El Salvador Government, Environment, International Relations

Civil Society Leaders Still Targeted for Anti-Mining Activities

Last week, Salvadoran environmentalists were kidnapped and robbed for a second time in Guatemala. The activists have been protesting the Cerro Blanco mine on the Guatemala-El Salvador border and the victims believe this to be the motive of the attack.

On October 28, three Salvadoran environmentalists from the Center for Investigation of Investment and Commerce (CEICOM) and two Salvadoran journalists from Channel 10 were traveling on a Guatemalan Highway en route to the Capital when their vehicle was stopped by a group of armed men. Though the men were wearing civilian clothes, the victims report that some of their clothing identified them as Guatemalan police. The attackers took the environmentalists and reporters to a nearby farm where they were beaten, robbed of their video camera, laptops, cash, and mobile phones, and then abandoned.

Members of the MESA meeting with Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez

The CEICOM delegation was on its way to report on a hearing being held by the Guatemalan Legislative Assembly on the Cerro Blanco mine, and its impacts on El Salvador. The ministries of Foreign Relations, of the Environment, and Energy and Mines all testified. While the attackers first claimed that they suspected the delegation of smugglin

g drugs, during the detention they referred to the activists going to the legislative hearing about the Cerro Blanco mine.

The day before the attack, activists blocked the Guatemalan-Salvadoran border crossings at San Cristóbal and Cara Sucia in protest of the Cerro Blanco mine

. Environmental organizations that participated in the protests included the National Roundtable Against Mining (La Mesa), the Environmental Committee of Metapán, and CEICO

M from El Salvador, and the Madreselva Collective, the Catholic Church and the neighbors of Asunción Mita from Guatemala.

CEICOM and others have called for the Salvadoran government to denounce the assaults a

nd demand an investigation by the Guatemalan government. Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez announced that he would send an official diplomatic letter to the Guatemalan Government asking for explanations for the a

ttacks. Martínez also stated that he would meet with CEICOM representatives to discuss the potential impacts that the mine will have on Salvadoran communities.

This was not the first time that CEICOM environmentalists were stopped by the Guatemalan police. On July 30, a CEICOM delegation was en route to Guatemala City when the Guatemalan police detained them, claiming that they were searching for drug traffickers. According to reports at the time, the delegates were robbed of their money, cameras, and other items, and released after several hours of detention. The delegation was on its way to the Capital to file a complaint with the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman for environmental harm that the Cerro Blanco mine would cause to El Salvador. In statement to the press, CEICOM representative Edgardo Mira said, “for us it is clear that this event is directly related to the first event.”

The CEICOM environmentalists are only the latest anti-mining activists from El Salvador to be attacked. As we’ve discussed in numerous other postings, activists from around Cabañas, El Salvador have been threatened, attacked, and even murdered for taking a public stand against mining. These attacks are all a part of a systematic attempt to quash civil society, and impunity in these attacks undermine weakens the rule of law and the democratic process in El Salvador and other Central American countries.