2nd Roundtable with Salvadoreans in Canada Should Fool Nobody
Salvadorean-Canadian , Toronto
Only one day from the start in Toronto of the 2nd Roundtable with Salvadoreans in Canada , organized by the Salvadorean Ministry of External Relations, I received a disturbing email. It was an urgent action appeal regarding the violent police repression of peaceful protesters in Cutumay Camones, a rural community in western El Salvador .
Apparently on October 12 and 20, Salvadorean police accompanied by Armed Forces personnel attacked residents of the community who were protesting the illegal construction of a garbage dump they fear will contaminate their only potable water source. Police indiscriminately used rubber bullets and tear gas on the peaceful protesters, wounding many. This latest example of violent state repression of peaceful protest in El Salvador is part of a growing and troubling trend in the country, harkening back to the state terror of the 1970s and 1980s.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the frequent violation of basic human rights in El Salvador will not be an agenda item for discussion at the Roundtable in Toronto. Instead, but not surprisingly, trade, investment, and business opportunities will take centre stage. That the venue for the Roundtable is the Toronto Board of Trade is no coincidence.
The Salvadorean Ministry of External Relations would like Salvadoreans in Canada to take for granted the rosy picture of El Salvador it wants to paint. “ El Salvador is open for business!” they would like to proclaim. But it is difficult to hide several troubling facts:
- 500 Salvadoreans are forced to leave the country daily in search of work to help them and the family members they must leave behind make ends meet
- The largest contributor to El Salvador ’s GDP (about 17%) is remittances from often undocumented Salvadoreans working abroad
- The domestic productive sector has collapsed, unable to compete against cheap imports facilitated by the CAFTA and other neoliberal free trade agreements
- Violence and crime are at all time highs, despite (or perhaps because of) the right-wing ARENA government’s highly touted but entirely ineffective “Iron Fist” crime-fighting policies, which include converting some schools into jails
- As shown by the police repression described above, there is growing disregard by the right-wing ARENA government for the democratic freedoms guaranteed by the 1992 Peace Accords, paid in blood by thousands of Salvadoreans during the 12-year civil war
Should the Salvadorean government want to “reach out” to those of us living abroad, it must not brush aside the human rights violations in which it is directly and indirectly complicit. And those looking for business opportunities in El Salvador might want to look into tear gas and rubber bullet production. Next to exported undocumented labour ripe for exploit, they are the hot commodities in El Salvador .