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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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.

Advocacy, Cabanas, Corruption, Mining, violence

One Year Anniversary of Marcelo Rivera’s Assassination

On June 24th hundreds of people gathered in San Isidro, Cabañas to honor the life of Marcelo Rivera. Exactly one year earlier many of the same people had been searching for the missing Rivera only to find him tortured, hidden, and dead at the bottom of a local well. Before his body could be properly identified, employees at the coroners office were ordered to bury his body in a common grave – but his brother and another friend demanded to be escorted there and dug the grave out themselves. The attorney general still maintains that Marcelo’s death is a common homicide, despite glaring disparities between the report and the original autopsy. Luis Quintanilla, a Catholic priest who has been threatened and attacked himself, demands justice in this video clip.