El Salvador’s State of Emergency Threatens Activists

In the face of record-breaking rates of violence, the government of El Salvador is considering declaring a state of emergency in the country’s most violent municipalities, suspending certain constitutional rights for residents of those cities. 

The crisis in El Salvador has reached such horrific proportions that more homicides were registered in 2015 than any year during the country’s civil war. Today approximately 116 out of every 100,000 people are murdered, and women and children are disproportionately targets of that violence. Unsurprisingly, emigration from El Salvador is becoming increasingly gendered as well, as thousands of women are choosing to make the journey North and seek a safer life in the United States.

Now as government security efforts have failed, President Salvador Sánchez Cern is considering the use of a state of emergency to curb the violence. However activists have expressed concern that this would be just another step within the government’s hardline strategy, one which has only delivered no positive results, only more murders. Perhaps worse, it would allow the government to regulate or ban public meetings, monitor mail, phone, and digital communications of its citizens, and even restrict their freedom of movement. 
I’ve written before about the effects that states of emergency can have on communities of color. In Guatemala, a government-imposed state of prevention stopped indigenous women opposing the construction of a cement factory from organizing or even safely walking to work. In Ferguson, Black Lives Matter activists fighting police brutality were faced with increased policing of their community when the National Guard was sent in to “keep the peace.” I wrote about how gender and policing came together in two communities that might seem quite different:

“For black protestors in Ferguson or indigenous residents in San Juan Sacatepequez, the enemy is the same. The police serve as an arm of the state, which represents capitalism and white supremacy, and sees gender-based violence as a tool of war. Knowing that, ultimately, the enemy remains the same across region, language, and culture, how can we work collectively to demand justice for all of us?”

In El Salvador as in Guatemala and Ferguson, who will benefit from a state of emergency? Who feels safe under increased militarization? Probably not the women who’ve been fighting tirelessly for reproductive justice and an end to the criminalization of pregnancy. Not the environmental activists who are already risking and losing their lives throughout Central America.

El Salvador is facing an emergency. But taking away the rights of activists and marginalized communities trying to survive in spite of that crisis is not the way out of it.

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Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Senior Campaigner at Change.org, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

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