CISPES Supports Human Rights Defender in Face of Death Threats

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Also included in this update:
     * President Funes declares: No mining in El Salvador!
    * Vigil Honors “Anti-mining Martyrs”
    * State Apologizes for Violence on Anniversary of Peace Accords
    * Solidarity with Haiti

CISPES would like to express our heartfelt solidarity with ElSalvador’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Oscar Luna, who announced lastThursday, January 21 that he and his family have been receiving deaththreats. Luna declared that the threats have been delivered in the nameof supposed extermination groups, demanding that he leave the countrywithin 48 hours so as to not “obstruct the work of social cleansing”that they are attempting to carry out against “delinquency.”  There-emergence of such “social cleansing” groups was previously denouncedby former Human Rights Ombudswoman Beatrice de Carrillo in 2006.

Oscar Luna has been an outspoken advocate for human rights in ElSalvador. He defended the Suchitoto 13, water privatization protesterswho were charged under the anti-terrorism law and denounced electoralfraud by ARENA during the 2009 elections. Most recently, he has pushedthe Attorney General’s office to investigate the intellectual authorsof the murders of Marcelo Rivera, Ramiro Rivera and Dora Alicia SortoRecinos and mobilized his office to provide protection forenvironmental activists in Cabañas. (Read the National Roundtableagainst Metallic Mining statement on these threats. ) He has decided notto leave his post, nor to leave the country. Instead, he is calling onthe Attorney General and the head of the National Civilian Police toinvestigate and to provide additional protection for him and his family.

On January 16, El Salvador celebrated the 18th anniversary of the Peace Accords, when much of the State’s repressive apparatus was formally dismantled. However, the re-emergence of death squad structures, and the continued death threats against and assassinations of social movement activists, FMLN leaders and human rights defenders, represent a terrifying roll-back in the struggle for real democracy. CISPES stands with Mr. Luna in defending his position and in continuing his important work of promoting human rights in El Salvador and we call on the Attorney General’s office and the National Civilian Police to do everything within their power to protect Mr. Luna and all others in the struggle for justice in El Salvador.
 
President Funes Declares: No mining in El Salvador!

On Monday, January 11 in Sensuntepeque, Cabañas, President Mauricio Funes responded directly to a letter presented to him by the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador (the Mesa).  He declared, “Here there is no room for confusion, my government will not authorize any mining exploitation project…nor will we permit the existence of systematic disappearances and threats against members of the environmentalist movement.”   The President vehemently restated his commitment to keep mining out of El Salvador throughout his comments, insisting that, “No one has convinced us that there exist forms of mineral extraction, especially metals, that do not contaminate the environment and affect public health.” Read more of Funes’ statement.

The letter presented by the Mesa was signed by over 500 individuals and organizations, all present at the January 8th vigil for the four murdered anti-mining activists of Cabañas (see following article).  Within the letter, signatories demanded a thorough investigation into the intellectual authors of the assassinations, guaranteed protection for community activists that continue to receive death threats, and a commitment from the government to prohibit metallic mining in El Salvador.  These strong statements by the President are considered the successful result of a series of pressure tactics organized by the Mesa to garner the Administration’s support for the anti-mining struggle.

The President, who had taken a position against mining during the campaign but had not recently addressed the topic, went on to say that he had ordered the Ministry of Justice and Security as well as the National Civilian Police (PNC) to investigate the murders.  The Mesa expressed satisfaction at Funes’ declarations and urged him to go even further by actively promoting legislation to ban metallic mining in the Legislative Assembly and to firmly confront Pacific Rim and Commerce Group’s lawsuits against the Salvadoran government for alleged violations of the US-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
 
Vigil Honors “Anti-mining Martyrs”

On Friday, January 8, the community of Trinidad in the department of Cabañas held a vigil to honor the lives of the four anti-mining activists assassinated in 2009. An estimated 600 people, including community members, supporters from across the country, and international delegations, came to publicly denounce the murders, demand justice for the victims and their families, and bring support, morale, and security to the mourning community of Trinidad. The vigil—which lasted until the early hours of Saturday, January 9—included an ecumenical service, music, and declarations of solidarity from national and international organizations.  The crowd periodically erupted in chants of, “What does Cabañas want? Justice!” and “Pacific Rim out of Cabañas!”

To date the Attorney General, a member of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, has maintained that the four murders were a result of common crime, refusing to investigate political motives and intellectual authors of the assassinations.  Members of the local anti-mining movement, who have organized against Pacific Rim’s mining projects since 2005, have consistently pointed to the gold mining company as a critical, but deliberately overlooked, aspect of these investigations.  However, other high-level government officials, including Human Rights Ombudsman Oscar Luna, have called for a thorough investigation into the political nature of these apparently systematic murders of known anti-mining movement leaders.
 
State Apologizes for Violence on Anniversary of Peace Accords

Saturday, January 16, marked the 18th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords that brought an end to 12 years of civil war in El Salvador.  The Accords, signed in 1992, included a series of agreements and legal reforms to begin a process of democratization.  They also dissolved many of the State’s repressive security forces and formalized the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrilla army as a legal political party.

This year, for the first time since the end of the Civil War, the President of El Salvador made a public apology on behalf of the government for the crimes committed by the State during the war.  President Funes acknowledged that government agents committed “massacres, arbitrary executions, forced disappearances, torture, sexual abuse, arbitrary detentions and different acts of repression” against Salvadoran civil society.  Funes asserted that this public apology was a necessary first step in alleviating pain and healing the emotional and social wounds left by the war.

During his presidential campaign, Funes promised to work towards full implementation of the Peace Accords, including State reparations for human rights abuses.  Since taking office, President Funes has taken concrete steps towards fulfilling this promise by honoring the martyred Jesuit priests and Archbishop Romero, all believed to have been assassinated by security forces and death squads linked to the State. The Administration has also created the Commission for the Disappeared to locate children separated or taken from their families during the Civil War.

The FMLN also held a public event commemorating the Peace Accords, led by Vice President Salvador Sanchez Cerén. The Vice President apologized on behalf of the FMLN to the victims of the armed conflict, as the party has done since 1992.  In his speech, Sanchez Cerén recognized the important democratic advances that El Salvador has made since 1992, but acknowledged that there is still important work to be done and reiterating the party’s commitment to creating a truly participatory democracy.
 
Solidarity with Haiti

Following the devastating earthquake that took place in Haiti on January 12, the Funes Administration and the FMLN declared their solidarity with the people of Haiti.  Funes deployed a team of firefighters to provide support for search-and-rescue missions and is expected to soon announce additional aid for reconstruction efforts.  The FMLN recognized the people of Haiti’s place in history as the only country ever to defeat slavery and form a new country.  The party declared, “We do not doubt that this same strength will be that which carries you to overcome this tragedy and set the foundation for a society in which human development and peace will be a reality.”  The FMLN is coordinating donations for Haiti and has called on its membership throughout the world to demonstrate the values of international solidarity by sending material support to the Haitian people.

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