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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

El Salvador Journal 2005 Part VI

Our history lesson included the FMLN, still a strong presence in the country. The FMLN, named after Farabundo Marti, the leader of the indigenous insurrection of the 1930’s is a coalition of leftwing groups that formed in 1980 to present an armed front to the military government of the country. Most of the areas we visited are controlled by the FMLN, now a legitimate political party. Many of the people we worked with, including Miguel and Damian are ex-FMLN fighters.

The key to understanding the war is land. Most of El Salvador’s land was tied up in large latifundios. A very small number of people controlled most of the land in the country. The land produced coffee for export to the United States and other countries. During the war the Americans supported the government with cash - $1.5 million a day. They also assisted with military advice and weaponry. The US embassy in San Salvador was a huge bunker. People believe that the war would have been over sooner if not for this high level of support from the North.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Emergency Update and Action Alert

December 21, 2009

Anti-Mining Activist Ramiro Rivera Assassinated in Cabañas;

Demand an investigation and an end to the murders!

Ramiro Rivera Gómez, vice-president of CAC (Comité Ambiental de Cabañas/ the Environmental Committee of Cabañas) and a local leader in the community struggle against the environmentally-destructive gold mining projects proposed by Pacific Rim, was assassinated on Sunday, December 20, 2009 in the Trinidad neighborhood of Ilobasco, in the department of Cabañas where he lived.

Héctor Berríos reports that Ramiro Rivera was killed by hitmen carrying M-16 rifles. Ramiro’s thirteen-year old daughter who was with him on Sunday afternoon was also injured but is reportedly in stable condition.

On August 7 of this year, Ramiro Rivera was shot 8 times, but survived the vicious attack. Oscar Menjívar, previously implicated in physical attacks on anti-mining activists, was arrested and charged with Ramiro’s attempted murder. Community members report that Menjívar had previously worked for Canadian mining company Pacific Rim; Pacific Rim denies that he has ever been an employee.

Since his recovery, Mr. Rivera had been under the protection of two police officers from the Witnesses and Victims Protection Unit of the National Civilian Police. On the afternoon of December 20th, they were apparently unable to protect him.

Since June of 2009, when anti-mining and FMLN activist Marcelo Rivera (no relation to Ramiro) was found tortured and killed in Cabañas, there have been continued attacks, death threats and attempted kidnappings of community members and activists who have vehemently opposed the proposed El Dorado gold mine. The Ministry of Environment denied mining exploitation permits to Pacific Rim, a Vancouver-based mining company, which subsequently announced a $77 million dollar lawsuit against the Salvadoran government under CAFTA, the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (watch the Real News video here).

Despite the overtly political overtones of this wave of violence, 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 but also by the inability or unwillingness of the police and the office of the Attorney General to protect community activists like Ramiro Rivera and to halt the violence.

Join the international response to this repression of anti-mining organizers in Cabañas TODAY. Call on the Salvadoran authorities to carry out an exhaustive investigation of these crimes and their motives.


E-mail Rodolfo Delgado, head of the Organized Crime unit of the Attorney General’s Office (Sample e-mail text at the end of this alert) This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Please copy Human Rights Ombudsman Oscar Luna to your email, via his front desk:

Please forward a copy of your sent email to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
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SAMPLE E-MAIL (English translation below):

Estimado Señor Rodolfo Delgado:

Como miembro de la comunidad internacional, quiero expresar mi profunda preocupación por lo más reciente hecho de violencia contra un líder social en Cabañas, el asesinato de Ramiro Rivera Gómez. Después de que él fue baleado ocho veces en agosto del 2009, fue bajo la protección de la Unidad de Protección de Víctimas y Testigos de la Policía Nacional Civil.

El asesinato de Ramiro Rivera parece otro hecho de violencia sistemático 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 de Cabañas; el sabotaje al sistema electrónico de Radio Victoria; y los intentos de asesinato de los líderes comunitarios, Padre Luis Quintanilla y Ramiro Rivera.

Considero que existen suficientes evidencias para presumir que el asesinato de Ramiro Rivera y los demás crímenes están relacionados y forman parte de una campaña para intimidar a las organizaciones sociales en Cabañas. 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.

Por lo tanto como miembro de la comunidad internacional, hago un llamado para que ahora bajo la dirección del nuevo Fiscal General de la República Romeo Barahona, la Fiscalía realice una investigación imparcial, exhaustiva y efectiva en el caso del asesinato de Ramiro Rivera y de todos estos casos, para dar a conocer a los autores intelectuales y materiales de estos crímenes y garantizar así la protección de los líderes sociales en la región de forma verdadera.

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, licenciado Oscar Humberto Luna, quien ha mostrado un compromiso fuerte para proteger la seguridad y los derechos humanos de los líderes sociales en Cabañas.

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.

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 Ramiro.

[Tu nombre/ Your name]


Translation of Email:

As a member of the international community, I want to express my profound concern about the most recent act of violence toward a community leader in Cabañas: the assassination of Ramiro Rivera Gómez. After being shot eight times in August, Mr. Rivera was under the protection of the Victims and Witnesses Protection Unit of the National Civilian Police.

The assassination of Ramiro Rivera appears to be another systematic act of violence that has occurred in Cabañas since June of this year: the kidnapping and brutal assassination of the activist Gustavo Marcelo Rivera; the death threats against journalists at Radio Victoria, the director of the Association for Social and Economic Development (ADES) and other community leaders in Cabañas; the sabotage of the broadcasting equipment at Radio Victoria; and the assassination attempt against the community leaders Father Luis Quintanilla and Ramiro Rivera.

I believe there is sufficient evidence to assume that Ramiro Rivera's murder and the other crimes are linked and part of a campaign to intimidate community organizations in Cabañas. It is alarming that the Attorney General’s Office under the direction of former acting Attorney General Ástor Escalante attributed these crimes to common violence, ignoring the evidence and antecedents that indicate the political nature of these events.

Therefore as a member of the international community, I now call on the Attorney General’s Office under the leadership of new Attorney General Romeo Barahona to carry out impartial, exhaustive and effective investigations of the assassination of Ramiro Rivera and all of these crimes in order to bring to justice the intellectual and material authors of these crimes and guarantee the protection of other community leaders in the region.

After the assassination of Marcelo Rivera in June, over 100 organizations in the U.S. and Canada sent a letter to the Attorney General’s office expressing their serious concern about the human rights abuses. Representative Jim McGovern of the U.S. Congress expressed the same concern in his meetings with Mr. Attorney General Romeo Barahona and with representatives of the administration of Mr. President Mauricio Funes during his recent visit to El Salvador.

I am sending a copy of this message to the Human Rights Ombudsman, Mr. Oscar Luna, who has shown a strong commitment to protect the security and human rights of social movement leaders in Cabañas.

Leaving these crimes in a state of impunity creates a climate of fear and uncertainty for the rest of the community leaders, undermining the advances in the democratic process in El Salvador.

I thank you in advance for your efforts to speed up the investigations and I hope that there will soon be justice in these cases and that the victims' lives will be protected and Ramiro’s family will be compensated for their loss.

[Your name]


El Salvador Journal 2005 Part V

We went to a lot of meetings in the first two days in El Salvador. On our second full day we met with Equipo Maiz, the Corn Team, who gave us an alternative history of El Salvador. History is so important if we want to get a true measure of the character of a country. This is the specialty of Equipo Maiz. They have worked since 1983 with small communities to develop a greater understanding of the people’s situation. Through workshops on gender issues, civil participation, privatization and leadership, they hope to equip people with the knowledge to better understand their current situation. They also specialize in telling the story of El Salvador’s past.

A key point in the story. In 1932, the government exterminated over 30,000 indigenous people after a failed revolt. This has resulted in the total denial of the native heritage of the Salvadorans. Unlike Mexico and Guatemala, there is no talk of an indigenous culture in El Salvador. There are really only two indigenous communities now in El Salvador. You can see the native heritage in the faces of the people, but the culture is kept in check. People fear a return to the 1930’s. They have good reason for their fears. Other countries like Haiti and Guatemala have suffered from similar disasters.

Equipo Maiz uses artwork to illustrate their talks on the history of El Salvador

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

El Salvador Journal 2005 Part IV

The past and the future are so close here. We were on our way to see a community that is growing and developing, but we had to pay homage to the past first. You can’t understand El Salvador without listening to the stories of the struggle. In Rio Lempe, I would like to think that the people are beginning to turn the corner on this long battle.

Funding has provided support for the development of local products including gourmet cheese, organic fruits, cashews and sugar. Community supports include an eye clinic, a water purification plant that provides good drinking water to the community, biological pesticide control and a biogenerator that provides methane gas for cooking.

The community has also developed a fishing co-op that seeks to return a greater share of the profits to local fishermen. Training has also been provided on filleting and salting processes. CORDES has also supported the development of an eco-tourism facility - Hostal Lempa Mar.

Hostal Lempa Mar consists of four cabins that can sleep three persons each. The hostal is located on the Lempa River and offers and excellent restaurant where visitors can enjoy local produce including red snapper taken from the Lempa. Apart from the peace and serenity of the Lempa, this facility also offers kayaking and boat rides on the Lempa. During the week, these same boats are used by the fishing co-op.

Profits from the Hostal stay in the community and all employees of the Hostal are members of the local community. Plans are in place to develop hiking trails in the area and it is hoped that Hostal Lempa Mar will soon be able to promote to the international community through the Internet.

Hostal Lempa Mar. Great fish and an afternoon ride on the Lempa

This area was devestated in the recent flooding

Monday, December 7, 2009

El Salvador Journal 2005 Part III

While the Peace Accords were signed in 1992, the struggle continues. The people of El Salvador continue to struggle for basic human rights, access to clean drinking water and good quality education. In the rural communities the provision of good quality health care continues to be a very real concern. Families struggle to make ends meet. The minimum wage provides a worker a salary of $154.00 (US) per month. CRIPDES and other social organizations estimate that the cost of living is closer to $625.00 a month. Prices continue to rise for basic services like water and transportation; wages are not keeping up with these increases. It is becoming increasingly difficult for families to survive.

In 1994, CORDES was created out of CRIPDES to provide technical assistance for rural communities. CORDES locates close to the communities it supports They are committed to developing productive activities in these communities in agricultural production, financial planning, entrepreneurial support, and public policy development and prevention and risk management.

The best way to describe the work of CORDES is to talk about Rio Lempe. CORDES is very active in this former insurgent enclave. This was the site of our first visit into the country. We visited a small community that is located on the site of a former cotton plantation. The previous owners deserted the area during the war. The present community located on the plantation after the Peace Accords in 1992.

The Rio Lempa, San Vincente

This was the story wherever we went. Relocated communities are trying to make a go of it with little government support. Most of these communities have very dramatic stories of the conflict. This on was no exception.

We visited a small community museum where captured arms are stored in a room with bullet-pocked walls. The local commander gave us a tour of the facility. His picture, from earlier days, with military uniform and black beret, were part of the display. We also visited the site where 28 insurgents are buried after a battle with the military in the community.

This is a country of graves.

One of the captured guns from the community museum. Note the holes in the walls.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

El Salvador Journal 2005 Part II

Our first full day was spent with two organizations, CRIPDES and CORDES. CRIPDES is our sponsoring organization. They had hired Roberto as our interpreter for the trip and we met him at the CRIPDES offices. Roberto and Miguel became our good friends and our best sources of information. Much of what we know about the lives of Salvadorans came from their stories.

We were introduced to Marta Lorena Araujo, President of CRIPDES, and Janet of CORDES.

CRIPDES started July 14, 1984 as an organization to support the people of El Salvador during the war. Originally, they worked with displaced people. CRIDPES works in 300 communities in El Salvador to support these communities in the establishment of basic services like health care, clean drinkable water, basic education and electricity. This reconstruction process began in earnest in 1986 when CRIPDES began to assist rural communities to relocate from refugee bases in Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

The repatriation process is one of the early achievements of CRIPDES. In this they worked without government assistance. Support did come from the international community for the building of homes, roads, water infrastructure, education and health care. This rebuilding process continues to this day.