Salvadoran Police Arrest 8 People for the Assassinations of Environmentalists in Cabañas

Manuel Melgar, the Minister of Security and Justice reports that on Wednesday night police captured eight suspects in the homicides of “various environmentalists in Cabañas.” A press conference was held at 11:00 today and we’ll provide more information as we receive it.

La Prensa Grafica is reporting that the” victims” include Marcelo Rivera, Ramiro Rivera (unrelated to Marcelo), and Dora Alicia Sorto Recinos, though so far we have no information about those arrested.  In July 2009, shortly after Marcelo’s body was recovered from the bottom of a well, the police arrested four gang members for his murder. At the time they made several statements that they believed that the gang members were the only ones involved and that there were no intellectual authors, as believed by Marcelo’s friends and family. If the police believe that those arrested last night were also responsible for Marcelo’s death, it would be a definite change in their previous position.

In case you’ve not been following this story, in 2009 there were several homicides in the province of Cabañas related to Pacific Rim’s efforts to mine gold in the region. The victims include Horacio Menjivar (April 2009), Marcelo Rivera (July 2009), Esperanza Velasco (October 2009), Ramiro Rivera and Felicita Echeverria Menjivar (December 2009), and Dora Alicia Sorto Recinos (December 2009).

Horacio Menjivar and Esperanza Velasco were husband and wife, and the parents of Oscar Menjivar who was acquitted in March of the August 2009 attempted murder of Ramiro Rivera.  Oscar was an alleged “promoter” of Pacific Rim and had attacked a number of anti-mining activists for protesting Pacific Rim’s exploration activities. The police have not released little information about their deaths, but Oscar Menjivar accused Ramiro Rivera, and Santos Rodriguez  for their murders.

We have spoken to many people familiar with the case who believe that Pacific Rim and a network of corrupt government officials from Cabañas are responsible for the deaths of Marcelo, Ramiro, Dora Alicia, and Felicita.  Marcelo was very involved in calling out Mayor Bautista of San Isidro, the municipality where Pacific Rim’s El Dorado Mine is located, for voter fraud during the January 2009 local elections. His friends and family believe that his involvement in the 2009 elections as well as his leadership in the anti-mining movement made his a target.  Ramiro was also a leader in the anti-mining movement in Trinidad, a Canton of Sensuntepeque located north of Illobasco, Cabañas.  Dora Alicia was the wife of Santos Rodrigues, who is believed to have been the real target when she was killed, and was eight months pregnant when she was gunned down.

In addition to these deaths, there have been numerous other threats and attacks against anti-mining and civil society leaders since 2006.  Before these arrests, the police had only taken four gang members and Oscar Menjivar into custody, and no one has been convicted of a crime.

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