MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Enough of Death and Threats in Cabañas, El Salvador!

Published by MAC on 2009-08-25
Source: Upsidedownworld, OCMAL, ALAI

Seven weeks ago the tortured, strangled, body of a leading Salvadorian community leader, Gustavo Marcelo Rivera, was discovered lying at the foot of a deep well.

Shortly afterwards, Ramiro Rivera - another activist - was shot eight times in front of his home in Cabanas,  surving only by "a miracle."

Both men had been at the forefront of a campaign to prevent Canada's Pacific Rim, from opening up a cyanide-leach gold mine. Already, the company has threatened to take El Salvador's government to court, citing a breach of rules  under the Central American Free Trade agreement (CAFTA). See:

A year ago, there was considerable optimism in the country that the government would respond swiftly and favourably to its citizens' growing militancy against unacceptable mineral extraction.

But the official response to the assassination of Marcelo, and that attempted against  Ramiro, has - to say the least - lacked a sense of urgency.

View the video by independent film maker Jamie Moffett at:


El Salvador: The Mysterious Death of Marcelo Rivera

by Cyril Mychalejko  -

6 August 2009

Jamie Moffett, a Philadelphia based independent filmmaker, traveled to El Salvador in July to finish work on a documentary, Return to El Salvador, which examines how that Central American country is still struggling with the aftermath of its bloody 12-year-long civil war, which ended in 1992. But on June 18 Gustavo Marcelo Rivera, a community leader and anti-mining activist, whose most recent work targeted a controversial and widely unpopular gold mine project proposed by Canada's Pacific Rim, was disappeared. Less than two weeks later his corpse was found at the bottom of a 60-foot-well, while an autopsy later revealed he was strangled to death and tortured.

"What occurred is that we were interviewing organizations such as Medicina Legal, a lawyer from Tutela Legal and local economists, and in our conversations what they each said 'what is happening right now is the disappearance of Marcelo Rivera,'" said Moffett.

The details around Rivera's case, his "disappearance" and torture, corresponds with the way death squads worked during that country's civil war.

"Its concerning that history may be repeating itself in El Salvador," said Moffett.

This led Moffett to make a short film on the murder, which he titled The Mysterious Death of Marcelo Rivera.

El Salvador's attorney general's office, along with local police, suggested Rivera was drinking with local gang members and was killed by them as a result of a fight that ensued. Rivera's family and friends were quick to point out that he didn't drink. The attorney general's story was largely rejected, not just by those close to Rivera, but by the rest of the country as well. In addition, the local police first reported that Rivera's death was due to two blows to the head, which a later autopsy revealed was untrue.

"The local police may in over their head," said Moffett. "[But] It is true the mayor of San Isidro's brother is on the local police force and mayor Ignacio Bautista traveled in the past, on trips paid for by Pacific Rim."

Moffett said that Pacific Rim has flown the mayor to the United States to promote the so-called benefits of Gold mining in the region to Salvadorans living in the US. While not feeling comfortable calling the murder and lack of a legitimate investigation a cover up, Moffett said that he believes "something is going on." While it is likely this misinformation published around Rivera's death could very well be intentional, he won't go on the record yet to classify it as a cover-up or conspiracy, as police incompetence can not be ruled out.

More than 100 international organizations have sent a letter to El Salvador's attorney general, demanding "an impartial, exhaustive, and effective investigation in order to bring to justice the intellectual and material authors of this horrendous crime, and prevent these tragedies from happening again."

Another cause of concern has been death threats sent to Salvadoran journalists covering Rivera's murder. "This shows the urgency for a through investigation," the international organizations stated in its letter. "If Marcelo's murder is left in a state of impunity, it will generate a climate of intimidation and uncertainty for social leaders and activists, undermining the advances in the democratic process in El Salvador."

Moffett said he made his short film about Rivera largely for an American audience. He wants to not only remind people that the same type of violence which occurred during the civil war is happening again, but that US citizens have both a reponsibility and ability to act to stop it.

"Our collective conscience has been dulled" said Moffett. "El Salvador - a country the size of Massachusetts - has so many hardships, and hardships that are a result of our [country's] politics and policies. We as engaged citizens need to deal with what our country has done these last couple decades and try to atone for how average Americans unwittingly allowed our tax dollars to be used to torture and kill people in places like El Salvador."

One of Washington's current policies responsible for perpetuating the country's structural poverty and social discord is the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Canada's Pacific Rim, through a U.S. subsidiary, is using provisions in CAFTA to sue El Salvador to the tune of $100 million in response to President Mauricio Funes decision not to grant the company a permit to open a gold mine that critics say would cause massive environmental devastation.

Moffett said that he is hopeful that the intellectual and financial architects of this murder, as well as those who carried it out, will be brought to justice. "This is turning into a movement," he added, "one I hope shines a bright enough light to discover what actually happened and who was responsible."


"We've Had Enough of Death and Threats in Cabañas!"

Latin American Mining Conflicts Observatory (OCMAL)

July 30, 2009

The Latin American Mining Conflicts Observatory (OCMAL in its Spanish initials) manifests its profound worry for the events taking place in Cabañas, El Salvador, which mark a new episode of threats and aggression against defenders of the environment and human rights.  The disappearance of environmentalist and social leader Gustavo Marcelo Rivera, who later was found dead, a cowardly crime that is as yet unresolved, shows the gravity of the actions to quiet the opposition to social and environmental destruction produced principally by mining in Cabañas.

Furthermore, the repeated threats against journalists with Radio Victoria, Jose Beltran, Ludwin Iraheta, and Wladimir Abarca, confirm a plan of intimidation to stop the processes of resistance to  environmental destruction.

The recent attempted kidnapping, and probably attempted murder, of priest Luis Quintanilla indicates that behind these acts there are organized groups that look to silence the complaints and expressions of the population and its leaders and their principal demand: the permanent suspension of the mining project El Dorado in Cabañas, property of the Canadian transnational Pacific Rim.

As such, we demand that the authorities intervene with urgency to stop these criminal acts and guarantee the safety of the people making use of their rights to oppose environmental destruction and the undermining of the social organizations of Cabañas.

We demand a real investigation that lets justice be done in the vile crime against Gustavo Marcelo Rivera, not letting these acts go unpunished and leaving the population terrorized.

We demand immediate protection for those threatened and for those who are vulnerable to being victims of acts outside the law and far from respect for human rights and dignity.

We demand implementation of measures that permanently prevent activities that destroy ecosystems and provoke this type of criminal action. We demand policies that favor a culture of peace among all people, communities, and our Mother Earth, assuring a form of existence based in solidarity, peace, and good living.

International community demands investigation of murder of Gustavo Rivera

More than 100 Organizations from the International Community Demand an Exhaustive Investigation of the Murder of Gustavo Marcelo Rivera

ALAI, América Latina en Movimiento

31 July 2009

San Salvador, El Salvador - One hundred and eight international organizations sent last Friday July 24, a letter to the Salvadoran Acting Attorney General, Ástor Escalante Savaria, demanding an exhaustive investigation of the kidnapping and brutal murder of Gustavo Marcelo Rivera Moreno. Among the signatory organizations are the Salvadoran American National Association (SANA) and the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Gustavo Marcelo Rivera was from San Isidro, Department of Cabañas. He disappeared on June 18th and his body was found 11 days later with signs of terrible torture according to a forensic report.

In the letter the organizations vehemently reject the statements that prosecutor Rodolfo Delgado gave to the media, expressing that the hypothesis of the crime is that Rivera was killed by gang members after a disagreement. According to the organizations, by attributing the motives of the crime to common violence, the prosecutor is discarding a priori the existence of intellectual authors of this assassination.

Rivera was a renowned leader in the struggle against mining in El Salvador and in addition he played a key role at denouncing the electoral fraud that resulted in the suspension of the municipal elections in San Isidro in January 2009.  For this reason the international organizations consider that there is enough evidence to suggest that that the crime was committed for political reasons and that "the failure to investigate this motives , including the slow response of the police in the initial search for Marcelo constitute serious irregularities that need to be investigated and corrected."

Therefore, as representatives of the international community, the 108 organizations call on the Office of the Attorney General to carry out an impartial, exhaustive, and effective investigation in order to bring to justice the intellectual and material authors of this horrendous crime, and prevent these tragedies from happening again. It is alarming that in the last weeks, several activists including three young reporters from Radio Victoria have received death threats for publicly denouncing the mining activities. This shows the urgency for a through investigation. The international organizations state that "If Marcelo's murder is left in a state of impunity, it will generate a climate of intimidation and uncertainty for social leaders and activists, undermining the advances in the democratic process in El Salvador."

The organization also sent copies of the letter to following authorities: Salvadoran President, Mauricio Funes; the Ministry of Governability, Humberto Centeno; the Director of the National Civil Police, Carlos Ascencio; the Chief of Public Safety- San Isidro Delegation, Saúl Venegas; the Charge d'Affaires, US Embassy to El Salvador, Robert Blau; and the Canadian Ambassador to El Salvador, Claire Poulin.


Another Anti-mining Activist Shot in Cabañas, El Salvador, Hitman Tied to Pacific Rim is Detained

by Jason Wallach,

13 August 2009

A leader in the movement opposed to re-opening the El Dorado gold mine in northeast El Salvador was in stable condition after being shot eight times in the back and legs. Doctors at San Salvador's Rosales Hospital said it was "miraculous" that Ramiro Rivera survived the attack, which occurred in front of Rivera's modest house. Rivera identified one of two assailants as Oscar Menjívar, who was detained by police in Cabañas, where both men reside.

Ramiro Rivera is President of the local Community Development Association (ADESCO) of Nueva Trinidad, a small community located in the unpaved highlands of Cabañas Department. In 2005, as exploration permits were offered to the US/Canadian Pacific Rim Mining Corporation, the community found that it was in the crosshairs of a proposed gold mine. As the company began to drill deep holes to estimate the quality of gold deposits, residents noticed their wells were drying up. Some wells were poisoned by unknown chemicals, leading in some cases to stillborn calves and dead livestock.

Rivera was reluctantly elected to lead the group after residents accused the previous ADESCO Board of receiving hush money from Pacific Rim representatives in exchange for their silence regarding the mine's potentially detrimental impacts. When Rivera took the helm, he organized three road blockades near Nueva Trinidad that prevented exploratory equipment from being transported into remote areas. Rivera has previously reported threats against his life that he said were based on his opposition to the gold mine.

As complaints about the impacts on the region's water supply rippled, people throughout Cabañas actively confronted Pacific Rim contractors who brought heavy equipment into the backwoods. In July 2008, the company paused its exploratory work and publicly stated that its feasibility study about mining gold deposits could not be completed.

The accused Menjívar had previously attacked mining opponents. According to Jesse Freeston, a US-based reporter who has covered events in Nueva Trinidad, Menjívar was arrested last year for a machete attack on Santos Rodriguez, a farmer also from Nueva Trinidad. Rodriguez lost two fingers in the attack, but Menjívar was released after three days in jail and was never tried for the crime. Freeston said that Menjívar's rapid release was likely due to political connections he built with mayors in Sensuntepeque (Jesús Edgar Bonilla Navarrete) and Ilobasco (José María Dimas Castellanos Hernández). Both mayors hail from the ARENA political party and support re-starting operation sat El Dorado.

The attack against Ramiro Rivera was another in a series of violent El Dorado-related incidents in Cabañas Department. Last month, the body of Marcelo Rivera, an outspoken mining opponent, was found in a well after he had been forcibly disappeared 12 days earlier. Marcelo- no relation to Ramiro-was founder of the Amigos de San Isidro, a local pro-ecology group which had warned residents about the poisonous impacts of cyanide-leach gold mining upon local water reserves.

Earlier in July, a local parish priest outspoken on the mining issue barely escaped a harrowing kidnapping attempt by armed assailants. And reporters from the Radio Victoria community radio station have received a broad volley of death threats over the last few months. The threats are communicated through mail, text messages and phone calls. One of which exhorted the newsgatherers to "shut your mouths, or we will shut them forever."

The National Roundtable Against Metal Mining -a coalition of local residents, environmentalists, unions and faith-based activists- has denounced the disappearances, threats and attacks. The group has mobilized public support for Cabañas activists nationally and internationally. The group recently won the 2009 Letelier-Moffett Award presented by the Institute for Policy Studies for its human rights and environmental work.

However, contrary to expectation, the group has run into a tepid response on the mining issue from Mauricio Funes' administration. Funes made his opposition to mining a talking point in his campaign stump speeches earlier this year, but his administration has done little to ratchet down on perpetrators of violence in Cabañas. Funes himself has not commented on the future of mining under his stead, and police maintain that Marcelo Rivera's death was void of political motives, claiming he was murdered by a local gang.

In the larger political arena, Funes seems to be acquiescing to pressure from Pacific Rim and other corporate players. When ex-President Tony Saca refused to grant the El Dorado permit citing "political" problems, Pacific Rim responded by suing El Salvador under the provisions of CAFTA to recoup $77 million of investment. But instead of arguing malfeasance on the part of Pacific Rim, Funes' chief Economic Advisor, Alex Segovia, lamented in a recent interview that the Salvadoran government, "is losing all of these cases, because in the first place, contracts and the rules of the game have been broken." Such an admission was a tacit implication that the government would negotiate a settlement with Pacific Rim, though Segovia would not explicitly elaborate further. In the interim, another mining company who has been denied operating permits has filed a separate $100 million claim against El Salvador.  (Note: El Salvador has not lost a case in the CAFTA courts to date.)

Regardless of a potential deal the central government might strike with Pacific Rim, the facts on the ground relay that local opposition to mining will have to be broken before any gold could be extracted. Social opposition to mining spans the political spectrum in Cabañas, as ex-President Saca found out the hard way.

Meanwhile, the National Rountable Against Metal Mining has maintained its opposition to corporate control of land and resources in Cabañas. It has demanded a full government investigation of the murders, kidnappings, attacks and threats. In addition, the group has called on Salvadoran President Funes to defend against Pacific Rim's lawsuit, asserting that a nation has an obligation to protect its environment and honor the democratic will of those who would be directly affected by mining.

Perhaps the group's position can best be summed up in the words of Maria Leyva, a local resident who participated in a 2008 action: "We oppose mining because we want a good future for our children. We ask that the Government not only govern for those with power, but also for we who live in the communities, because here is where we deal with the reality [of their decisions]."

It remains to be seen if Funes and his advisors will respond to Ms. Leyva by acting to quell rampant impunity in Cabañas, or whether they will fan the flames of corporate intrusion, thus inevitably generating continued local resistance.

Jesse Freeston provided critical research assistance to this report.

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