On May 3, Hector Antonio Ventura, one of the 14 people originally captured during an anti-water privatization protest in the town of Suchitoto last year, was stabbed to death in his home. Given his role as one of the accused in the high profile anti-terrorism case, Ventura’s death could likely be politically motivated, and therefore Salvadoran social movement organizations have called for a full investigation into his death.

Ventura was among 13 people charged last year under the controversial 2006 “Special Law Against Acts of Terrorism”. In February all charges against the activists were dropped, but the case demonstrated internationally the repressive nature of the current right-wing ARENA government. Other possible political murders – such as the slaying of Wilber Funes, a mayor from the leftist FMLN party – have yet to be resolved, raising fear of increased political violence during the lead up to the 2009 Salvadoran elections.

Meanwhile, Congress is set to vote this week on a huge, new funding package that would dramatically increase US support for “security” forces in Mexico and Central America. The so-called Merida Initiative (also known as Plan Mexico) includes over $60 million for anti-gang and anti-drug programs in Central America, including an additional $2 million for the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA). The funding will be voted on this week as part of the Iraq war supplemental bill, and the authorization will be voted on separately, first in a mark-up held Wednesday in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The second part of the Merida Initiative funding – which includes more than $120 million for Central America – will be voted on in June as part of the 2009 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.

CISPES and our allies reject increased U.S. funding for repressive governments like the right-wing ARENA government in El Salvador, be it for police or military forces. Such initiatives work to reinforce failing policies such as ARENA’s infamous Mano Dura (“iron fist”), which has contributed to a dramatic increase in murder and violent crime since the crackdowns began in 2003. No funding included in the Merida Plan addresses the real causes of poverty, violence, and drug trafficking in the region; rather, the Central America portion of the initiative would increase equipment and training for policing and surveillance, as well as bolster institutions like the ILEA that many believe have worsened the human rights situation in El Salvador.

Your action is critical at this moment! Please call Congress about the upcoming votes on the Merida Initiative and the ILEA, and email or fax directly to the Salvadoran government to insist they carry out a full investigation into the murder of Hector Ventura.

Take Action!

Call your Congressional Representative and demand that they oppose the authorization of the Merida Authorization Act of 2008, otherwise known as Plan Mexico. If your member of Congress is on the House Foreign Affairs Committee then ask that they opposed the authorization during the mark up on Wednesday May 14. Go here for a list of committee members and go to www.cispes.org/ilea for talking points.

Tell your Rep to contact Congressman Elliot Engel, Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, to request that he hold a hearing on the deteriorating situation of human rights in El Salvador, the role of the Salvadoran police, and the ILEA (see below or go to www.cispes.org/ilea for talking points).

Contact Salvadoran President Antonio Saca and Attorney General Felix Safie to demand that a full investigation be carried out into the murder of Hector Ventura. You can email Saca at fmelgar@presidencia.gob.sv and cc Safie at fgsafie@fgr.gob.sv, as well as US Ambassador Charles Glazer at GlazerCL@state.gov. You can also send faxes to Saca (011-503-2243-9947) and Safie (011-503-2528-6095). See below for sample note.


Talking points
This year, the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) is being funded through both the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill and the so-called Merida Initiative, the latter of which will be voted on in the coming weeks in the U.S. Congress. The U.S.-sponsored ILEA has been operating in El Salvador over two years and has been criticized by social movement organizations and human rights groups as another potential School of the Americas (SOA), under a new name and in a new location. Since the opening of this institution, human rights abuses have increased in El Salvador, from attacks on peaceful protesters by the National Civilian Police (PNC) to the documented role of the PNC in at least 8 extra-judicial killings in one year.

In the coming months before the June vote on the Foreign Operation Appropriations bill we hope to continue to educate Congress by pushing for a Congressional hearing and challenging Congress to increase oversight of the ILEA, as part of our campaign to shut down the police academy!

Call the House Switchboard at (202) 224-3121

When you call:

1) Ask the operator for your Representative, and then ask to speak to your Representative’s foreign affairs legislative assistant, chief of staff or legislative director.

2) Tell them you are a constituent and want to know your congressperson’s position on the Merida Initiative and the ILEA. If they don’t know much about these programs, inform your rep.

3) Using the description above and the talking points on the CISPES webpage (www.cispes.org/ilea), explain why Congress should reject Merida Initiative funding. (If the Rep. is on the Foreign Affairs Committee, tell them to vote against the proposal in committee on Wednesday)

4) Urge them to call congressmen Engel’s office to request a hearing on the ILEA at the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee in order to provide them with more information about the situation of the National Civilian Police, human rights abuses in El Salvador, and the ILEA.

5) If the Rep. agrees to take a stand on the issue or push for a hearing, send an email to CISPES (burke@cispes.org) with the name of the person you spoke with and your Rep’s name, and we will send their office more details about Plan Merida, the ILEA and our campaign against repression in El Salvador.


Sample letter to President Saca

Sr. Elías Antonio Saca, Presidente de El Salvador:
Fax (011 503) 2243-9947

13 de Mayo de 2008

Señor Presidente Saca:

Le escribo con suma preocupación por el posible asesinato político de Héctor Ventura. El joven – uno de los arrestados durante la protesta en Suchitoto el año pasado quien fue acusado erróneamente de actos de terrorismo – fue apuñalado hasta morir cuando dormía en su domicilio en Suchitoto. Como presidente, es imperativo que Ud. asegure se de una investigación completa y transparente de los hechos para que de manera rápida se traiga justicia a este ataque violento. Además, es crítico que se resuelvan otros casos de violencia política, como el posible asesinato político de Wilmer Funes en Alegría, Usulután. Como presidente Ud. tiene que asegurarse que la Fiscalía General conduzca una pronta investigación y que esta junto con la PNC trabaje para poner un alto a cualquier violencia política en el futuro. Finalmente, el gobierno debe de hacer una declaración pública expresando su consternación por los asesinatos ocurridos y hacer un llamando a la justicia.

El garantizar la libertad de expresión, y particularmente la expresión política, es esencial en cualquier democracia. Ahora, en este año pre-electoral, es crítico que el gobierno de El Salvador demuestre su compromiso por la defensa del derecho de todas y todos los salvadoreños y su expresión política.

__________________ (name)
__________________ (state, country)

Cc Salvadoran Attorney General Felix Safie
Cc US Ambassador Charles Glazer

This is the translation; please send Spanish version

Dear President Saca,

I am writing to express concern about the possible political assassination of Hector Ventura. The youth – one of the people arrested last year in Suchitoto and later falsely accused of acts of terrorism – was stabbed to death while sleeping in his house in the town of Suchitoto. As president, its important that you assure a complete and transparent investigation into the events in order to quickly bring justice in this case. It is also important that you work to resolve other cases of political violence such as the likely political assassination of the mayor of Alegria, Wilmer Funes. Its also necessary that you ensure your Attorney General conduct a thorough investigation and that together with the National Civilian Police you work to put a stop to such violence in the future. Finally, the government should make a public declaration expressing your consternation for these recent assassinations and making a call for justice.

Guaranteeing freedom of expression, and particularly political expression, is essential in a democracy. Now, in this pre-electoral year, it is critical that the government of El Salvador demonstrate its commitment to the defense of the right of all Salvadorans to express themselves politically.