Communities Demand Justice for Anti-mining Activists


also in this update:

  • Election of new Attorney General ends legislative deadlock
  • FMLN blocks same-sex marriage and adoption ban
  • Indigenous community participates in official Independence Day celebration

On September 24, community activists demanded justice for recentvictims of political violence in front of the City Hall in San Isidro,Cabañas.  The date marked 100 days from the disappearance ofanti-mining activist Marcelo Rivera, whose body was found in a wellwith signs of torture on June 30 following his June 18 disappearance. Nearly 100 days have passed since journalists from community radiostation Radio Victoria began receiving death threats.  Click here toread more about the recent wave of political violence againstanti-mining activists in Cabañas.

The demonstrators denounced the lack of investigation of the violenceand threats, calling on the newly-elected Attorney General RomeoBarahona to end the impunity that his predecessor, de facto AttorneyGeneral Astor Escalante, allowed.  (See next section on Barahona’selection.)  Local priest Óscar Antonio Granados called on Barahona toinvestigate the intellectual authors of the crimes and the sources ofthe death threats received by journalists and other activists.

In their statements, activists continued to name local authorities from San Isidro’s Mayor’s office and the Canadian mining company Pacific Rim as those responsible for the violence and threats.  Environmentalist Francisco Pineda explained that, “from the Mayor’s office there are people hired to be promoters and ask the people to accept mining.”  Pacific Rim, which is currently suing El Salvador for violation of the Central American Free Trade Agreement or CAFTA (click here to read more on the case ), issued a statement in late August claiming the company had no involvement in Rivera’s murder and denying ties to Óscar Menjívar, who is currently in jail for shooting anti-mining activist Ramiro Rivera (no relation to Marcelo) eight times in the back.  Community members maintain that Menjívar had been hired by Pacific Rim to promote the El Dorado mine in San Isidro and that Menjívar is a hired assassin for pro-mining interests.

Election of new Attorney General ends legislative deadlock

On September 18, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly elected and swore in Romeo Benjamín Barahona as the new Attorney General of the Republic for the period of 2009-2012, five months after former Attorney General Félix Garried Safie’s term expired.  The vacant position was immediately assumed by the Adjunct Attorney General at the time, Astor Escalante, while the Legislative Assembly remained in deadlock, unable to come to consensus on the new Attorney General appointment.  Click here to read more about the deadlock.  

Barahona, who served as an Adjunct Attorney General for eight years, was elected unanimously by the Legislative Assembly following negotiations mediated by President Mauricio Funes.  Before offering their support for Barahona, members of the leftist party Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN) legislative fraction questioned him regarding a series of concerns and were reassured by his responses.  Political analysts have pointed out that commitments made during this interview along with the FMLN’s decision to support his election have created a level of accountability with the new Attorney General that did not exist for his predecessors, whose loyalty remained with the right wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party.

Barahona’s appointment has generated criticism from sectors that view it as a continuation of the flawed administrations of former Attorneys General Safie and Belisario Artiga, with whom Barahona served as Adjunct Attorney General.  In response to Barahona’s first press conference in which he named extortions and homicides as the primary crimes he would be investigating, the director of the Foundation for the Study of the Application of Law (FESPAD) María Silvia Guillen remarked, “the combat of delinquency and [common] crime will always aim itself against the poor; [in Barahona’s appointment] we lost the hope that the corruption of previous governments would be prosecuted.”

FMLN blocks same-sex marriage and adoption ban

On September 24th, a constitutional reform that would ban same-sex marriage and adoption was defeated after the FMLN party fraction refused to support the ban. Despite the reform’s approval by the previous legislature, the same-sex marriage ban fell short of the 56 votes necessary from the current legislature, as all constitutional reforms must be ratified by a two-thirds majority vote in two subsequent legislatures.  The lead up to last week’s plenary involved a massive lobbying campaign by the Catholic Church, evangelicals, and right-wing groups.  Two weeks before the vote, El Salvador’s Catholic Archbishop Monsignor José Luis Escobar proposed that the right-wing refuse to approve the 2010 National Budget if the FMLN did not support the reform.

The plenary debate was dominated by 40 minutes of arguments from the ARENA party, claiming the FMLN does not advocate for the Salvadoran family.  In response, FMLN legislative deputy and member of the party’s National Women’s Secretariat Margarita Velado declared, “We have a clear ideology in favor of the family,” citing the distribution of school uniforms, construction of the new Maternity Hospital, and other projects that the FMLN government headed by President Funes has begun.  She added that if the Assembly really wanted to look at defending the family, “they should look towards other problems, like the fact that…9.4% of [female] adolescents have been raped by close relatives and 34.8% of households are the responsibility of one person.”

Despite the reform’s failure, the right-wing says they plan to continue trying to ban same-sex marriage.  FMLN legislative deputy and party spokesperson Sigfrido Reyes said the right’s insistence “is a strategy that is trying to politically exhaust the FMLN” and maintained that his party would not change their position.

Indigenous community participates in official Independence Day celebration
On September 15, for the first time ever, El Salvador’s official Independence Day celebration included the participation of the country’s indigenous community.  At the civic activity in the Jorge Gonzalez Stadium, representatives from indigenous communities in Nahuizalco, Sonsonate, and Santa Ana performed a ceremony in which they called on the four directions and asked for a true independence and inclusion of indigenous people.  

Representatives from the indigenous communities expressed their satisfaction at their inclusion in the official activities but were careful to point out that El Salvador still lacks true independence.  “This celebration is not ours, because there is not freedom, the country is very indebted and that is not freedom for us, the Free Trade Agreement [CAFTA-DR] is not freedom and neither is the system of life in which we experience so many murders and violence,” they stated.  Calls were made to celebrate “our true Salvadoran heroes…Farabundo Martí, Feliciano Ama, those who offered their lives for our people.”  Members of the University of El Salvador’s student movement marched in the parade that ended at the soccer stadium in order to demand that the government work towards a “true independence.”  Social movement leaders were satisfied to see this new openness in the celebration, noting that it was the first time that critical voices were allowed in the official activities.

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Salvadorans, solidarity groups and faith partners gather in September 2023 to decry human rights abuses in El Salvador and continued U.S. support (photo: CISPES)