Bush Reelection Sends Message to Salvadoran Death Squads
Less than a week after the U.S. elections, labor leader Gilberto Soto was assassinated in Usulutan, El Salvador. Soto, a Salvadoran who emigrated to the U.S. in 1975, was a Teamster organizer in New Jersey, an activist with CISPES – the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador – and a long-time member of the FMLN, El Salvador’s left political party. The FMLN has actively opposed the Central American Free Trade Agreement, both in the legislature, where they hold a plurality of the seats, and in the streets, where they have led tens of thousands of people marching against CAFTA and against the war in Iraq.
Soto was in El Salvador to help organize container cargo truck drivers, an economic sector that is critical in the free trade model. Truck drivers and port workers in Central America are frequently prevented from organizing unions and have almost no protections for their rights as workers. This keeps wages down, which gives the companies producing and transporting cheap clothing, food and other products from Central America to the U.S. even bigger profits. Every attempt to organize within the trucking sector has been met with mass firings and repression. Soto was in El Salvador to lend his support to an organizing effort by drivers for the Maersk Corporation, one of the largest container cargo companies in the world.
Soto was shot in the back by masked gunmen while he was making a cell phone call on the steps of his mother’s house. Nobody has been apprehended. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the AFL-CIO have offered a $75,000 reward for information on the killing. Several days after Soto’s assassination, the offices of CEAL, the Center for the Study of Labor, were ransacked. It’s clear that death-squad elements in El Salvador, who have been largely quiet since the war ended in 1992, believe that they also have a mandate from the U.S. elections: that they can do whatever they deem necessary to ensure the crushing of opposition to pro-corporate economic policies.
However, Francisco Soto has vowed to continue the organizing effort begun by his brother Gilberto. Santiago Flores, director of the progressive FUNDASPAD organization in El Salvador, says that Salvadorans will persist in their own popular struggles and alternatives, while resisting U.S. intervention. Once again, the Salvadoran and U.S. right wing have underestimated the will and resolve of the people in determining their own path forward.
The elites throughout Central America, who are scrambling to destroy popular opposition to their economic policies, are thrilled with the Bush victory. Nowhere was it more blatant than in El Salvador. Just days before the U.S. presidential elections, both major papers published full-page ads calling Bush “a friend of our country” and asking Salvadorans to call family members in the U.S. and urge them to vote for Bush. Salvadorian President Tony Saca called the elections “a victory for democracy and freedom and a defeat for populism” and promised the rapid approval of CAFTA. The Salvadoran ruling class has a friend in the White House for another four years and believe they can once again get away with murder.