Actor Martin Sheen and Salvadoran activists Thursday called upon the FBI to join Los Angeles police in investigating death threats received from a group believed to be linked to El Salvador's feared death squads.
"These recent threats remind us of the death threats, from Salvadoran death squads, received by local leaders during the most intense war years in the '80s," said Roberto Lovato, executive director of the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles. "We take these threats very seriously."
They are the first threats received by local Salvadoran activists since 1988, when the Los Angeles City Council offered a $10,000 reward after the kidnaping, rape and torture of a Salvadoran activist, and after death threats were made against the late Father Luis Olivares. No arrests were made, Lovato said.
He said three Los Angeles groups--the Central American Resource Center, El Rescate and the Committee for Democracy and Development in El Salvador--received a fax, a phone call and two letters warning that activists would "suffer the consequences if the work to stop the death squads did not end."
Additionally, two men recently showed up at the resource center inquiring about staff members who have demonstrated against the Salvadoran government, but the men slipped away before police could be summoned. After the resource center staged a Thanksgiving Day fast for peace, Lovato said, staff members returned to their offices to find their van's windshield smashed.
One letter begins: "Open letter to all those of you who support the murderers of the FMLN here in Los Angeles." The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front represents the former leftist guerrilla front. Since the former rebels signed a peace agreement in January, 1992, under which they agreed to disarm and become a political party, 25 members have been slain. Some U.S. officials fear that extreme rightists are taking advantage of the peace to return to the death squad tactics they used in the early 1980s.
One letter targeted Sheen, who has long been active in the Salvadoran human rights movement.
"I am not amused or intimidated," Sheen said at the news conference. "I will continue to speak out against violence and injustice in El Salvador."
Noting that the letter goes from Spanish to English when it gets to Sheen, the actor quipped: "They want to make sure I get the point."
The letters are signed by the Salvadoran Independence Front, a group previously unknown in Los Angeles. "We suspect these are people who are linked up to the death squads," said Lovato, whose organization was previously known as the Central American Refugee Center.
"These local threats accompany the tense situation in El Salvador, where a recent increase in death squad activity is threatening the peace process," Lovato said.
The death threats are under investigation, said Lt. Marlin Warkentin of the Los Angeles Police Department.
"We are taking it as seriously as we would any other threat like that," he said.