Stranded mere yards from shore as they return from overnight fishing expeditions, nine fishing boats wait for the navy’s signal to approach the dock as soldiers take down the names of those returning from sea to the military lockdown.
On Apr. 17, 2020 the Salvadoran military imposed a military blockade to curb traffic through Puerto de La Libertad and enforce the government's nationwide Covid-19 quarantine. At the first checkpoint, a humvee and more than ten soldiers cut off access to the town.
The blockade cut off access to markets of essential goods for residents across four towns. The national highway running along the coast, CA-2, cuts through all of La Libertad, connecting the most popular beaches in the department of the same name. The army and police mounted a joint operation along this artery, stretching to the towns of Talnique, Tamanique, and Jicalpa, which lie along the Balsam Mountains. Residents travel to the port market every weekend, but this Saturday, nobody left home in the neighborhood, despite assurances from the Constitutional Chamber.
The armed forces took to the streets of La Libertad, home to over 35 thousand people, stationing at least two soldiers on every corner. In this image, a team patrols the town marketplace in the early hours of Saturday, April 18.
A group of soldiers stopped this man from continuing down 1 Avenue North. After a brief conversation, he returned to his home near the town marketplace.
Some residents peered out their doorways onto empty streets, asking if stores or supermarkets were open. Taken aback by the government’s decision, nobody expected to wake up to a city under siege.
With his documentation in hand, the local resident in neon yellow tried to leave his neighborhood to purchase goods at the pier. The emergency measures approved by the Legislative Assembly permit free circulation for families to stock up on goods. In La Libertad, though, armed forces ignored the law on Saturday, refusing to let people out of their homes. One woman reported that she left her truck full of bananas, which she had planned to take to market in San Salvador, parked at her house. Soldiers had refused to let her leave, despite provisions allowing vendors of essential goods to travel to market. In another instance, the soldiers changed their mind when a man yelled out: “Hey, baker! Hurry up with that bread!” The baker, who had stumbled upon this same checkpoint, was then allowed to move along to the marketplace.
While waterfront businesses have remained closed since the start of the national emergency, the government’s actions over the weekend also brought the work of small-time fishermen to a grinding halt.
“Nobody should be out working right now. I don’t want to find you back in the street,” a military official told two bakers and two fishermen caught near a checkpoint on 1 Avenue North. Soldiers detained them for 15 minutes before letting them go. When asked about these detentions, which were condemned Constitutional Chamber and the Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman, the official said: “We won’t detain anyone. Nobody has authorized us to do that; we’re just making our presence felt a little.” He added that the patrols were meant to “guarantee” that all of the town’s residents stayed home.
Germán Chávez, 32, has been out of work and without income for 40 days. A former beachside restaurant employee, he says he didn’t make the list for the government’s $300 USD pandemic relief checks.
*Translated by Roman Gressier