Alert: First Victim of the Struggle against Mining in El Salvador
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.”