Threats and Attacks to Religious Leader in Cabañas

Threats and Attacks to Religious Leader in Cabañas

January 2012

A new series of threats towards environmentalists have disrupted the uneasy calm that had settled over Cabañas after almost eight months without violence or intimidation. 

On Friday January 20th, around noon, Father Neftalí Ruiz, Priest of Salvadoran Apostolic Catholic Church (ICAS), Secretary of the board of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas (CAC) and member of the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining (the Mesa, in Spanish) allowed two young men, claiming to be university students into his house.   They said they were interested in the social work that Father Neftalí does and the organizations he works with.  However, once inside they tied him up by his hands and feet, asked him where his weapons were.  When Father Neftalí responded he didn’t have any weapons the men began to search his computer and all his possessions. 

In the end, the criminals stole his laptop, cell phones, and an external hard drive.  Father Neftalí stated that at no point during the incident did the assailants ask for money.  He also told the press that the young men were in constant communication during the robbery with someone who seemed to be organizing it from afar.  During a press conference organized by the Mesa, Catholic Bishop Monsignor Francisco Sol said that this was not a crime of common delinquency. 

Because Father Neftalí has been receiving death threats since 2008-2009, he already has a file open with the Attorney General’s Office and Civilian National Police.  Last year the Attorney General’s Office took his phone as evidence after he received a series of death threats by text messages.  However, he has yet to hear anything for the authorities regarding that case.  During the Mesa press conference he questioned the investigations of the Police and Attorney General by saying: “What are they waiting for? For there to be more deaths, more bloodshed?”

In their press statement the Mesa said:  This new attack on the life, integrity and work of the CAC and National Roundtable against Metallic Mining forces us, once again, to express our energetic disapproval, as well as condemn the wave of persecution against environmentalists and human rights defenders who like, Father Neftalí, have suffered similar treatment since the beginning of the anti-mining struggle in El Salvador.”

To date there have been four environmentalist opposed to mining in El Salvador that have been murdered since 2009.  Also, numerous other community organizers, leaders, priests, and local radio station staff have received threats and been attacked and intimidated during that time.   The new threats to Father Neftalí follow on the heels of another wave of threats and intimidation tactics towards the staff of Radio Victoria, apparently stemming from recent tension between the community of Santa Marta and the local right wing mayor, Juan Antonio Ramos.  The threats, from an email address with the name “Exterminator,” are yet another attack on independent journalism in El Salvador.

The CAC, the Mesa and the communities organized against mining demand that the government, through its corresponding institutions, ensure that in El Salvador metallic mining never be allowed and that the opposition by citizens to extractive projects should not be the motive for persecution, threats or death.

For more information:

The Mesa press release in Spanish and English

Video coverage of the press conference " style="color: #1b57b1; text-decoration: none; font-weight: normal;">here and " style="color: #1b57b1; text-decoration: none; font-weight: normal;">here

A Update from the SHARE Foundation and Voices on the Border and Upside Down World

Spanish press coverage in the CoLatino and Contrapunto


Support their struggle by calling for investigations in the case of Father Neftalí and Email the Attorney General’s Office and the Minister of Justice and Security.

To Contact the Attorney General’s Office email Hector Burgos, assistant to Attorney General Romeo Barahona.

To Contact the Minister of Justice and Public Security email his assistant Yessenia Lopez and secretary Sandra Lazo. and

Sample Email Text (Choose one heading from below and send): 

Estimado Señor Ministro de Justicia y Seguridad Pública / Señor Fiscal General De la República

Como miembro de la comunidad internacional, quiero expresar mi profunda preocupación sobre el nuevo caso de robo, amenazas e intimidación contra un miembro del Comité Ambiental de Cabañas en Defensa del Agua y la Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería Metálica.

El viernes pasado dos jóvenes, que se hicieron pasar por universitarios, llegaron en la casa del Padre Neftalí Ruiz,  Sacerdote de la Iglesia Católica Apostólica Salvadoreña ICAS, Secretario de la Junta directiva de la asociación Comité Ambiental de Cabañas y miembro de la Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería Metálica.  Le ataron los pies y las manos del Padre Neftalí y robaron su computadora personal, teléfono móvil y soportes de almacenamiento de información.  Sin embargo, no robaron ningún otro objeto de valor y nunca le pidieron dinero.

Tomando en cuenta que el Padre Neftalí ya tiene un expediente abierto con la Fiscalía General de la República y la Policía Nacional Civil por una serie de amenazas de muerte que ha recibido desde el 2009, y el hecho de que desde el mismo año se han dado cuatro asesinatos de ambientalistas que oponía proyectos de minería en el mismo departamento de Cabañas, es urgente que:

1.  Haya una investigación exhaustiva de este caso y todos los casos anteriores de amenaza y violencia contra el Padre Neftalí Ruiz y que sean llevado a juicio todos los autores materiales e intelectuales.

2.  Que se asegure  la protección adecuada para los y las ambientalistas que han recibido amenazas o han sido blancos de ataque, incluyendo Padre Neftalí, así que también para las comunidades de Cabañas donde las compañías mineras han creado conflictividad. 

3.  Que la FGR y la PNC investiguen los autores intelectuales de todos los crímenes de violencia, asesinato, ataques, y amenazas que se ha dado en Cabañas desde el 2009 a raíz de la conflictividad alrededor de la situación minera. 

Acciones concretas de las instituciones del gobierno son sumamente necesarias, porque al quedar en impunidad este caso, se abre la puerta para más casos al futuro.

Agradezco de antemano sus gestiones para agilizar las investigaciones y espero que pronto se haga justicia en estos casos. Estaré pendiente de las acciones de la PNC y Fiscalía General y seguiré informando a los y las funcionarias de gobierno en mi país sobre estos casos. 

Your Name

Dear Minister of Justice and Public Security / Attorney General of the Republic

As a member of the international community, I want to express my deep concern over the latest case of robbery, threats and intimidation towards a member of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas in Defense of Water and the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining. 

Last Friday, two young men, who were pretending to be university students, entered the house of Father Neftalí Ruiz, priest with the Salvadoran Apostolic Catholic Church, Secretary of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas and member of the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining.  They tied Father Neftalí up by his hands and feet and stole his personal computer, cell phone and external hard drives.  However, they did not steal any other valuables nor ask for money. 

Taking into account that Father Neftalí already has a file open with the Attorney General of the Republic and the Civilian National Police resulting from a series of death threats that he has received since 2009, and the fact that since that same year there have been four environmentalists who oppose mining in the department of Cabañas murdered, it’s urgent that:

1.  There is a thorough investigation of this case and all the prior cases of threats and violence towards Father Neftalí and that the material and intellectual authors be brought to trial. 

2.  That adequate protection is provided for the environmentalists who have received threats or who have been targets of attacks, including Father Neftalí, as well as for the communities in Cabañas where mining companies have created conflict. 

3.  That the Attorney General’s Office and the Police investigate the intellectual authors of all the crimes of violence, murder, attacks, and threats that have happened in Cabañas since 2009 as a result of the conflict around the mining situation.

Concrete actions from government institutions are extremely necessary, because by leaving these cases in impunity, the door is left open for future cases.

Thank you in advance for actions to facilitate the investigations and I hope that there will soon be justice in these cases.  I will be paying attention of the actions of the Police and Attorney General’s Office and will continue to inform my government officials about these cases.


Your Name

New Threats and Intimidation towards a Mining Opponents in Cabañas

New Threats and Intimidation towards Mining Opponents in Cabañas

Another case of intimidation towards anti-mining activists in Cabañas was reported by the Environmental Committee of Cabañas. Below is a translation of their description and call to action.


Monday March 5, 2012

Translated by Jan Morrill

The Compañera, Maria Graciel del Carmen Funes, member of the board of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas (CAC) on February 17, 2012 went to a parents meeting at the San Francisco El Dorado School in the municipality of San Isidro in Cabañas.  During the meeting Julio Eduardo Rodriguez spoke about the construction of a wall around the perimeter of the school, and he said it was being financed with funding from Pacific Rim, which was interested in mining for gold in silver in the area.  He said that if someone disagreed with the project, that they should say so at that time, and that is when Graciela Funes said that she disagreed because of the damages that that company had done and could do in the future.  She was then questioned by teachers from the school (Ana María Segovia, Sandra Rivas, Maritza Juarez, Marta Lilian Sigaran and Julio Eduardo Rodriguez) who also told her it was her fault the mining project was not being carried out.  They provided the space for other students’ mothers and fathers to verbally attack her and it almost got to the point of physical attack.  At that point she asked one of the teacher’s advisors (named Merino) to intervene but what he wound up doing was congratulating the rest of those present for the project they were planning with Pacific Rim funds.

This is another example of how the mining company uses money to divide communities and how ministry of education officials, specifically from that school, are contributing to this conflict, without worrying about the fact that they are putting the life of a mother at risk.  After the meeting, Graciela has been followed and surrounded by people of questionable reputations, and she fears for her life.  The education employees are also ignoring statements made by the President in which he stated that no government institution should accept funding from private businesses.  Today, it is once again made clear that mining companies continue to create problems in communities and that is how violence is carried out in Cabañas. 

  We call on the Ombudsman for Human Rights Office to pay close attention to these new acts of violence against our compañera.

•We demand that the Minister of Education look at this case and not allow that teachers become involved in these mining company projects, because this creates conflict in the communities.

• We demand that the Attorney General’s Office and the Civilian National Police pay attention to these new actions against environmentalists in Cabañas and that they provide protection for their lives.  Also, that the rest of the cases that have been left in impunity are clarified because the impunity gives way for more cases of violence in Cabañas. 

• We ask that national and international organizations pay attention to the situation that we are still facing in our department, a situation that puts the life at risk of those who are defending life. 

• As an Association we would like to be clear that in spite of everything that has happened (threats, intimidation, and even murders) we will not stop in the struggle that we have begun and that we are willing to give everything to defend life and the environment.  

Political Candidates Answer to Anti-Mining Activists in San Salvador and Cabañas

Political Candidates Answer to Anti-Mining Activists in San Salvador and Cabañas

March 2012

Monday March 5, the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining in El Salvador (The Mesa in Spanish) together with the Ombudsman for Human Rights Office and the Association of Participatory Radios and Programming of El Salvador (ARPAS) organized a forum for candidates running for the Legislative Assembly to discuss a mining ban in El Salvador.

Candidates from four political parties and one independent candidate participated in the forum.  The parties represented were the FLMN, the PNL, the CN (formerly the PCN), the PP, as well as independent candidate William Huezo.  The ARENA party had confirmed their participation but did not show up.  GANA and the PDC never responded to the invitation. 

Over 200 participants packed into the conference room for the event, which began with presentations by the Ombudsman for Human Rights, Dr. Oscar Luna, as well as Dr. Angel Ibarra in representation of the Mesa. 

The forum got exciting when the candidates were invited to speak for 10 minutes on whether their party supported a banning mining in El Salvador or not.  The only parties that definitively came out for the ban were the FMLN and the PNL (even though the PNL’s support was stated during the question and answer period by the coordinator of the party who was in the audience and not by the panelist candidate during his presentation).  Taking their surroundings into account, the other candidates gave lip service to the abuses of transnational corporations and the need to protect natural resources while being sufficiently vague on the issue of legislation so as to not give a specific position on the ban. 

Things started heating up when it was Orlando Arevalo’s turn to speak.  Rep. Arevalo has played important role in mining history in El Salvador and was the Representative who introduced the bill on behalf of the mining companies to ease mining restrictions El Salvador.   At the event he said he now recognizes the dangers of mining, but that all the developed nations depended on mining to come to wealth.  He also said that in life there is “your truth, my truth and the real truth.”  His solution for the mining issue is that El Salvador needs to pass a constitutional reform that would allow referendums.  Then there should be a referendum on population’s opinion on a mining ban.  He said he would not vote on the issue until the people had been consulted.  When questioned about the bill he presented in 2006, he said that he didn’t introduce it because it was his personal belief, but because he was representing his party as a whole, a statement which received jeers and laughter of disbelief from the crowd.

After some scathing questions from the audience, mostly directed at Rep. Arevalo, Lourdes Palacios from the FMLN ended the event by reminding Orlando Arevalo that he was the head of the Environmental Commission when the anti-mining bill was introduced and that he cannot erase his history.  She also reminded the candidate from the CN that his party was the party that drafted and presented the pro-mining bill (Orlando Arevalo recently split with the CN and formed the new party he was representing at the forum) and that even if the CN candidate recognizes the harm mining causes, his party will dictate he acts according their historically pro-mining mandates.

For Spanish coverage of the forum visit the Mesa’s blog, and Contrapunto. 

Photo gallery of the event.


Anti-mining Activists Pressure Candidates In Cabañas

In Cabañas, the Commité Ambiental de Cabañas and ASIC organized a similar forum directed specifically at the candidates from the department.  Below is a translated article about the event.

Electoral Agenda and Environmental Protection Forum

By Ludwin Iraheta

Translated by Jan Morrill

On Saturday February 25, the Environmental Committee of Cabanas in Defense of Water and Culture Association (CAC), with the support of the United Social Movement of Cabanas- Jose Benjamin Ayala and the Association Friends of San Isidro Cabanas (ASIC) held a forum called “The Electoral Agenda and Laws to Protect the Environment”  and invited all the candidates to the legislative assembly from the department of Cabanas from all the political parties.  The goal was learn about the proposals of each candidate with respect to the environment and their stance regarding the “death projects” like mining, as well as the bill that is stuck in the legislative assembly that aims to definitely ban metallic mining in our country. 

The forum began with a speech by the president of the CAC, Francisco Pineda, who explained the goal  of said forum.  After, the representative from the Ombudsman for Human Right’s Office (PDDH in Spanish), the Assistant Ombudsman for the Environment Yanira Cortez Estevez spoke about the stance of the PDDH regarding mining and was clear that that organization is on the side of those who are struggling against those projects.

It is important to mention that of the six candidates who were invited, five participated (FMLN, CN, CD, PES, and ARENA) .  The only party not represented was GANA.  The first candidate to present his proposal was from the Cambio Democratico (CD), Benjamin Lopez, who said that once elected to the legislative assembly he will pass laws that benefit the majority of the population, and forget about party lines.  He was also clear that he was against mining. Antonio Echeverria, candidate for the FMLN, said that representatives should support the law to ban mining because it has been scientifically proven that our country isn’t suitable for mining.  Next it was the candidate from Conceratcion Nacional, Luis Urías´s turn to speak.  He emphasized mining in his presentation but also focused on support for farmers, promoting dignified housing for those people living in extreme poverty, and said that the CN would promote laws that would revert the process of environmental degradation in El Salvador.  Guillermo Guevara, from the Partido de la Esperanza, said that his work is based in the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, which entails respect for the dignity of human beings and the constant search for common good.  His legislative proposal has the goal of carrying out public policy for reforestation in the department which would in turn promote a culture of natural disaster and vulnerability mitigation in the face of climate change, specifically providing protection for the aquifers of the region.  The candidate for ARENA, Carlos Reyes, based his presentation on the fundamental issues which are the center of his party’s platform, like public security and education among others, but he said little or nothing about the environment or what he will do once elected.  

The activity was a success for the organizers because many expectations for the event were met.  Firstly, because 27 communities from the entire department participated, totaling about 700 people present who listened to the different positions of the candidates.  They will be able to choose the candidates who will best represent them in the legislative branch during the next elections, because they saw and heard which candidates are going to focus on the environment and who will promote legislation that will favor the people.  This was the main goal of the forum, as well as the fact that the majority of candidates were present.  The only candidate absent was Lorenzo Rivas from GANA who had confirmed his participation but did not attend. 

There was opportunity for the participants to ask questions and share their thoughts and during that part of the forum the candidate who received the most questions was from ARENA, because the people took into account the amount of time he has been in the government and that he did not do anything that benefited the poorest and most marginalized population in Cabanas.  The people also asked that he state his stance in a concrete way, but in the end it was unclear why he dodged the question.  Another question asked by the audience was how much the representatives earn, and the audience asked about drug-trafficking and the hogfarm in Santa Lucia that is polluting the Titihuapa River.

The event ended with another presentation by Francisco Pineda which summarized the event and clearly showed that the discourse by the political parties hasn’t change with respect to mining. He called on the communities to continue to organize because that is the only way to demand that the representatives honor what they promised once they are elected to the legislative assembly.

The activity was covered by the local, national and international press, including CNN, Ilobasco TV, Channel 9, other press that impact our department directly , as well as Guaco Radio which transmitted the forum live. 

For this report in Spanish visit here.

For a coverage on the Mesa Blog visit here. 

Photo gallery of the event here and here.

The Environmental and Social Costs of Pacific Rim in El Salvador

The Environmental and Social Costs of Pacific Rim in El Salvador

As Pacific Rim continues with its law suit demanding millions of dollars from the Salvadoran Government, the economic costs resulting from the arbitration become more and more evident.   Both disputing parties are paying millions of dollars in fees to the International Center for Investment Settlement Disputes, the tribunal hearing the case, as well as to their own lawyers. 

However, it is important to note that there are other costs associated to the way Pacific Rim has acted in El Salvador: namely the environmental and social costs on the communities of Cabañas, the region where Pacific Rim intends to mine.

Environmental Impacts

Even though Pacific Rim never received an exploitation permit, local residents of Cabañas have documented environmental impacts caused by their exploration process. 

El Salvador is one of the Latin American countries with the least access to water.  There have been five cases reported of local wells and water sources drying up as a result of Pacific Rim’s exploration process.  They have been reported in the small towns of Palmito, Palo Bonito, and Llano de Hacienda. The Association for Economic Social Development of Santa Marta reports that 100 families have been already been affected by the lack of water.

Francisco Pineda, Goldman Prize winner in 2011 for his work resisting mining in Cabañas, first began to investigate Pacific Rim’s actions when the stream on his property dried up.  In April of 2011 he told the Nation about the moment he realized the stream was dry: “...So we walked up the river to see why…. And then I found a pump from Pacific Rim that was pumping water for exploratory wells.”

In the town of Palo Bonito, Lydia Uria lost her farm of over 500 fruit trees because the springs she used to irrigate dried up.  She also was unable to continue her hog farm, which was her primary source of income.  The farm was started by her late father, who received international recognition from Friends of the Earth for his efforts to plant trees due to the fact that El Salvador is one of the most deforested countries in the hemisphere.  Now most of the trees have dried up from the drought.

In the municipality of San Isidro, locals claim Pacific Rim built a small dam on a local stream.  Adan Martinez, whose land borders that steam, has stated that it has made his land un-farmable because during the rainy season the dam retains too much water and floods his crops.

Social Impacts

The arrival of Pacific Rim also brought divisions and conflict to Cabañas, which traditionally had the lowest crime rates in the entire country.  To date there have been four anti-mining activist murdered and numerous cases of death threats and intimidation.   In some of the cases there have been arrests of those hired to carry out the crimes.  However, the Civilian National Police and Attorney General’s Office have never done thorough investigations into the intellectual authors of the crimes.  Neighbors and families of the victims believe there could be ties to the company or company supporters.

*Marcelo Rivera’s body was found at the bottom a well in July of 2009 showing signs of torture.  He was a vocal opponent to mining and other projects, such as landfills, that could bring environmental destruction. 

*In December of the same year two members of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas (CAC) were gunned down in their home town.  One of the victims, Dora Sorto, was eight months pregnant at the time and carrying her two year old son in her arms. 

*More recently, the body of Juan Francisco Duran Ayala was found with two gunshot wounds to the head.  The day before his disappearance, Juan Francisco had been hanging up anti-mining posters with other members of the CAC.

 *Employees of Radio Victoria, a community radio station in the region, have been receiving threats off and on over the last three years.  Radio Victoria has been an outspoken critic of local corruption and Pacific Rim’s actions in the region. Many of the radio station’s employees have 24 hour body guards and two have been forced to leave the country.

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