Monday, January 31, 2011

Conflict continues in gold mining region

There has been a troubling resurgence of violence and threats of violence in the Cabañas region of El Salvador, where gold mining companies want to open mines. Those mining plans have been blocked by the Salvadoran government and a strong environmental movement. In 2009, three anti-mining activists were murdered in Cabañas. The police eventually arrested and convicted several people for the crimes, blaming the killings on gangs and a family feud. The victims' role as leaders of the anti-mining movement has been discounted by the authorities as a motive. But members of the activist community have continued to call on the police and prosecutors to pursue the intellectual authors of the crimes.

During 2010, the violence appeared to have subsided somewhat, but the anti-mining movement reports a new wave of murders and threats with possible links to their struggle:

In the middle of the night on January 11, a written death threat was pushed under the front door of community radio station Radio Victoria despite supposed 24-hour police security. The authors claim to be an “extermination group” and offer large sums of money to the radio if they “stop making trouble,” including to stop reporting on mining. If they don’t, the group says they will murder the radio’s three “loudest mouths,” Elvis Zavala, Pablo Ayala, and Manuel Navarrete.

On January 23, Mesa member and activist from MUFRAS-32 Hector Berríos received phone calls to his home and his cell phone from an unidentified person who claimed to have been hired to kill Hector or a member of his family.

This month, employees of CEICOM, a member organization of the Mesa, have been victims of two robberies in which a vehicle and important organizational documents were stolen. In 2010, while traveling to regional anti-mining conferences, CEICOM employees were robbed on one occasion and kidnapped, robbed and left tied up on a separate occasion in Guatemala.

Two young people in Cabañas who were connected to the June 2009 trial for the murder of Marcelo Rivera have been killed. Darwin Serrano, who participated in the murder but was released from prison because he was a minor, was attacked and killed on December 20. Gerardo Abrego León, who testified in the trial that convicted and sentenced to prison the material authors of Marcelo Rivera’s murder, was killed on January 2.
Activist groups have started a campaign to urge Salvadoran authorities to get to the bottom of this new round of violence.

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