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NEWS FROM CENTRAL AMERICA—JUSTICE SALVADORAN STYLE
February 25, 2008

I've just returned from a two week trip to Guatemala, where I researched my upcoming novel and spent a week on Lake Atitlan at a writing workshop run by the incomparable Joyce Maynard.

I'll be writing more about Joyce and the workshop in the coming weeks, but if anyone would like a quick photographic tour, you can go here. These pictures are courtesy of Gina Ronhovde, a gifted young writer from rural Minnesota who, in my humble opinion, has an incredible future ahead of her: She's a born stylist with a puckish wit (and she's a fetching young blond to boot—check out the photographs if you doubt me.)

Meanwhile, on the more substantive front, news from El Salvador provides a follow-up to a previous Weekly commentary from July 30th of last year, which recounted the arrest of 13 water privatization protestors who were charged under anti-terrorism statutes modeled on the U.S. Patriot Act.

The arrests were widely condemned by human rights groups, most notably Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders (one of the arrested "protestors" was in fact a journalist), as an attempt to criminalize civil protest.

In the past month, the case has completely fallen apart.

On February 8th, the government admitted it lacked evidence to substantiate its anti-terrorism charges, and attempted to reduce the charges to "public disorder" and "aggravated damages." This moved jurisdiction of the case from the special anti-terrorism tribunal in San Salvador to the regular court in Suchitoto, the location of the original protests.

This past week, on Tuesday February 19th, the judge in Suchitoto dismissed the new lesser charges when prosecutors failed to appear at a preliminary hearing to present evidence. The prosecutors later claimed their car broke down on the way to court. It is presently unclear whether the government will appeal the judge's ruling.

One can only scratch his head at results like this, wondering to what extent strings were pulled by outside actors--the American embassy? Members of ARENA who fear losing the upcoming presidential election if the party can be realistically portrayed as a pack of retrograde thugs? Speculation is coin of the realm in this region, rumors have robust legs, and nothing is ever as clear as anyone would like to believe.

For a more complete story, courtesy of CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador), go here.

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