Friday, July 17, 2009
As El Salvador transitions from decades of conservative rule to the administration of leftist President Mauricio Funes, the country faces an international showdown triggered by a restrictive free-trade agreement between the United States and Central America. Canada's Pacific Rim Mining Corporation is suing the government for its refusal to allow it to mine gold in El Salvador's rural north. If Pacific Rim succeeds in securing the $100 million settlement it seeks, that would set a troubling precedent. At stake is a question that affects all nations: Can private interests trump national sovereignty under international law?
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El Salvador has become the first country in the world to ban gold mining, thanks in part to opposition from Salvadorean civil society.
The key role played by Salvadorean civil society in achieving the ban has been recognised by an international human rights award for the El Salvador National Committee Against Metal Mining, with which Progressio works closely. An umbrella organisation of Salvadorean human rights groups, the Committee set out to raise awareness and carry out advocacy work in order to make the Salvadorean government take action against the problem.
Nicoletta Marinelli, a Progressio development worker who has coordinated the Committee’s communications work, explains: “Metal mining contaminates surface and subterranean waters with cyanide and heavy metals. In Central America it has caused health problems which have mainly affected women and children.
“It has also displaced and divided communities, generating new outbreaks of conflict in a region which is still recovering from the wounds inflicted during decades of civil war.”
The amount of water available to communities close to the mines has also been affected. A mine consumes large quantities of water, putting the ecosystem at risk and competing with the local population for water resources.
This ban will have a positive effect on rural communities and on the environment, says Nicoletta: “Mining threatens traditional forms of production such as agriculture, livestock farming and fishing. In addition, when agricultural production takes place close to a mine, plants absorb the cyanide and the heavy metals and this is dangerous to human health.”
The Committee’s work has been recognised at international level by the US-based Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), which has awarded the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award to the Committee “for its courage in embarking on this struggle, despite the odds against them, in order to make El Salvador the first country in the world to ban gold mining.”
“This award recognises work undertaken by many people over many years,” says Nicoletta. “It also recognises that prosperity is not based solely on economic growth: rather it reconciles social wellbeing with the environment and economic prosperity.”So what’s the next challenge? To continue to advocate for a law which bans mining, and to regionalise the fight against mining. “I think that the award has motivated the committee members to fight beyond the Salvadorean borders and to support other Central American associations,” concludes Nicoletta.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
With great sadness the SHARE Foundation informs you of the brutal murder of Marcelo Rivera, a great community leader from San Isidro, in the northern department of Cabañas. He was kidnapped on June 18th, 2009, near the town of Ilobasco, Cabañas. On July 1st, his body was found inside a dry well. DNA tests were conducted and confirmed that the body belonged to Marcelo. His belongings were found in a nearby abandoned house in the middle of a corn field. According to the medical examiner, Marcelo was kept alive several days after his disappearance. His body showed signs of brutal torture typical of a death squad killing.
However on Thursday July 9, a prosecutor from the Attorney General's Office, Rodolfo Delgado, declared that 4 gang members had been captured as suspects for the crime. Delgado's hypothesis is that Marcelo had been drinking with the gang members the night of his disappearance and that they killed him after a fight. Delgado discounted the political motives of the crime, and solely attributed Marcelo's murder to gang violence that did not merit investigation. Marcelo's family and social justice organizations strongly rejected these assertions. Miguel Rivera, Marcelo's brother expressed, "To say that my brother died at the hands of gang members is not a credible story and it becomes an insult to our family. My brother was tortured; he was alive for 9 days after his disappearance. His trachea was broken with a nylon cord when they strangled him, forcing his arm toward his face. This is not the work of gang members; it is a crime of torture."
In a press conference held on Friday July 10th various coalitions of social organizations, including the Coalition for Peace, Dignity and Social Justice and the Workers Commission on Human Rights and Historical Memory, among others, publicly rejected the prosecutor's statement. According to the organizations, it was Marcelo's activism what brought him to his death. Marcelo was an activist since his youth. In high school, he and his brother Miguel founded a community library in San Isidro; later they founded what it became the "Friends of San Isidro Association" (ASIC), a hometown group with members in San Isidro and the United States.
ASIC became the vehicle for community organizing in San Isidro. Through ASIC, residents work to improve their lives and defend their natural resources. They became unpopular with their municipal authorities when they opposed two of the main projects that the Mayor wanted to promote: a garbage dump and the development of the gold mining industry. Pacific Rim Mining Company's main mining project in Latin American is El Dorado gold mine which happens to be in San Isidro, Cabañas. The mining company claims to have invested $77 million exploring the area; its managers hired workers and gained favors from the San Isidro mayor. ASIC, as part of the National Working Group against Metallic Mining in El Salvador (La Mesa), began a fearless opposition to the mining company. Marcelo was seen as the leader behind the community struggle.
Moreover, Marcelo was politically active. In the January 2009 municipal elections, Marcelo, as an electoral volunteer supervising the voting centers, led a campaign to denounce and prevent the fraud that was about to take place in San Isidro when ARENA party members tried to bring illegal voters from the neighboring countries. As a result of the denunciation, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) suspended the elections in the town for one week. The incumbent mayor won the elections in the midst of the fraud scandal. After these events Marcelo was the target of verbal attacks, harassment and defamation campaigns. An ARENA member even tried to run him over with a car.
None of these threats were ever investigated by the police and are not being considered in the current investigation. Social organizations are demanding that Attorney General Office and the National Civilian Police do not assume that the murder was not premeditated and that there are not intellectual authors involved. They demand an investigation into the threats Marcelo received before his kidnapping and respect for the integrity of Marcelo's memory. The organizations believe this murder is politically motivated because it fits the parameter established in the report written by the Joint Group to Investigate Politically Motivated Illegal Armed Groups (1994). These parameters include: "a victim with a profile as a political opponent; the modus operandi directed toward elimination, denoting planning and operating capacity; and posterior impunity that is facilitated by the State."
In the meantime Marcelo's family, his community and the anti-mining organizations throughout the country are mourning Marcelo. Hundreds of people attended his funeral last Saturday, July 12, in San Isidro. The streets of the small town were filled with people in all directions. The youth painted a mural in Marcelo's memory at the community library that he and his brother founded. He was a beloved leader, an incredible and inspiring person. Marcelo will live in the hearts and minds of the people who struggle for peace and justice; his memory will be present in those who work to protect their environment and to make the world a better place. As a signed carried by a group of youth read: "Marcelo, nobody will quiet your voice, nor end your struggle. We demand Justice! You can kill people but not their ideals."
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Marcelo Rivera is a 37 year-old teacher who works as the Director of San Isidro's Casa de la Cultura, a community center dedicated to promoting the local culture. Marcelo is also a founding member and Director of Friends of San Isidro Cabañas (ASIC), which is a member organization of the National Working Group Against Mining in El Salvador (La Mesa). In addition, Marcelo is an FMLN leader at the local level, serving as a party board member in the Cabañas chapter. This week, communities in San Isidro, ASIC, and other social organizations gathered in front of the Casa de la Cultura to express their concern and to pressure local and national authorities to begin investigations regarding the whereabouts of Marcelo. Students and teachers from San Isidro's schools participated in the protest carrying signs asking authorities to stop violence, corruption, and impunity....Continue reading "Anti-Mining Activist Disappears."
- Claudia Rodríguez, DC Policy Office Director
Lessons of a Mango Tree: Belief in New Life
The summer after my first year of teaching, I found myself sitting under a mango tree in the middle of El Salvador with a student named Sam. We sat on a bench together in a beautiful garden, looking at an intricate mural in an exotic country, yet the mood was somber and heavy.
Sam broke the silence we were sharing by whispering, “I do not understand, I cannot fathom how one person could ever kill a child.” I hoped he was not looking for his teacher to offer wisdom, because I had none. The world has the potential to be horrendously ugly.
In late July, 16 high school juniors, my two best co-worker friends and I left Minnesota to study the civil war in El Salvador. It was one of those trips that did enough filling to keep me full for quite some time. It was a journey that reinforced the idea that joy and sorrow come from the same well in our hearts. Our overscheduled lives of controlled routine were given up for guttural laughter and soul crushing tears within 10 minutes of each other. We sweated harder and experienced deeper joy and hurt in those 10 days than we had in the previous year of our formerly guarded, air-conditioned lives.
There is a part of the human spirit that knows that all humans have inherent worth and dignity. That part of the human spirit will always cry out for freedom, land, food, water, love and life. In the 1970s, a few families owned most of the land in El Salvador, and the people rose up out of their desperation. With the support of liberation theology and the Jesuit order, the guerillas went to war with the government in hopes of gaining more land, rights and power for the people....Continue reading "Lessons of a Mango Tree."
*Illustration by Meghan Hanson.
- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator
Monday, July 6, 2009
Thursday, July 2, 2009
- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator
*Photos from AP.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Police hold a citizen down on the ground. The wall in the background reads, "Private Property."