As we reported in our last post, the violence in Cabañas continued this past Saturday with yet another brutal assassination. Dora “Alicia” Sorto Recinos, a member of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas, was 8-months pregnant and carrying her two year old child in her arms when she was gunned down. The murders of Marcelo, Ramiro, and Alicia are as tragic and despicable as they are cowardly.
While their exact motives remain unclear, the perpetrators have chosen violence over words, brutality over civility, and intimidation over democracy. More than the loss of three lives, these killings are an attack on all of civil society in El Salvador, and if they continue could challenge the country’s nascent democracy.
Marcelo, Ramiro, and Alicia, were members of a grassroots movement to prevent gold mining in Cabañas. They depended upon the democratic process to accomplish their goals – attending public hearings, meeting with government officials, participating in marches and protests, speaking out on radio and television, and getting their neighbors involved in the movement.
Their success against such a well-financed, and connected opponent as Pacific Rim Mining is testimony to what citizens may accomplish in a democracy. When people stand up to be heard, government must listen. Unfortunately, their success also made them a threat to those who continue to profit from the corruption, impunity, and self-dealing that has plagued El Salvador for generations.
If the Salvadoran police, attorney generals office, and other government agencies do not act swiftly to bring the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice it will further weaken the democratic voice among Salvadorans. Impunity will perpetuate the frightening notion that violence, brutality, and intimidation remain acceptable means of influencing public policy in El Salvador. The current victims are civil society leaders in Cabañas. Next month it could be communities along the coast that want to stop a hotel development that threatens mangrove forests. Or it could be the communities along the Rio Sucio (Dirty River) who demand that the government stop factories from dumping untreated waste into the river that they depend upon. Impunity may also deter other Salvadorans from getting involved, fearing the kind of retribution we have witnessed in Cabañas.
Marcelo, Ramiro, and Alicia courageously continued to voice their concerns and defend their communities while receiving death threats. They did more than participate in and lead an anti-mining movement; they shouldered El Salvador’s burgeoning civil society and young democracy. Those who cower in the shadows making threats and killing pregnant women have tried to silence these three voices. We must now stand with our friends in Cabañas to ensure that the voices of Marcelo, Ramiro, and Alicia continue to be heard, and that others around the country follow in their path of choosing words, civility, and democracy over violence, brutality, and intimidation.