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El Salvador: Answers Demanded in Killing of Youth Leader

San Francisco Bay View, News Report, Meredith DeFrancesco Posted: Jun 26, 2008

This week over 60 international organizations will join a coalition of over 40 Salvadoran organizations calling for investigations of the assassination this month of 19-year-old social movement activist Hector Antonio Ventura Vasquez and of over 15 other assassinations being considered political in the past two years.

The Salvadoran archbishops human rights office and the Foundation of Study for the Application of Law, FESPAD, have found these killings fit international criteria, including the political profile of the victim, the preplanning and character of the crime and the lack of investigation on the part of the government.

David Morales is a lawyer with FESPAD, one of the organizations that presented a petition to the attorney general this month.

We believe it is important to do more than just denounce the assassination of political leaders, but also show that the attorney generals office is tolerating the assassinations by not investigating, by avoiding investigations.

Morales says that authorities routinely attribute political murders to the gang crime prevalent in El Salvador, when in fact there is evidence that gangs are actually being used for political assassinations. One example is the 2006 assassination of local FMLN leader Eligio Ramirez in Cuscatancingo.

So because of his community and social work, he had some contact with youth in gangs. And some of these youth told him that they had been asked by the ARENA mayor leaving office to kill him. And these youth told him that they had said they would not accept killing him, but that other people had accepted. So he was assassinated by two gang members, but the attorney general didnt do any investigation into whether or not the mayor was related to the case.

Morales said this month, two gang members were sentenced for the 2007 assassination of the journalist Salvador Sanchez, who actively followed the case of the Suchitoto 14, but the intellectual authors were not investigated.

Last July, Ventura and 13 others were arrested prior to an anti-water privatization forum, in a police attack, condemned by human rights offices for its excessive use of force, backed by the military. The Suchitoto 14 were then charged with terrorism, under El Salvadors controversial decree 108 Special Law Against Acts of Terrorism. Two weeks after all charges were dismissed, Ventura was brutally stabbed to death in a home where he was sleeping, in a community outside Suchitoto.

Lorena Martinez is the president of CRIPDES, the Association for the Development of El Salvador, a network of over 300 organized rural communities. She is also one of the Suchitoto 14.

Hectors murder, we could say, is a politically motivated murder. It has that characteristic, since Hector was on of the 14 people detained and he was a youth who had a lot to offer and to develop from here forward. He was 19 years old. He was a young man who was committed to this process and had aspirations of changing things in his country. And that is why we believe it was a politically motivated murder.

In the last month, there have been reports of at least two more brutal murders of people connected to political opposition work from the communities surrounding Suchitoto, killings reminiscent of death squad killings during the war. These events are underlined by the official verification that paid assassination squads linked to the National Civilian Police have been recorded active in other parts of the country.

Luis Herrera Fernandez, works in the press office for the attorney general:

Its been along time in El Salvador since we have had murders with political motives and if someone says its happening its because it is a nongovernmental organization that perhaps needs money to maintain itself or to justify its income. All cases are being investigated. Absolutely all. What happens is that when people dont hear what they want to hear, they say that we arent working on it.

Two days before his assassination, Hector Antonio Ventura Vasquez had met with the mayor of Suchitoto and agreed to speak at the Day Against Impunity to mark the one-year anniversary of the arrests of the Suchitoto 14 and their subsequent charges of terrorism.

In January, Ventura spoke to a human rights delegation from the United States.

This cause brings us together like sisters and brothers. You can see the laws in our country favor those who have money, and the people most affected by the law are those who struggle. Those of us who are burnt by the sun, those who work. And if we protest we are treated as criminals. If we demand our rights, we are treated as criminals. We are treated as terrorists, just like what happened to us. And so, again, thank you for your solidarity.

There is a strong concern in the country that political violence will intensify leading up to the March 2009 presidential elections. Organizations in El Salvador say if the attorney general continues to refuse to investigate the political connections to continuing assassinations, civil society will look to bring the issue to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

Meredith DeFrancesco is a reporter for Free Speech Radio News in San Salvador. Eva Schulte and Norm Stockwell at WORT in Madison contributed to this report. To hear it in its original audio form, search on the Internet for Free Speech Radio News, June 2nd Report. For more information, visit www.ElSalvadorSolidarity.org or www.CISPES.org or contact J. Heyward, Western states development coordinator for the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, at heyward.cispes@gmail.com.

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