someone in regard to the CIEL letter, since that was the only document she took with her.
When she returned she asked me if I had any properties in my name. I said yes, and showed her the deed to my house with my name clearly written. Next she asked me for proof of my salary, and I gave her the documentation, showing a monthly salary of $1500. She asked me about my profession and I responded that I am an attorney, while showing her the respective documentation. She asked about my bank accounts, and I presented her proof of two bank accounts in my name with a total available balance of $2100. She asked if I was married and if I had children, to which I responded yes. She asked if I have family in the United States and if so, what is their immigration status. I responded that my Father is a permanent resident and my two brothers are US citizens. She asked me where they live and I said in Los Angeles. She asked about my destination in the US, and I told her that I would travel to Washington, DC for a meeting with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Finally, she apologized and said that she was not able to approve the visa this time. I provided all the necessary documentation to receive a visa to travel to the US, but my request to participate in the meeting with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on October 25, 2010 was arbitrarily refused. I believe that the US Congress, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the Organization of American States should promptly examine what is happening to people in El Salvador that are involved in the issues of mining exploitation and its relation with the Central American Free Trade Agreement and wish to travel to the United States. I am not the only person that has encountered this type of discrimination; 10 days ago, the visa request of Zenayda Serrando was denied, as was that of Father Neftaly Ruiz. Both Zenayda Serrando and Father Ruiz were invited by members of the US Congress to discuss the mining issue.
This type of negative attitude and obstruction of the people’s justice by the US consular officers is the result of the policy of the US embassy in El Salvador. It should be publicly reported that the embassy is obstructing access to justice for the people of El Salvador that want to make complaints in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inter-American_Commission_on_Human_Rights), which is part of the Inter-American System of Human Rights. They are taking advantage of the fact that the organization is headquartered in Washington, DC (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington,_D.C.) by prohibiting access to this event, and obstructing the people’s justice. These people are part of the signing states of the Organization of American States, which is a regional organization with the objective of serving as a public forum for multilateral dialogs, regional integration, and decision making in the American arena. The organization works to fortify peace and security, consolidate democracy, and protect human rights (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights) in the Americas. I await your response.
We will be following up on this issue in the coming days.