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Fasters Decry Apathy Toward Refugees

Times Staff Writer

Its purpose was to call the attention of people in Los Angeles to the plight of Salvadorans, but a religious procession of refugees Monday attracted little more than curious stares from passers-by who hardly stopped to hear what was being said.

Five weakened hunger strikers led the downtown procession, carrying crosses from Our Lady Queen of Angels Church to the steps of the Federal Building three blocks away. The fasters, said leaders of the march, were representative of Salvadoran refugees who have fled persecution in one country only to be persecuted by immigration officials in another.

Signs of Apathy

And, according to at least one marcher, the lack of attention paid to the procession by passers-by illustrated the reason such persecution is allowed to continue--the apathy of the American people toward the plight of Salvadorans.

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“We are here this afternoon because of the irresponsibility of the government, the press and the American people, who give a deaf ear to human suffering not only to people from Central America and Mexico, but to people in our midst,” said Father Luis Olivares, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, which is considered a sanctuary for Central American refugees.

“We have seen these people fasting for more than two weeks,” Olivares said as people walked hurriedly past or into the Federal Building, virtually ignoring the procession. “And nobody seems to care.”

The hunger strike, as well as the procession, are part of a national campaign by Central American groups and human rights organizations entitled “No Human Being Is Illegal.”

Twenty-eight Salvadoran refugees from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., have consumed only water and fruit juice since Feb. 17 and have pledged to continue the fast until the U.S. government listens to their demands, said Carlos Vaquerano, Los Angeles coordinator for the Central America Refugee Center.

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“We’re not going to stop fasting until at least they listen to our voices,” said Vaquerano, who helped organize the religious procession of about 30 refugees, church officials and sympathizers. “It’s going to be difficult for them to meet all of our demands, but we’re going to continue until we see some concrete results.”

Vaquerano said the groups involved in the campaign have four principal demands: the granting of refugee status to Salvadorans and other Central Americans until their homelands are stabilized; the closure of detention facilities in Texas that refugee advocates say are akin to concentration camps; an end to military aid to Central America to be replaced by encouragement for a negotiated political solution to the region’s civil wars, and reconsideration of a recent peace proposal in El Salvador.

Many Salvadorans and other Central Americans are being denied political asylum because immigration officials contend they are fleeing poverty, not persecution. Many are being held in detention facilities in southern Texas, pending the review of their applications for asylum.

Ready to Sacrifice

Hunger striker Carlos Rodolfo Linares, who said he was detained and tortured because of political involvement in El Salvador, said he is willing to sacrifice himself if it will help his people.

“It might be suicide, but I’m doing it for a just cause,” said Linares, who left his homeland in 1978. “Even if there is no success from this particular effort, it’s a step in the struggle for the rights of Salvadorans.”

Jesus Aguilar, 410 hours after he had last eaten, agreed. “There isn’t much difference in dying from hunger or dying from a death squad. It is the same death,” Aguilar said.


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