The SHARE Blog

Hope and Frustration in Murder Trials of Salvadoran Environmentalists

April 19, 2012

Organizers flyer the Pacific Rim Mining Company sign in Sesutepeque, Cabañas. Photo courtesy of stopesmining.org

On April 11, 2012 the trials for the murders of  two environmentalists in in Trinidad, Sesutepeque, Cabañas – including (Ramiro Rivera and Dora Sorto – who was 8 months pregnant at that time) came to an end with six members of the 18th Street gang being sentenced to between 30-145 years in prison.  Unfortunately, the conclusions of  prosecuter in the Court of Specialized Sentencing  were  incredibly disappointing.  According to prosecutor’s hypothesis, none of the murders are linked to environmental activism against mining. Instead, they blame personal fueds that existed between families in the area.  Following this logic,  5 suspects were relased. In a statement by released by the Environmental Comitee of Cabañas they denounced this decison.

Similar reasons were cited in the case of Marcelo Rivera, an  anti-mining activist who was murdered in Cabañas in 2009. While it’s true that there are tensions and conflict within communities impacted or threatened by mining, many of them have been caused by the proposal of mining projects. Some community members are enticed by the projects such as schools and soccer fields that mining companies have offered, while others have spoken out and organized against mining because of the destructive impacts for humans and the environment.

The following is an article from La Prensa Grafica outlining the prosecutions denial of a connection between anti-mining activity and the violence:

10 prosecuted for murders of environmentalists

Source: La Prensa Grafica By Suchit Chavez, Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On April 10th, the Court of Specialized Sentencing in San Salvador began a trial against 10 people accused of involvement in five murders, including two environmentalists, which occurred in 2009 in the small community of Trinidad, in the municipality of Sensuntepeque (Department of Cabañas).

The defendants, according to the prosecutors, are supposedly close to two families in the conflict.

Most of the violent deaths occurred in December 2009. Within days of each other, Ramiro Rivera, Felicita Argueta and Dora Alicia Sorto were killed in different parts of the Trinidad community. At the time Rivera and Sorto were identified as activists against active mining projects in the area. Months earlier in the same area, two relatives of a man linked to mining, Horacio Menjivar and his wife, Esperanza Velasco were also killed.

The chief prosecutor of the Organized Crime Unit (UNICCO), Rodolfo Delgado said yesterday that following his investigation, prosecutors ruled that the crimes were not related to the activity of the mining company.

According to Delgado, “these families had previous quarrels with each other.” Activity for and against mining exacerbated ​​these alleged attacks, he said.

Delgado declined to specify what the prior arguments were about, or if they had ballistic tests that connected the cases. The prosecutor stated this was due to the fact that the trial was still ongoing. He added, however, that two witnesses gave statements indicating there was allegedly a history of problems between the families.

The killing of Marcelo Rivera, another environmentalist, occurred in June 2009 in another town in Cabañas, and was disconnected by the chief prosecutor to the case currently being processed in the Court of Specialized Sentencing. In September 2010, three people were sentenced to 40 years in prison for the murder of Rivera.

 –Translation by SHARE staff


Salvadoran Supreme Court Accepts Claim of Unconstitutionality for Military Appointments

April 17, 2012

On February 21st 2012, The Salvadoran Supreme Court accepted a claim by the Social Initiative for Democracy and other civil society organizations challenging the constitutionality of the appointments of the Minister of Justice and Public Safety, David Mungía Payés  and Francisco Salinas, the Director of the National Civilian Police.  The Supreme Court admitted the constitutional claim and requested the President of the Republic, Mauricio Funes, justify the constitutionality of appointments.  


Probusqueda, Communities, and Government Representatives Commemorate the Day of the Disappeared Children

April 2, 2012

 Friday, March 29th, hundreds of men, women, and children gathered in Cuscatlan park together with Pro-Busqueda, an organization dedicated to searching for disappeared children, representatives of the Legislative Assembly, and the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s office to commemorate the Day of the Disappeared Children. Youth came from various schools, including the high school in Huisilapa. Many men and women from Chalatenango, including community members from Guarjila, Arcatao, and Nueva Trinidad participated as well. Everyone gathered in the shade just below the Monument to Truth and Memory, which holds over 30,000 names of civilians killed and disappeared during the war.

 The event began with formal speeches by Sigfrido Reyes, president of the Legislative Assembly, Juan José García, Viceminister of Salvadorans in the exterior, Erlinda Handal, Viceminister of Education, and a representative of the Human Rights Omsbudperson’s office, amongst others. Each of the speakers highlighted the importance of remembering the victims of forced disappearance, in order to give them dignity, and as one piece of the ongoing struggle for truth and justice. Congressman Sigfrido Reyes and Erlinda Handal called on the armed forces to open their archives to the National Committee in Search of Disappeared Children, to facilitate their search for truth.

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He Still Gives me Faith Now: Memories of Monseñor Romero

March 29, 2012

During his time as Archbishop, Monseñor Romero faithfully accompanied mothers and family members of the disappeared. Apolonia Sofia Escamía, one of the founding members of COMADRES, remembers his constant concern and guidance with tenderness.

 I grew up in the campo. I remember they paid us twenty-five cents a colon to work on the big haciendas. When I was seventeen, almost eighteen, my father helped run a strike. They were able to get the wages increased to seventy-five cents a day, but my father could no longer find work. In 1974 they killed my husband, but I did not understand why until later.

I used to see Monseñor Romero when I came to mass. He always mentioned and denounced Salvadorans that had been disappeared and killed. He spoke of the dead that showed up on the side of the road, that no one seemed to know who had killed. He asked that they be buried with a name and not in anonymous graves, so that mothers and wives looking for their husbands and children could find them.

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The Sanctuary Movement, An Historical Basis of Hope!


This March 24, 2012 – the 32nd  anniversary of the martyrdom of  Oscar Romero – we also mark the 30th anniversary of the public sanctuary movement.

Learn more about this movement with a set of oral histories entitled: The Sanctuary Movement, An Historical Basis of Hope!  The oral history was compiled and edited by Eileen Purcell, one of the original co-founders of the movement and former Executive Director of the SHARE Foundation.  This compilation includes the voices of our beloved Gus Schultz, Marilyn Chilcote, Bob McKenzie, Bill  O’Donnell, as well as organizer Bob Fitch and veteran fundraiser Bernie Mazel. These stories trace the origins of the sanctuary movement, from the Vietnam War to the wars in Central America. The full collection has been deposited at the UC Berkeley Graduate Theological Union (GTU) Library and is available to the public.  Add your voice to the archive!  Write and share your story by sending it to the SHARE Foundation Sanctuary Oral History  Project at jose@share-elsalvador.org!

Learn more about the history of the Sanctuary Movement and the history of SHARE here!

 

 

 


Another Room in His House

March 27, 2012

Reflections from 25 years of Solidarity

 Good Shepherd of Shawnee, Kansas has been partnered with El Buen Pastor, a small community in the farmlands near Aquilares for 25 years. In 1987, at the height of the civil war, Fr. George Seuferling and parishioner Gigi Gruenke, along with Rosalie Mahoney, SCL, visited a small village outside of San Salvador.  Since that time, the hearts and minds of Good Shepherd have been steadfast in their faithful stewardship to Buen Pastor—living up to the role of the “good shepherd” in every sense of the word.

Good Shepherd Delegates visit Radio Victoria

 One could write an entire article about the generous physical and financial history of the work Good Shepherd has brought to Buen Pastor, but this salute to Good Shepherd is not about those things.  This is about a story of faith, about God’s message, about transformation and empowerment. Since the assassination of Archbishop OscarR omero in 1980, his death and legacy have been commemorated in Kansas City. When Good Shepherd twinned with Buen Pastor, those days of remembrance took on extra meaning. The church houses a special Romero chapel filled with memories of and tokens of love in honor of this remarkable human being. While Romero spoke many times about justice, human rights, and nonviolence, perhaps the one thing he emphasized often was “to love.”  On April 1, 1979, Romero said:  “…if you give your life out of love for others, you will reap a great harvest.” (quoted on the 2012 Calendar published by Good Shepherd).  This commitment is the foundation of all that has occurred over the last 25 years.

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The Campaign for an American DREAM: A SHARE staff member reflects

March 19, 2012

Campaign for an American DREAM's launch at Golden Gate Bridge, March 10, 2012

For the past few weeks I had the amazing opportunity to work with the Campaign for an American DREAM as they inhabited our offices up to the launch of their walk. The Campaign for an American DREAM’s mission is to create dialogue across the nation about the DREAM Act and immigration policy – they are doing this by sending a group of young DREAMers and allies on a 3,000 mile journey from San Francisco to Washington DC… on foot. The DREAM Act will provide a path to citizenship for undocumented youth brought to the US before the age of 16, provided they serve in the military or attend 2 years of higher education.

I was prepared to help them as much as I could around the office, to host some of them in my home and to attend their kickoff at the Golden Gate Bridge on March 10th. I was completely unprepared for what a transformative experience being in solidarity with this group would become. These aptly named DREAMers carry the ability to truly inspire. They inspired me to see the vast courage and hope that lives in us all, of what a powerful force love for your family and community are, and to remain unafraid in the struggle for our collective human rights.  

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Salvadorans in Solidarity Against Mining

February 22, 2012

 On February 10th, 2012 the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining and SHARE protested  at the Panamanian Embassy in San Salvador.  In solidarity with indigenous groups in Panama facing hydro-electric dams and mining on their indigenous territory. Similar protests occurred in Costa Rica and Guatemala calling an end to repressive tactics and violence against civil society that resulted in two deaths in the last week in Panama. Organizations like Movimiento Mesoamericano contra el Model Extractivo Minero and the Red Mexicana de Afectados por la Mineria issued statements condemning the violence and reinforcing the message that the struggle against mining is a global struggle and throughout  Latin America civil society stands together in this fight.

            Dying for Gold by Ellie Roscher

El Salvador is working to pass a ban against all metallic mining and if they succeed, they will be the first country to do so. Radio Victoria, a community radio in Cabanas, is speaking out in support of the ban. The gold companies are not happy, and lawsuits and death threats surround a vulnerable country and the radio correspondents who are covering the story. This piece,  Dying for Gold, acts as a brief introduction to a complex issue.

Reflections on Mining in El Salvador by SHARE delegate, Bob Werly

I have a short time to make each of you care about a small country thousands of miles away, and to care about one-hundred people in that country who love every one of you.

A big issue in El Salvador right now is an attempt to mine gold in what are now some of the most beautiful mountains you’ll ever see. Up here we’d never think twice about our personal safety if we got involved in environment issues. Down there we met with a twenty-two year old community radio broadcaster opposed to mining. We were told he can’t leave the radio station or his life is in danger. Two weeks before our trip, a thirty year old university student posted fliers about a meeting to oppose the mining projects. The next day he disappeared. His body was found a few days later, tortured and shot twice in the head. I would like to emphasize that though we were face to face with people whose lives are in danger, we always felt safe, thanks to the accompaniment of SHARE.

In our sister community, Buen Pastor, the people dress cleanly and neatly and their children are well-behaved and happy. The people make eye contact, they smile at you, and amongst themselves the joke and laugh a lot. My impression was that as a collective they are happier than we are. It’s easy to see what we do for them, but at least for those of us who have been there, it’s what they do for us internally that holds deep meaning. Near the end of today’s gospel it says, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?” When it came time to leave El Buen Pastor, there were tears coming down the villagers’ faces. Think about it. In your lives, tears have come from only one type of person when you left them: From someone who loves you!

 

* Thank You  to Jan Morrill, Coordinator for the International Allies against Metallic Mining in El Salvador for information on the international movements involved in this fight.


A Visit to Nueva Trinidad

February 14, 2012

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

~Pedro Arrupe, SJ

Futbol Match in El Salvador; Photo taken by Theresa Edwards

My name is Theresa Edwards and I am 16 years old. As a parishioner at St. Patrick’s parish in Seattle, I first traveled to Nueva Trinidad with my family when I was 12. Last summer I was part of the youth delegation going back to El Salvador, which was an awesome experience! Here are just a few highlights.

First, the greeting we received when entering into Nueva Trinidad was unbelievable. It was raining cats and dogs, and as the bus lumbered toward the village we all heard a rhythmic sound that grew louder and louder. When the bus stopped, we were surrounded by people—elderly women offering us their umbrellas, the teenagers of the batucada (drum line), and children grinning from ear to ear. The drumming, fireworks, pouring rain, and radiant smiles of everyone made it an unforgettable welcome.

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Santa Marta Demands an End to Impunity and Justice for Perpetrator of Massacres

February 6, 2012

A war criminal running for political office has caused uproar among the members of the organized community of Santa Marta, in Cabañas. “People have no choice but to express their outrage when people like this, involved in crimes against humanity, get involved in public life and run for public office, places of decision-making,” declared Leonel Rivas, Santa Marta resident and a family member of victims of the massacres carried out by former General Ochoa Perez. 

On February 2, 2012 around 30 members of the community Santa Marta, department of Cabañas, demanded that the Attorney General of the Republic begin a judicial process against Ochoa Perez. “We fully believe in President Funes when he said ‘no people will be free, no people will be happy, no people will achieve peace until the profound pain in their hearts caused by the negation of memory, truth and justice is removed.’ And for that to be possible, for the victims to know the truth, these crimes must be investigated, and those responsible brought to justice,” read the press release given by Santa Marta and ADES

Ochoa Pérez with his "hero", Lt Col. Monterrosa, intellectual author of the massacre at El Mozote.

From 1978 to 1982, when Colonel Ochoa Perez was in command of the Second Military Outpost in Sensuntepeque, at least seven massacres were perpetrated against the civilian population of Santa Marta, causing over 900 deaths. 

Santa Marta residents and victims of the horrendous oppression and violence carried out in the region shared their testimonies: a massacre of six women who were making the day’s tortillas for their farmer husbands; young, pregnant women killed and their unborn children ripped from their wombs; the massacre at the Lempa River, as the civilian population fled their homes and left everything behind in Santa Marta to save their lives. 

Now, Ochoa Perez is running for the Legislative Assembly with the ARENA Party.

Santa Marta and the organizations that support justice and human rights made the following demands: “For these abhorrent acts against the population and with the “conviction,” as President Funes said, “that real democracy should be founded in truth and justice”:

  • We ask that Col. Sigifredo Ochoa Pérez be investigated and brought before justice for crimes against humanity and the repugnant violations of human rights against the civilian population of Santa Marta in 1981.
  • We condemn ARENA’s decision to present Col Sigifredo Ochoa Pérez, implied in acts of genocide against our people, as a Legislative Assembly member candidate.
  • We ask the Attorney General of the Republic to create an Ad Hoc commission, made up of people with experience in human rights and of publicly recognized moral and ethics. 

Leonel ended the press conference expressing concern over the recent naming of a military officer as Director of the National Civilian Police.  The history of Santa Marta and tens of thousands of Salvadorans that lived and suffered the war, ongoing impunity for those responsible for crimes against humanity, and continuing death threats and violence against anti-mining activists and journalists in Cabañas are inextricably linked to  further militarization of national security forces.  Further militarization of Salvadoran society will not lead to greater truth, peace or justice, but it may lead to a repetition of El Salvador’s violent, bloody past. 


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