Cabanas, Corruption, violence

Another Disappearance in Cabañas

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.

Juan Francisco Duran (Photo from CAC press release)

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.

Advocacy, Cabanas, Mining, Organized Crime

More on Radio Victoria

On Friday, we posted an appeal for funds to help protect our friends at Radio Victoria from the threats of violence they’ve been receiving. To everyone who has already contributed – thank you! Over the weekend you helped us raise $2500! But that’s only a small part of what the Radio needs to implement additional security measures. If you haven’t donated, its not too late – please click on the donate now button to the right of this post. Its fast, secure, and tax-deductible, and 100% of your donation will go directly to the Radio for security.

In December 2010, some of the folks at the Radio made a short documentary about their current situation, which is posted below. Since they made this video, the Radio and its staff have received many, many other threats and have been terrorized by people following them home and loitering outside the Radio at night. Please watch:

We don’t know exactly who is making the threats, but members of the radio and other locals believe its a network of organized criminals, which may include local politicians, who are threatened by the Radio’s programming and the strengthening of civil society. The Radio gives a voice to the people – and the last thing organized criminals want is an empowered population and civil society interfering with their work and calling for an end of the culture of impunity upon which they depend to engage in their illicit activities.

Please join us in helping to protect the lives of these brave young journalists and ensuring that the Radio and local civil society continues to give a voice to the people of Cabanas.

Cabanas, Organized Crime, violence

Radio Victoria Needs Your Help!

This morning we received a disturbing letter (see letter below) from our friends at Radio Victoria. As we have posted over the past few months, the Radio and its team of journalists continue to receive threats. While those responsible seem to be increasing the pressure, the police and government officials responsible for ensuring public safety and investigating these crimes continue to do nothing.

It’s seldom that we use this blog to make a financial appeal, but our friends at the Radio need your support, and a lot of it. Civil society is not strong in El Salvador – for generations corrupt politicians and organized criminals have used threats and violence to squash the voice of the people so they can engage in criminal activities with impunity and maintain their political power. In the struggle for justice and democracy in El Salvaodr, Radio Victoria is at the epicenter and we in the international community must continue to support them.

Voices on the Border will contribute what we can and we ask you to do the same. There are several easy ways to donate.

The fastest is to click on the Donate Now button to the right of this article and donate through Voices – we will send 100% of your contribution to the Radio (please state that you are donating to the Radio). We use Network for Good, which has the lowest fees (pennies) of any online payment service that we have found, and all donations are tax deductible, of course.

You may also donate through International Partners, just go to their website and click on donate now, which will take you to a Pay-pal site.  You may also send a check made payable to International Partners, 1320 Fenwick Lane, suite 400, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Or you can send a check directly to Radio Victoria (made payable to Radio Victoria). Mail it to: Wendy Wallas/ARPAS, Pasaje El Rosal #117, Colonia Miramonte Pte., San Salvador, El Salvador.

In addition to financial support, the Radio is asking you to call the station to record a message of support that they can then use on-air. This is another way to let those who are threatening them that the international community is watching and that we are demanding an end to impunity and injustice. It is an international call, so dial 011-503-2-389-3093. That is the number to the Radio’s news studio. Just tell them that you want to record a message of support and they’ll take care of it.

The journalists at Radio Victoria have put their lives on the line to stand up for civil society, freedom of speech, and justice. Other than writing emails and make phone calls to Salvadoran officials they have never asked for a thing. Let’s support them now!

Here is the text of the letter we received this morning:

Hello Friends

I just want you all to know that the situation in our community station Radio Victoria continues with problems, pressure, tension and a lot of worry.

During the last 3 days Radio Victoria workers have received another death threat on a cell phone, different forms of intimidation like luxury 4 wheel drive cars repeatedly driving around communities and asking where certain radio workers live, harassment of family members, people visiting homes of radio workers and asking for unknown people, unfounded comments like gossip, unusual noises at night outside workers´homes and strange tattooed youth wandering around close to workers´ houses.

All of this has our spirits plummeting and many Radio team members suffering from a delicate state of mind.

We are taking steps to insure the security of our Radio workers and of our building which as always implies many things: resources, transporting people, cell phone cards, changes in our infrastructure among others.

We feel we can no long have confidence in, or count on, authorities here and that we must take steps ourselves.

We are trying to get Marixela and her 3 year old daughter out of the country to Ecuador where Elvis, father and husband, is on an internship. Marixela and her daughter have directly received death threats and are under an intense emotional stress.

At the same time we want to guarantee the safety of all Radio members and of our building.

WE ARE ASKING FOR 2 FORMS OF SUPPORT:

  • recorded voice messages expressing support for the Radio and denouncing the death threats and the lack of response by local authorities. This will help boost our morale and also show the breadth of support we have from different organizations in different parts of the world.
  • economic support for the immediate needs we are facing which are shown below:

MARIXELA AND DAUGHTER’S TRIP TO ECUADOR AND EXPENSES DURING 3 MONTHS AND ELVIS’S CONTINUED STAY FOR 2 MORE MONTHS:

  • 2 airplane tickets…………………………………………………………..$ 2,400.00
  • airport taxes………………………………………………………………….       80.00
  • rent for 2 months (one month is already covered for Elvis)……..  600.00
  • food and personal needs for (3 months-Marix, 2-Elvis)………….2,500.00
  • transportation for 3 months………………………………………………..   300.00
  • health or other emergencies………………………………………………   200.00

                                                   TOTAL………………. $ 6,080.00

IT IS POSSIBLE THAT REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS WILL COVER MARIXELA AND HER DAUGHTER’S PLANE TICKETS AND THAT ALER (Latin American Radiofonic Education Association) WILL COVER THE COST OF RENT SO THE TOTAL SUM COULD BE: $3,080.00.

SAFETY FOR RADIO VICTORIA WORKERS’ FOR 6 MONTHS:

  • security cameras………………………………………………… $    950.00
  • personal protectors …………………………………………….    4,200.00
  • resources to guarantee safety………………………………     2,100.00
  • transportation, telephones & legal costs…………………        800.00

                                                  TOTAL……….. $ 8,050.00

*******************************************************************************************
HOW TO MAKE DONATIONS TO RADIO VICTORIA:

1)  SEND CHECKS DIRECTLY TO RADIO VICTORIA:

Mail your checks made out to Radio Victoria (or Wendy Wallas) to:
Wendy Wallas / ARPAS
Pasaje El Rosal # 117
Colonia Miramonte Pte.
San Salvador, El Salvador

2 )  PAYPAL WITH A CREDIT CARD:

1 – Go to International Partners’ website:  http://www.internationalpartners.org <http://www.internationalpartners.org/>      and click on “Donate Funds”

2 – Look under “Step 2: Choose your method of payment” – click where it says  “Donate by credit card using Paypal”

3 – Where it says “Designation” use the drop down window and choose Project and in the next window where it says “Name” put “Radio Victoria”

3)  FOR TAX DEDUCTIBLE CHECKS:

Mail your check made out to International Partners WITH RADIO VICTORIA ON THE SUBJECT LINE and send to :
International Partners
1320 Fenwick Lane
Suite 400
Silver Spring, Maryland 20910

AND PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU SEND THE CHECK OR DONATION AND THE AMOUNT SO THE RADIO CAN KEEP A RECORD, THANKS SO MUCH, SEND INFORMATION TO:   cstarr.ww@gmail.com <mailto:cstarr.ww@gmail.com>

mil gracias, your support is greatly appreciated!!!

Cabanas, violence

Radio Victoria Recieves More Threats!

This week Radio Victoria in Cabañas El Salvador is reporting a new series of threats against their staff. According to their May 3rd press release, on April 30 someone slipped a note under the Raido’s front entrance threatening three staff members if they did not leave the Radio by Wednesday May 4th.  The evening of May 2, two Radio journalists received text messages on their cell phones containing threats, including one that threatened the 3-year-old daughter of one of the journalists if they did not change the “tone” of the reporting.

Radio Victoria, ADES (Santa Marta’s Social and Economic Development Association) held a press conference yesterday, May 4, in front of El Salvador’s Attorney General’s Office denouncing the lack of investigation into these and previous threats. Following the press conference, two journalists received threats via text message.

Reporters and other staff members of the Radio have received numerous threats since 2006 and are frustrated because the police and Attorney General’s Office have failed to indentify any of those responsible.  The threats intensified during 2009, again at the end of 2010, and have continued since then.  Despite each threat being reported to the police and other agencies, locals are unaware of any police investigation.

As we have been reporting over the past few years, the threats and violence in Cabañas stem from tension created over civil society and journalists taking a greater role in shaping the social and economic life in Cabañas.   Threats have been attached to the Radio making accusations of election fraud and standing with local environmental organizations against mining.  They have succeeded at certain points by driving some employees into hiding or silence, but the Radio has continued its work.

As in the past, we ask you again to support Radio Victoria by demanding a full investigation of the threats and violence against the Radio and others in the region. You can do so by sending an email to Attorney General Romeo Barahona – he and his officers are the only ones with the power to open and close investigations. It is best to email his assistant Hector Burgos at hector.burgos@fgr.gob.sv. If you speak Spanish, feel free to pick up the phone and call the Attorney General’s office (011-503-2260-6350).  You can also send an email to David Morales (dmorales@rree.gob.sv), the Director of Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Relations, to demand specialized police protection for the Radio staff.

English or Spanish, your voice makes a difference and our friends at Radio Victoria need us all to speak out!

Advocacy, Cabanas, Corruption, El Salvador Government, Mining, Organized Crime, Politics

Hector Berrios Received Another Death Threat

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
El Salvador
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
E-mail: embajada@elsalvador-ca.org
Cabanas, Corruption, Mining, Organized Crime

Another Wave of Violence in Cabañas

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.

Cabanas, El Salvador Government

Update on Pacific Rim Lawsuits Against Cabañas Activists

On Wednesday we posted about Pacific Rim Mining Company’s newest lawsuit, which targets seven Salvadoran anti-mining activists over an incident that took place on November, 14 2006. Despite having threatened a lawsuit at the time and having had four years to prepare their case, when Pacific Rim arrived in the Sensuntepeque Court on Wednesday morning they asked the judge to postpone the hearing so they could have more time to prepare.

Pacific Rim accuses the defendants of aggravated robbery, destruction of property, and deprivation of liberty. These claims arise out of the November protests in Cerro Limon, a small, rural neighborhood in Canton Trinidad where Pacific Rim’s Santa Rita mine is located. The La Prensa Grafica article that we cited in our first post mentioned that the case revolved around stolen pliers and screwdrivers. Over the past couple days, we’ve called people familiar with those protests and read some old articles to figure out if there is more to it than that.

The events themselves were quite significant – it was the first time protestors successfully shutdown Pacific Rim’s exploration activities. We did not, however, have any luck getting information about specific events that would lead to the seemingly serious charges that Pacific Rim is now pursuing.

A Diario Co-Latino article from November 2006 called the protests the “first victory against the metallic mining projects.” They report that community members from Trinidad had been asking that Pacific Rim stop exploration activities at the Santa Rita mine, which had only begun on November 9, 2006. Their requests went unanswered. On Monday, November 13, protestors went to the top of Cerro Limon and tried unsuccessfully to block access to the Santa Rita mine. The next day, November 14, the protestors returned to Cerro Limon and demanded that Pacific Rim dismantle their machines. The Diario Co-Latino article quotes Miguel Fuentes saying openly that they “threatened to throw the machines over a cliff and burn them,” if Pacific Rim did not dismantle them first. During a half-hour conversation with the protestors, Pacific Rim employees realized that the protestors were serious and agreed to stop operations and take apart their machines. They began dismantling the machines that day, but when night fell, the protestors agreed that they could finish the next day, which they did.

In December 2006, Pacific Rim mentioned the incident and the escalating tension in their monthly report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. They state, “since the commencement of its drill program on November 9, 2006 small, intermediate and localized protests have taken place at Santa Rita.” They also state, “In order to prevent further escalation of these protests, the Company has initiated a temporary suspension of its Santa Rita drill program so that a peaceful resolution can be reached between all parties.” In the same filing, they also reported that they had filed criminal complaints under Salvadoran law against the key instigators of the protests.

This incident was also significant in that it led to an agreement brokered between the protestors and Pacific Rim, in which Pacific Rim “agreed to suspend its Santa Rita drill program until such time as the NGOs environmental and social concerns could be addressed” and the protestors would stop protesting the site. The very public shutdown of the exploration activities and the negotiated settlement (no matter that it didn’t hold) between the protesters and the Pacific Rim allowed the anti-mining movement to develop broad domestic and international support.

A source who was at the protests over those few days said that though threats were made to destroy the equipment, there was no violence and no one was ever deprived of their liberty. And in the past week, Francisco Pineda has stated on a few occasions that they did not steal anything. Sources also report that representatives from the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights (PDDH, in Spanish) and the police were at the protests to make sure that it did not turn violent, and they witnessed the entire event.

Even if protestors made off with a couple pliers and screwdrivers, which does not seem the case, that was not Pacific Rim’s greatest loss that day. Pacific Rim had just opened the Santa Rita mine 5 days before. The protests and closing of the mine stalled their momentum and progress, and boosted the morale and support of the communities.

We can understand why Pacific Rim would not look back favorably on those events, but to replay them in court four years later over some tools seems bizarre. Maybe they have evidence and information that proves that other more serious issues are at stake – we’ll find out in the weeks to come. We don’t at all dismiss this case as a trivial matter; the opposite is true. This appears to be another in a long series of efforts to harass anti-mining activists.

 

Cabanas

Pacific Rim Files More Lawsuits???

Tension in the debate over Pacific Rim’s efforts to mine gold in Cabañas continues, even though the Canadian mining firm has not had a real presence in the region since 2008.

In this latest episode, Pacific Rim has filed a lawsuit against seven anti-mining activists in Cabañas, the province where Pacific Rim’s El Dorado property is located, accusing them of aggravated robbery, damage to private property, and deprivation of liberty.

According to an article buried on page 74 of today’s La Prensa Grafica, the preliminary hearings were to begin today at 10 am in Sensuntepeque. The charges arise out of an incident on November 14, 2006, when Francisco Pineda and six other defendants allegedly stole some screwdrivers and pliers.

Pineda told the Diario Co-Latino, “at no time have we deprived anyone of their liberty; at no time have we robbed.” In La Prensa Grafica he states, “for us the lawsuit is a continuation of the pressure that Pacific Rim has kept on us, a persecution with the objective of diminishing the protests that we have maintained against their exploitation projects.”

Over the years, Pacific Rim has filed or supported a number of petty lawsuits against community members in Cabañas for opposing their activities. Fermin Menjívar, who is named as a defendant in this latest suit, endured a series of lawsuits in 2007, claiming that he had threatened Pacific Rim employees, including Andres Gomes Chicas. All of the fifteen charges filed against Mr. Menjivar were dropped.

In November 2007, Pacific Rim filed a lawsuit against Edelmira Menjívar, Fermin Menjívar’s aunt, claiming that she threatened to kill the husband of one of the community board members. Both Fermin and Edelmira lived with Luciana Vela (Edelmira’s mother and Fermin’s grandmother). Luciana owned a lot of land that Pacific Rim wanted to explore in 2007, but she would not give them permission to enter her property. Pacific Rim geologists visited her property several times pressuring her to sign over the rights to her land, but she refused. During one heated exchange, Luciana suffered a stroke that left her in a vegetative state. Pacific Rim never got to explore her property and that apparently made them mad. The court dismissed all charges against Edelmira.

In 2008, the principal of a school in Guacotecti, a municipality down the road from Pacific Rim’s El Dorado mine, painted the school with Pacific Rim’s colors, a violation of regulations that require public schools to be painted blue and white. A young teacher protested and the Ministry of Education ordered that the principal repaint the school. With the support of Pacific Rim, the principal filed a lawsuit against the teacher. The day of the hearing, Pacific Rim bused in a large number of supporters to attend the hearing. The judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence.

Pacific Rim has filed or threatened to file other lawsuits against other activists who have opposed Pacific Rim, but none of them have resulted in any charges or convictions.  One could argue that Pacific Rim’s CAFTA claim currently being arbitrated before an ICSID tribunal is the largest, most egregious of these lawsuits.

We find it difficult to conceive why Pacific Rim would waste their dwindling resources pursuing a lawsuit against seven Salvadorans over some screwdrivers and pliers.

Since 2006, the debate over mining has directly or indirectly led to seven homicides, several other violent attacks and attempted homicides, and a constant barrage of death threats. And Pacific Rim is worried about some screwdrivers and pliers that went missing in 2006?

Cabanas, Elections 2009, Organized Crime, Politics, violence

Three Convicted for the Murder of Marcelo Rivera

Yesterday a judge in San Salvador sentenced gang members José Luis Herrera, Wilber Antonio Baires, and Delfino Lara Arteaga to 40 years imprisonment for the murder of Marcelo Rivera. The judge also sentenced Eliseo Herrera Valladares, Santos Vladimir Avilés, y José Manuel Lara to three years for trying to cover-up the murder.

The conviction comes more than fifteen months after the assassination of Rivera, who was disappeared and found at the bottom of a well in July 2009. Marcelo Rivera was an environmentalist who opposed Pacific Rim’s efforts to mine gold in Cabañas, as well as the director of the Casa de Cultura in his hometown of San Isidro. He was also very active in the local FMLN party and led the January 2009 efforts to prevent election fraud during the local elections in San Isidro.

Since his lifeless body was recovered, police and attorney general investigators have characterized the case as a “common gang crime,” asserting that Rivera was drinking with the gang members when a fight broke out. His friends and family continue to call for a more thorough investigation, arguing that Marcelo did not drink and that intellectual authors of the crime paid the gang members to kill him.

In the year before his assassination, Marcelo received numerous death threats for his participation in the anti-mining movement and making accusations that Mayor Bautista of San Isidro and his supporters were guilty of election fraud in past elections. Some in Cabañas believe his role in denouncing election fraud was the motive for his assassination. Before the January 2009 elections, Marcelo and other civil society leaders arranged for vigilantes to blow whistles every time they saw someone from outside their community trying to vote. Early on Election Day, whistles were blowing non-stop leading to a closing of the polls and a re-vote a week later. Days after the election Javier Moreno, an employee of Mayor Bautista’s office, tried to run over Marcelo with his car as he walked down 1st Street West in San Isidro. In the months that followed, he received several death threats and warnings, until he disappeared after getting off a bus in Ilobasco on June 18, 2009.

Family and friends were extremely frustrated by the police in the 12 days that he was missing. Though they asked for help, the police refused to form a search party, and only assigned an officer to join the community-organized search. When Marcelo’s body was recovered, it showed signs that he had been tortured. Police immediately arrested four gang members for the murder, and closed the investigation. When family and friends received a copy of the coroner’s report, they notice several discrepancies. The police stated that Marcelo died from blows to the head, while the coroner’s report stated the cause of death was affixation. The family was also upset when they went to the coroner’s office to recover the body only to learn that the coroner had received orders to bury Marcelo in a common grave. The coroner reluctantly told friends of the family where the common grave was so they could retrieve the body for a proper burial.

We join the friends and family of Marcelo Rivera, the Mining Roundtable, and others in the international community in their call for a thorough investigation of Marcelo’s death so that the intellectual authors of the crime may finally be brought to justice. While yesterday’s verdict was a step in the right direction, there is much more work to be done to ensure justice. Marcelo was a leader in his community and a pillar of the region’s nascent civil society. As long as those who ordered his assassination continue to enjoy impunity, civil society, rule of law, and democracy in El Salvador will remain weak.

Cabanas, Mining

Pacific Rim heads to Panama

This morning Pacific Rim announced that they are starting the process of acquiring Clifton Mining company’s Remance project in Panama. This announcement comes less than 24 hours after Pacific Rim announced they are delisting from the NYSE AMEX.  While Pacific Rim tried to put a positive spin on the delisting announcement, its a fairly serious development in the company’s ability to raise the capital necessary to continue its operations in El Salvador, including their expensive CAFTA claims. The timing of the announcement is surely a signal from Tom Shrake and Catherine McLeod-Seltzer that they aren’t throwing in the towel quite yet.

The terms of the deal seem pretty good for Pacific Rim – it’s a formal option agreement that allows Pacific Rim to explore and apply for permits before committing to purchase. Upfront they will pay Clifton $200,000 and give them 5 million shares of Pacific Rim stock, which is selling for around $0.20/share. If at the end of an “Option Period,” during which Pacific Rim will explore, complete its environmental analysis, and apply for permits from the Panamanian Govnerment, Pacific Rim wants to take 100% ownership of the mine, they will pay Clifton $5,000,000 in cash or common stock.

Even with such good terms, Pacific Rim will still need to come up with the capital for their new exploration activities. Their delisting from the NYSE AMEX makes them pretty unattractive for most investors.  Unless Pacific Rim or Clifton already has a financer lined up, its hard to see how they will be able to do much with their new property.

In the company’s press release they stress that the Remance site is geologically similar to the El Dorado site in Cabanas – meaning that there is a lot of gold that could make them rich. They also point out that unlike El Dorado, the Remance site is in a remote location with few inhabitants and no agriculture. I suppose after tangling with civil society organizations in Cabañas and the complexities of Salvadoran politics, Tom Shrake and Catherine McLeod-Seltzer need a more remote location – somewhere quiet where they can go lick their wounds.