As scores of Latin American leaders gathered in Los Angeles on Monday for the start of the Summit of the Americas, a handful of immigrants and their supporters took to the streets, waving flags and posters to voice their political differences with their countries of origin.
The dominant message? More strong men. No more hard mano (steady hand).
“We don’t need countries with dictatorships,” shouted a group of Nicaraguans gathered on Figueroa Street and Pico Boulevard in front of the Los Angeles Convention Center, the main venue for the summit. “No more dictatorships in Latin America!” they shouted in Spanish.
A few meters away, Salvadoran demonstrators repeat the refrain: “We don’t want dictatorships!”
Almost all of Monday’s protests outside the Convention Center were aimed at either El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele or Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. Los Angeles is home to about 425,000 Salvadoran Americans, the largest concentration in the United States, and about 39,000 Nicaraguan Americans, according to census figures.
The political realities of Nicaragua and El Salvador differ in some respects. Nicaragua is ruled by a former Marxist guerrilla leader; El Salvador is governed by a populist former mayor and businessman.
But some Central American immigrants now settling in Southern California believe that, for all their differences, Ortega and Bukele are mirror images. And the tactics used by their critics in the United States are also similar.
In 2018, Grettel Campbell created the organization Nicaragua Libre LA following waves of protests against changes to the Social Security system that were violently suppressed by the Ortega government, leaving more than 300 dead and thousands injured and exacerbating international concerns about human rights abuses.
“The goal is to denounce,” said the native of Managua, the capital, and now a resident of Los Angeles. “The main goal is to get Ortega out.”
Twenty years ago, Dámaris Rostrán left Nicaragua for New York. Today, she is one of the leaders of the New York and New Jersey Work Table, part of a network of 23 American entities raising awareness of events in Nicaragua.
“The United States must turn its gaze to Latin America,” the activist said as he stood in Figueroa and Pico.
Pointing to a group of Salvadoran protesters a few meters away, Rostrán said the kind of political repression that has long gripped Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela is also being felt in El Salvador.
“What Ortega did in 10 years, Nayib Bukele did in two,” said Rostrán, from Managua.
The Summit of the Americas, established in 1994, aims to bring together heads of state, civil society organizations and civic leaders from the continent around common regional objectives, including the promotion of democracy and human rights. , At least in theory.
But this year’s summit has been shrouded in controversy and acrimony after the United States failed to invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, and the presidents of Mexico and Honduras later chose not to attend. attend to protest the exclusion of their counterparts.
President Bukele remains very popular, both in his country and among Salvadoran Americans, and his supporters support the tough measures implemented by his government. In a recent survey conducted by the University of Central America, 66.2% of respondents said that the Bukele government’s massive raids had improved security. But 24.8% see these measures as an attempt by the government to restore its popular image.
“How long will the arbitrary arrests last? asked Salvadoran Ana Flores, carrying a sign written in English and Spanish.
“Bukele has my brother in jail,” read another poster, carried by Álex Henríquez, who said his brother had been detained under the current state of emergency put in place at the end of March, which according to the human rights defenders and the media, has led to the arrest without court order of thousands of suspected gang members as well as many innocent people.
Amnesty International recently denounced the emergency order, under which more than 36,000 people were captured, “massive human rights violations” were committed, including cases of torture, and at least 23 people died in captivity.
The Salvadoran group Democratic Diaspora in Resistance has placed these allegations at the center of its messaging campaign.
“How long will Bukele continue to violate the fundamental rights of Salvadorans? read a billboard on a small van-like vehicle moving on Figueroa Street. For eight hours, this message was seen as the vehicle drove along the Salvadoran corridor to the El Salvador consulate on Wilshire Boulevard, as well as passing through the convention center.
Lorena Aguilar, a resident of San José and a member of the Democratic diaspora in resistance, traveled with a group of activists worried about the direction their native country is heading. Since the collective’s inception in June 2021, people living in Canada, Mexico and US cities such as Washington, Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles have joined.
“Some businessmen in Washington, DC donated the money to pay for the billboard. It helped us get the message across more effectively,” she said.
The group has also made an impact in El Salvador by working with teachers and lawyers to coordinate efforts to help people arbitrarily detained by the government.
“We unite in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe. We have representatives who bring together Salvadorans who do not agree with the regime,” Aguilar said.
Edith Anaya contacted the group on Twitter, where for many years she had posted her political views. Upon learning of the planned demonstration at the summit, she decided to join it.
“We need to take action from Twitter and come together to express our concern,” she said. “It is very important for the international community to know that the government is lying when it says there is democracy and that it respects human rights.”
Taking advantage of the opening of the summit, other members of the Latin American and Latin American communities came forward to promote the issue of immigration reform. A young Salvadoran, Obbi Fénix, said he felt uncomfortable being surrounded by opponents of Bukele and Ortega.
“I don’t agree with them,” he said, referring to his compatriots and indicating his sympathy for Bukele.
“What I ask of Nicaragua is to extradite Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sánchez Cerén,” Fénix said, referring to the two left-wing former presidents who ruled El Salvador between 2009 and 2019 and to whom the Ortega government granted Nicaraguan citizenship.
As the anti-Bukele protests began to subside, a small pro-Bukele faction briefly made an appearance on Figueroa Street.
“Long live Bukele!” they shouted before hurrying across the street.
A woman from the anti-Bukele group immediately responded in a firm voice.
“Long live,” she retorted, “but outside of El Salvador.”
Los Angeles Times