Thursday, August 16, 2007

National Assembly increases penalties for "public disorders"

With the votes of ARENA and the right wing PCN deputies, the National Assembly approved today a change to El Salvador's penal code to increase the penalty for "public disorders" to 4 to 8 years in prison. Proponents of the measure want to use it to punish participants in events such as the looting and destruction of property which happened during street vendor disturbances last May 12. Previously the government had been using its anti-terrorism law to punish such actions. Advocates for social change in El Salvador worry that this legislation, like the anti-terrorism laws, will be used to repress legitimate popular protests in the streets.

Where does "popular expression of opposition to the government" leave off and "public disorder" begin? Let me suggest an answer to my own question. Civil society and other organizations which take to the streets in protest must also be outspoken in denouncing violence, looting, and rock throwing whenever it erupts in connection with demonstrations. At the same time, those organizations should be steadfast in asserting their right to protest, including protests which may make life inconvenient or uncomfortable for those who are comfortable, for those who are in power. You cannot assume that the government will not act as it did in Suchitoto and arrest peaceful demonstrators (or passengers in a pickup well away from the demonstration) -- but the media will broadcast the shots of the stone throwers, of the car torchers, of the looters, and in those images some of the moral force of the initial protests is lost in the realm of public opinion.


El-Visitador said...

«"public disorders"»

Why the scare quotes?

Peaceful protesters have nothing to be afraid of. Simple: Do not destroy private nor public property, nor violate Salvadorean's sacred right to freely move through our public roads, and...

...voilá! There is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. This law is not a threat to pacific protestesters.

This is an overdue law and I am ecstatic that finally someone is doing something to end the chaos.

Tim said...


There are many who would disagree that "the law is not a threat to pacific protesters." All the evidence seems to indicate that the people arrested at the Suchitoto protests were not the ones who were throwing stones and burning trash.

Larry said...

Futhermore, Tutela Legal indicates that the police provoked the violence that did take place in Suchitoto:

De esta forma, paradójicamente, las actuaciones policiales arbitrarias fueron el factor desencadenante de los hechos de violencia por parte de algunos manifestantes. Siendo tales acciones provocadas por un cuerpo elite policial, con amplia experiencia en la administración de multitudes, los resultados de violencia eran predecibles y debe presumirse que fueron provocados deliberadamente.

Anonymous said...

I don't get ARENA's intentions behind this stupidity. Laws to penalize destroying private property already exist in El Salvador.
When they say they are "increasing" the penalties, Do they mean you will be called a terrorist? and this will intimidate people and discourage them from participating in public demonstrations?.
So, the end result ARENA seeks is to stop pepople from even trying to protest for the miserable life they experience in El Salvador!

El-Visitador said...

Salvadorean law pursues both the physical and the intellectual authors of crimes

You have on your website the video showing the criminals attacking those who serve and protect, destroying public property, and blocking our citizen's rigth to freely move through our own country

If they had been peaceful they would not have ended in jail

Tim said...

My understanding is that no evidence has been presented that:
1. The Suchitoto 13 were any of the persons in the video.
2. The Suchitoto 13 in any way planned or instigated the rock throwing or trash burning.

If you are aware of the contrary, please point us to the evidence.

[I don't agree with the implication of Larry's comment that the conduct of the police somehow excuses a violent response such as rock throwing -- but it does give reason to criticize the police actions that day]

Larry said...

El Visitador wrote, "Salvadorean law pursues both the physical and the intellectual authors of crimes."

Tell that to Ponce, Vargas, etc.

I'd suggest telling it to the Garcia-Prietos, but I have too much respect for them to suggest someone insult their intelligence.

Larry said...

By the way, Tutela Legal did not contain the rock throwing in response to the police violence. The point was, however, that the police could have avoided the confrontation all together. It would have been a peaceful demonstration.

The fact that the police started the violence does not "excuse" the reponse by some protestors. It does, however, show that the media's footage of violent protestors was taken out of context for political purposes.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest reading the novel "1984" by George Orwell. It explains very clearly how governments twist facts to protect their own interest at the expense of the common person. Then you would see the pattern of the actions by the Arena government are nothing new. The enemy is invented and labled and when that one no longer works, a new label is invented. The people need not be guilty of a crime, other than speaking the truth.

Anonymous said...

There's a progressive radio show host, Tom Harthman(not sure of his last name), who sumarizes the mentality of ARENA type governments: RIGHT WING GOVERNMENTS COME FROM THE UNIVERSAL IDEA THAT PEOPLE ARE BAD, LAW BREAKERS, AND NEED TO BE RULED AND POLICED.
Just look at the images of the police squad (UMO)who went to "stablish order" at the Suchitoto incident. They were equiped with gear suitable for the war in Iraq!

Larry said...


Should be ammended as follows:


Protons said...

Proton to the rescue of Tim!

The problem Tim is that you have to show the videos of Suchitoto taken by a camara man filming the true of Suchitoto.

The videos shows the police anti riots provoking one.

Is a visual document that will be around for sometimes, I don't know if those images are the same used during the trial, but they show the true about the police brutality.

You can watch them here:

Suchitoto Video 1

Suchitoto Video 2

You should post them in your articule or at least mention the existence of those videos to prove your point.

Observer said...

Larry wrote: "...the media's footage of violent protestors was taken out of context for political purposes. "

How difficult Salvadorean politics is!That just goes to show how highly polarized the political scene has remained to be.In a small country , how greatly magnified these political maneuverings must be!