What is repression?

In the hours and days after the violence in front of the University of El Salvador, I have been struck by the number of communications I have seen from opposition groups complaining loudly about "repression" of protests by students and others. For example, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) sent out an "Action Alert" denouncing "repression against students and university workers." The FMLN renounced the repression of the Saca government. A group of civil society organizations, including MPR-12 and BPS, issued a statement the day after the violence, condemning the brutal and violent actions of the Saca government, and never mentioning the execution of policemen.

But where is the evidence? What do all these words mean? The newspaper Diario CoLatino, which is friendly to all these organizations, has never mentioned a single injury among the demonstrators that day. Rumors of three students being shot and killed are apparently false. Two days later, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators organized by these same groups again filled the streets to protest the increasing cost of transportation and electricity. Despite the fact that they brought traffic to a standstill on major roads and thoroughfares, there was no violent police reaction. This matches the pattern in past demonstrations blocking roads, which have occurred dozens of times over past months. The police have generally not used force, except where they were faced with demonstrators destroying the property of other Salvadorans, throwing rocks or taking similar actions.

I imagine that many regular readers of my blog are going to disagree with me. There certainly are problems with freedom of expression in El Salvador -- the mass media is dominated by those with wealth and power, the government freely spends to gets out messages supporting its agenda, and the ARENA party can greatly outspend any other opponent. But forcible police repression of political protests, in the absence of danger to person or property, does not seem to be a major problem in the country.

If you disagree, please add a comment and give actual examples.


Anonymous said…
Street protests are not good for business, not good for the economy. In a small country like El Salvador, uprising such as this , is magnified thousand times more,especially with its dark history of civil war.Who would still want to visit and tour El Salvador after this? Who would want to tour and invest? The protest action did more harm than good ,looking at it in the bigger scope of things. It always does.
Sometimes when there is too much freedom, people abuse. For every king, there are vultures.
Anonymous said…
I live in El Salvador but was raised in the U.S. I'm a leftist in my politics. Let me define my terms in the context of El Salvador: I think the government should invest tenfold what they do in their public health and education systems, and make basic human services such as water equitable with regard to socioeconomic status in the country. To do this, they should raise taxes on the top 5% of the population that enjoys far too ostentatious a rich lifestyle while living next to people in abject poverty and perhaps taxing remittances sent back to the country from the U.S., of course even though that would be beneficial to the country, it would probably be political suicide.

That being said, let me emphasize that I am soooooo fed up with the "LEFT" in El Salvador. I expect the Right to act like ignorant, mean-spirited, egotistical polemicists, but I'm ashamed that the leaders who share my political persuasions in el Salvador are such close-minded, inefficient politicians. The reasons the Right has controlled politics in El Salvador since the war are many, but one of the most significant is that fact that the FMLN as a political force is inept, corrupt, and basically just stupid. Something must change! People of Leftist persuasions in El Salvador: please start getting involved in politics and build a grassroots, effective, intelligent alternative to the greedy, treacherous, self-serving Right.

Addressing the "repression" issue. There are many things we can fault Saca's government for, but repression of peaceful manifestations is not one of them. Go here:


to see a video I took of a protest that shut down the panamerican highway for nearly four hours January 2005. The community of Los Chorros organized the protest because they weren't receiving water. To gapgirl I say, when your children aren't receiving water guaranteed them by the government, and the politicians aren't listening to them, they have a right to do whatever they have to do peacefully to get the government's attention. The government should provide water equally to all communities (or if it can't there should be shortages in San Benito occasionnally too, not just in the poorer communities) and then protests like these won't happen.

That being said, while I was walking around waiting for the protest to end, I though to myself, what if me and my activist buddies in college had decided to shutdown the interstate with burning tires to protest some issue important to us? We'd be arrested within minutes, I guarantee it. I can say with utmost confidence that people have more freedom to protest publically in El Salvador than in the U.S, under any democratic or republican administration.

Ok, enough...but please, reasonable leftists in El Salvador let's begin a conversation on how to effectively change the fractured discourse of the country and bring a better life to ALL the people, rich and poor, because the sooner the rich and middle class learn that their fates are tied to the poor majority, the faster we can move out of this mess...
Tim said…

Your comment is right on the mark. I could not agree with you more.
Anonymous said…
I agree too. And I understand.At the end of the day, we need balance to handle this mess. In bad times, not to over react. And in good times, to not over extend. Dialogues, reforms...maybe these will help a lot. By the way, I am not Salvadoran.But I have become one by choice. :-)
El-Visitador said…
"There certainly are problems with freedom of expression in El Salvador -- the mass media is dominated by those with wealth and power, the government freely spends to gets out messages supporting its agenda"

Tim, whereas I agree that government misuses our taxes to advertise as "successes" merely what it is its duty to do, I have to disagree about the conflation of "freedom of expression" with "media ownership."

As your post and reader comments explain, there is plenty of freedom of expression in El Salvador. This freedom can be used to build profitable businesses. We have four daily newspapers, a number of TV stations (both VHF and UHF), and our AM FM spectrum is fully allocated. Some of these businesses are 5 yrs old, some are 20 yrs old, and some are 75 yrs old.

There are some relatively cheap media assets around. If you do not like their current owners, by all means, go ahead and buy them out!

Unlike the United States, El Salvador allows foreigners to own mass media.

We are freer than the US!

Where's the problem?

* - *

By the way, I fully support a Constitutional amendment banning the Salvadorean government from purchasing any advertising space whatsoever in any media, both locally and and abroad. Among other benefits, such and amendment would neatly castrate that wasteful boondogle known as our ministry of tourism.

Give me any candidate from any party than runs on such an amendment, and not only will I vote for him or her, I will organize a fund raiser and donate my time and money.
Anonymous said…
People protest when their voices are unheard by other means. Many groups within the population are frustrated - left, right or non-political - they are frustrated with their inability to survive. Repression can easily be found in the newest apparitions of the death squads - are you ever planning on posting information about the death of Mariposa's parents?
I truly believe that we will continue to see protests and unrest until all aspects of the government begin to listen to the citizens. El Salvador is a beautiful country with amazing people and it is sad to see it wobble on the edge of chaos.
Carlos X. said…

As you reported, the San Romero discussion group picked Oscar Romero’s phrase “Stop the repression” as its top Romero quote recently. That may constitute the most famous usage of the word “repression” in Salvadoran history, and it is a useful barometer of the true meaning and depth of the word.

Romero used the word “repression” after detailing a week of government “security” actions that left a toll of at least seventy-five dead, fifty of whom had been killed in a single day, and cited an Amnesty International report substantiating the gravity of the human rights situation (objective confirmation, not just unsubstantiated claims). It described a large military operation affecting three villages in which twenty one people were killed; activities in which four were killed; bomb blasts in the capital and a siege and attack upon the university during which the archbishopric had to intervene to protect those inside; a shootout at a farm that left eighteen dead; and miscellaneous other fatalities, including the plight of two brothers who were captured and only one of whom was accounted for in the government jails (detailed descriptions, not just blanket accusations).

Romero’s statement, “Stop the repression” shows what a powerful word “repression” can be to denounce and reprove boorish government behavior. But Romero’s last sermon also showed that powerful words work best when gravity of the situation matches the severity of the language.

Anonymous said…
There is too much freedom in the beautiful country that is El Salvador and the resilience of the people is incredible in the face of so many heartaches. Prob is, if you got too much freedom alongside many hang ups, dont you sometimes feel just a little like "going wild"? Just all the craziness you know. In the political context, that craziness spells acts of terrorism, maybe even communism or anything anti-capitalism or anti-democracy.Just anti-anything, blame it all on the wealthy, the media, the government because what...we all feel so helpless and miserable to the point we cant even take accountability over our contribution or indifference to the problem? There is just too much freedom and that is the real problem.The discipline is gone.I think it is time to sharpen wits, clean the acts, take control, look posh and fabulous inside and out. To be an Empowered , Educated and Energized people, all working towards one goal ..for the love of country... rich and poor, young and old, fat and thin doesnt matter .Lets see if the country will not turn around from the backwater that it is now and become an economic powerhouse. There's a dare.:-)Every citizen to help its government and be responsible for both its own personal and national destiny.The devil wont have a chance.
Basta de Casaca said…
People in El Salvador protest they way they do, simply because they are frustrated, desperate, and the inept government doesn't give a shit about them. People are fed up with the government, and they express it they way they can.

Let's torture, repress, abuse, cut the job, of the most peaceful person in the world, and we'll see them transformed into "monsters"; they would fight back, they would attack and kill if they consider it necessary just to survive; it's humane nature.

It's been 17 years of the ARENA dictatorship, and people are doing worse than ever. The gap between the rich and the poor has become greater, nearly 56% of the work force in the whole country is informal, there are between 10 to 12 barbaric killings everyday by the extreme violence which the government is incapable of stopping, the economy depends on remittances, Saca keeps saying that there is no money for many social programs and uses that as an excuse to say that we need to approve loans(and bring more debt to the country) and at the same time, Saca keeps spending millions of dollars in propaganda.. how about that? And what about the minimum wage?

People in El Salvador survive with these wages, simply because many of them receive remittances, otherwise forget it!

Comercio y Servicio $158.40???? a month?
Industria $154.80 ???????? a month?
Maquila $151.20 ??????? a month?
Agrícola Agropecuario $2.47 al día ????????????
Recolección de cosechas $2.70 al día ??????????
Industria de temporada $3.57 al día ??????????

TO YOU GAPGIRL, you are no even salvadoran! Go to El Salvador and try to make a living with these wages - that would make you understand better what's really happening .. as for now, you HAVE NO CLUE.

Let's try this repressive way of governing in the US, and let's see how long people can take it.

When people are desperate, people have a tendency to act irrational. We saw an example of that in New Orleans. We saw the desperation of the people in New Orleans; we saw fights, we saw looting; does that mean that they "enjoyed" the same freedom we enjoy in El Salvador to do that? We also saw lots of angry people, most of them looked irrational to me, because I WASN'T THERE AND I DIDN'T FEEL THEIR PAIN.
Hodad said…
I agree with same from anonymus, but also to add, more action, less words
in what both sides to need to do
and I agree some w/ el visitador in regards to Tourism minister
ahahahaha what a joke
when i built the website in 1995, elsalfun.com to try to bring tourism here, out of my heart[and pocket, $200 then to regsiter a domain and 50 a month to host]
they were still robbing church groups on Sundays on the volcanoes, at least now the police [and I have many experiences with them here, and they are a fine fine group, {more professional than the idiotic Rambo wanna be donut eating clowns in South Carolina]
people still throw trash in the streets here whixh is quite upsetting to me [culture ad education] and the drivers of cars still have no respect for others,and especially pedestrains, [lack of sentido comun,but you shuld see Chinese drivers]
the police are getting excellent supplimental training as tourist police, and are very polite and professional, and what a gran plan that is
and Sr. Avila is still chief and a very intelligent and professional man, in my opinion and he seems to be bi-partisan and works here for ALL.
these protests true raises issues for me-us as we try to build some tourism infrastrucre with my socios, but for the most part as I say to all gringoes
El Salvador is more safer than downtown Myrtle Beach. ha.....
so por favor, come to El Salvador for a wonderful experience and friendly people, here street demos are a way of life, go around them
but then the gay parade is always a hoot........
Tim said…
Some responses:

EV -- when I talk about problems for freedom of expression in El Salvador, the issue is not government prevention of speech, i.e. censorship -- the problem is the inequality of opportunity to get voices heard. The mass media are overwhelmingly controlled by moneyed interests. Perhaps the cheapest, and hence most democratic form of communication is currently radio, which is why radio had the most balanced coverage of the last elections. If the voiceless had more access or representation of their views in the media, perhaps they would not have to resort to blocking roads with demonstrations.

To Polycarpio/Carlos:

Wise words as always, my friend.

To Samuel:

Your words worry me. You seem to be suggesting that the economic and social disparity in El Salvador, which you and I both condemn, justified the execution of policemen. Excusing violence in that way only breeds more violence.

To Anonymous:

I agree that there will be and should be protests in El Salvador unti there is improvement for all Salvadorans. I wrote about the murder of Mariposa's parents in the "What Salvadoran bloggers are saying" post on Saturday. If there is a resurgence of death squad activity, this would certainly be "repression" as I understand the word. Most recent comments about death squads, however, have been in the context of "social cleansing" or vigilante justice in which gang members are executed. Death squads for any purpose are abhorrent, but it is not yet clear that there is a growing number of killings for political reasons.
Anonymous said…
"Two days later, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators organized by these same groups again filled the streets to protest the increasing cost of transportation and electricity." was written.
Some of those demonstrators included Diputados (the equivalent of Senators and Congressmen in the US). How appropriate is that? If a national problem needs changing, the change is most appropriately effected in the National Legislature, not through the legislators' "peacefully demonstrating". How retarded is that? That's the nature of the FMLN mind-set. They haven't a clue how to govern. They're Populists through-and-through.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said: "Repression can easily be found in the newest apparitions of the death squads..." The greatest problem in the country has to do with the mindless, senseless killings of innocent men, women and children by drugged-up gang members. There are more than a few people in this country that would willingly pay a "death squad" to take out some of these gangs!
Anonymous said…
I agree that El Salvador has a rampant gang problem - "super mano dura" has done nothing. But many of the newest unexplained murders, most of which are never released to US accessable media, have the tinges of past death squad activity. Human rights organizations and churches are making public declarations, citizens are watching themselves and their activities. If you've not been in a neighborhood where one of these killings has taken place then it is very easy to deny and pawn all the blame off on the gangs. Please remember though that the gangs did not originate in El Salvador - both of the major gangs orginated in the United States - doesn't say much for the super powers ability to control the situation either now does it? Everyone has a right to their opinion both here and in El Salvador - but don't become so blinded by your opinion that you ignore signs of things going wrong.
Hodad said…
as someone that is here to try to get my former investments from work i made with blood sweat and tears and MONEY,here in EL SALVADOR
i have been informed of death threats by my former socios
as this biz was sold when I was in USA for 3 years with ailing parents
and I want my money, i have reason?

after being in UCA yesterday with someone in the human rights office said to me "that using lawyers here is throwing money in the trash and the system does not work"
and these people, one a gringo, ex dirty cop, dishonorable discharge military and pedophile,and very irrespecful of the people,
and especially when he and his former prostitute wife from LA . i paid their rent, electricity, food and even fix their car when i met them
the other a known scumbag accountant, but from old connected family here,
both that have commited many rights violations,violations in the Hacienda, Ministerios de Trabajo and Interior, and very rude against the best mayor this town has had, Dr. Silva
and since the begging ripping off hacienda
and yes adultery will get you jail time here,

what would you suggest i do,
find a "in your face" attorney here
uno con huevos
or go back to visit hommies in the gang neighbour hood i lived in before?
a known reporter here in San Salvador is waiting for the story and some kind of action in my favour

i go anywhere and everywhere here, I surf Zunzal and the point at 7 meters!!! for 23 years
and fish and dive, so I have respect as I also am nice and respect the people here, you think I would still be coming here after 23 years and moved here in 94 if I thought I would have problemns? if I did not love this country and the people,

the system does not work here, bottom line
it is like children, and especially the important ME ME ME mentality and lack of common sense
[everyone with computers but mainly they play games, chat oN hi5 and MESSENGER and look at porno
long way to go here in that department, but little by little, it can get better as far as use of technology
why is this not being used by the government for more efficiency?
go figure when Dell and Microsoft are here[when i fix computers for seniors in Carolinas, DELL are the worst, so be careful if you buy one here}

my friend is doing 3 years community service for 1/2 joint, when most go free for very serious offenses!!!!!!
you know what works, not lawyers, not judges, not those idiots in suits that only speak,as in the USA also
lawyers are best for fish bait, and all in law school whose only motivation is greed
[many lawyer jokes in circulation for obvious reasons, right?]

what works is busting out teeth breaking a legs, cutting off the hands,


that is what works, physical violence
animals, such as us, ALL animals understand violence
and here that is the norm
that is what people understand.

i wish to use the system, but here it is ineffective

and they are all thick as thieves, same as bad doctors, all stick together as lawyers judges tend to do
I await suggestions

and please support artesanal fishing in Central America
think Peace, but act with your heart, and realize Karma works