For over 30 years the organizations Sister Cities, the SHARE Foundation, and the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, CISPES, have supported the social movement in El Salvador. We are here today in solidarity with the Salvadoran people, demanding that the Attorney General, Romeo Barahona, end impunity in El Salvador.
As U.S. residents, including representatives of the Salvadoran community in the United States, we support the achievements of the courageous struggle of the organized people of El Salvador,who have halted mining projects in the country and successfully voted in a new progressive government in 2009. This week we met with our partners and allies of the social movement, who have informed us about the climate of impunity that prevails in the country. We are aware of the intimidation campaign being waged against the Salvadoran social movement and we are very concerned about the role the Attorney General has played in allowing impunity to threaten the lives of Salvadoran citizens.
In the department of Cabañas a strong movement in resistance to mining projects has formed because these projects represent a serious threat because of their harmful environmental impacts and because of the social instability they cause in communities. This month yet another anti-mining activist has been the victim of violence against this movement. Juan Francisco Durán Ayala disappeared on June 4, a day after distributing posters and leaflets against metallic mining in Ilobasco, as part of a public consultation on the mining sector. Juan Francisco was shot dead and his body was identified ten days later.
The murder of Juan Francisco is the fourth murder of an environmentalist who opposed mining in Cabañas. The body of Marcelo Rivera, a community leader in San Isidro, was found in July 2009 with signs of torture,and environmentalists Dora Alicia Sorto and Ramiro Rivera were shot to death in December 2009. The investigations of these crimes have not yet produced the capture of the intellectual authors of these assassinations.In addition, the staff of Radio Victoria have been receiving a steady wave of death threats from people who call themselves a death squad, and the Attorney General´s office has not conducted any investigation. In fact, the Attorney General has not even visited the Radio to collect evidence about the threats.
This continual violence and intimidation has created a climate that hinders the work of the social movement in Cabañas and in El Salvador. Social organizations are forced to devote more energy and resources to protect their members, rather than promoting their literacy, leadership and sustainable development programs. Impunity produces fear of reprisals,which discourages community members from full participating in public forums. The inaction of the Attorney General in the face of these crimes legitimizes the idea that violence is a viable and dependable method of promoting political and social interests and managing public debate.
In addition to the inaction of the prosecutors in the murder of environmentalists in Cabañas, we are aware of other cases of impunity, such as the case of Ruben Humberto Mejía Sotelo, a municipal councilor of Mexicans, assassinated on the 14th of June. Similarly, the acts of corruption committed by members of previous governments have not been investigated satisfactorily, despite compelling evidence that has been presented by current government officials.
Such is the case of former Health Minister Guillermo Maza, who, despite having been captured, then released and then caught again, has not yet been prosecuted for having embezzled funds meant for the reconstruction of hospitals damaged in the earthquake of 2001. The Attorney general also has not conclusively investigated allegations of corruption and embezzlement of funds committed by the former government minister Humberto Centeno and René Figueroa, Rodrigo Ávila, Coronel Jorge Murcia, Miguel Tomás López, José Armando Zepeda, y Julio Alberto Ramírez, all officials of the administration of former President Antonio Saca. In the cases of acts of corruption committed by the ministries of health and governance of the previous administration, tens of millions of dollars were stolen from the Salvadoran people by corrupt officials.
Finally, there are the murders of political activists which have not been investigated as political assassinations. As examples we have the murders of Francisco Antonio Manzanares and Juana de Manzanares, in July 2006, and Gilberto Soto, the Teamsters union leader in November 2004. Both the Attorney General and the Chief of the Organized Crime Unit, Rodolfo Delgado, are responsible for carrying out investigations that actually produce the intellectual and material authors of crimes.
The election of a new left-wing government which occurred in 2009 has allowed for a shift towards more transparency in the management of public funds. The inaction of the Attorney General strengthens the pattern of impunity in the face of obvious government and undermines the new government´s efforts to ensure transparency. At day’s end, the ones who pay for this impunity and corruption are the Salvadoran people.
With these examples, it becomes clear that the current Attorney General is not fulfilling his duty to investigate crimes which is outlined in the Constitution of the Republic. Therefore, we reiterate the demands of our allies and partners in El Salvador, calling on Attorney General Romeo Barahona to:
• Investigate all cases of violence and threats against the anti-mining movement in Cabañas and find the intellectual authors of these crime by fully investigating links between the violence and mining companies and corrupt local authorities.
• Fully investigate the killing of the municipal councilor of Mejicanos, Rubén Humberto Mejía Sotelo.
• Bring to justice corrupt ministers of previous governments who have embezzled government funds and ensure the return of the stolen funds to the Salvadoran people.
• To do justice in cases of the political assassinations of the Manzanares family and the labor leaders Gilberto Soto, and other cases of political violence that have gone unpunished.
We emphasize that among us there are members of the Salvadoran community residing in the United States and who are particularly committed to making sure El Salvador is a country which advocates for human life. The wounds left by the civil war, which drove migration to the United States, continue to heal, and continued impunity in El Salvador is in part a product of the continued inequality, the same inequality that led to the armed conflict. As members of the Salvadoran community in the United States, we are very aware of this, and we stand in solidarity with the struggle for justice in our home country.
Finally, we reiterate our solidarity with the Salvadoran people and our commitment to continue following these cases of impunity and to inform people in the United States and our government about the concerns of our allies and partners in El Salvador have about the inaction of the Attorney General.