On Friday April 30, 2010, the four alleged gang members arrested for the murder of Marcelo Rivera go before a judge for their preliminary hearing. The hearing will determine whether the prosecutor has enough evidence to go to a full trial.
Marcelo Rivera was the director of the Association of the Friends of San Isidro (ASIC), a member of the anti-mining movement in Cabañas, and a leader of the local FMLN party. Friends and family last saw Ramiro alive on June 18, 2009 when he got off a bus in Illibasco. His lifeless body, which showed signs of torture, appeared shortly thereafter at the bottom of a well.
Police investigators quickly dismissed the crime as a common murder, the result of Marcelo’s friendship with the four gang members now on trial. They claim that Marcelo was drinking with his alleged murders when they got into a fight that ended in his strangulation. The police have stated publically that they do not believe there was more to the crime than that, and they have not investigated the possibility that there was an intellectual author of the murder.
The friends and family of Marcelo have disputed the theory put forth by the police, arguing that he detested alcohol and would not have been drinking or fighting. They offer up other theories that even if the gang members had been directly responsible for Marcelo’s death, someone paid them. In our conversations with Hector Berrios and others in San Isidro, they assert that Marcelo and others had been receiving death threats since they were active in shutting down the January 2009 municipal polls when they identified large numbers of fraudulent votes being cast by people from outside the municipality.
A month after friends and family retrieved Marcelo’s body from the well, José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director at Human Rights Watch, stated “[t]his is a very suspicious killing that cries out for an exhaustive investigation. To dismiss this brutal murder as a gang killing and not look into the circumstances and the menacing aftermath would have a chilling effect on El Salvador’s civil society.” To date, however, the police have limited their investigation to the four gang members currently standing trial.
Friday’s trial come just six weeks after a court in Sensuntepeque acquitted Oscar Menjívar of all charges related to the Auguste 2009 shooting and attempted murder of Ramiro Rivera (no relation to Marcelo Rivera), another anti-mining activist in Cabañas. The judge dismissed the charges against Menjívar because the prosecution’s key witness, Ramiro Rivera, was shot and killed in December 2009 and was no longer available to testify.
In over four years of sustained threats and violence – including 6 homicides – the Salvadoran police and prosecutor’s office have not made any convictions, and the perpetrators have enjoyed complete impunity. Activists are concerned that the judge in Friday’s trial will also find reason to dismiss the charges against the gang members and that the alleged murders will again go free.
As we wrote in a blog entry yesterday, Voices on the Border will soon be drafting a report on the threats and violence in Cabañas, including the murder of Marcelo Rivera. Our principle call for action is that Salvadoran Government request that an independent, international body conduct a thorough investigation and assist in bringing those responsible for the threats and violence to justice. Otherwise, the ongoing impunity will continue to erode El Salvador’s struggling democracy.