Monday, January 25, 2010

Salvadoran anti-mining activists murdered and threatened in Cabañas

The Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network endorsed and sent this letter:


Romeo Barahona, Attorney General

Rodolfo Delgado, Federal Prosecutor

Manuel Melgar, Minister of Public Security

Carlos Antonio Asencio Girón, General Director of the National Civilian Police

Oscar Humberto Luna, Human Rights Ombudsman

Herman Rosa Chávez, Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources

Carlos Mauricio Funes Cartagena, Honorable President



During the last six months there have been four assassinations in the Department of Cabañas, the first in June of Marcelo Rivera, who was kidnapped, tortured and assassinated; the second on December 20 of Ramiro Rivera Gómez and his companion; and the most recent on December 26 of Dora Alicia Sorto, whose husband José Santos is the spokesperson for the Environmental Committee of Cabañas. At the time of her assassination, Mrs. Sorto was in the eighth month of pregnancy and her two year old son was also wounded in the attack.

In addition to these crimes, resulting from systematic violence, death threats against journalists of Radio Victoria, the director of the Economic and Social Development Association of Santa Marta (ADES), and various other leaders of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas continue. There was also a sabotage of the electronic system of Radio Victoria, the attempted kidnapping and death threats against Father Luis Quintanilla, and more than three separate attempted murders of Santos, husband of Mrs.

These acts have occurred within the context of a community struggle against mineral mining in Cabañas, a struggle against the presence, planning and execution of mining projects proposed by U.S. and Canadian corporations and the multi-million dollar lawsuits brought against the Salvadoran government by Pacific Rim, its subsidiaries and Commerce group through ICSID and the DR-CAFTA free trade agreement.

After the assassination of Marcelo Rivera in June, more than one hundred organizations in the U.S. and Canada sent a letter to the Attorney General’s office expressing their serious concern with this violation of human rights. Representative Jim McGovern of the U.S. Congress also expressed the same concern in meetings with Mr. Romeo Barahona, Attorney General, and representatives of President Mauricio Funes’ administration during his recent visit to El Salvador.


We unite our voices in condemning these assassinations and death threats against community organization and leaders who are fighting to conserve and defend the environment in El Salvador and around the world.  New criminal threats have been discovered circulating through anonymous letters, which insinuate that these assassinations and threats cannot be attributed to common delinquency.

It alarms us that the Attorney General’s office under the direction of Ástor Escalante judged a priori that some of these crimes were a result of common violence, ignoring the evidence and antecedents that were presented indicating the political nature of the events.  The Attorney Generals’s Office, now under the direction of Romero Barahona has the opportunity to put an end to this impunity.

We send out our condolences and solidarity to the families of the victims, to all the people of the communities affected by these assassinations, along with our complete support to the environmental organizations in these communities.

We oppose the existence of armed groups that anonymously claim to be financed to continue with these kinds of crimes. We believe that these armed groups are motivated by the community resistance against the presence of Pacific Rim.

We observe with indignation as Pacific Rim, without reason or legal standing, continues to pressure the communities affected until they give in.  Pacific Rim has disrespected the will of these communities and the decision of the government by imposing a multi-million suite against the Salvadoran State, without caring about the fragile financial situation of the country and the economic effects that such a suite could cause on the precarious economy of Salvadoran families.

We adamantly declare ourselves against the inefficiency, disinterest and the negligence demonstrated by Romeo Barahona, the Attorney General of the Republic, to deepen the investigations, clarify the identity of the material and intellectual culprits of these crimes and bring them to justice under the full weight of the law.

We adamantly condemn these acts of violence that ignore and violate human rights, the right to organize and the freedom of expression of the citizens of the communities of Cabañas in their peaceful resistance to defend their quality of life and the environment.

We demand:

   * That the Attorney’s General’s office and the National Civilian police designate all necessary resources in order to determine the whereabouts, then arrest, imprison and prosecute the material and intellectual authors of all of these crimes, whomever those responsible may be.

   * That the investigations are also directed at the leadership and members of the National Civilian Police in Cabañas. That police force has received many complaints and up until now there has not been a disciplinary file opened about their conduct nor has there been personnel changes. Should any of these officials be involved, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

   * That the criminal and civil responsibility of Pacific Rim Mining in these acts be investigated, and if evidence is forthcoming, that they be tried in the appropriate national or international courts.

   * That the investigations include public officials, mayors and all persons connected to mining companies that have material and economic resources that could be involved in the protection and financing of hit men or hired assassins.

   * That the Attorney General’s Office complies with the recommendations of the Human Rights Ombudsman Oscar Luna to create a special commission with the National Civilian Police (PNC) to investigate the attempted murders and death threats against environmental activists.

   * That, due to the fact that the PNC has the responsibility to protect the lives and physical safety of the people in Cabañas who continue to receive death threats and that the current delegation of police in Cabañas has proven itself incapable of this, a delegation of new police agents with clean records be immediately installed in Cabañas for the protection of all those who are receiving death threats. A thorough investigation into the authors of these threats should also be carried out.

   * That the Attorney General Romeo Barahona name a new director of the Elite Division of Organized Crime. The current director, Rodolfo Delgado, has proven himself to be incapable of investigating these crimes to the fullest extent and exploring the political motivation behind them. We demand that Barahona name a new and capable director who has a clean record.

   * That the Attorney General accepts the petition to provide evidence presented by lawyer Luis Francisco Lopez Guzman in the cases of Mr. Gustavo Marcelo Rivera, Mr. Ramiro Rivera Gómez, and Mrs. Dora Alicia Sorto Rodríguez.

   * That the Honorable Mauricio Funes make available all resources and trained personnel to carry out an investigation that guarantees that those responsible are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Allowing these events to remain in impunity would generate a climate of fear and doubt for other community leaders and thus undermine the advances in the process of democratization that El Salvador has achieved. Furthermore, it would send a message to the intellectual authors that they can continue their wave of violence and assassinations with no consequences whatsoever.

In advance, we thank you for your efforts to speed up the investigations and we hope that justice will soon be reached in these cases, as well as that protection to the victims and reparations to the family members of those assassinated will be provided.