As a human rights organization, Voices on the Border ardently denounces all acts of racism, discrimination and violence against Black people and empathize with their outrage and share in their grief of having lost so many innocent lives to ignorance and hatred.
We stand in total solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement because we truly believe in the power of the people and encourage their right to fully express their pain, joy and demands for justice and peace, however they see fit. The movement’s global spread is giving us a sense of hope for the future, while also allowing us to examine our own commitments to structural and strategic change, which we acknowledge must come from within in order to be sustainable.
We are currently in the middle of our annual Board meeting, and this analysis helps us appreciate that, due to VOICES ‘proximity to our local partners, both are given frequent opportunities to be challenged and educated, socially and culturally. On the the other hand, this same examination leads us to ask ourselves how we can improve the representation of people of color on our Board, to ensure cultural accountability and organizational growth towards social equilibrium.
Historical hatred and unhealed wounds are realities that we must face and correct, in the United States, in El Salvador, as human beings. This complex task is the responsibility of us all.
Como organización de derechos humanos, VOCES denuncia ardientemente todos los actos de racismo, discriminación y violencia contra los negros y empatiza con su indignación y comparte su dolor de haber perdido tantas vidas inocentes por ignorancia y odio.
Nos solidarizamos totalmente con el movimiento Las Vidas Negras Importan, porque realmente creemos en el poder del pueblo, y alentamos su derecho a expresar plenamente su dolor, alegría y demandas para la justicia y paz, como ellxs quieran. La difusión global del movimiento nos está dando una sensación de esperanza para el futuro, y, al mismo tiempo, nos permite examinar nuestros propios compromisos con el cambio estructural y estratégico, que reconocemos deben venir desde adentro, para ser sostenibles.
De hecho, nos encontramos en el medio de nuestra reunión anual de la Junta Directiva, y este análisis nos ayuda a apreciar que, debido a la proximidad de VOCES a nuestros socios locales, pues a ambos se les da oportunidades frecuentes de ser desafiados y educados, social y culturalmente. Por otro lado, esta misma inspección nos lleva a preguntarnos cómo podemos mejorar la representación de gente de color en nuestra Directiva, para garantizar la responsabilidad cultural y el crecimiento organizacional hacia el equilibrio social.
El odio histórico y las heridas no curadas son realidades que debemos enfrentar y corregir, en los Estados Unidos, en El Salvador, como seres humanos. Esta tarea compleja es responsabilidad de todos nosotrxs.
El sábado 21 de marzo, en una extensa cadena de radio y televisión, el presidente salvadoreño Nayib Bukele decretó una cuarentena por 30 días, advirtiendo que quien no acatara la orden, en lugar de pasar la cuarentena en su hogar, con su familia, la pasaría encerrado en un centro de contención. Para el día siguiente, domingo 22 de marzo, la Policía y la Fuerza Armada habían detenido en la calle a por lo menos 300 personas; sin embargo, el Gobierno, la Policía y el Ejército solo tenían claro el tema de las capturas, pero no el del resguardo de los detenidos, por lo que fueron trasladados hacia delegaciones policiales como cualquier delincuente, porque no existía ningún centro de contención habilitado.
Frente a este hecho, La Sala de lo Constitucional, de la Corte Suprema de Justicia emitió una resolución decretando que ni la policía ni el ejército pueden detener y encarcelar a alguien por incumplir la cuarentena domiciliar, porque viola derechos humanos establecidos en la Constitución; pero los abusos continuaron. Una nota publicada por el periódico español El País, lo expone así:
Las denuncias de arbitrariedades y abusos de fuerza se cuentan por cientos. El presidente (Nayib Bukele) ha respondido públicamente que no es momento de discutir si sus rigurosas medidas contra la pandemia son o no constitucionales, y el día 7 (de abril) dobló su apuesta legitimando el uso de la fuerza: “He dado la instrucción al ministro de Defensa y al ministro de Seguridad de ser más duros con la gente en la calle, la gente que está violando la cuarentena”, dijo. Tres días después, un policía disparó dos veces en las piernas a un joven de 19 años sospechoso de violar el confinamiento. El joven asegura que fue por negarse a pagar mordida (soborno) a los agentes; las autoridades lo calificaron en un comunicado oficial de “accidente.”
La actuación de la Policía y del Ejército, durante 30 días, estuvo amparada principalmente en la “Ley de Restricción Temporal de Derechos Constitucionales Concretos para Atender la Pandemia COVID-19″ aprobada por la Asamblea Legislativa a medidos de marzo para una duración de 15 días, posteriormente se prorrogó por un periodo igual. Esta Ley caducó el pasado 13 de abril y a pesar que el Gobierno solicitó al Parlamento una nueva prorroga, esta no fue concedida, precisamente por las denuncias de las arbitrariedades cometidas y no fueron abordadas.
En ausencia de este marco legal que respalde la detención de las personas y su reclusión en un centro de cuarentena, el gobierno emitió el Decreto Ejecutivo Número 19 que establece medidas similares o más drásticas, a la anterior ley. Por ejemplo: se establece que toda persona que circule sin justificación y que se catalogue como caso sospechoso, deberá permanecer en un centro de cuarentena por 30 días. Además si la persona infractora se traslada en vehículo, este será sometido a desinfección y quedará en deposito en los lugares establecidos, la persona detenida solo recuperará su vehículo despues de pagar el costo del estacionamiento, luego de la cuarentena.
También el Decreto Número 19 establece que toda persona está obligada a permitir el ingreso de los delegados del Ministerio de Salud a inspecionar su casa. Para la abogada María Silvia Guillén esta disposición es insconstitucional, pues las autoridades pueden ingresar a una vivienda por el consentimiento de quien la habita o por mandato judicial, exclusivamente. “Cuidado policías y militares que están pretendiendo entrar en las viviendas con una disposición de un decreto ejecutivo”. Escribió la reconocida abogada en su cuenta de facebook.
Por su parte, la Sala de lo Constitucional de la Corte Suprema de Justicia (máximo tribunal de justicia de El Salvador) emitió una nueva resolución en la que reafirmó que la Policía no debe detener arbitrariamente a personas para llevarlas a centros de contención ni proceder al decomiso de vehículos, entre otras medidas restrictivas. Ante este hecho el presidente Bukele dijo que no acataría tal resolución y que continuará aplicando el Decreto 19, al cien por ciento, no importando que las resoluciones de este tipo son de obligatorio cumplimiento.
La desobediencia del presidente ha sido rechazada por un gran número de actores dentro y fuera del país. La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) instó al Gobierno de El Salvador “a cumplir las medidas ordenadas”. Así mismo, la Organización de las Naciones Unidas (ONU) publicó que en situaciones de emergencia el Estado de Derecho y el sistema de “pesos y contrapesos” son esenciales para asegurar los derechos humanos de las personas. Por su parte el congresista Jim McGovern, instó a Bukele a respetar los fallos judiciales, diciendo que el país necesita democracia y no a un gobierno autoritario, así mismo el líder del Comité de Relaciones Exteriores de la Cámara de Representantes estadounidense, Eliot Engel, lamentó el desacato de Bukele a la resolución de la Sala de lo Constitucional y urgió al presidente “a respetar los fallos judiciales de la Corte Suprema sobre el Covid-19” recalcando que “los líderes mundiales deben ser capaces de proteger tanto la salud como las libertades civiles”.
Pero todas estas recriminaciones y exigencias no parecen inmutar al presidente Nayib Bukele, ni a sus funcionarios de seguridad. Una nota recientemente publicada en el periódico digital El Faro, define la situación actual del país como una triple crisis: sanitaria, económica y democrática. La primera causada por un virus; la segunda por las medidas obligadas para combatir al virus; la tercera por un gobierno antidemocrático.
Es necesario resistir, y sobrevivir, a las tres.
ABUSE OF POWER IN THE MIDST OF THE CRISIS
On Saturday March 21, via an extensive radio and television network broadcast, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele decreed a 30-day quarantine, warning that whoever did not comply with the order, instead of spending the quarantine at home with their family, would be locked up in a quarantinecenter. By the next day, the police and the armed forces had detained at least 300 people who had allegedly violated that order. The government, the police and the army were only clear on the issue of captures, and not on how to properly care for “detainees,” which meant that they were being transferred to police “lock ups” just like any other criminal, since there were no adequate quarantine centers built.
Faced with this fact, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice issued a resolution decreeing that neither the police nor the army can arrest and imprison someone for failing to comply with the domicile quarantine because it violates human rights established in the Constitution. Still the abuses continue. A note published by the Spanish newspaper El País puts it this way: “The allegations of arbitrariness and abuse of force are in the hundreds. The president (Nayib Bukele) has publicly replied that this is not the time to discuss whether or not his rigorous measures against the pandemic are constitutional, and on April 7 he doubled down on his bid legitimizing the use of force: “I have instructed the Defense Minister and the Security Minister to be tougher on the people on the street, the people who are violating the quarantine,” he said. Three days later, a 19-year-old man suspected of violating the lockdown was shot twice in the legs by a police officer. The young man assures that it was for refusing to pay a bribe to the agents, while the authorities describe it as an “accident” in an official statement.
The 30-day activation of the police and the army was mainly protected under the “Temporary Restriction Law on Concrete Constitutional Rights to Address the Pandemic COVID-19”, which was approved by the Legislative Assembly in mid-March and expired on April 13. Despite the fact that the government requested a new extension from Parliament that was denied precisely because of the complaints of the unjustified actions being committed and not addressed, the abuses continue to occur.
Though a legal framework that addresses the detention of people and their confinement in a quarantine center is still lacking, the government recently issued Executive Decree No. 19 which established similar and more drastic measures than the previous law. For example: it established that any person who circulates without justification and who is classified as suspected for testing positive for COVID19, must remain in a quarantine center for 30 days. In addition, if the offending person is driving in a vehicle, that vehicle will be subject to disinfection and will be sent to a police impound, only to be released after a fee is paid and time is served.
Also Decree No.19 establishes that every person is obliged to allow Ministry of Health personnel into their homes. “Beware of police and military who are trying to enter houses with a provision of an executive decree,” well-known lawyer María Silvia Guillén writes, for her, the provision is unconstitutional since authorities can only enter a dwelling with the consent of the person who inhabits it or by a judges warrant.
For its part, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (the highest court in the land) issued a new resolution in which it reaffirmed that the police should not arbitrarily detain people and take them to quarantine centers or confiscate their vehicles, among other restrictive measures. President Bukele said that he would not abide by such a resolution and that he will continue to apply Decree No. 19, a hundred percent, regardless that such resolutions are binding.
The president’s disobedience has been rejected by a large number of actors inside and outside the country who agree with the supreme court’s ruling. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged the government of El Salvador to “comply with the ordered measures.” Likewise, the United Nations published that in emergency situations the rule of law and the system of “checks and balances” are essential to ensure that human rights are being upheld. For his part, US Congressman Jim McGover urged Bukele to respect the supreme court’s judicial decisions, saying that the country needs democracy and not an authoritarian government. Likewise, the leader of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the US House of Representatives, Eliot Engel, regretted Bukele’s contempt of the Constitutional Chamber’s resolution and urged the president “to respect the Supreme Court’s judicial decisions on Covid-19” stressing that “world leaders must be able to protect both the health and freedom of civilians.”
But all these recriminations and demands do not seem to faze President Nayib Bukele, nor his security officials. An article recently published in the digital newspaper El Faro defines the current situation in the country as posing a triple crisis: health, economic and democratic.The first is caused by the virus, the second by the measures required to combat the virus and the third by an undemocratic government.
It is necessary to resist, and survive, all three.
On October 13, 1,500 Honduran refugees began the long arduous journey from one of the most violent capital cities in the world in search of respite and peace. The majority of those seeking a chance for survival were young people, women and their babies.
Pueblo Sin Fronteras or People without Borders, who organized the foot march says the aim is to draw attention to the plight facing the migrants at home and the dangers they run during their attempts to reach safety in the US.
Every single migrant had his or her own personal reason for fleeing. For some, especially the young people, it was direct threats or acts of violence towards themselves or their loved ones. For others, it was the oppressive Honduran government that has been opposing people’s justice movements, or it was the fear of what would become of their children because of unemployment and starvation.
Two days later on October 15th, the caravan had grown to an estimated 3,500 by the time it reached the Guatemalan border.
Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua all belong to a migratory convention called The Central America-4 Free Mobility Agreement (CA-4), it is akin to the Schengen agreement in Europe, which allows nationals from 26 countries in the Schengen area to legally enter and reside in each other’s countries. Though this agreement exists, officials in Guatemala and El Salvador have met the caravan with hostility and armed suppression.
Citizens of Honduras and other Centro American countries have been paying the price of U.S. foreign policy atrocities since the beginning of the cold war, with their lives and that of their loved ones. Since the 2009 Honduran coup d’état that put economic elites in charge of the most important sectors of society, the country has been on a never-ending binge of oppression and violence. While this instability has no doubt strengthened the rise of gang violence in the streets, the government’s own tactics of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, protest suppression and the jailing of political prisoners have added to the upheaval happening at this very moment.
On Sunday October 21, as the 7,000 person strong caravan reached the Mexican border of Tapachula in the State of Chiapas, Donald Trump fired off a series of tweets, expressing anger towards central american governments inability to halt the progression of the foot march.
“Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S. We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them,” Trump wrote.
An estimated 258 million people, approximately 3 per cent of the world’s population, currently live outside their country of origin, many of whose migration is characterized by varying degrees of compulsion. Migration is a fundamental human right. We have no right to forbid or stigmatise, we only have the power to try to do so.
We lament in the assassination of Marielle Franco, an Afro-Brazilian sociologist and politician gunned down in Rio de Janeiro the night of March 14th by masked men while sitting in a car with her driver, who was also killed in the attack. Marielle was a prolific activist, a hard-hitting politician and constant voice for the impoverished.
Marielle grew up in favela in northern Rio de Janeiro, and became a rising luminary in activism and politics, a rare status for a black woman from a marginalized community. In 2016, she was elected as a member of the left-leaning Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) known for her social work with the poor and marginalized, and for her outspokenness against police violence disproportionately targeting black Brazilians.
Hours before her murder, during a panel discussion on women’s empowerment, she uttered the quote by Audre Lorde: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
Her cowardly murder has taken place two years and 10 days after the execution of Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental activist killed by Honduran state actors.
We stand in solidarity with the tens of thousands of protesters in Brazil and around the world and denounce this obvious state-sanctioned slaying and demand justice for Marielle Franco, justice for Berta Cáceres and for the hundreds of land, environmental and human rights activists needlessly slain by their own states over the past decade.
El Salvador’s recently held mid-term elections on March 4, saw a staggering overturn of political power as right-wing parties overtook the senate and major municipal seats in San Salvador, La Libertad and Santa Ana; and much could be said about the ‘debacle.’ At the same time, human rights defenders and survivors are celebrating the exoneration and release of two Salvadoran women unjustly incarcerated in for miscarriages many years ago.
Last year, El Salvador experienced 3,605 homicides, a 1,675 reduction from 2016. As multitudes rise up in outrage against the country’s oppressive justice system and high rate of gender-based violence, El Salvador continues to be one of the most dangerous countries to be a woman.
2017 National Statistics (source ORSMUSA)
More troubling is that the factual number of violent cases against Salvadoran women and girls are most certainly much higher than the statistics represented above because victims do not report becasue of fear of retribution and impunity. It is important to note that the majority of these victims suffer abuse in their own homes at the hand of men most close to them.
2018 Women’s March in San Salvador
Silvia Juárez, program coordinator for the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace in El Salvador (ORMUSA) stated that women “are still not equal. The profound root of violence against women is inequality. We are considered human beings of less value.” On the eve of International Women’s day, a vigil was held in San Salvador and on March 8, over 3,000 marchers took to the streets to protest the country’s widespread inequality and violence against women. Their demands were simple: dignity and respect for all women and reforms to the healthcare and judicial systems.
That same day in Morazán, 600 protestors marched through the streets of San Francisco Gotera, confronting important judicial courts and even the town hall, while chanting slogans like “We don’t want flowers, we want justice!”
In 2016, 176 cases of domestic violence and 72 acts of sexual violence were reported in Morazán. According to the Citizen Network of Morazán Women (the Network), though down from the 14 official reports in 2016, five cases of femicide were invisibilizedthis year. The Network consists of 8 municipal associations scattered throughout the department with the mutual objective of promoting and defending the human rights of women. They accomplish their goals through combining unity, education and protest.
Women’s Day in Morazán, 2018
Gender-based violence is so prevalent in Morazán that it has led to the Network and other local organizations to begin to develop a community based approach to facilitate the recovery of victims and their families by educating communities and service providers, offering victims immediate and long-term support, and holding relevant institutions accountable. Fortunately, this interrelationship of Morazán leaders exemplifies a support network of local women who can identify effective solutions to support victims of violence and their families in resource-constrained settings.
Click here for more information about the Network’s initiative and ways you can help.
2016 was a dynamic year for Voices. We said goodbye to old friends and opened the door to new ones. We began an extensive education revitalization project in Bajo Lempa, started supporting women’s empowerment in Morazán and even joined in on environmental justice protests in the capital San Salvador.
This year is even more special because we turn 30! Since our inception in the refugee camps until now, we have never deserted our communities and are committed to being a critical source of support for them now, and in the future.
Read our report to find out what our partners have been up to, the large scales issues they are facing and how Voices has been working hard in collaboration with leaders to find solutions to issues and pathways to accomplishing goals.
At 4:45 am yesterday morning, three unknown assailants raided the offices of Pro-Busqueda, a human rights organization in El Salvador that for more than 19 years has worked to reunite families separated during the country’s 12-year civil war.
The assailants held a driver and night watchman at gunpoint while they destroyed files and computers, doused offices with gasoline, and set them on fire. A statement sent around by Pro-Busqueda yesterday afternoon said that the attackers targeted the offices most vital to their work, destroying archives and files related to cases that they have pending in the judicial system. When the attackers left, the night watchman and driver were able to free themselves and put out the fires with hoses
Ester Alvarenga, a Former Director of Pro-Busqueda and a member of the technical team said that the assailants had done the most damage in the administrative and advocacy departments. She also made it clear that they have all of their information backed up so it was a not a total loss.
Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales, who visited the scene shortly after the attack said it was well planned and was reminiscent of attacks on human rights organizations during the 1980s. He also said there hasn’t been an attack like this on a human rights organizations since the end of the war.
The specific reasons for the attack remains unclear, but it is likely related to cases pending in international and domestic courts related to the forced disappearances of children during the war. This past Monday, the Constitutional Court suspended evidentiary hearings against former members of the armed forces who did not attend their habeas corpus hearing, during which Pro-Busqueda was scheduled to present evidence they have collected against the defendents.
Just last month the Catholic Church closed Tutela Legal, one of the leading human rights organizations in El Salvador. The organization housed an extensive collection of evidence and documents related to human rights abuses committed during the civil war. The closing of Tutela Legal and the attack on Pro-busqueda come as the Constitutional Court considers constitutionality of the Amnesty Law, which has protected war criminals from being prosecuted for atrocities committed during the 1980s.
Tutela Legal and Pro-Busqueda are not the only organizations and people with evidence and records that could be used to prosecute crimes committed during the civil war. The Human Rights Institute at the University of Central America (IDHUCA) and others have been collecting evidence and documents since before the war ended, and could also be a threat to those who risk prosecution.
In March Voices staff had a conversation with Benjamin Cuellar, the director of the IDHUCA, about the Amnesty Law and the lack of transitional justice after the war. Instead of treating the Peace Accords as the beginning of the peace process, the Salvadoran government and many international stakeholders were too quick to declare peace and put the war in the past, ignoring issues of justice. But it is difficult if not impossible to achieve peace until there is also justice.
René Emilio Ponce, one of El Salvador’s most notorious generals and the son of Sensuntepeque judge and treasurer José Ponce, died last week in a San Salvadoran hospital of complications following an aortic aneurysm. Ponce is an important figure given his national influence and regional political power in Cabañas. His post-war position was the president of the El Salvador Military Veteran’s Association (ASVEM) further cemented both his power and his less than sterling reputation. According to editors at the Hague Justice Portal, ASVEM’s “main mission is to lobby the Salvadoran government to oppose any efforts to lift the Amnesty Law that currently protects its most influential members.”
Ponce’s military career was marked by alleged cruelty and crimes against humanity. Though he only rose to military prominence during the second half of the civil war, Ponce embraced his post as defense minister and army chief of staff. In 1989, bolstered by his military cohort La Tandona, a group of high-ranking officers all from the same army academy graduating class, Ponce is accused of ordering the killings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. A year after this massacre occurred at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), he was promoted to general. In 1992, however, he was forced to step down when the U.N. Truth Commission released a report implicating Ponce in the UCA killings. Due to the Amnesty Law passed in El Salvador the year following, Ponce was never tried or punished for his crimes by a Salvadoran court.
At the time of his death, Ponce was being tried in absentia in a Spanish court brought by the relatives of the murdered priests, accusing him of assassination and crimes against humanity. His death means that these families will never see Ponce brought tried for the crimes of which he is accused, and many human rights activists have expressed regret that he died with total impunity.