Voices Developments

Memoria Anual 2015

Estimados Amigos y Amigas,

2015 ha sido un año muy ocupado pero productivo. Voces está orgulloso todas las actividades en las que hemos sido parte, y de los amigos y socios con quienes hemos sida capaces de trabajar. A continuación presentamos nuestro Informe Anual 2015 que trata sobre nuestro trabajo de este año e incluya una vista previa de lo que continuaremos haciendo en 2016.

2015 Memoria Anual

Durante 2015 no hemos publicado tanto en este blog, como lo hemos hecho en años anteriores, no obstante en las próximas semana vamos a comenzar con análisis y actualizaciones de lo que sucede en El Salvador y particularmente en las comunidades a las que hemos acompañado durante tantos años. Aprovechamos para desearle a usted y a los suyos un año venidero lleno de éxitos.

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El Salvador Government, Mauricio Funes, violence

Funes’ First Year

On Sunday, Linda Garrett from the Center for Democracy in the Americas published a defense of Funes’s first year in office.  She argues that his administration “assumed the mantle of power of a polarized country nearly bankrupt, wrought with poverty, violence, corruption and fragile democratic institutions.”

She applauds the administration for providing new social programs, financing agreements for the next five years, and his public apologies for such past crimes as the assassinations of Monseñor Romero in 1980 and the Jesuits in 1989.   She also cautions readers of the importance of supporting his administration in the face of the current violence and public insecurity that has dominated the news in the past few weeks.  This week’s headlines are evidence of this administration’s harried response.

Funes has reacted to each mounting case of violence with bolder and more repressive measures.  He deployed the military to work along side the civilian police soon after his inauguration.  On June 1st of this year he announced that the military would also intervene in the prisons, which they rushed to implement after the Sunday bus massacre in Méjicanos.  They are now partnering with Migration to patrol the un-manned border crossings, notorious for moving drugs, stolen vehicles, and undocumented people.

In a widely distributed public announcement Funes says social and preventive programs are important for the long term, but repressive measures are necessary now. The Ministry of Public Security is expected to present a bill to the Legislative Assembly in the coming days to outlaw gang membership.  During a press conference reporters asked how police would identify gang members.  Henry Campos, the vice minister for public security responded “by tattoos and other types of evidence”.  A law based on the same premise was declared unconstitutional in 2004.

But Funes made a pointed demand from the Attorney General’s office during his June 23rd speech addressing the bus massacre – the same speech where he announced the new bill.

“The fight against organized crime, delinquents and criminal groups is a task of every State institution.  This means not only the government must do its job well.  We need the public prosecutors and judges to also do theirs.”

The Attorney General’s office is an autonomous institution, and appointments come from the Legislative Assembly.  The ex-attorney general Astor Escalante told the press on Monday that of the 100 homicide prosecutors, only 30% have actually received any training.  The institution appoints prosecutors with very few requisites; there is no policy to recruit prosecutors who have actually won convictions.  At the end of 2009 this group of elite homicide prosecutors had 16% conviction rate.

Garrett is right to call for continued international support of a Funes administration battling violence and weak institutions with very few resources.  That does not mean an acceptance of reactionary and repressive measures – often the most accessible means for the ‘commander in chief’.  Funes needs public pressure to uphold ethical and progressive reforms more than ever; and he especially needs allies for strengthening institutions that he has little power to control.

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.

Advocacy, Cabanas, Mining, violence

Voices on the Border’s Fact Finding Mission Returns from Cabañas

Last week, an independent, international fact-finding delegation led by Voices on the Border, traveled to El Salvador to investigate the increased levels of violence in the province of Cabañas.  The delegation, comprised of concerned citizens from El Salvador, the United States and Canada, interviewed over 30 people, including victims and their families, representatives from the police and judiciary, public officials, human rights and environmental experts, and religious leaders. Delegates also reviewed documents, past testimonies, and other evidence related to the Cabañas violence.

Meeting with Francisco from the Environmental Committee of Cabañas
Meeting with Francisco Pineda from the Environmental Committee of Cabañas

In Cabañas the delegation found a climate of intimidation and insecurity that reflects a culture of chronic impunity. Such a climate has resulted in three homicides; attempted kidnappings and other violent attacks; and constant threats against citizens engaged in a local and national debate on Pacific Rim Mining Corporation’s (Pacific Rim) efforts to mine gold. These attacks on citizens attempting to influence public policy are nothing less than terrorism. The delegation found that this climate of impunity and violence has resulted in obstruction of justice, inadequate investigations by government authorities, and a chilling affect on civic participation. Delegate Julia Kaminsky stated, “The consequences are ruinous to civil society and impede democracy.”

With regards to the debate over mining, delegates found existing environmental damage from Pacific Rim exploration projects, a fatally flawed environmental assessment, insufficient public consultation on proposed mining projects, and attempts by Pacific Rim to curry favor among segments of the government and local population. Pacific Rim’s activities have created deep divisions in Cabañas. For example, in an interview with the delegation, the Mayor of San Isidro, Cabañas admitted that his government accepted significant financial support from Pacific Rim.  Accepting financial contributions makes it difficult for the Mayor to remain objective when considering the needs and demands of his constituents, and deepens the fissures between those who are pro- and anti-mining. The debate over mining is healthy, but it cannot be held in a climate of impunity, where intimidation and violence prevail.

Meeting with the Mayor of San Isidro

Delegates also found that Pacific Rim’s promise of “green mining” remain unfounded, and that they have failed to meet standards set forth in the Salvadoran law.  Most proposed mining sites are in the northern regions of El Salvador, within the Lempa River watershed. According to hydrologist Dr. Robert Moran, “if high environmental standards are not demanded… it could spell disaster for the hundreds of thousands of Salvadorians that rely on the river for their livelihoods and basic needs.” Though Pacific Rim has claimed that they will achieve such high standards, they have yet to provide details of how they will do so, justifying the government’s stand that they will not grant exploitation permits. Pacific Rim responded by filing a complaint under the DR-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)

Based on its findings, the delegation has identified several actions that should be taken by Salvadorans and their government, Pacific Rim, and members of the international community.

Most importantly, the delegation calls on those perpetrating the violence to stop immediately. While they are likely motivated by short-term economic or political gains, using violence and terror to influence a public debate undermines El Salvador’s democracy.  In the long-term, an instable democracy will only undermine any economic or political gains that the perpetrators achieve in the short-term.

The delegation also calls for an independent investigation into the violence. A broad consensus of Salvadorans does not trust government authorities to conduct a thorough investigation, believing that their economic ties to Pacific Rim and the mining industry create a conflict of interest. The Salvadoran Government should request that an international body conduct an independent investigation in coordination with the Ombudsman for Human Rights. In addition to identifying those committing the violence and terror, the independent investigator should identify the intellectual authors of the attacks and any government officials who have been complicit or interfered with an investigation.

Meeting with Police Investigators

In order to ensure sustainable development, the delegation calls on all corporations that conduct business in El Salvador to demonstrate that their activities would not or do not jeopardize public safety, or harm the environment. Corporations should comply with Salvadoran law and ensure that citizens have a voice in determining whether proposed economic activities would have an adverse impact on their community.

Similarly, the delegation urges Pacific Rim to respect the rights of the citizens of Cabañas to determine the course of their own development, and stop contributing to a culture of division and instability in the region. This includes abandoning its CAFTA arbitration proceedings.  Delegate Jim Munro states “these proceedings attempt to by-pass democratic processes in El Salvador, and ultimately place the decision in the hands of appointees of the World Bank, which would set a dangerous precedent.” In the alternative, the delegation supports Salvadoran civil society that seek amicus curiae standing at the CAFTA proceedings to ensure that the environmental concerns of the people in Cabañas are given due consideration.

The delegation joins other civil society organizations in calling for the repeal of CAFTA provisions that prioritize foreign investor rights over government interests in preventing environmental degradation or jeopardizing public safety. The right for a corporation to sue a sovereign nation compromises the government’s ability to enforce its environmental and public safety laws, creating tension and fissures between government agencies and the communities that they serve. In the alternative, the delegation supports Salvadoran civil society organizations in their constitutional challenge to CAFTA.

Entrance to Pacific Rim's El Dorado Mine

The delegation left El Salvador today, and will continue working together in the coming weeks to complete a comprehensive report, which it will share with all stakeholders in El Salvador, and distribute widely in the United States and Canada.

See the Co-Latino’s story on the press conference in Spanish from the same day, Feb. 15 2010.