From Socialist Voice, October 2009


More murders on behalf of mining companies

Cabanas is a department in north-central El Salvador with a population of about 200,000. At the moment a state of fear exists in this part of Salvador, as a wave of violence and terror moves through the area.
     The Pacific Rim Mining Corporation, a Canadian company, is attempting to exploit the area’s gold deposits. Since the elections have ended, those in support of mining are no longer restrained in their actions and are now free to use whatever violence they want against local people and anti-mining activists. The ruling elite in Cabanas are attempting to rid themselves of their political enemies, through violence and political assassinations.
     While there is nothing to connect the Pacific Rim Mining Company directly to the continuing violence, its silence is deafening. In the eyes of the local people its refusal to condemn the violence is tantamount to support.
     On the 18th of June this year Marcelo Rivera, a prominent anti-mining activist, community leader and member of the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN) was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by an unknown group of people. Less than two weeks later his body was discovered at the bottom of a 60-foot well.
     Francisco Pineda, a local environmentalist, spoke of Rivera by saying: “He fought against the mining threat from the perspective of a teacher, a cultural promoter, a director of a community organisation and as a political leader.” The autopsy confirmed that he had been horrifically tortured before being strangled to death.
     This murder resembles the many others by the death squads during the civil war. What is most disturbing about it is the reaction of the Salvadoran elite towards it. The attorney-general and the head of the local police tried to spin a story that Rivera had been killed after starting a drunken fight with local gang members. (It has since been established that Rivera did not drink.) The local police then declared that he had died from two blows to the head. The autopsy has since proved that he was viciously tortured.
     It seems to be more than just a coincidence that a high-ranking local police officer is a brother of the mayor of San Isidro, Ignacio Bautista, who has been wined and dined and taken on foreign trips by none other than Pacific Rim. Bautista is a big supporter and promoter of gold mining in the Cabanas area.
     In further attempts to cover up the murder of Rivera, journalists are being threatened and intimidated. A common message that has been sent to numerous journalists is “Shut your mouths, or we will shut them for ever.”
     The murder of Rivera and the response, or lack of it, by the elite has given a green light to the stepping up of violence against anyone who opposes the mining. On the 28th of July a local priest, Father Luis Quintanilla, had his car stopped by three masked men. He narrowly escaped with his life after his car alarm was set off inadvertently and his attackers became distracted. He has received numerous threats in text messages telling him he will end up like Rivera.
     Following this, another leading figure in opposing the El Dorado mine, Ramiro Rivera, was shot eight times in the back. Incredibly, he survived. Rivera is president of the community association in Nueva Trinidad, a small community in Cabanas. He had organised numerous roadblocks in the area to stop Pacific Rim moving heavy equipment and had received many death threats for his principled stand against the mining company. He was able to identify one of his attackers as Oscar Menjivar, a man with a history of attacks on anti-mining activists. He attacked another activist last year with a machete. He was arrested but released without charge.
     It is of little surprise that Menjivar is a close associate of a number of prominent members of the ruling ARENA party in Cabanas, including two local mayors.
     Since the election of President Mauricio Funes, a member of the FMLN, he has moved to stop the granting of a licence to the Pacific Rim Mining Company. Pacific Rim is suing El Salvador for $100 million, using the provisions of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (imposed by the United States) as its case.
     The FMLN are continuing to stand against giving the licence, despite this pressure, as they know it will cause untold environmental devastation while giving nothing back to the country or local communities.
     Even though Pacific Rim has not been granted a licence it had an exploration permit granted by the previous government. The exploratory drill holes they used to estimate the gold deposits in the area have been responsible for rechannelling underground streams and as a result causing severe water shortages in some areas where there used to be plentiful springs. Some of the wells were also poisoned with unknown toxins. If this is the effect on the local environment, one can imagine what the effects of actual mining would be.

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