Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Gilberto Soto - 10 years later

When I began writing this blog ten years ago, one of the first stories which I covered regularly was the November 2004 murder of Gilberto Soto.   Soto was a Salvadoran born Teamster from New Jersey. While in El Salvador in 2004, he was gunned down outside his mother's home. The police called it a domestic dispute, arresting gang members allegedly hired by Soto's mother-in-law.  She was ultimately exonerated.  Others were sure that it was related to his union organizing efforts among truckers in El Salvador's ports. Other theories tied the killing to connections to drug-trafficking and a criminal cartel known as the Perrones.

Mauricio Funes ordered the Soto case be reopened in 2009,  but there has been no sign of forward movement on the case in the years since then.   This week the Teamsters issued a  press release stating the union had sent a letter to El Salvador's Attorney General, inviting him to Washington to discuss the case:

[T]he International Brotherhood of Teamsters announced that General President James P. Hoffa sent a letter to El Salvador Attorney General Luis Antonio Martinez inviting him to the union's headquarters in Washington D.C., to discuss re-opening the investigation into the assassination of Teamster official Gilberto Soto. 
Hoffa sent Martinez the correspondence after not receiving a response from him to a letter regarding the Soto murder he co-signed with 14 internationally-recognized human rights advocates nearly three months ago. The open letter was published in La Prensa Grafica on Nov. 5, 2014, the tenth anniversary of Soto's assassination. 
In the new letter, Hoffa reiterates that the human rights advocates were requesting that the attorney general "…work cooperatively with the PDDH and independent human rights organizations to identify those who ordered these crimes and those who covered them up." His letter specifically refers to reports "…that the cover-up included the sexual torture of gang members, while in police custody, in order to extract false and misleading confessions" in the Soto case.
Although the Teamsters and US Congressman James McGovern of Massachusetts are interested in seeing this case fully investigated and resolved, it's not clear to me that anyone in El Salvador has the same interests.  I'm afraid "who killed Gilberto Soto?" and "where is Jimmy Hoffa buried?"  will be unanswered questions for the Teamsters for many years to come.


5 comments:

Cathy Howell said...

Thanks for following Gilbert's murder during his visit to El Salvador to do the groundwork for port organizing here. I want to say though that comparing the lack of follow-up on his murder with Jimmy Hoffa is not just a false equivalency (since Hoffa had a history of connections with organized crime and Gilbert Sota was a line organizer for the new Teamster's union and assigned to talk with port workers and investigate labor conditions here) but it also assumes that the if there was a real investigation the murderers could not be identified. My friend Ron Carver was a colleague of Soto's at the IBT and has continued to work on his case from his retirement position at the Institute for Policy Studies. He can tell you more.

Tim said...

Cathy,
Taking me to task on the Hoffa comparison was appropriate. My only point to make was that the facts around Soto's murder, like the facts around Hoffa's, are not likely to be known. Not because a good investigation could not develop the facts, but because there is no one in El Salvador who has any interest in doing so and I am guessing there are dark forces out there who do not want the truth to be known.

Ron Carver said...

Tim, I know that you meant well, but what really comes through with the overly cute reference to Hoffa Sr. is a totally cynical view point that discourages folks from continuing the fight against impunity. And, in fact, the recent communication with the current Salvadoran Attorney General is meant to support those in El Salvador who struggle every day to continue to fight for social justice and against impunity.

We have strong support from the trade unions in El Salvador who have also lost key leaders to death squads. And we have strong support from the Ombudsman for Human Rights, David Morales and the new director of the Institute for Human Rights at the Jesuit university in San Salvador UCA.

These and many others have urged the Teamsters union to continue to "make noise" as they are convinced that a robust fight internationally to re-open the Soto case keeps the spotlight on the key issue of impunity. That is what we are doing. A person less committed to social justice than the current Teamsters president could easily move on and let this unsolved crime fade into a distant memory.
We would hope that you will study the issue and check out the broad support we have in El Salvador and, in the future, write blogs supporting the struggle.

Ron Carver said...

And here is a blog on this topic by Hector Silva in Revista Factum:


http://revistafactum.com/2015/02/el-caso-soto-se-niega-a-morir/

http://revistafactum.com/2015/02/pediremos-al-congreso-que-condicione-la-ayuda/

Carlos X said...

I get that the good folks here read language closely and are sensitive to connotations, but from the 30,000 ft. view, the use of the metaphor added an element of interest to a story I read knowing next to nothing about and as such it made the story memorable. And now that you've all reacted this way, I will REALLY remember it. :)