OBSERVER REPORT: Salvadoran family detained and harassed

reported by CISPES international elections observer

The following report concerns an ongoing situation; observers are continuing to gather details.

CISPES observers and members of other international delegations were called to witness a family of 5 Salvadorans from Belize being interrogated and detained by representatives of the Fiscal General de la República (Attorney General’s office) and the Policía Nacional Civil (National Civilian Police) behind the Gimnasio Nacional (National Gymnasium) in downtown San Salvador. The family, which included a young boy who was reportedly very shaken by the experience, had recently arrived in San Salvador to participate in tomorrow’s elections. Tonight the Salvadoran Attorney General’s office demonstrated its priorities as it pursues flimsy charges against voting citizens while former President Francisco Flores, suspected of stealing over $10 million from the state’s coffers, remains missing. Former President Flores was a former client of the Attorney General himself, who is known for his longstanding connection to the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party.

CISPES observers were called to the scene and witnessed said family’s car encircled by other international observers and police. CISPES observers were informed that during the initial detainment, a representative of the Attorney General’s office had questioned and cleared all 5 family members documents. However, for an unknown reason a second representative appeared, repeated the same interrogation with a hostile demeanor, and attempted to forcefully detain several of the family members, ultimately taking 2 of them into custody.

CISPES observers then witnessed police escorting the family’s car off the scene with their sirens turned on, at which point an unknown advocate accompanying the family stopped the car, stepped out, and said publicly and very loudly, “Turn off your sirens, we are not carrying criminals in this car.” They went accompanied by several vehicles of international observers, representatives of the Belize embassy, and legal aid in a caravan back to the Attorney General’s office in the La Sultana building.

CISPES observers were informed that in the process of detention, some observers already on the scene may have been injured.

As this situation unfolds, we are reminded of the purpose of our presence as international observers guaranteeing free and fair elections for all Salvadorans. Alongside other delegations, CISPES observers were able to respond rapidly and effectively as part of an ad-hoc network of committed Salvadoran and international democracy activists. The clearly-recorded statement by the as-yet unknown advocate also demonstrates the advantage of having international observation to maintain accountability in the politically volatile climate of these historic elections.

We hope to provide more details as this case is resolved.

Update (Sunday, 11 am): The President of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal Eugenio Chicas held a press conference with the president of the National Registry of Nationalized Persons, Fernando Batres, to confirm that the family is indeed Salvadoran and that their ID cards (DUIs) were authentic and legitimate. Lic. Batres also apologized to the family, saying “You are Salvadorans just like us and we deeply regret that this happened to you.” You can watch the press conference in Spanish here.

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