El Salvador incidentsparks protest rally

by Max Rust

The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador held a demonstration Tuesday afternoon in response to the kidnapping of a University student.
About two dozen people stood outside the Federal Building in downtown Minneapolis protesting the abduction of University student Jeff Popowski by El Salvadoran government officials. Popowski is earning academic credit in El Salvador through volunteer work with the Center for International Solidarity, which is affiliated with the committee.
Committee representatives said that Popowski was kidnapped, interrogated and threatened at gunpoint Saturday by officials in the El Salvadoran city of Ciudad Delgado. He was detained for four hours and then released.
Popowski was working for the Impartial Election Observing Mission in El Salvador trying to set up a meeting between government officials and international election observers who will be coming to the country to watch the March 16 elections. Eighty-four seats in the El Salvadoran legislative body are up for election, as well as 262 municipalities.
“This should not have happened,” said Jessica Sundin, a committee director. The role of the observers, Sundin said, is to guard against election fraud and to get word of fraud to international media.
She speculated that the officials who kidnapped Jeff did not want election observers coming to their city. The abductors were members of the El Salvadoran National Republican Alliance (ARENA), which currently holds power in El Salvador.
Sundin said the demonstration was staged to get the attention of U.S. government officials and the media.
“At this point, we’re trying to influence the economic role and use the political influence of the U.S. government with respect to a very repressive right wing in El Salvador, seen in the situation with Jeffrey Popowski,” Sundin said. “We think the U.S. government should be involved when a U.S. citizen is kidnapped.”
Sundin said the United States has a large influence in El Salvador because of its economic role in the country’s development.
“We (the United States) have put a lot of money into financing the right wing, which is in fact the party which attacked Jeff this weekend,” Sundin said. “So they’re interested in what we have to say, and if our government takes an aggressive response and really demands an accountability, then it’s our expectation that would mean they would actually investigate the situation and hold the individuals who kidnapped Jeff accountable.”
There have been other instances of election violence in El Salvador recently. Two members of the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front, ARENA’s main opposition party, were killed and three injured by machine gun fire last Thursday after leaving a campaign rally outside the El Salvadoran city of Nejapa. More violence is feared as the election draws nearer.
Although they do not have direct communication with Popowski, committee members say he is a bit tired and frustrated by the whole incident, but unharmed and doing OK.