El Salvadoran Vice President no longer invited to speak at UC Berkeley event

Photo of Felix Ulloa
Lucast2290/Creative Commons
Campus's Latin American Leadership Society invited El Salvadoran Vice President Félix Ulloa to discuss bitcoin as a legal tender in El Salvador. However, after various concerns regarding alleged human rights violations in regard to his administration, Ulloa is no longer invited to campus. (Photo by Lucast2290 under CC BY-SA 4.0.)

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Following alleged human rights concerns around his administration, El Salvadoran Vice President Félix Ulloa will no longer be invited to speak at UC Berkeley’s Latin American Leadership Society’s, or LLS’s, Spring Forum event.

Ulloa was originally invited to speak about the significance of El Salvador as the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, according to LLS President Salma Rocha.

However, the event was canceled after LLS executives acknowledged potential harm in inviting Ulloa to Berkeley for Latine, Central American and Latin American students silenced or persecuted by the El Salvadoran administration, according to LLS’s public statement in response to a statement issued by campus student organization Central Americans For Empowerment at Berkeley, or CAFE.

“We would never want to be dismissive of any individual’s voice or experience and came to a collective conclusion that it was best to cancel the event,” said LLS Vice President Alexa Apodaca in an email. “We do not want to engender future division, unrest, or instability among the Berkeley Latine/x community.”

CAFE also published concerns on Twitter about the event given the alleged corruption and violence of the El Salvadoran administration, which contributed to the LLS event’s cancellation.

In its statement, CAFE also cited the administration’s alleged initiation of a “gang war” that is harming innocent civilians, alleged embezzlement of COVID-19 relief funds meant for food and alleged covert creation of gang pacts.

CAFE board member Osirus Polachart stated CAFE’s main concern lay with the event’s topic being limited solely to the implementation of bitcoin as legal tender rather than also addressing the administration’s alleged transgressions on human rights.

Additionally, CAFE’s public statement lists concerns such as many low-income and Indigenous Salvadorans’ lack of access to bitcoin and LLS’s failure to consult CAFE despite CAFE being the only Central American organization on campus.

“We’re the only ones speaking about these narratives,” Polachart said. “For another Latinx student organization to have an event discussing our issues, discussing our advocacy, discussing issues pertinent to us, it just seemed like they were sort of excluding us from our own narratives.”

CAFE posted its public statement after it privately emailed LLS detailed concerns around the event but allegedly received a “short” response stating LLS had no political stance on the issue, according to Polachart. LLS’s leadership has since apologized to CAFE, according to Polachart, and Apodaca expressed LLS’s renewed commitment to a more holistic approach in choosing future forum topics.

While Ulloa’s event April 21 has been canceled, LLS will still be hosting another event on journalism censorship and freedom of the press April 29.

“Our narratives are important to us, and we don’t want people saying things that don’t align with us and are sometimes misleading or false,” Polachart said.

Contact Cindy Liu at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @_CindyLiu_.