Another wave of political violence swept through Cabañas, El Salvador over the Christmas Holiday resulting in the murders of Darwin Serrano and Gerardo Abrego León, and the attempted murder of William Iraheta. While the latest victims may not have the name recognition of Marcelo Rivera, Ramiro Rivera, Dora Alicia Recinos and the others murdered in 2009, the attacks are directly related and just as important.
On Sunday December 12, 2010, assassins attacked and killed Darwin Serrano (a.k.a. “El Pato”) with a machete in the community of Agua Zarca, a Cantón of Ilobasco, Cabañas – the same community where Marcelo Rivera was killed in 2009. According to a local source with knowledge of the case, El Pato was a minor when he participated in the murder of Marcelo. Police arrested and held El Pato in the juvenile detention facility in Ilobasco, but released him due to “overcrowding,” which is most unusual. When he was released, several people warned the police and prosecutor’s office that his knowledge about who ordered and paid for Marcelo’s assassination put his life in danger. The police responded that they would keep an eye on him. Subsequent to El Pato’s release, the court convicted three other gang members of murdering Marcelo and three others of conspiring to kill Marcelo.
The same day that assassins killed El Pato, they also tried to kill William Iraheta at his home in San Isidro, Cabañas. William testified that when he arrived home at 10 pm on December 12th, several men begin shooting at him. He escaped unharmed by sliding down an embankment behind his house. Just before the shooting, William saw the attackers, including two gang members he recognized, riding in a truck owned by Omar Chopa. This was the second time a contract had been taken out on his life. In 2009, a gang member known as Paco Jayo said that Jose Bautista, the Mayor of San Isidro, hired him and another gang member to kill William – they were arrested on other charges before they were able to complete the task.
On January 2, 2011 assassins shot and killed Gerardo Abrego León (a.k.a. El Gato) in the community of Quesera, another Cantón in Ilobasco, Cabañas. Sources in Cabañas report that El Gato was a key witness in the assassination of Marcelo Rivera.
These latest attacks appear to be motivated by a desire to cover up previous crimes, specifically the murder of Marcelo Rivera. Each of these victims was allegedly able to link a powerful network of local politicians and economic interests with the murder of Marcelo Rivera. William Iraheta was also active in denouncing Mayor Bautista for election fraud during the 2009 municipal elections.
Local police and the prosecutor’s office never investigated the possibility that there are intellectual authors of the violence in 2009. Instead, they attributed the murder of Marcelo Rivera to gang violence, and murders of Ramiro Rivera, Dora Alicia Recenos and four others in Trinidad to a family feud. Nor have they investigated the most recent murders or the attempted murder of William Iraheta.
News coverage of the 2009 murders has decreased over the past six months, but domestic and international organizations have continued to investigate possible intellectual authors. Their focus has turned from Pacific Rim Mining Company, which tried for several years to secure mining permits for a site in San Isidro but was met with fierce resistance from local activists, to the network of local politicians and economic interests, which is allegedly involved in organized criminal activities such as drug trafficking and money laundering.
Local sources suggest that the network of local politicians, which supported Pacific Rim’s efforts to mine gold in Cabañas, tried to use threats and violence to limit the growing influence that civil society has in the region. Organized crime rings depend on a culture of impunity and a passive citizenry to conduct their illicit activities. Local leaders such as Marcelo Rivera threaten the culture of impunity and encouraged local citizens to participate in local policy debates and hold local politicians accountable for their actions. As civil society voices’ grew, the network of politicians seem to have responded by hiring gang members and others to threaten and even kill local activists.
Darwin Serrano, William Iraheta, and Gerardo Abrego appear to have been targeted because they could link Mayor Bautista and others back to some of these crimes, including the murder of Marcelo Rivera.
Though the debate over mining, which is what drew the international community’s attention to Cabañas, is not as active as in previous years, civil society organizations still very much need our support. The tension between the local civil society organizations that led the anti-mining movement and local power structures continues to grow and result in threats and violence.
In the coming weeks we will work with others to organize a call to action, and we ask that you stay tuned in, and make sure that those responsible for the violence in Cabañas no longer enjoy impunity for their crimes.