Hector Berrios, an attorney and activist in San Isidro, Cabañas, received another death threat this past Sunday, the latest of a new wave of violence and threats in the region.
On Saturday night, Hector received several calls on his home and mobile phones, but when he answered the caller hung up. On Sunday, just after noon, the caller finally spoke when Hector answered. The caller, who identified himself as Ricardo, advised Hector, “they have paid a lot of money for us to assassinate you.” When Hector asked who had paid the caller, he responded that it was a man and a woman, and that they had been watching Hector in San Isidro and Mejicanos, a community in metropolitan San Salvador. The caller said that they wanted to negotiate a payment to the assassins not to kill Hector. In a letter detailing the conversation, Hector says that at that point he told the caller that he did not make agreements with people that he did not know, at which point the call ended.
Hector believes that the threat is likely the result of his speaking out against two murders in Cabañas, one on December 12 and another on January 2. Both victims had information about the June 2009 murder of Marcelo Rivera, an activist and community leader in San Isidro. One of the victims had information about the murders and the other was one of the material authors of the crime. Hector has also been speaking out against the attempted murder of William Iraheta who escaped an attempt on his life on December 12. Until a few months before the January 2009 municipal elections, William worked for Mayor Jose Bautista of San Isidro. He believes the mayor has tried on two occasions to kill him for information he has about some of the Mayor’s activities. In addition to these attacks and the threat against Hector, Radio Victoria received a death threat on January 11.
Unfortunately, the latest threats and violence are not unlike those we were writing about in 2009. Between April and December of that year, there were seven homicides in Cabañas that appeared to be linked to the debate over mining, accusations of electoral fraud and other controversial issues over which civil society actors opposed their local governments’ positions. In addition to the murders, reporters and staff at Radio Victoria were harassed, threatened and attacked, and other activists were attacked with machetes and continually threatened.
Hector Berrios and others in the region have been frustrated with the police and attorney general’s office for their unwillingness to continue investigating the crimes and consider the possibility that there might be intellectual authors of the crimes. Shortly after Marcelo was killed the police arrested several youth and labeled the murder a common gang crime and closed the investigation. The police and attorney general’s office similarly attributed the other murders, which all took place in Trinidad, Cabañas, to a family feud in which community rivals hired young assassins to kill their opponents.
We join Hector and others in denouncing the newest wave of threats and violence, and call on the police and attorney general’s office to conduct a thorough investigation.
Amnesty International released a call to action earlier today. Please respond by letting Salvadoran officials know that the international community is watching and their actions have been grossly insufficient.
Amnesty International points out that “Hector Berríos’ activism in his community has resulted in threats and intimidation before, due to his campaigns against mining, impunity and his legal defence of human rights activists. Hector Berríos has received threats on previous occasions. On 7 October 2009, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that El Salvador should provide protection to Hector Berríos. However, despite the demands from the IACHR, Hector Berríos has not yet received appropriate protection, and remains at risk.
PLEASE ACT QUICKLY. Use Spanish or your own language to create a personal appeal.
* Urge the authorities to take immediate steps to fully comply with the IACHR order of 7 October 2009. The form of protection provided to Hector Berríos must be agreed with him and reflect his own wishes.
* Call for an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into the threats against Hector Berríos, with the results made public and those responsible brought to justice.
ADDRESS YOUR MESSAGES TO:
Attorney General: Romeo Benjamín Barahona Meléndez
Fiscal General de la República Fiscalía General de la República
Final 4ª Calle Oriente y 19ª Avenida Sur, Residencial Primavera,
Santa Tecla, La Libertad
San Salvador, El Salvador
Fax: 011 503 2523 7409
Salutation: Estimado Sr. Fiscal / Dear Attorney General
Human Rights Director, Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
David Morales Director General de Derechos Humanos
Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores
Calle El Pedregal, Blvd. Cancillería
Ciudad Merliot, Antiguo Cuscatlan
Fax: 011 503 2231 1152
Salutation: Estimado Director / Dear Director
AND PLEASE SEND A COPY TO
Sra Ana Coralia Mejía de Morot-Gaudry
Chargé d’Affaires, Embassy of El Salvador
209 Kent Street
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1Z8
Fax: (613) 238-6940