Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Community Activists in Cabañas are Receiving Death Threats

Less than a month after the assassination of Marcelo Rivera, an increasing number of activists from the northern Department of Cabañas report to be receiving death threats. Like Marcelo, the targeted people have been outspoken against mining and have denounced electoral fraud. They also have called for a full investigation into Marcelo's killing. The death threats seem to be linked to the murder since often they refer that the victims will "end up just like Marcelo." Click here to see a video in Spanish about death threats that activists have received.

The first to receive death threats were three young reporters who work for Radio Victoria. José Beltrán, Ludwing Iraheta and Vladimir Abarca explained in a press conference that after they began to cover the disappearance and murder of Marcelo they started to receive hand written and phone death threats. Radio officials denounced this situation to the police (PNC), the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman and the Office of the Attorney General.

Radio Victoria is a community broadcaster located in the town of Victoria, Cabañas. The radio run mainly by youth, started in 1993 with the purpose of giving the isolated community, its own means of communication. According to its website, the radio is a "welcoming space where people can make announcements, send greetings, talk about their problems, look for solutions, discuss politics, and share dreams." The radio has played a key role in exposing the Pacific Rim mining project, the municipal and presidential elections and its fraud scandals, and more recently, the murder of Marcelo Rivera.

Father Luis Quintanilla, a progressive Catholic priest and a long time defender of human rights, has received similar threats. One of the threats read "the damned reds [communists] disguised as priests will be finished off," "keep quiet if you don't want to end up like Marcelo," declared the priest in a press release. However, in this case the threats went beyond words. On July 27th Father Quintanilla was driving from Victoria when four armed, hooded men, stopped him and pulled him out of his car to kidnap and murder him. However the priest was able to escape by jumping into a gully.

On July 28th, the Director of the Association for Economic and Social Development (ADES), a non-profit operating in Cabañas, was also threatened. Later, Isabel Gomez, head of the news team at Radio Victoria received a threatening call in the press room. When the second to last person left the radio, Isabel received the call in which the aggressor acknowledged the fact that she was alone at the radio. Isabel's house was also broken into and vandalized.

As time goes on, the list of threatened people continue to grow. By July 30th all the staff from Radio Victoria had been threatened. The radio was also sabotaged. The radio antenna in Sensuntepeque (Cabañas' main city) was stolen and the electrical system was sabotaged causing the transmitter to fail. Therefore the radio has been on and off the air. The lives of the staff members have been disrupted as they have had to change their daily routines and look for refuge. However they are still working and struggling to keep the radio on air. As one of the staff members said "they will not silence us; we know that our people accompany us and that we will continue forward, because we believe that another Cabañas is possible." Our friends from the area informed us that many community members are volunteering to guard and protect the radio at night. Police officers are also present.

In a press conference the Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman, Oscar Luna, called on the Attorney General Office and the National Civil Police (PNC) to investigate and find the material and intellectual authors of these death threats and bring them to justice. He urged the authorities to take steps to protect the lives of the victims.

ADES Santa Marta stated in a press release that "ultra-right wing groups linked to organized crime groups are trying to keep the population of the Department in a state of terror and are making lethal attacks against social leaders and political and environmental activists. The negligence of the Public Prosecutor and the Police at the Departmental level favors, reinforces, and shelters these violations." ADES also called on the international community to pressure the Salvadoran authorities to investigate these human rights violations.

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