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