More than 100 persons demonstrated in front of the U.S. Embassy today to protest the U.S. government's failure to grant four human rights advocates visas to go to Washington to receive an award from the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial foundation.
The demonstrators repeatedly called on Ambassador Thomas Pickering to come out to explain why a consular officer had declined to issue the four women visas to attend the foundation's award ceremonies Oct. 20.
The rare demonstration was organized by the group that was to receive the Kennedy Memorial prize, the Committee of Mothers and Relatives of Prisoners, Disappeared Persons and Politically Assassinated Persons of El Salvador, known by its Spanish abbreviation Comadres.
Richard Weeks of the State Department's consular affairs bureau said in Washington that the visa application was "still under consideration." He said the women were "incorrectly informed by a consular officer that the application was denied" and later were told that the visas might still be granted.
Sue Vogelsinger of the Kennedy Memorial, founded to honor the memory of the New York senator assassinated in 1968, said a State Department official had suggested to the foundation that the relatives' group "was more a political pressure group than a human rights organization and . . . awarding this award to this particular group would not reflect well on human rights and on the memorial." She said the memorial was satisfied that the group, chosen by a panel of human rights experts, was a legitimate one and deserved the $30,000 prize.
U.S. Embassy spokesman James Williams said the visa requests had been turned down because, "we have reason to believe these women are involved in subversive activities."
That was heatedly denied by the women in the street today.
"We have nothing to do with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front," said Marizia Ruiz, referring to the umbrella group for the five guerrilla organizations fighting the government.