Wednesday, August 26, 2009

27 years after the Calabozo massacre

The road from Amatina Arriba to Amatitan Abajo was muddy and hard to see in the dark, but never the less, over a hundred people primarily teenagers walked the muddy road holding signs that read “A people never forgets its martyrs” and “Que viva los martires del Calabozo.” When they arrived in Amatitan Abajo, the cultural and commemorative activities of the Friday night vigil commenced. A few of the survivors shared some words and then the youth took over with songs, reflections, a small documentary they had made about the massacre and short play they had written.

None of the youth had lived through the Calabozo massacre that happened by river of Amititan in a place called the Calabazo in 1982, but they had grown up hearing the story from their family. How the army had advanced from the San Pedro hills and how the inhabitants of the region fled their homes in what was known as the “guindas.” How the people had been walking for seven days without food and took refuge by the river to sleep when they were attacked by the Atlacatl and the Ramon Belloso Batallian, it was then that they were massacred in cold blood, over two hundred men, women and children. When the youth group from the Community of El Rincon acted out a play that had written about the massacre, they made sure to include the part where the mothers plea for the soldiers to take their own lives but to spare the lives of their small children. No they had not lived through the massacre and the guindas but many of them had lost aunts, uncles and siblings during the twelve year civil war that heavily affected the Northern region of San Vicente in the municipality of San Esteban Catarina where the Amatitans are located.

What would it be like to be a young person growing up in a post war country where you parents and family lived through a brutal conflict that you hardly remember? Many of the young people in the Northern Zone of San Vicente have little interest in the past and focus more on the recent arrival of cell phones and American fashion to their small remote communities. However, a growing number of young people are interested in the historic memory of their community. Throughout the Friday night vigil and the Saturday morning commemoration ceremony one could hear many of the young people quoted as saying “we must remember our past so that it doesn’t repeat itself.”

Remembering the past so as not to repeat itself is not just something that people say in theory, it’s something that is very real in El Salvador where many of the people who ordered massacres such as the massacre of Calabazo are powerful government figures who are protected by an amnesty law that does not allow them to be prosecuted for war crimes. One point that continued to surface throughout the entire commemoration ceremonies was the fact that one of the architects of the Calabozo massacre, Sigfredo Ochoa Perez, is currently the Salvadoran ambassador to Honduras. “How is it just” ask the people “that we continue to mourn our loved ones, whose murderers have never been brought to justice but instead are high level government officials?” In a talk preceding the Saturday morning mass at the actual site of the massacre, David Morales, the lawyer who is representing the Calabozo case as well as the Archbishop Romero murder case, called to repeal the Amnesty Law that allows impunity to continue in this country. The people cheered in support of his words, though it is unlikely anything will happen. The newly elected leftist president, Mauricio Funes, has already stated that he does not plan to repeal the law.

But the people in the communities such as the Amatitans continue to fight for justice, whether their government supports them or not. And after being present for all the activities it is evident that this struggle is one that is being passed on to the future generations and will not die when the Calabozo survivers do but rather continue on as long as the history of El Calabozo, of El Mozote of the Rio Sumpul and all the other horrible acts of war are being told.

-Laura Hershberger, SHARE Grassroots Solidarity Eduation Coordinator

Photography captions:

1) Youth at the vigil with a sign that reads: "The youth from Nueva Guadalupe rescueing our historic memory on the 27th anniversary of the massacre, we are remembering our martyrs who will always be in our hearts"

2) Sign with the names of the martyrs being held during the campfire at the vigil

3) Mass being said at the site of the Calabozo massacre, photo taken from the CoLatina

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Martyrs of Calabozo

This song was written by a young man from the community of Amatitan Arriba in Northern San Vicente about the massacre that occured in his community in 1982.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Salvadoran remittances drop 11 percent in 2009

El Salvador's central bank says the money citizens living abroad sent home during the first seven months of this year dropped 11 percent compared to the same period in 2008.

The bank says remittances between January and July reached $2 billion in the Central American country compared to $2.2 billion during the same period last year.

In a report issued Monday, the bank blamed the decrease on rising unemployment in the United States, especially among Latin American immigrants.

Remittances represent the largest source of legal foreign income. About 2.5 million Salvadorans live in the United States.

-Associated Press

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.

Over 100 organizations demand an investigation of Gustavo Marcelo Rivera's Murder

San Salvador, El Salvador. One hundred and eight international organizations sent last Friday July 24, a letter to the Salvadoran Acting Attorney General, Ástor Escalante Savaria, demanding an exhaustive investigation of the kidnapping and brutal murder of Gustavo Marcelo Rivera Moreno. Among the signatory organizations are the Salvadoran American National Association (SANA) and the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Gustavo Marcelo Rivera was from San Isidro, Department of Cabañas. He disappeared on June 18th and his body was found 11 days later with signs of terrible torture according to a forensic report.

In the letter the organizations vehemently reject the statements that prosecutor Rodolfo Delgado gave to the media, expressing that the hypothesis of the crime is that Rivera was killed by gang members after a disagreement. According to the organizations, by attributing the motives of the crime to common violence, the prosecutor is discarding a priori the existence of intellectual authors of this assassination.

Rivera was a renowned leader in the struggle against mining in El Salvador and in addition he played a key role at denouncing the electoral fraud that resulted in the suspension of the municipal elections in San Isidro in January 2009. For this reason the international organizations consider that there is enough evidence to suggest that that the crime was committed for political reasons and that "the failure to investigate this motives , including the slow response of the police in the initial search for Marcelo constitute serious irregularities that need to be investigated and corrected."

Therefore, as representatives of the international community, the 108 organizations call on the Office of the Attorney General to carry out an impartial, exhaustive, and effective investigation in order to bring to justice the intellectual and material authors of this horrendous crime, and prevent these tragedies from happening again. It is alarming that in the last weeks, several activists including three young reporters from Radio Victoria have received death threats for publicly denouncing the mining activities. This shows the urgency for a through investigation. The international organizations state that "If Marcelo's murder is left in a state of impunity, it will generate a climate of intimidation and uncertainty for social leaders and activists, undermining the advances in the democratic process in El Salvador."

The organization also sent copies of the letter to following authorities: Salvadoran President, Mauricio Funes; the Ministry of Governability, Humberto Centeno; the Director of the National Civil Police, Carlos Ascencio; the Chief of Public Safety- San Isidro Delegation, Saúl Venegas; the Charge d'Affaires, US Embassy to El Salvador, Robert Blau; and the
Canadian Ambassador to El Salvador, Claire Poulin.

To read the letter in English click here.

To read the original letter in Spanish click here.