- Watch the Democracy Now! interview with CISPES executive director Alexis Stoumbelis
- Read our updated press release about the murders and distribute it to your media contacts
- Take Action! Email Salvadoran Attorney General and call Pacific Rim (see below)
On December 26, Dora “Alicia” Sorto Recinos was murdered in El Salvador—the second anti-mining activist killed in less than a week in the small community of Trinidad in the department of Cabañas. Sorto Recinos was eight months pregnant and carrying her two-year old child when shot after doing laundry at a nearby river. The child, who was also shot in the leg is currently receiving medical attention. Sorto Recinos and her life partner, José Santos Rodríguez, were outspoken opponents of the El Dorado gold mine, which Pacific Rim, a Vancouver, B.C.-based company, is desperate to open despite widespread community and governmental opposition.
The death toll for Cabañas anti-mining activists has risen to 3 in the past week:
Alicia Sorto Recinos was a member of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas, which has been extremely active in educating and mobilizing the local community against Pacific Rim’s El Dorado gold mine; her life partner José Rodríguez is a current board member of the committee and has personally received a number of recent death threats and survived three separate attempts against his life.
Last week, the committee’s vice-president, Ramiro Rivera, was gunned down in front of his daughter, despite his 24-hour police protection since being shot eight times in August. His neighbor Felicíta Echeverría was also killed in the attack.
The first murder occurred last June, when anti-mining and FMLN activist Marcelo Rivera (no relation to Ramiro) was found tortured and killed in Cabañas.
A common thread among the two most recent slayings is Oscar Menjívar. Currently awaiting trial for shooting Ramiro Rivera 8 times in August, he was previously arrested for attacking José Rodríguez with a machete. Menjívar’s neighbors report that he was one of Pacific Rim Mining’s paid “promoters,” though Pacific Rim denies that he has ever been on payroll.
Violence has become a harsh reality for Cabañas residents since the arrival of Pacific Rim. After community organizing efforts successfully blocked Pacific Rim’s attempts to obtain gold mining permits, the company filed a lawsuit against the Salvadoran government under CAFTA, the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages (watch the Real News video here). In recent months, it has proven especially dangerous to oppose mining in Cabañas, with a steady stream of attacks, death threats and attempted assassinations and kidnappings against community leaders and anti-mining activists.
Despite the overtly political overtones of these violent acts, whose frequency is only increasing, local police authorities and the former Attorney General’s office have classified these cases as “common crimes”. Salvadorans are fearful and outraged by the continued violence and by the inability or unwillingness of the police and the office of the Attorney General to protect community activists like Alicia Sorto Recinos, Ramiro Rivera and Marcelo Rivera.
Community members believe that until these cases are thoroughly investigated for political motives and the perpetrators brought to justice, impunity against the mining resistance movement in Cabañas will continue, sending a message to the intellectual authors of these crimes that they can continue their wave of violence and murders without punishment.
Act now and call on the Salvadoran Attorney General to carry out an exhaustive investigation of these murders and their motives AND demand that Pacific Rim recognize the social conflict surrounding the El Dorado mine and stop trying to mine in Cabañas!
1) E-mail Rodolfo Delgado (firstname.lastname@example.org), head of the Organized Crime unit of the Attorney General’s Office and demand that the Attorney General’s office:
Complete the recommendation of the Ombudsman in Defense of Human Rights Oscar Luna to create a special team with the National Civilian Police to investigate these murders and threats against environmental activists.
Investigate the cases exhaustively and impartially and bring the intellectual and material authors of the crimes to justice.
[See sample e-mail text at the end of this alert.] Please copy Human Rights Ombudsman Oscar Luna to your email, via his front desk: email@example.com and forward a copy of your sent email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
2) Call Barbara Henderson, Vice President of Investor Relations at Pacific Rim Mining, using the talking points below. To call from the U.S. dial 1- (888) 775-7097, or from Canada (604) 689-1976, and then press ‘1’.
“Hello. I have been following Pacific Rim’s El Dorado mine and am extremely disturbed by the recent news of two community members who were murdered this past week. These individuals were part of local organizations that have been actively opposing the El Dorado mine since 2004. I call on CEO and President Thomas Shrake and Pacific Rim’s board of directors to recognize the social conflict the mine is causing and to make the moral decision to:
Immediately withdraw from Cabañas and cease all efforts to mine gold from the El Dorado site.
Immediately withdraw its lawsuit against the government of El Salvador. It is absolutely disgraceful for a company to sue a poor nation like El Salvador, especially when the Salvadoran people and government have every right to prevent cyanide gold extraction from destroying their lands and their communities.
Cooperate fully with the official investigations surrounding the murders of Alicia Sorto Recinos, Ramiro Rivera and Marcelo Rivera, providing full disclosure on all the people the company has contracted in the region and any other monetary transactions it has conducted among community members, organizations and local government officials. Violence is tearing apart Cabañas, and the company has every obligation to offer its full support to bring to justice the perpetrators of these murdered community members, all of whom have openly opposed the El Dorado mine. Thank you.”
SAMPLE E-MAIL (English translation below):
Jefe de la División Élite contra el Crimen Organizado
Fiscalía General de la Republica de El Salvador
Fiscal Rodolfo Delgado
Estimado Señor Rodolfo Delgado:
Como miembro de la comunidad internacional pro-derechos humanos, quiero expresar mi profunda preocupación por lo más reciente hecho de violencia contra la comunidad ambientalista en Cabañas, el asesinato de Dora Alicia Sorto Recinos. Además, quiero expresar la indignación de la comunidad internacional pro-derechos humanos por la falta de justicia en los casos de asesinato y violencia política contra las comunidades opuestas al proyecto minero El Dorado de la empresa canadiense Pacific Rim.
Hago un llamado para que la Fiscalía tome los siguientes pasos para terminar con el ambiente de impunidad que permite estos asesinatos y intentos:
1) Cumplir la recomendación del Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (PDDH) Oscar Luna para formar una comisión de trabajo especial con la Policía Nacional Civil (PNC) para investigar los atentados y amenazas en contra de defensores ambientales.
2) Investigar los casos de una manera exhaustiva e imparcial y llevar justicia a los autores intelectuales y materiales del crimen.
El asesinato de Sorto Recinos parece otro hecho de violencia sistemática que ha traspasado en Cabañas desde el junio de este año: el secuestro y brutal asesinato del activista Gustavo Marcelo Rivera; las amenazas de muerte a periodistas de Radio Victoria, al director de la Asociación de Desarrollo Económico y Social Santa Marta (ADES) y a varios líderes comunitarios del Comité Ambiental de Cabañas; el sabotaje al sistema electrónico de Radio Victoria; el intento de secuestro del Padre Luis Quintanilla; el asesinato de Ramiro Rivera la semana pasada; y, los más de tres intentos de quitarle la vida a Santos Rodriguez, compañero de vida de la señora Sorto Recinos.
Es preocupante que la Fiscalía, bajo la dirección de Ástor Escalante, adjudicó a priori estos crímenes a la violencia común, ignorando las evidencias y antecedentes presentados que indican la naturaleza política de los eventos. La Fiscalía, ahora bajo la dirección del Lic. Romeo Barahona, tiene la oportunidad de terminar con esta impunidad.
Después del asesinato de Marcelo Rivera en junio, más de cien organizaciones de los Estados Unidos y Canadá mandaron una carta a la Fiscalía expresando su preocupación grave con los atropellos a los derechos humanos. También el Congresista Jim McGovern de los Estados Unidos expresó la misma preocupación en reuniones con el Señor Fiscal General, Romeo Barahona, y representantes de la Administración del Señor Presidente Mauricio Funes, durante su visita reciente a El Salvador.
También le estoy mandando una copia de este mensaje al señor Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, Lic. Oscar Humberto Luna, quien ha mostrado un compromiso fuerte para proteger la seguridad y los derechos humanos de los líderes sociales en Cabañas, además de manifestar en su más reciente comunicado de prensa que existen evidencias suficientes para descartar que estas muertes sean producto de la delincuencia común.
De quedar estos eventos en la impunidad, se estaría generando un clima de temor e incertidumbre para los demás líderes comunitarios, contrarrestando así los avances logrados en el proceso de democratización del país. Además, mandaría un mensaje a los autores intelectuales que pueden seguir su ola de violencia y asesinatos sin ningún castigo.
Agradezco de antemano sus gestiones para agilizar las investigaciones y espero que pronto se haga justicia en estos casos y se brinde protección a las víctimas y reparación a los familiares de los asesinados.
[Tu nombre y lugar de residencia/ Your name and place of residence]
Chief of the Elite Division Against Organized Crime (DECO)
Office of the Attorney General of El Salvador
Attorney Rodolfo Delgado
Dear Mr. Rodolfo Delgado:
As a member of the international community in support of human rights, I want to express my profound concern over the most recent act of violence against the environmentalist community in Cabanas, the murder of Dora Alicia Sorto Recinos. Furthermore, I want to express the indignation of the international community in support of human rights for the lack of justice in the cases of murders and political violence against the communities opposed to the Canadian company Pacific Rim’s mining project El Dorado.
I call on the Attorney General’s office to take the following measures to put an end to the environment of impunity that has permitted these murders and attempted murders:
1) Complete the recommendation of the Ombudsman in Defense of Human Rights Oscar Luna to create a special team with the National Civilian Police to investigate these murders and threats against environmental activists.
2) Investigate the cases exhaustively and impartially and bring the intellectual and material authors of the crimes to justice.
The murder of Sorto Recinos appears to be the most recent act of the systematic violence that has been taking place in Cabañas since June of this year: the kidnapping and brutal murder of activist Gustavo Marcelo Rivera; the death threats against journalists from Radio Victoria, the director of the Association for the Economic and Social Development of Santa Marta (ADES), and other community leaders in Cabañas; the sabotage of Radio Victoria’s electronic equipment; the murder of Ramiro Rivera last week; and more than three attempts against the life of José Santos Rodríguez, Sorto Recino´s life partner.
It is worrisome that the Attorney General’s office, under the direction of Astor Escalante, attributed these cases a priori to common crime, ignoring presented evidence that indicates the political nature of these events. The Attorney General, now under the direction of Lic. Romeo Barahona, has the opportunity to end this impunity.
After the assassination of Marcelo Rivera in June, over 100 U.S. and Canadian social organizations sent a letter to the Attorney General’s office expressing their deep concern over the human rights violations. U.S. Congressional Representative James McGovern also expressed the same concern in meetings with the Attorney General and with representatives of President Mauricio Funes’ administration during his recent visit to El Salvador.
I am also sending a copy of this letter to the Ombudsman in Defense of Human Rights Oscar Luna, who has shown a strong commitment to protecting the security and the human rights of social leaders in Cabanas in addition to expressing in his most recent press release that their exists sufficient evidence to demonstrate that these cases were not the product of common crime.
If these events remain in impunity, it will generate an environment of fear and uncertainty for the other community leaders, undoing the many advances achieved in the process of democratizing the country. Furthermore, it will send a message to the intellectual authors that they can continue their wave of violence and murders without facing punishment.
I thank you in advance for your efforts to facilitate the investigations and I expect justice is quickly brought to these cases and that protection is provided for the victims and reparations for the families of those murdered.
[Your name and place of residence]