36 Arrested in L.A. Protest Over El Salvador
Thirty-six people were arrested Wednesday at the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles while protesting U.S. support for the government of El Salvador, the second such demonstration and mass arrest there in a week.
Hours later, the Rev. Jesse Jackson offered his support to local opponents of the Salvadoran government, who said they received death threats this week.
Workers at the Central American Refugee Center and priests at La Placita Church said the threatening letters, which arrived Monday, were signed by a group calling itself “The Catholic Anti-Communist Movement.”
Over the last two weeks, Los Angeles-area opponents of the Salvadoran government have held more than a dozen marches, sit-ins and candlelight vigils to protest the assassination of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador and continuing political violence in the Central American country.
Written in scrawled handwriting on notebook paper, one of the the letters declares in Spanish: “All of you will die because you are part of the (guerrillas). Just like they are destroying El Salvador, you will be destroyed!”
At a press conference Wednesday at La Placita Church, Jackson linked the violence in El Salvador to the Los Angeles death threats, which named Father Luis Olivares and other clergymen at La Placita as potential victims. “Today, priests are being killed in El Salvador and threatened in Los Angeles,” he said.
Jackson also reiterated his calls for an end to U.S. military aid to the Salvadoran government of Alfredo Cristiani and for negotiations between the government and the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.
“We have blood on our hands,” Jackson said. “The American people do not know that it is on the basis of our military aid that death squads kill people” in El Salvador.
The Cristiani government, which is supported by the Bush Administration, has denied that its armed forces killed the Jesuit priests.
Los Angeles City Council members Michael Woo and Richard Alatorre were among half a dozen civic and religious leaders who attended the afternoon press conference. Some of the religious leaders, including the Rev. James Lawson of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, were arrested earlier in the day during the protest at the Federal Building on Los Angeles Street.
Demonstrators first gathered at the west entrance of the building, which they blocked in last week’s protest, but found the area taped off by officers of the Federal Protective Service. The group then moved to the building’s south entrance on Temple Street, where some protesters chained themselves to the doors.
Those arrested, including actor Martin Sheen, were cited for trespassing and released, according to Mary Filippini, a spokeswoman for the Federal Protective Service.
Sheen was among 64 who were arrested in last week’s protest.
Two more protests are planned for the coming week, at the Federal Building in Westwood and at the Salvadoran Consulate in the Westlake area, said Mary Brent Wehrli of the Southern California Interfaith Taskforce on Central America, which helped organize Wednesday’s demonstration.
Olivares said his church will continue to support such protests despite the latest threatening letters. He and other activists in Los Angeles first reported receiving death threats in 1987.
Detective Steve Spear of the Los Angeles Police Department’s criminal conspiracy section said several individuals, all Salvadoran residents of Los Angeles, have been “looked at and scrutinized” in the investigation of the earlier and recent threats, but that no charges have ever been filed and no arrests are imminent.