On June 18 Gustavo Marcelo Rivera, a community leader and anti-mining activist, whose most recent work targeted a controversial and widely unpopular gold mine project proposed by Canada’s Pacific Rim, was disappeared. Less than two weeks later his corpse was found at the bottom of a 60-foot-well, while an autopsy later revealed he was strangled to death and tortured.
Jamie Moffett, a Philadelphia based independent filmmaker, traveled to El Salvador in July to finish work on a documentary, Return to El Salvador, which examines how that Central American country is still struggling with the aftermath of its bloody 12-year-long civil war, which ended in 1992. But on June 18 Gustavo Marcelo Rivera, a community leader and anti-mining activist, whose most recent work targeted a controversial and widely unpopular gold mine project proposed by Canada’s Pacific Rim, was disappeared. Less than two weeks later his corpse was found at the bottom of a 60-foot-well, while an autopsy later revealed he was strangled to death and tortured.
"What occurred is that we were interviewing organizations such as Medicina Legal, a lawyer from Tutela Legal and local economists, and in our conversations what they each said ‘what is happening right now is the disappearance of Marcelo Rivera,’" said Moffett.
The details around Rivera’s case, his "disappearance" and torture, corresponds with the way death squads worked during that country’s civil war.
"Its concerning that history may be repeating itself in El Salvador," said Moffett.
This led Moffett to make a short film on the murder, which he titled The Mysterious Death of Marcelo Rivera.
El Salvador’s attorney general’s office, along with local police, suggested Rivera was drinking with local gang members and was killed by them as a result of a fight that ensued. Rivera’s family and friends were quick to point out that he didn’t drink. The attorney general’s story was largely rejected, not just by those close to Rivera, but by the rest of the country as well. In addition, the local police first reported that Rivera’s death was due to two blows to the head, which a later autopsy revealed was untrue.
"The local police may be in over their head," said Moffett. "[But] It is true the mayor of San Isidro’s brother is on the local police force and mayor Ignacio Bautista traveled in the past, on trips paid for by Pacific Rim."
Moffett said that Pacific Rim has flown the mayor to the United States to promote the so-called benefits of Gold mining in the region to Salvadorans living in the US. While not feeling comfortable calling the murder and lack of a legitimate investigation a cover up, Moffett said that he believes "something is going on." While it is likely this misinformation published around Rivera’s death could very well be intentional, he won’t go on the record yet to classify it as a cover-up or conspiracy, as police incompetence can not be ruled out.
More than 100 international organizations have sent a letter to El Salvador’s attorney general, demanding "an impartial, exhaustive, and effective investigation in order to bring to justice the intellectual and material authors of this horrendous crime, and prevent these tragedies from happening again."
Another cause of concern has been death threats sent to Salvadoran journalists covering Rivera’s murder.
"This shows the urgency for a through investigation," the international organizations stated in its letter. "If Marcelo’s murder is left in a state of impunity, it will generate a climate of intimidation and uncertainty for social leaders and activists, undermining the advances in the democratic process in El Salvador."
Moffett said he made his short film about Rivera largely for an American audience. He wants to not only remind people that the same type of violence which occurred during the civil war is happening again, but that US citizens have both a reponsibility and ability to act to stop it.
"Our collective conscience has been dulled" said Moffett. "El Salvador – a country the size of Massachusetts – has so many hardships, and hardships that are a result of our [country’s] politics and policies. We as engaged citizens need to deal with what our country has done these last couple decades and try to atone for how average Americans unwittingly allowed our tax dollars to be used to torture and kill people in places like El Salvador."
One of Washington’s current policies responsible for perpetuating the country’s structural poverty and social discord is the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Canada’s Pacific Rim, through a U.S. subsidiary, is using provisions in CAFTA to sue El Salvador to the tune of $100 million in response to President Mauricio Funes decision not to grant the company a permit to open a gold mine that critics say would cause massive environmental devastation.
Moffett said that he is hopeful that the intellectual and financial architects of this murder, as well as those who carried it out, will be brought to justice.
"This is turning into a movement," he added, "one I hope shines a bright enough light to discover what actually happened and who was responsible."
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Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at www.UpsideDownWorld.org. He also serves on the board of the Canary Institute, a transnational collective of individuals engaged in research, writing, teaching, solidarity, and action that address the problem of catastrophic systemic collapse.