For Immediate Release
Monday, July 19, 2010
Contact: Alexis Stoumbelis, Executive Director of CISPES – 202-521-2510
International Community Demands Thorough Investigations
into the Violence against Environmentalists
In February 2010, more than 140 international institutions signed a letter expressing their worry about the impunity in the murder cases of anti-mining activists in Cabañas, El Salvador. The letter, which was sent to a number of different Salvadoran officials including the Director of the National Police, the Attorney General and the President of the Republic, demanded justice for the victims and a real investigation into mining company Pacific Rim’s role in the murders. However several months later, organizations in the United States and Canada contend that insufficient progress has been made into the crimes and cite negligence on the part of responsible authorities.
On July 1, the Civilian National Police Force in coordination with the Attorney General’s Office arrested eleven individuals for the murders of residents of Trinidad, Cabañas, including the environmentalist Dora Alicia Sorto, who was eight months pregnant at the time, and Ramiro Rivera. Rodolfo Delgado, the director of the Specialized Department against Organized Crime, and the director of Police Investigations, Howard Cotto, announced that the murders were due to a family feud and that two families had contracted gang members to kill members of the rival families. Delgado announced he was satisfied that all the material authors and the two intellectual authors of the crime were in police custody.
During a press conference on July 13th, 2010 the National Roundtable against Mining in El Salvador presented important evidence that had been omitted in the investigations and that links mining interests to the violence in Cabañas. The coalition of community organizations and NGOs criticized statements from these officials by contending that this type of violence did not exist before mining companies started their operations. It also pointed out that death threats received by the victims attacked them specifically because of their opposition to mining projects, and that a number of the captured suspects are formers employees of Pacific Rim. The Roundtable also pointed that there has not been any investigation at all into the source of the large sums of money used to pay for the assassinations.
The National Roundtable against Mining expressed its frustration that the suspects arrested are only those responsible for the assassinations of the victims of the conflict in Trinidad. Meanwhile, the police have not arrested those responsible for the violence in the rest of Cabañas, such as the death threats and attacks against local journalists, community leaders and priests. There also have not been any new suspects captured from the case of the kidnapping, torture and assassination of anti-mining leader Marcelo Rivera. Rivera was killed over a year ago and the police have still not found the intellectual authors of his murder.
The cases of violence against environmentalists in Cabañas have caused alarm on an international level. Congressman James McGovern has met personally with the Attorney General of El Salvador to urge a thorough investigation and more recently Senator Patrick Leahy addressed the Senate floor regarding the disappearance and torture of Marcelo Rivera saying, “I also feel strongly about justice in El Salvador, whose people suffered from years of civil war during the 1980s. Human rights defenders, journalists, and community activists are increasingly threatened and killed.”
Organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada reiterate the National Roundtable against Mineral Mining’s demand that in the face of all these disturbing facts the Attorney General’s Office and Police must identify, prosecute and condemn the intellectual and material authors of all the assassinations, assassination attempts and deaths threats against the environmentalists who oppose the mining projects of Pacific Rim in Cabañas. The failure of authorities to do so, in the face of significant evidence, shows their negligence in these cases.
According to Celina Bolaños, Mining Industries Program Coordinator from U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities, “By leaving these cases in impunity the Attorney General sends a message to proponents of mining in El Salvador that violence is a completely legitimate way to silence any criticism of mining projects. The Attorney General and Civilian National Police Force have the responsibility ensure justice for community leaders in Cabañas. That is why it is imperative that the investigation does not end with these arrests. We must find out who is really behind these murders.”