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El Salvador Drops Charges Against “Terrorists” Fighting for Water Rights

February 2008

They were peacefully protesting water privatization in a corner of their home country, El Salvador — until the Salvadoran government arrested them and labeled them “terrorists.”

Now, the 13 protestors from Suchitoto are free, following a recent decision by El Salvador’s attorney general to drop the terrorism charges. Prosecutors were unable to substantiate the charges under the “Special Law Against Acts of Terrorism” — a 2006 law that the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador strongly supported. (The ruling party in El Salvador is a close ally of the U.S.)

Despite the Bush administration’s apparent desire to widen the definition of “terrorism,” more than 40 members of the U.S. Congress signed a letter asking that the terrorism charges be dropped for the Suchitoto protestors. Actions organized by Grassroots International’s partner CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) and other organizations put additional pressure on the Salvadoran government.

The governing, right-wing ARENA party is trying to decentralize Salvador’s public water administration, and citizens throughout the country believe this is a first step towards the privatization of El Salvador’s water. Amnesty International believes that the arrest of the protestors on July 2, 2007 was meant to discourage further peaceful protests around the issue of water rights.

People fighting for legitimate access to water, food, or any other basic resource should not be criminalized. Grassroots International is working with such groups as Grantmakers Without Borders to make sure that humanitarian work and social justice initiatives around the world can be supported rather than tainted with the frequently misused “terrorism” term.

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