Friday, February 25, a Colonel from the Sumpul Battalian met with community members of Rancho Quemado, a border town in Morazán. The meeting came three weeks after soldiers from the battalion shot and killed two community members on the Honduran side of the border. Those who attended the meeting were expecting to discuss a number of issues, including their ability to cross over into Honduras, the lack of basic services like electricity and healthcare in the area, problems with personal documentation, property rights, and reparations for the victims’ families. Despite a recommendation to President Funes from Oscar Luna, the ombudsman for human rights, that a Humanitarian Assistance office be built in the area, the idea was not mentioned. The Colonel seemed only interested in telling the community that they were increasing the number of soldiers and declaring that the border was essentially closed.
On January 27, soldiers illegally crossed the border into Honduras and ambushed four men who were transporting lumber from the town of Nahuaterique back to their community in El Salvador. Three men escaped but the soldiers detained the fourth along with the load of lumber. Family and friends of the detained man heard the soldiers were abusing him, and as word spread over 100 people crossed the border to assist him. Tension between community members and the soldiers grew, and the standoff ended when the soldiers fired their M-16 rifles, killing two.
For years, community members have traveled across the border to Nahuaterique, Honduras to purchase lumber, which they transport back to Northern Morazán, El Salvador and sell. This has been a source of income for a number of families, even though it is illegal for them to bring the lumber across the border without passing through customs first. The border crossings in Morazán are unmanned and in order to pass through customs they would have to travel to La Union or Chalatenango, which would be prohibitively expensive.
In 2009, President Funes posted military units along the border to close the hundreds of unmanned border crossings like the one near Rancho Quemado. His reason in doing so was to stop the flow of drugs and other contraband in an out of El Salvador.
At the meeting, the Colonel only spoke about essentially closing the border, ignoring the community members’ concerns about a variety of issues, including being able to pass into Honduras. La Prensa Gráfica recently reported that Everado Chicas, chairman of the Monitoring Commission of El Salvador-Honduras, would also be meeting with community members to raise support and address their concerns. However, if his meeting is run like the Colonel’s, it will be of little help to the residents of the border area.