Anti-mining activists demand justice, denounce wave of political violence, death squad resurgence

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 Community groups organized marches and blockades to demand an investigation into the assassination of Marcelo Rivera
 
Also in this update:

  • FMLN deputies present hate crime law in the Legislative Assembly
  • Gilberto Soto murder case to be reopened by Supreme Court; Attorney General says he will not expand the investigation
  • Students take the streets to commemorate 1975 University massacre
  • Municipal workers block street in protest of mass firings

 On Thursday, August 20, anti-mining organizations, community groups in the department of Cabañas, and other sectors of the Salvadoran social movement carried out coordinated actions protesting the surge of political violence in Cabañas and the failure of the National Civilian Police (PNC) and Attorney General to adequately investigate and prosecute these crimes. Among the actions, which were coordinated by the Marcelo Rivera Committee for Truth and Justice, were a demonstration in front of the Office of the Attorney General and a blockade of the highway from Santa Tecla to San Salvador.

The committee takes its name from assassinated community activist Marcelo Rivera, whose body was found on July 1 in a well in San Isidro, Cabañas, with signs of torture. Read more about the Marcelo Rivera murder case here or watch a video here.

Marcelo Rivera’s murder is only part of a wave of political violence and threats against anti-mining activists and journalists in Cabañas:

- On Friday, August 7, Ramiro Rivera (no relation to Marcelo) was shot eight times, narrowly surviving the attack.As President of theCommunity Development Association (ADESCO) of Nueva Trinidad, Cabañas,Ramiro Rivera had been a leader of opposition to Canadian-based companyPacific Rim’s mining operations in the region and had organized roadblockades to prevent transport of the company’s exploratory equipment.Pacific Rim is currently suing the Salvadoran government for $70million under CAFTA’s investor protection clauses for not providingmining permits. Read more about the Pacific Rim case here and here.

- Journalists from community radio station Radio Victoria in Cabañascontinue to receive death threats as a result of their efforts toreport on the dangers of the proposed mining projects. Guillermo Ramos,president of the board of directors of the Association of ParticipatoryRadios and Programs of El Salvador (ARPAS), described the investigationof the threats as “stagnant” and called on the government andcorresponding authorities to “capture and bring to justice the materialand intellectual authors of these actions [the threats].”

-  On July 29th, Father Luis Quintanilla escaped a kidnapping attemptby jumping into a ravine after he was pulled out of his car by armed,masked men while driving in Cabañas. The priest is a leader in theanti-mining movement and had been receiving death threats leading up tothe attack.

The organizations participating in the August 20th actions condemnedthe surge of violence and threats against anti-mining activists inCabañas, and called for an exhaustive investigation by the PNC andAttorney General’s office. Activists denounced the decision toinvestigate as common crimes what they see as a politically motivatedterror campaign.

 “We want to know who is behind all of this…and we have serioussuspicions that it has been the Pacific Rim mining company that isfinancing these activities to terrorize those who are opposed [tomining],” said Marcelo’s brother Miguel Rivera.

A declaration released by the Foundation for the Study of theApplication of Law (FESPAD) states, “Cabañas is experiencing theresurgence of hate, intolerance, and a culture of death by the deathsquads that have reorganized to attack anyone who is fighting in favorof life.” Click here to take Action to demand a real investigation intothese politically-motivated acts of violence.

 FMLN deputies present hate crime law in the Legislative Assembly

In response to recent threats and political violence againstjournalists and activists, legislative deputies of the Farabundo MartíNational Liberation Front (FMLN) faction in the Legislative Assemblyhave presented a reform to the penal code that would define and requiretougher punishments for “crimes of intolerance.” These crimes aredefined as having motivations of racial, ethnic, gender-based, orhomophobic hate, and, according to FMLN Deputy Margarita Velado, wouldinclude “crimes resulting from or as a consequence of the victim's workin the area of protection of human rights, defense of the environmentand the promotion of democracy and of human development.”

“Where a cadre of people from a conservative power are connected withsupposed benefits from mining, they want to do away with theopposition,” Velado said when introducing the FMLN's legislation.

 Gilberto Soto murder case to be reopened by Supreme Court; Attorney General says he will not expand the investigation

El Salvador’s Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) ordered a new trial in thecase of the murder of Salvadoran-American unionist Gilberto Soto. Soto,a representative of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters from NewJersey, was murdered on November 5, 2004, outside a relative’s home inthe department of Usulután while in El Salvador on union business.Initial investigations concluded that his mother-in-law had paidgang-members $2,000 to murder Soto, motivated by internal familydisputes.

At the time of the trial, the Teamsters, several other unions, and ElSalvador’s Human Rights Ombudsperson criticized the Salvadoran AttorneyGeneral and PNC for not investigating motives related to Soto’s work asa union organizer. During his visit, he had met several times withCentral American freight transport and port workers to explore thepossibility of forming a union. The final ruling found one of thesuspected hired assassins guilty, but absolved Soto’s mother-in-law ofthe intellectual-author charges.

Two months ago, U.S. Congressman James P. McGovern (D-MA) sent a letterto President Mauricio Funes asking that Soto’s murder case be reopened.McGovern cited new evidence of the involvement of the Perrones gang inSoto’s murder. The Perrones are a consortium of businesspeople in theeastern region of El Salvador that have previously been charged withdrug trafficking, money laundering, and tax evasion. Recentinvestigations carried out by the newly installed General Inspector ofthe PNC found evidence of collusion between PNC officials and thePerrones gang.

The CSJ’s decision to reopen the case hinges on the assertion that thetestimony used to absolve Soto’s mother-in-law of guilt should not havebeen admitted into the court. The new trial will reopen charges againstSoto’s mother-in-law and against a second suspected hired assassin,Santos Sanchez Alaya, who was also absolved in the original trial.
 
The Office of the Attorney General has no plans at this time to exploremotives other than the original internal family dispute theory, orinvestigate the link between the Perrones gang and the murder. De factoAttorney General Ástor Escalante said he would take Rep. McGovern’sletter under advisement, but added, “What I cannot say, because itwould be irresponsible on my part, is that I am going to investigatethe potential link between this case and that criminal structure (thePerrones gang).”

 Escalante, the former Adjunct Attorney General, usurped the position ofAttorney General on April 19 of this year when the former AttorneyGeneral’s term expired amidst a legislative deadlock on naming hissuccessor. The narrowly divided Legislative Assembly has still beenunable to find consensus among the different party factions. TheNationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) continues to support Escalantestaying in the position, while the FMLN rejects this option, notingEscalante’s strong ties to ARENA and arguing that he will continue theformer Attorney General's policies of impunity forpolitically-motivated crimes.

 
Students take the streets to commemorate 1975 University massacre

On July 30, hundreds of students commemorated the 34th anniversary ofthe 1975 student massacre with a march, street theater, and vigil. OnJuly 30th, 1975, students at the University of El Salvador peacefullymarched in protest of the repressive conditions of the dictatorship ofColonel Arturo Armando Molina and the military occupation of theuniversity's Santa Ana campus. Army and police forces, following ordersof the military regime, opened fire on the march and killed 30students, leaving an estimated hundred more wounded.

This year’s march was both an act of commemoration and an opportunityto protest current events that are reminiscent of the past,particularly the recent military coup in Honduras. Brightly coloredbanners displayed the faces of the martyrs and carried slogansincluding “30 reasons to not forget” and “We demand justice now!” A12-foot tall gorilla statue with the face of Roberto Michelletti,leader of the coup government in Honduras, was burned at the end of themarch, along with replicas of tanks and helicopters that representedmilitary repression of the past and present.

“Commemorating this date is a way for us to carry on the legacy of theorganized student movements of the '70s and '80s,” explained SoniaDubón, coordinator of the Roque Dalton University Front (FURD). “Onlythrough historical memory will the people become empowered to organizethemselves and demand a dignified life.”

Municipal workers block street in protest of mass firings

On Tuesday, August 18, and Thursday, August 20, members of theMunicipal Workers Association (ATRAM) and the Association of MunicipalProfessionals and Technicians (APTM) blocked a section of the AvenueJuan Pablo II in front of the San Salvador City Hall, denouncing a waveof firings carried out by the new Mayor of San Salvador, Norman Quijano.

Before Quijano’s May 1st inauguration as mayor, he had promised thatmunicipal offices would not be politically purged and that he would notfire employees who were effectively carrying out their jobs. However,Quijano fired 50 workers on August 13, and another 25 on August 17,bringing the total number of workers fired since he took office to over100. Yaneth Mora, one of the fired workers who participated in the roadblock, had worked for the municipality of San Salvador for nine yearsin various positions. He was fired without severance pay on August 13th.

According to René Saravia, Secretary of ATRAM, a law approved in 2005protected municipal workers that do not hold positions of politicalconfidence during changes in administration. But recent reforms passedby ARENA and its right-wing allies in the Legislative Assembly allowfor arbitrary application of that law.  “A CAM [security] agent is notin a position of political confidence; he or she is one more worker.There are others in similar positions that are being fired,” Saraviaexplained. According to critics, Quijano’s office and other right-wingmayors' offices throughout the country are choosing to cut jobs as ameans of confronting the current economic crisis faced by allmunicipalities and the central government. These job cuts, however, arefollowing a pattern of political purging, with FMLN supporters beingdismissed from their posts regardless of their effectiveness inperforming their professional functions.

Juan José Barahona, President of ATRAM, promised more actions similarto the road-block if the firings are not stopped and if those fired arenot reinstated to their positions.

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