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Repression of the Right to Water Movements: El Salvador and Mexico

July 20, 2007

Like all struggles for rights and justice, the struggle for water rights and water justice has drawn repressive responses from governments more interested in corporate profit than human needs. Violent actions against popular movements this month in both El Salvador and Mexico demonstrate the urgency governments and corporate interests feel about preventing the right to water from becoming –and remaining– an accepted human right.

In El Salvador, a peaceful demonstration against the decentralization of the water system (seen as a first step toward water privatization) was brutally repressed on July 2. Police and military units attacked protestors with rubber bullets and tear gas, and captured four movement leaders in a vehicle kilometers away from the protest. 14 people have been arrested, many claiming mistreatment and torture at the hands of the police. Dozens of protestors were injured by rubber bullets, tear gas poisoning, and beatings; at least 2 people were hospitalized.

“Those arrested include activists from the community organizations of the resettled refugees and ex-combatants of El Salvador’s civil war who are the majority of the people living in the Suchitoto area.” They are being held under El Salvador’s new anti-terrorism law – a repressive law enacted last fall with the clear objective of attacking and discouraging social movements.

The government’s actions have been strongly criticized. Over 60 social movement organizations in El Salvador signed a powerful statement; Amnesty International has condemned the illegal application of the anti-terrorism law; and Tutela Legal, the legal aid office of the Archbishop of San Salvador, has demanded the release of the activists and an investigation of the repression. Click here for more information and an opportunity to send letters of solidarity.

Two days later in Central Mexico, on July 4th in San Luis Mextepec, in the municipality of Zinacantepec, the lawyer Santiago Pérez Alvarado was arrested and charged with a kidnapping that occurred nine years previously. According to witnesses, four men dressed as civilians smashed his car window, held a gun to his head and hit him with a tire iron. He was first accused of violent robbery; as the statute of limitation had expired, the judge dropped the charges. Hours later he was detained again and accused of kidnapping.

Santiago Pérez Alvarado is well-known as a promoter of human rights and defender of natural resources. He has worked with farmers in the Toluca Valley and in southeast Mexico to resist the large-scale removal of their water for use in Mexico City. He has also collaborated with the indigenous Frente Mazahua por la Defensa de los Recursos Naturales, to help them redress damages to their communities caused by the construction and operation of the Cutzamala system, which diverts water from their lands to Mexico City. The false arrest of Santiago Pérez Alvarado is a strike against people struggling to maintain the ecological, cultural, social and economic integrity of their region.

Letters of solidarity with Santiago Pérez Alvarado should be sent to: Gobernador del Estado de México, Lic. Enrique Peña Nieto, Lerdo poniente numero 300, primer piso, puerta 216, Palacio del Poder Ejecutivo, Colonia Centro, Código Postal 50000, Toluca, MX. Emails to: [email protected], and phone calls and faxes to: Tel.- 0052 (01 722) 276 00 50/Fax: 0052 (01 722) 276 00 46.