We are sad to report that another activist in Cabañas has been disappeared. Juan Francisco Duran Ayala is a volunteer with the Environmental Committee of Cabañas (CAC, in Spanish) and was hanging posters in Ilobasco denouncing Pacific Rim and mining last Wednesday. He disappeared the next day.
A press release from CAC representatives states that the Mayor of Ilobasco, Eliseo “Cheyo” Castellano, ordered the municipal police to take down all of the posters that Mr. Duran Ayala had been hanging. Others report that while Juan Francisco Duran and others were hanging posters, the Mayor’s employees were following and watching them.
Like other mayors in Cabañas, Mayor Castellano is no stranger to conflict and controversy, especially with regards to his support of Pacific Rim and local efforts to mine gold. Pacific Rim mining company’s primary asset is the El Dorado mine, which is just up the road from Ilobasco. When Pacific Rim first arrived in Cabañas, they explored La Caldera, a large area covering Illobasco and parts of San Vicente, a neighboring province to the south. Mayor Castellano joined Mayor Jose Baustista, Mayor Edgar Bonilla and others in aggressively suppressing the local anti-mining movement.
Two years ago, activist Marcelo Rivera from San Isidro, Cabañas was disappeared and found dead at the bottom of a well. While sources who wish to remain anonymous believe that Jose Bautista of San Isidro was involved in Mr. Rivera’s disappearance and murder, it occurred in Agua Zarca, a small village in Ilobasco.
Mayor Castellano, who is serving his fifth term in office, is known for more than just suppressing the local anti-mining movement. Over the years he has used extreme measures to repress the leftist FMLN party in Cabañas. During the campaign for the 2009 local elections, he stated in a speech in Agua Zarca, the community where Marcelo Rivera was killed, that the FMLN “are communists and eat babies.” According the Miriam Hernandez, who was the FMLN mayoral candidate during the 2006 elections, Mayor Castellanos and his four loyal bodyguards threatened her and her supporters at gunpoint on at least two occasions.
At the time of his disappearance, Juan Francisco Duran was studying at the Technical University. His father is Benjamín Ayala Flores who resides in Ilobasco and is the coordinator for the group of FMLN war veterans. His role in organizing FMLN veterans has likely put him at odds with Mayor Castellano and his supporters.
As you may recall, when Marcelo in June 2009, his friends and family were frustrated because the police and Attorney General’s office did not organize search parties, stating that he was probably partying with friends. CAC representative and friends of Juan Francisco Duran are asking for your help in demanding that authorities form search parties and properly investigate threats and attacks against other activists in the region. We will post again tomorrow with instructions on who and how to call and write.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Juan Francisco Duran and all others who are being threatened and attacked for taking on local power structures, engaging in public policy debates, and contributing to a stronger civil society.