Suchitoto 14 Case
When a protest against water privatization in Suchitoto, El Salvador, on July 2, 2007 was broken up by law enforcement officials, more than 25 people were injured by rubber bullets, 18 severely affected by tear gas, and 14 people detained and accused of public disorder and illicit association.
In addition to the detention of the National President, Vice-President, driver, and journalist of prominent community association CRIPDES, ten civil society members were detained. Irregularities and human rights violations marked the entire apprehension and detention process.
International Pressure and the Response in El Salvador
Salvadorans credit international pressure for causing the release of the protestors from jail. Rep. Jim McGovern sent a letter to President Saca on July 23 calling for the government to drop the terrorism charges against the detainees and expressing his concern over prison conditions. Over forty members of Congress sent a letter to President Saca in early August stating their concerns over the terrorism charges. Amnesty International released a statement highlighting their worries, and over seventy international human rights, solidarity, and Salvadoran American groups, including SHARE, published an open letter to the government of El Salvador calling for the government to drop all charges and derogate the anti-terrorism law.
Once the Salvadoran newspapers began publishing news of the international fervor around the case, the judge granted provisional freedom to the remaining prisoners and President Saca asked that the charges be changed from acts of terrorism to public disorder.
In September 2007, SHARE organized an emergency delegation to El Salvador with Salvadoran leaders who live throughout the United States. They interviewed community members, organizations, attorneys, human rights workers, religious leaders of the Council of Churches for Peace, the Human Rights Ombudsman, and Supreme Court justices to clarify the facts and events surrounding the violent incidents of July 2, 2007 in Suchitoto, El Salvador. Upon their return, the delegates prepared a report which was later presented in a briefing to Congressional staff members.
In El Salvador, CRIPDES and other Salvadoran organizations have shown their solidarity with the “Suchitoto 14.” On July 18, there was an organized fast to demonstrate solidarity with the detainees. Participants marched from Parque Cuscatlan in San Salvador to the monument El Salvador del Mundo. Many brave activists took to the streets to show their support for the prisoners. Being careful not to block traffic and thus prompt new arrests, representatives from CRIPDES and other community organizations marched to the courthouse to hear the judge’s decision at the preliminary hearing.
For three days, beginning Monday, February 11 at 9 AM and ending Wednesday, February 13 at 5 PM, over 1,000 Salvadoran supporters of justice made a pilgrimage from Suchitoto to San Salvador. The people who participated in the pilgrimage said they were outraged by the allegations, and demanded that all charges be dropped and the anti-terror law be repealed. In the end, it was this public pressure from national and international sources, when paired with a lack of evidence presented by the public prosecutor that led to the acquittal of the Suchitoto 14.
On February 19, 2008, with the Human Rights Ombudsman present at the hearing, the Justice of the Peace of Suchitoto declared that the prosecution lacked sufficient evidence to uphold the current charges of Public Disturbances and Aggravated Damages. This decision came after the prosecution dropped charges under the Special Law against Acts of Terrorism due to lack of evidence, and the case was moved from the Special Terrorism Court to the court in Suchitoto. The judge’s decision was a meaningful victory of the Salvadoran people and international solidarity over forces of repression.