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Salvadoran President Calls Labor Leaders Traitors; Salvadoran Right-Wing and Newspapers Attack CISPES

Campaign for Labor Rights Action Alerts, 5 December 1996

In a December 4 televised press statement, Salvadoran President Calderon Sol denounced Ana Maria Romero (Organizational Secretary of the Union of Gabo Workers) and Wilmer Erroa Argueta (Relations Secretary of ASTTEL) as "traitors and inhuman, [who] are attacking the Salvadoran family"; this statement was also published in today's Diario de Hoy. Ms Romero and Mr. Argueta have been on a 4 week US tour sponsored by CISPES. They have traveled to more than 20 cities, speaking to labor unions, the media, solidarity activists and the US public about violations of labor rights in El Salvador. This week they participated in a congressional hearing sponsored by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and met with the US Agency for International Development. This attack is reminiscent of the past when unionists, teachers, and priests would be found missing or dead following verbal attacks by leading government officials.

This attack came after 3 articles from 2 Salvadoran newspapers were published over the past 3 days falsely stating that CISPES is calling for a boycott of Salvadoran-made products and of Salvadoran maquilas.

In addition, according to the El Diario article, ARENA plans to send a letter to the US Congress asking them to "repudiate and denounce these practices." The articles also falsely claim that a recent US Labor Department investigation found no violations in the maquilas. In fact, the investigation, whose report will be released this month, only covered child labor and did not state that there are no labor violations in the Salvadoran Free Trade Zones.

In today's Diario de Hoy article, the Vice Minister of Commerce and Industry, Rolando Alverenga states that "..(CISPES) is a committee that wants to hurt the country and destroy everything that we've built after the signing of the Peace Accords."

This attack is clearly in response to weeks of intense pressure on the Salvadoran government to improve labor conditions, mounted by CISPES and others through the tour, and through our campaign to stop the massive firings of maquila workers by factory owners who seek to avoid paying the legally required Christmas bonus.

Action Requested:

Denounce the threats against Salvadoran labor leaders

  1. Call your Congressmembers. Urge them to send a letter directly to Calderon Sol holding him personally accountable for the safety of Ms. Romero and Mr. Argueta, and demanding that he publicly retract his statements calling them traitors and inhuman.
    Congressional Switchboard 202-224-3121
  2. Generate letters directly to Calderon Sol.
    Telephone: 011-503-281-0018
    Fax: 011-503-271-1555 or 011-503-271-0950
  3. If you are participating in the CISPES campaign to Stop the Christmas Firings, continue those plans. In your calls to the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington DC, 202-265-9671, include demands that they denounce these attacks and print a retraction in the Salvadoran media.
  4. Send donations to CISPES to help fund an emergency media campaign to counter the Salvadoran media misinformation. We will be purchasing radio spots in El Salvador.
    19 W. 21st Street, Room 502
    New York, NY 10010

NOTE: Following is the Press Statement that we have sent to the media in El Salvador to be published. Also enclosed is a statement by one of the panelists from the congressional hearing in Washington DC on Monday, December 2nd where Ms. Romero and Mr. Argueta spoke in response to the attacks.

Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador
Press Statement

Contact: Jennifer Mertens
Date: December 5, 1996
Telephone #: (212) 229-1290

"There is No Anti-Maquila Boycott" Says CISPES

Leaders of the ARENA Party and the Salvadoran textile industry recently accused CISPES of encouraging US consumers to boycott clothing made in El Salvador.

There is no boycott.

What does exist is a campaign by CISPES and Salvadoran labor organizations to urge the Salvadoran government to enforce its own labor code and abide by internationally recognized standards for human and labor rights, and to urge corporations to responsibly abide by these laws -- so that Salvadorans are paid a decent wage, are not abused, are not forced to work overtime, are not fired by bosses who don't want to pay the legally-required Christmas bonuses, and are free to organize.

We have seen poverty and massive unemployment first hand during our trips to El Salvador. We are well aware that Salvadorans need jobs and that the maquilas are a large source of employment in El Salvador. However, we, as well as the workers and the labor movement in El Salvador, want these to be jobs with dignity.

Our "Sweat Gear" catalog is a satire that is being used to educate US citizens. Nowhere in it do we tell people not to purchase clothes made in El Salvador.

In addition, CISPES has supported the FMLN for years, that fact is well known and we are proud of it. We support them because they are fighting for the rights of working people. CISPES has many projects: our campaign for working people's rights, fighting for immigrant rights in the US and supporting organizations which are struggling for social justice, including the FMLN. While many of these are related in their subject matter, they are also separate projects.

CISPES renews our commitment of support for the Salvadoran people in their just struggle for better living and working conditions and the creation of a truly democratic country.

CISPES 19 West 21st Street, #502 New York, NY 10010 Tel: (212) 229-1290 Fax: (212) 645-7280 E-Mail: cispesnatl@igc.apc.org

Statement of Benjamin Davis,
Attorney and Representative of the International Labor Rights Fund

December 5, 1996

As a member of the panel on labor rights violations in El Salvador, which testified before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on Monday, I would like to correct incorrect statements which appeared in the Salvadoran media yesterday.

At no moment in the briefing did Ana Maria Romero, Wilmer Erroa or anyone else advocate a boycott of Salvadoran products, or urge North Americans not to buy clothing made in El Salvador.

Rather, the focus of the briefing was the Salvadoran government's failure to enforce its own labor code, which leads to exploitation, and even death for Salvadoran workers.

Ms. Romero described twelve-hour days, with forced (and unpaid) overtime up to 17 hours a day, two to three times a week. She described the experience of enduring insults and blows from supervisors, which resulted in the loss of her baby and the babies of other pregnant women. She described the blacklist which her supervisor showed her, and told her was sold to him by officials of the Ministry of Labor. The blacklist contained names and photographs of union sympathizers, so that factory managers could avoid hiring them.

All this agrees with my investigations in El Salvador, which show well-documented practices of forced overtime and firing of large numbers of workers to prevent them from exercising their right to organize unions.

Ms. Romero said: "We do need these jobs, but we need them to be jobs with justice, with adequate salaries, with the right to organize as we choose. We need jobs, but not at the cost of our lives and the lives of the beings we carry in our wombs."

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Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador
National Office: P.O. Box 1801, New York, NY 10159 212-229-1290
Regional Offices: Boston, MA 617-524-1166
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