Secret Service agents and Cambridge police officers picked up and threw to the ground at least 10 protesters who were attempting to block the motorcade of President Alfredo Cristiani of El Salvador outside Harvard's Hemenway Gym yesterday.
More than 60 protesters, most of them members of the Harvard Committee on Central America (COCA) and the Boston-area Central America Solidarity Association (CASA), had gathered outside the gym at about 2:30 p.m., to protest Cristiani's alleged human rights abuses in El Salvador.
When a group of the demonstrators ran behind Cristiani's motorcade at about 5:15 in an effort to keep it from departing, police and Secret Service agents lifted them up and forcibly threw them onto the sidewalks.
During the most serious scuffle, officers kicked at least two demonstrators who were already lying on the sidewalk. One police officer struck a woman lying on a traffic island at the intersection of Mass. Ave and Cambridge St., and said, "If someone kicks me, I'm going to kick them back."
"It was madness," said COCA member Sean L. Gullette '91.
Cristiani, who had come to Harvard to watch his son play squash for the Princeton team, reacted nonchalantly to the protest.
"It's normal," Cristiani said in a brief interview with a Crimson reporter inside the gym. "It's a free country. They're allowed to do that."
The Salvadoran president said he was in the U.S. for a visit to the United Nations.
The protest began with the group of demonstrators banging pots and pans, but moved on to acts of civil disobedience as the afternoon progressed.
Despite the violent clashes between the protesters and those protecting Cristiani, police said they made no arrests. No one appeared to be seriously injured.
It was unclear whether Cristiani was in the motorcade as it departed or whether he was taken out of the building by some other means.
Just after the Salvadoran president entered thebuilding, protesters and police began shoving eachother and some demonstrators fell to the ground.
For nearly three hours, demonstrators waited infreezing temperatures for the Salvadoran leader toemerge from the building. At about 4:30 p.m., wordspread through the crowd that Cristiani'sdeparture was imminent. In response, protestersshoveled and scooped snow in front of hislimousine, building a foot-high wall of snowaround the vehicle.
When the limo tried to pull away from the curb,18 demonstrators joined arms and sat down in frontof it, chanting "Cristiani, you can't hide, wecharge you with genocide." The group was sittingin six-inch deep snow and slush, and policeapparently decided to wait them out.
But at about 5:15, a group of men moved brisklyout of the building and the motorcade beganreversing away from the blockade. As the limoattempted to depart, police and Secret Serviceattemped to move them to the sidewalk by force.
Gullette charged the Secret Service agents with"complete irresponsibility" in their handling ofthe demonstration. "They simply tried to bulldozethrough the crowd," he said. "I pulled a woman'sleg out from under the wheels of the limousineabout six inches before it would have beencrushed."
The motorcade stopped backing up when itcollided with a private car coming out of theCambridge St. tunnel. The group of vehicles thensurged forward, getting by the protesters andspeeding north on Mass. Ave.
More than thirty officers from the SecretService, Cambridge and Harvard police were on handto deal with the rally. Spokespersons for thoseagencies were not available last night to discussthe measures used to deal with the demonstration.
Student protests and the tight security alsocaused difficulties for those attending--orwanting to attend--the afternoon's squash matches.
Gullette and Darren S. Aronofsky '91 said theymanaged to get onto the court next to the one onwhich Cristiani's son was playing.
"We opened up the banner and started screamingat the crowd to leave," said Aronofsky. Aronofskyand Gullette were later forcibly ejected from thebuilding.
Several students who wanted to attend the matchcomplained that police turned them away.
Students said squash team members and theirfamilies were the only ones allowed into theviewing area.
Cristiani and his right-wing ARENA party havebeen linked to the murders of political dissidentsin El Salvador. The attacks have been carried outby well-organized "death squads," who arereportedly supported by the Salvadoran military.
David R. Grosser of the Cambridge-El Salvadorsister city project described life under theCristiani regime as "a tale of almost constantharassment and infringement of human rights."
CASA member Dan McLaughlin said the recentarrests of several military officers for thekilling of six Jesuit priests in November did notpersuade him that Cristiani was improving hishuman-rights policies.
"It's just a farce. The responsibility goesmuch higher than the people he's arrested,"McLaughlin said.
Rebecca D. Knowles contributed to thereporting of this story.