Environment, Uncategorized

Los Joveles Pig Farm and the Contamination of Rio Titihuapa

According to a group of concerned citizens and civil society organizations, the Joveles pig farm outside of Ilobasco, Cabañas is contaminating the Titihuapa River with urine, feces, blood and other waste. For nine years they have asked the Ministry of the Environment, municipal governments, the Police, and Attorney General to intervene, but the only thing officials have managed to do is to test the water and confirm that it is polluted.

The Titihuapa is a beautiful tributary of the Lempa River, cutting west to east through the middle of El Salvador, serving for a stretch as the border between Cabañas and San Vicente. In places, the river has carved out large canyons that are full of dense tropical undergrowth, caves, and petroglyphs from indigenous peoples that inhabited the region for thousands of years. According to Rhina Navarrete from ASIC (Friends of San Isidro), “the Titihuapa River is part of our identity and culture.”

Mario Guevara, a coordinator for the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change says, “many communities in rural areas depend on rivers [like the Titihuapa] for gathering water and to engage in activities such as fishing, as part of their economic subsistence. In addition, the rivers are ecosystems that permit abundant life and reproduction of a number of wildlife species.” He says, “it is inconceivable that businesses would dump their contaminated waste in the rivers with total impunity. Its not just the importance of the environment, but the life of the people.” Ms. Navarrete from ASIC also emphasizes that the Titihuapa is “the source of life for many families that fish and bring nourishment to their homes.”

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Waste from the Joveles farm affects more than more than 25,000 people in rural communities on both sides of the river (in Cabañas and San Vicente), and there is little question that the Titihuapa is contaminated with pig and chicken waste. Studies by the government and civil society organizations have shown as much. As early as 2008, the Ministry of Health and Pan American Health Organization identified Los Joveles as a major risk to the region’s water and environment because their waste treatment system is insufficient. Only representatives from the Joveles pig farm claim that nothing is wrong.

Los Joveles is located in Canton Santa Lucia on the main road between Ilobasco and San Isidro, just up the hill from the Titihuapa River. It is a large facility with more than 60,000 pigs and poultry, and several lagoons (see the photos above) that are supposed to hold the farm’s waste. According to locals, these ponds frequently spill over sending its contents straight into the Titihuapa.

Residents of Santa Lucia and other communities near the Titihuapa report that it smells of waste and its color has turned a putrid yellow-orange. There is a school nearby that is overrun with flies when the wind blows the wrong way. People first noticed there was a problem with the river in 2007 after rain washed waste from the lagoons into the river.

Pig farms are known to have significant environmental and public health impacts on their host communities. A literature review by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production concluded that “ammonia emissions from hog farms pose a serious public threat,” and that “air emissions from lagoons, sprayfields, and hog houses have been linked to neurological and respiratory problems.” The study also reports that communities have to be concerned about hydrogen sulfide emissions, and that “hog waste that is ending up in the river contains disease-causing pathogens and increases antibiotic resistance.”

ADES, ASIC, Mufras-32, CESTA, and other environmental groups have worked with residents Cabañas and San Vicente to report the issue to the Ministry of the Environment and other government agencies, but they have had little response. The Ministry of the Environment came and studied the river in 2015 and confirmed that the river is contaminated with waste, which is decreasing the amount of oxygen in the water and killing off fish and other species. After completing the study, the Ministry and other government agencies and officials held an assembly to discuss some of the findings and how they would follow up. One frustrated assembly participant responded that, “the officials make a lot of promises, but they do nothing at all.”

The communities and organizations challenging the Joveles pig farm are seasoned activists that stood up to Pacific Rim Mining Company and closed down the El Dorado mining project in San Isidro. Prior to that, these same activists stopped a group of powerful mayors from opening a garbage dump near the Titijuapa River. And just as Pacific Rim had its supporters in Cabañas, so does Joveles. The pig farm is popular with many in the region because it provides jobs, and some people are willing to sacrifice the river and their own well-being for the hope of more jobs.

But many others agree with Ms. Navarrete and Mr. Guevara, that the river provides life and should be protected. These activists did not back down when their fellow activists were killed taking on Pacific Rim, and it is unlikely they will back down now.

Civil society organizations cannot do it all, however. The Ministry of the Environment and other government agencies have to do their jobs, which means going beyond water tests, writing reports, and holding community assemblies. It means holding those who pollute El Salvador’s water supplies accountable.

Sadly, that seems unlikely anytime in the near future. The government’s shortcomings have been on full display in the past two weeks since the Magdalena Sugar Mill spilled 900,000 gallons of molasses into the Magdalena River in Santa Ana. There is no question that the Mill is responsible for the spill, and that the damage caused to the river and nearby communities is extensive, but all the Ministry of the Environment can do is order the mill to issue a public apology and design a cleanup plan.

The Titihuapa and Magdalena Rivers are just two examples of a big part of El Salvador’s water crisis – 90% of surface waters are polluted because government agencies like the Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, and others will not or cannot stop or punish polluters.That gets us back to Mr. Guevara’s point that pollution makes it difficult for rural families. This week, Léo Heller, the UN Special Rapporteur for Water reported data obtained from ANDA that at least 618,000 Salvadorans in rural communities do not have access to potable water. He recommended expanding the current state of emergency for San Salvador due to a great water shortage to rural areas as well.

While that would be a positive step, any real solution has to include government agencies doing their job in protecting the country’s natural resources, like the Titihuapa River. Until they do, Salvadorans will continue to live in crisis.

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Cabanas, Corruption, Organized Crime, Politics, violence

Anti-mining Activist Juan Francisco Duran Found Dead in San Salvador

Yesterday, officials found the body of disappeared anti-mining activist Juan Francisco Duran Ayala. On Sunday we posted an article about Juan Francisco’s June 3rd disappearance after he left classes at the Technological University in San Salvador where he was completing his masters in linguistics. The day before he had been hanging anti-mining flyers in Ilobasco as a volunteer for the Environmental Committee of Cabañas in Defense of Water and Cultura (CAC), when he was followed and harassed by members of the local police and mayor’s office.

Though few details are available at this time, officials report that Juan Francisco’s body was found in a common grave in the Lamatepec neighborhood located in San Salvador, close to Soyapango. The cause of death appears to be a single gunshot to the head.

Given Juan Francisco’s involvement with the CAC and his activities the day before his disappearance, as well as his father’s leadership within the FMLN veterans group in Ilobasco, there is plenty of reason to suspect that this was a politically motivated crime. If so it would be the tenth homicide over the past two years related to civil society’s participation in the debate over mining and other controversial issues in Cabañas. In addition to the murders, civil society leaders have received a constant stream of threats and several have been assaulted.

As the police and Attorney General’s Office begin investigating Juan Francisco’s murder, it is important to remember that no one has been held accountable for the murders of Ramiro Rivera, Felícita Echevarría, Dora Alicia Sortos Recenos and her unborn child, Horacio Menjívar, or Esperanza Velasco. Simiarly, though several gang members were convicted for the disappearance, torture and murder of Marcelo Rivera, many in Cabañas believe that the police and Attorney General’s office ignored evidence that intellectual authors paid to have him killed. And the police have yet to make arrests for the murders of Darwin Serrano and Gerardo Abrego León.

Investigators tried to depoliticize these murders by attributing them to a drinking binge, as in the case of Marcelo Rivera, or a family feud, as with the murders of Ramiro Rivera, Felícita Echevarría, Horacio Menjívar, Esperanza Velasco, and Dora Alicia and her unborn child. Rodolfo Delgado, the prosecutor in charge of those investigations, has a history of depoliticizing murders. In 2004 he led the investigation of the murder of Gilberto Soto, the union activists killed in Usulután. Though the case had all the attributes of a political assassination, Delgado blamed the murder on Soto’s mother-in-law claiming it was a domestic issue. Delgado also depoliticized the murders of Francisco Antonio Manzanares and his wife Juana, who were killed in Suchitoto in 2007. Instead of investigating political motives for their deaths, Delgado investigated their daughter, Marina Manzanares, claiming that it was a domestic issue.

We don’t know who will be in charge of Juan Francisco’s murder, but the international community should join his family and friends, as well as local civil society leaders in calling for a thorough investigation, including the possibility that there are intellectual authors that paid to have him killed.

As long as impunity exists, murder, fear and intimidation will be a part of public debate in El Salvador, and we can expect more violence in the future.

Yesterday we posted a call to action, asking readers to call or write Attorney General Romeo Barahona and Minister of Security Manuel Melgar. Now it is more important than ever for you to get involved. If you’ve already emailed or called, we thank you and ask that you invite your friends and family to do the same. If you haven’t called yet, please do so by clicking here.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Juan Francisco’s family and friends, as well as all others who are risking their lives in the fight for justice in Cabañas.

Advocacy, Cabanas, El Salvador Government, Mining

Action Alert – Disappearance of Juan Francisco Duran Ayala in Cabañas

On Sunday we posted an alert that anti-mining activist Juan Francisco Duran Ayala has been missing for over a week. He disappeared the day after he was hanging anti-mining posters in Ilobasco, Cabañas. Representatives of the CAC, the local environmental organization to which Juan Francisco belongs, report that the Mayor of Ilobasco, José Maria “Cheyo” Castellanos ordered municipal police to remove the signs that Juan Francisco was hanging the day before he disappeared.

Please join Juan Francisco’s family and friends in calling on the Salvadoran authorities, including the Attorney General’s office and the National Civilian Police, to set up a special search party to find Juan Francisco, as well as investigate all cases of threats and violence against civil society actors in the region. The CAC demands that these investigations also consider the links between the powerful network of local mayors, including Mayor José Bautista of San Isidro, Mayor Edgar Bonilla of Sensuntepeque, and Mayor “Cheyo” Castellanos of Ilobasco, and Pacific Rim Mining Company.

Cheyo Castellanos - Mayor of Ilobasco

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Send an email to the Attorney General Romeo Barahona (see sample email below) and Manuel Melgar, the Minister of Justice and Security, to demand a full investigation and protection for the victims. Please send the email to Barahona’s assistant at hector.burgos@fgr.gob.sv and to Minister Melgar jusegministro@seguridad.gob.sv and his assistant Sandra.lazo@seguridad.gob.sv.
    1. If you speak Spanish, please also call Salvadoran Attorney General Romeo Barahona at 011-503- 2230-6350 (see sample script below). Please also call Minister Melgar 011-503-7070-0081 (see sample script below).

Sample Email to Attorney General Barahona
hector.burgos@fgr.gob.sv

Estimado Señor Fiscal General de la República,

Como miembro de la comunidad internacional, quiero expresar mi profunda preocupación sobre las nuevas amenazas y los casos de violencia contra líderes sociales en Cabañas.

Hace más de una semana Juan Francisco Duran Ayala, miembro del Comité Ambiental de Cabañas en Defensa del Agua y Cultura (CAC) desapareció, a pocos días después de haber participado en actividades contra la minería en Cabañas.  Urge que el PNC y la Fiscalía establezcan un equipo especializado de investigación sobre este caso.

Además, urge una investigación profunda y eficaz sobre este último caso y todas las amenazas contra los ambientalistas de Cabañas, para determinar quiénes son los autores materiales, intelectuales y financieros. Es necesario también re-abrir los casos de Marcelo Rivera, Dora Alicia Sorto y Ramiro Rivera para investigar vínculos entre estos caso, los asesinatos de Darwin Serrano y Gerardo Abrego León, las nuevas amenazas contra el personal de Radio Victoria, y la desaparición de Juan Francisco Duran Ayala.

Finalmente, tomando en cuenta los nexos entre esta violencia y la lucha contra la minería, los casos de violencia y las amenazas contra líderes sociales en Cabañas requieren una investigación profunda para identificar los autores materiales e intelectuales.  Estas investigaciones deben de incluir posibles nexos entre la violencia y la compañía minera Pacific Rim, y las autoridades locales como los alcaldes de San Isidro, Ilobasco y Sensuntepeque.

El hecho de que la violencia y amenazas que se han dado en Cabañas desde 2007 siguen en impunidad ha permitido que surgieran los nuevos casos de violencia. Pido que, por favor, tome las medidas necesarias para asegurar justicia y protección para los afectados.

Agradezco de antemano sus gestiones para agilizar las investigaciones y espero que pronto se haga justicia en estos casos. Estaré pendiente de las acciones de la Fiscalía y seguiré informando a los y las funcionarias de gobierno en mi país sobre estos casos.
Atentamente,
Your Name


Sample Email to Minister of Justice and Security jusegministro@seguridad.gob.sv and Sandra.lazo@seguridad.gob.sv

Estimado Señor Ministro de Seguridad y Justicia,

Como miembro de la comunidad internacional, quiero expresar mi profunda preocupación sobre las nuevas amenazas y los casos de violencia contra líderes sociales en Cabañas.

Hace más de una semana Juan Francisco Duran Ayala, miembro del Comité Ambiental de Cabañas en Defensa del Agua y Cultura (CAC) desapareció, a pocos días después de haber participado en actividades contra la minería en Cabañas.  Urge que el PNC y la Fiscalía establezcan un equipo especializado de investigación sobre este caso.

Además, urge una investigación profunda y eficaz sobre este último caso y todas las amenazas contra los ambientalistas de Cabañas, para determinar quiénes son los autores materiales, intelectuales y financieros. Es necesario también re-abrir los casos de Marcelo Rivera, Dora Alicia Sorto y Ramiro Rivera para investigar vínculos entre estos casos, los asesinatos de Darwin Serrano y Gerardo Abrego León, las nuevas amenazas contra el personal de Radio Victoria, y la desaparición de Juan Francisco Duran Ayala.

Finalmente, tomando en cuenta los nexos entre esta violencia y la lucha contra la minería, los casos de violencia y las amenazas contra líderes sociales en Cabañas requieren una investigación profunda para identificar los autores materiales e intelectuales.  Estas investigaciones deben de incluir posibles nexos entre la violencia y la compañía minera Pacific Rim, y las autoridades locales como los alcaldes de San Isidro, Ilobasco y Sensuntepeque.

El hecho de que la violencia y amenazas que se han dado en Cabañas desde 2007 siguen en impunidad ha permitido que surgieran los nuevos casos de violencia. Pido que, por favor, tome las medidas necesarias para asegurar justicia y protección para los afectados.

Agradezco de antemano sus gestiones para agilizar las investigaciones y espero que pronto se haga justicia en estos casos. Estaré pendiente de las acciones de la PNC y seguiré informando a los y las funcionarias de gobierno en mi país sobre estos casos.

Atentamente,
Your Name


 Translation

As a member of the international community, I want to express my deep concern about the new cases of violence and threats against social leaders in Cabañas.

More than a week ago Juan Francisco Duran Ayala, member of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas in Defense of Water and Cultura (CAC) disappeared, a few days after having participated in activities protesting mining in Cabañas.  A specialized task force of prosecutors and members of the National Civilian police should be assigned to investigate this case.

In addition, there needs to be a thorough and efficient investigations into this recent case and all of the threats to environmentalists in Cabañas, to determine who the material, intellectual and financial authors are.  It is also necessary to re-open the Marcelo Rivera, Dora Alicia Sorto, and Ramiro Rivera cases in order to investigate links between those cases, the murders of Darwin Serrano and Gerardo Abrego León, the new threats against the staff of Radio Victoria, and the disappearance of Juan Francisco Duran Ayala.

Finally, taking into account the ties between this violence and the anti-mining struggles, the cases of violence and threats against Cabañas social movement leaders require a thorough investigation to identify the material and intellectual authors. These investigations should look into the possible ties between the violence and the mining company Pacific Rim as well as local authorities like the mayors of San Isidro, Ilobasco, and Sensuntepeque.

This new case of violence has arisen because the violence and threats that have occurred in Cabañas since 2007 remain in impunity. I ask that you please take the necessary measures to assure justice and protection for those affected.

Thank you in advance for your efforts to begin thorough investigations and I hope that soon there will be justice in these cases.  I will continue to follow the actions of the Attorney General’s office and the National Civil Police (PCN) and will continue informing my elected officials about these cases.


Call Script for Attorney General Barahona (direct number for his assistant, Hector Burgos: 011-503- 2230-6350)

Buenos (días/tardes)

Mi nombre es_______________________ y llamo para expresar mi preocupación sobre la desaparición de Juan Francisco Duran Ayala y la violencia contra líderes sociales en Cabañas.

Urge una investigación profunda sobre la desaparición del Señor Duran Ayala con un equipo especializado, y así también es necesario re-abrir los casos de Marcelo Rivera, Dora Alicia Sorto y Ramiro Rivera para investigar vínculos entre estos caso, los asesinatos de Darwin Serrano y Gerardo Abrego León, las nuevas amenazas contra el personal de Radio Victoria y la desaparición del Señor Duran Ayala.

El hecho de que la violencia y amenazas anteriores quedaron en impunidad ha permitido que surgieran los nuevos hechos de violencia. Pido que el Fiscal General tome las medidas necesarias para asegurar justicia y protección para las y los afectados.

Gracias


Call Script for Minister of Justice and Security Manuel Melgar (direct number: 011-503- 7070-0081)

Buenos (días/tardes)

Mi nombre es_______________________ y llamo para expresar mi preocupación sobre la desaparición de Juan Francisco Duran Ayala y la violencia contra líderes sociales en Cabañas.

Urge una investigación profunda sobre la desaparición del Señor Duran Ayala con un equipo especializado, y así también es necesario re-abrir los casos de Marcelo Rivera, Dora Alicia Sorto y Ramiro Rivera para investigar vínculos entre estos caso, los asesinatos de Darwin Serrano y Gerardo Abrego León, las nuevas amenazas contra el personal de Radio Victoria y la desaparición del Señor Duran Ayala.

El hecho de que la violencia y amenazas anteriores quedaron en impunidad ha permitido que surgieran los nuevos hechos de violencia. Pido que el PNC tome las medidas necesarias para asegurar justicia y protección para las y los afectados.

Gracias.

And we’d like to thank the folks at CISPES and US Sister Cities for their hard work in drafting the letter and script!

Cheyo Castellanos – Mayor of Ilobasco
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.