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Major Mobilizations in El Salvador to Protest CAFTA and Honor Schafik Hándal
CISPES Update - February 1, 2006
Major anti-CAFTA protests yesterday in and around San Salvador shut down critical highways, while groups marched from various points in the city to converge on the National Assembly and still others marched toward the US Embassy. Since the recent CAFTA legal reforms that penalize selling pirated CD's and DVD's, vendors in the informal sector of the economy have held numerous protests and demonstrations throughout the month of January, but yesterday they were joined by many other sectors of the Salvadoran social movement in the streets. Student, unionists, teachers, religious groups, and the Popular Social Bloc (BPS) all protested the implementation of what they call an unfair, anti-democratic agreement that will only serve the interests of U.S.-based multinational corporations.
The march that was going toward the Embassy was followed by a police helicopter and was stopped by riot police, who set up a barrier so that protestors could not get near the embassy. Other groups that added their voices to the protest included public sector workers - teachers and health care workers specifically - who have also been protesting to demand a raise.
Yesterday's mobilization comes as implementation of CAFTA has once again been postponed. The original goal was January 1, then February 1; however, even after the Salvadoran Assembly rushed at the end of 2005 to pass the legal reforms the USTR claimed were necessary for CAFTA's implementation - on everything from tariff policies to intellectual property right protections - the US government and US business interests are not satisfied. Most recently the US has pushed for new sanitary regulations that go beyond what was originally agreed to during negotiations, stalling implementation even further. March 1 has been set as the new target date.
Meanwhile, protesters yesterday promised to be out in the streets again if ARENA doesn't stop the implementation of CAFTA. The FMLN continues to denounce CAFTA implementation, and came out again yesterday in support of the protestors. Salvador Sanchez Ceren, FMLN Deputy and historic leader, said that "the people have no other option than to take to the streets to protest since the government is not listening to their demands."
Largest Mass Gathering in 25 years at Schafik Hándal's Funeral
Funeral de Schafik Handal en El Salvador.
(See more photos at http://news.yahoo.com/photos/ss/events/wl/012506shafikhandal/)
Salvadorans bid farewell to Schafik Hándal on Sunday in one of the biggest public gatherings in El Salvador since the funeral of Archbishop Monseñor Oscar Romero in 1980. At least 100,000 people spilled out of the Plaza Civica in Central San Salvador for the event honoring the legacy of the longtime FMLN leader. Hándal died of a heart attack on January 24 after returning from the inauguration of new Bolivian President Evo Morales. Since his death, numerous vigils and ceremonies have been held in El Salvador and other countries where large Salvadoran communities exist, including a huge celebration at the National University of El Salvador last Thursday. Emotions already high from the start of the electoral campaign in El Salvador have exploded, and the Legislative Assembly - controlled by the main right-wing parties - was even forced to declare three days of mourning and allow for a special ceremony to be held outside the assembly on Friday.
On Sunday, people had arrived around the world, including prominent leftist leaders from throughout the Americas. As the main square filled up, many recalled the funeral of the assassinated Archbishop Romero as well as the celebration of the signing of the Peace Accords in 1992. Hándal's casket was adorned with the flags of El Salvador, the FMLN, and Palestine, recognizing the origins of his family. After the act in the Plaza Civica, Hándal's body was taken to the Cementario de los Ilustres, followed still by thousands of Salvadorans chanting his name. Said his wife Tania, "all of those who have their heart on the Left cry today for this great loss." Current Salvadoran deputy Archbishop Rosa Chavez presided over the ceremony and acknowledged the great contribution made by Hándal in the struggle against the brutal military regime of the 1980s. Meanwhile in Caracas, Venezuela, tens of thousands of people recognized Hándal at the World Social Forum in a "minute of shouts and vivas" called by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
Said FMLN leader Gerson Martínez of the mobilizations, "the massive crowds who have come out to recognize his death confirm that the future beholds a great hope brought by hundreds, thousands, millions of Schafiks. Those people that attacked him everyday, and that are celebrating his death, must know this."
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