Thursday, December 31, 2009

Third environmentalist murdered in El Salvador in 2009

Another environmental activist has been murdered in the department of Cabañas. This follows by just five days the murder of Ramiro Rivera, another leader in the fight against gold-mining in that part of the country:

SAN SALVADOR – An environmentalist was murdered and one of her small children wounded over the weekend in a rural area in Cabañas, a province in central El Salvador, raising to three the number of activists killed this year, environmental groups said.

Dora Recinos Sorto was gunned down Saturday [December 26] in an area of the Trinidad district, where environmentalist Ramiro Rivera and a 57-year-old women riding in a vehicle with him were killed on Dec. 21.

“She was shot five times in the back,” Cabañas environmental committee coordinator Francisco Pineda told Efe, adding that Recinos Sorto was the wife of another environmentalist.

The 32-year-old woman, who was pregnant, was with the youngest of her six children at the moment of the attack, Pineda said.

The child “was wounded, but is now out of danger,” Pineda told state-owned Radio Nacional El Salvador.

“She was eight-months pregnant and even that didn’t stop these people from killing her,” Pineda said.

The baby that Recinos Sorto was carrying also died.

The attack was “undeniably” linked to her work against the mining exploration and extraction going on in Cabañas, Pineda said.(more).
A story from a Canadian paper pointed to tensions in the regions of the department of Cabanas where gold mining company Pacific Rim wants to opoerate:
[T]ension between the anti-and pro-mining groups appears not to have abated. In the last 10 days, two members of Cabanas Environment Committee, an environmental group opposed to the opening of a mine, have been killed. Dora Recinos Sorto, who was eight months pregnant, was killed on Saturday. The youngest of her six children, a son whose age has not been confirmed, was shot in the foot. A second activist, Ramiro Rivera, was killed Dec. 21. Another anti-mining activist, Marcelo Rivera (no relation) was kidnapped and killed in June, according to news reports.

The presence of Pacific Rim "has really split a community which has a long history of violence," said Clinton Carter, a consultant with Washington, D.C.-headquartered Frontier Strategy Group, which helps companies assess the risk of doing business in emerging markets.

Some groups would support the mine and they would view the anti-mine activists as jeopardizing their livelihood, Carter said. "That is the kind of very tricky local situation that these companies are wading into," he said.

That's especially true in a small community where there are big expectations about what jobs and income a mine could bring, Carter said.

"So if there is a very vocal faction opposed to it sitting alongside those who are suffering pretty high unemployment and pretty low standards of living, I think that has a potential to really polarize communities."

And that would be something Pacific Rim "wouldn't be able to control or predict," he said.

In an article in ContraPunto, the FMLN and the country's Human Rights Ombudsman Oscar Luna demanded that the National Police and the Attorney General's office conduct a thorough investigation. Luna criticized the police authorities for serious omissions and failing to conduct investigations with due diligence. He decried the authorities failure to protect the environmentalists who had faced increasing threats in the past months. In a statement reported in La Prensa Grafica, Luna said the PNC had been negligent in its investigations of the attacks on the environmentalists.

The archbishop of San Salvador, José Escobar Alas, stated that "We need to know who are the authors of these crimes."

The subdirector of investigations, Augusto Cotto, also stated in the Contra Punto article that there was a clear nexus between the murders of Ramiro Rivera Gómez and Dora Alicia Recino Sorto. He pointed to the fact that both were clearly planned out in advance and conducted by hitmen.

The blog at Voices on the Border republished an email threat which it said had been circulated shortly before the most recent murder:
Our friends in Cabanas received more death threats yesterday from an unidentified individual or group claiming responsibility for the murders of Marcelo Rivera and Ramiro Rivera. The email read, as translated:

“we sent 2 into the hole, now the question is, who will be the third, maybe Father Luis or one from the radio, not a bad idea to continue with one of those big mouths at radio victoria, we are not playing around we demonstrated that we have the logistic capacity and financing to deal with whoever, it doesn’t matter if you have a battalion of police taking care of you like dogs, we will do it when we like, the deaths will continue and no one can stop the vengeance that’s begun, we prefer that the 3rd be someone at the “pinche” radio, we are not playing around, this is the new wave of warnings after taking care of Ramiro”
The murders have energized the activist community to demand a response. Voices on the Border stated it eloquently:
Marcelo, Ramiro, and Alicia courageously continued to voice their concerns and defend their communities while receiving death threats. They did more than participate in and lead an anti-mining movement; they shouldered El Salvador’s burgeoning civil society and young democracy. Those who cower in the shadows making threats and killing pregnant women have tried to silence these three voices. We must now stand with our friends in Cabañas to ensure that the voices of Marcelo, Ramiro, and Alicia continue to be heard, and that others around the country follow in their path of choosing words, civility, and democracy over violence, brutality, and intimidation.

You can get more information from Democracy Now and Upside Down World. Voices on the Border is running a fact finding mission to El Salvador from February 6-14, which you can learn more about here.

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