July 30, 2015 at 8:01 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Trans Salvadoran advocate claims police attacked him

El Salvador, Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad, gay news, Washington Blade

Alex Peña, director of the Association of Transgender Men in El Salvador, claims police in the Central American country attacked him late last month after a Pride march in the country’s capital of San Salvador. (Photo courtesy of Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad)

The head of a Salvadoran advocacy group suspects police officers likely broke into her office late last month after she publicly denounced those who allegedly attacked a transgender activist.

Andrea Ayala, executive director of Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad, which is known by the Spanish acronym ESMULES, told the Washington Blade during an interview in D.C. earlier this month that the incident took place hours after a June 29 press conference at her office in San Salvador, the Salvadoran capital. The advocate was among those who denounced the four police officers who allegedly attacked Alex Peña, director of the Association of Transsexual Men of El Salvador, two days earlier and urged Salvadoran authorities to thoroughly investigate the incident.

Ayala told the Blade those who broke into ESMULES’ offices took computers and archives with “confidential” information about her organization and its clients, cameras, checks and other items. She said she is not 100 percent sure that police officers who broke into her organization’s headquarters, but “it’s the only explanation that makes sense.”

“I would like to think that it was a police officer,” Ayala told the Blade. “It is more likely that the order came from someone higher up.”

Trans advocate’s eye socket broken during attack

Ayala told the Blade that Peña had a confrontation with a bus driver on June 27 as he was returning home from a Pride celebration in San Salvador.

She said the officers who responded to the incident broke Peña’s eye socket and fractured his skull. Ayala showed the Blade pictures of the advocate’s injuries that she took 14 hours after the attack.

“He was unable to speak,” said Ayala, referring to Peña’s condition.

Ayala told the Blade the officers dislocated Peña’s partner’s shoulder and caused other injuries during the incident.

“(The attacks) were motivated exclusively by the hate that these police officers had against Alex because he is a trans man,” said Ayala.

Ayala said that Peña only received x-rays during the 27 hours he was in the public hospital to where the police had brought him after the incident. Authorities then brought him back to the jail where they had charged him with harassing a police officer.

“He spent the entire day in a chair without receiving treatment,” said Ayala. “They did not place him with the men or with the women. They did not know where to put him.”

Authorities released Peña on June 30, but he remains under investigation. Ayala told the Blade the police officer who accused Peña of assaulting him said he would withdraw his allegation for $50, but the advocate’s lawyer told him not to accept him.

Ayala said ESMULES staffers brought Peña to a private hospital after his release from jail “because it was obvious that he needed to receive medical attention.”

“The attention that he received was very, very bad,” said Ayala.

’Systematic’ violence ongoing problem

Anti-trans violence remains pervasive throughout El Salvador, which has one of Latin America’s highest murder rates.

Francela Méndez Rodríguez of Colectivo Alejandría, a Salvadoran trans advocacy group, was murdered in May while visiting a friend’s home outside of San Salvador.

Front Line Defenders, a global human rights group, noted in a press release that Méndez is the 10th trans woman murdered in the Central American country since the beginning of the year. Paty Hernández, a trans Salvadoran advocate who lives in D.C. after fleeing her homeland because of the violence and threats she said she experienced, told the Blade after Méndez’s murder that a trans man has also been killed in the El Salvador so far this year.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2013 held a hearing on anti-trans violence in the country.

“I understand the levels of violence that are in my country exist,” Ayala told the Blade. “But it systematically takes place — a very targeted attack against an organization, against human rights defenders, against trans people, Francela’s murder.”

Cardin: Attack against trans advocate ‘deeply troubling’

Ayala told the Blade that an ESMULES staffer received a call from the personal assistant of Marcos Rodríguez, a member of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén’s Cabinet, after news of the burglary broke. The advocate said this person warned her and her colleagues to “be careful.”

Representatives of the Salvadoran government did not return the Blade’s request for comment.

Ayala told the Blade a representative of the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador called her after learning about the break-in at ESMULES’ offices through social media. She was subsequently invited to take part in a roundtable with U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) that took place at U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte’s residence in San Salvador on July 1.

Aponte was among those who attended the gathering.

“I met with Ms. Andrea Ayala during my recent trip to El Salvador and heard a deeply troubling account about the assault against Alex Peña that was carried out by four members of the Salvadoran National Police,” the Maryland Democrat told the Blade on Monday in a statement. “I remain concerned about a larger pattern of violence against LGBT populations across Central America, including El Salvador.”

“Individuals deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” he added.

Cardin told the Blade that Salvadoran authorities have indicted the four police officers who allegedly attacked Peña.

‘My community needs me’

Ayala told the Blade that she was afraid to return to El Salvador.

She and her partner, who met in high school, live outside of San Salvador with their five dogs. Ayala admitted to the Blade that she is afraid for her partner’s safety while she is away from home.

“I don’t want to be in Washington and receive a call,” she said.

Ayala told the Blade that she has heard “the word asylum many times,” but she said she does not want to leave El Salvador. The advocate then proceeded to pull up a picture on her iPad of a trans woman who had been attacked that she received the day before.

“At this moment I am repeating ‘Thank you very much, but I need to return to my country,’” Ayala told the Blade. “I feel that my community needs me and this promise is more important than my life at this moment.”

Andrea Ayala, Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad, El Salvador, gay news, Washington Blade

Andrea Ayala, executive director of Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad (ESMULES), a Salvadoran LGBT advocacy group. (Photo courtesy of ESMULES)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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