Frustration around the Latest Ruling in the Cases of Violence towards Environmental Leaders

Frustration around the Latest Ruling in the Cases of Violence towards Environmental Leaders

Wednesday April 11, six members of the 18th Street gang were sentenced to between 30 and 145 years in jail for a wave of murders committed in 2009 in the town of Trinidad, Cabañas that included the assassination of environmentalists Ramiro Rivera and Dora Sorto, and Sorto’s unborn child.  Five of the suspects in the case were freed, while one suspect had fled the authorities.

The Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office has always maintained that the crimes were the result of family feuds in the region, and that the Canadian mining company Pacific Rim was not directly involved in the conflicts.  In La Prensa Gráfica, Rodolfo Delgado, head of the Unit Against Organized Crime, said that the families involved in the murders “already had existing feuds.”  The newspaper also reported he that he went on to say “the activity in favor of and against mining exacerbated these supposed aggressions.” 

However, the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining (the Mesa in Spanish) and the Environmental Committee of Cabañas (CAC) have criticized this hypothesis a number of times over the years.

Community leaders in both organizations argue that Cabañas has historically been the department with the second lowest rate of violence in El Salvador and that there was never this level of violent conflict in the communities before Pacific Rim arrived.  They also criticize the Attorney General for never seriously investigating the intellectual authors behind the crimes.  They argue that mining companies use the strategy of creating community divisions and conflict throughout the world and point to similar cases of violence which have erupted in other countries like Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru. The Attorney General, however, so far has not taken this pattern into account.

The social movement also asserts that neither the current Attorney General, Romeo Barahona, nor his predecessor have been interested in carrying out thorough investigations in Cabañas, and that while there have been some arrests in the cases of murdered environmentalist Marcelo Rivera, and now the Trinidad victims, the fact that death threats, kidnappings and intimidation of activists continues is proof that the intellectual authors of the crimes are still free.  Also, there the Attorney General has never performed significant investigations into the threats against Radio Victoria, the attempted kidnapping of Father Luis Quintanilla, the robbery and attempted kidnapping of Father Neftalí Ruíz, and countless other cases of threats and violence against community leaders.

The problems of impunity and discrimination in the justice system, as perpetrated by the Attorney General, has gained even more importance recently as the Legislative Assembly is slated to name the next Attorney General within the next week.  Romeo Barahona, is running as a candidate, and he has proposed that Rodolfo Delgado continue in the Organized Crime division.  According to the Mesa, in order to deal with the increased crime and violence in Cabañas, the Legislative Assembly must appoint officials to the Attorney General’s Office who will thoroughly investigate both the material authors and intellectual authors of such politically motivated crimes and push for prosecution and real justice. If the new Attorney General doesn’t take these steps, the threat of violence will continue to hinder the Salvadoran people’s struggle for environmental and social justice. 

News coverage of the sentencing in the  Prensa Gráfica (in English), El Diario de Hoy, and Diario El Mundo.

Coverage of the CAC’s response to the sentencing in English and Spanish.

Women from Cabañas commemorate the two year anniversary of the Trinidad murders

Ruling Rejected in the Case of Murdered Environmentalists

Ruling Rejected in the Case of Murdered Environmentalists


Environmental Committee of Cabañas rejects the ruling in the case of murders of environmentalists

Zoraya Urbina, Diario Co Latino

Tuesday April 17, 2012

Translation by Jan Morrill

Original Spanish Version

The legal process that lead to the sentencing of six people accused of the murders of five environmentalists in the town of Trinidad, Sensutepeque, Cabañas, was manipulated and lacking diligent investigation, said Francisco Pineda, the President of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas (CAC).

“We express our rejection of the decision of the Specialized Sentencing Court in San Salvador, with regards to the deaths of the environmentalists from Cabañas.  From the beginning we have denounced the Attorney General’s hypothesis, which was that personal feuds caused these crimes,” he said.

The environmentalist affirmed that before the arrival of the company Pacific Rim to the area, there were disagreements between families; however, it wasn’t until the Canadian corporation began to buy loyalties and rally against those that opposed the mining project that the murders began.  In 2009, Ramiro Rivera and Dora Alicia Sorto were murdered, the last of which was eight months pregnant.

The crimes were widely denounced and, according to the CAC, the only reason for the crimes was to silence environmentalists.  Previously, Marcelo Rivera, a community leader that also opposed the mining project, had been murdered. 

“We also observed, with concern, the interest of the Attorney General’s Office in exonerating these people, it seems that they said ‘they didn’t do it’ without investigating what happened,” added Ricardo Navarro, from CESTA.  Five of the accused were set free.

Ramiro Rivera’s brother, Santos, denounced that, when he went to testify against the accused during the judicial process, he was pressured by the Attorney General’s office and they tried to intimidate him by threatening to incarcerate him if he testified.

Pineda, who condemned these actions, recognized the commitment made by the President of the Republic, Mauricio Funes, who has condemned the murders but questioned the conduct of some of the government institutions, as in the case of the San Francisco El Dorado School, in the town with the same name.

Employees from the school accepted financing from Pacific Rim to build a wall around the perimeter of the building; and in that context, Graciela Funes, a mother who opposes mining, called into question the project that tied the community to the company.   The response that she received was she was threatened for not supporting the construction project.  In addition, teachers and parents from the town assaulted her, claims Pineda.

He emphasized that schools are part of the Ministry of Education and therefore subject to the government.


Crime in Cabañas

The Crime in Cabañas

Originally Published in the print newspaper Voces

February 22, 2010

Translated by Jan Morrill

Between August and December 2009 at least five people were assassinated in events related, in one way or another, with mineral mining extraction in the department of Cabañas.  Journalist and police reports present the facts as possible disputes between neighboring families.  However, in some cases, heavy arms and military ambushes were used.  Up until now almost all these crimes remain unpunished and there is only one suspect detained.

Mountain paths, with many treacherous turns.  A cloud of dust surrounds the entire terrain, which winds steeply uphill.  The school tells the name of the place: “Educational Center of the Cantón of La Trinidad”, Sensuntepeque a department of Cabañas.  From the heights, the majestic and serene Lempa River can been seen.

The people’s friendly greetings from their homes make one think of a peaceful community, “and that’s how the place was.  

It was a very calm community, we didn’t have a single problem with the neighbors, we all got along well,” commented María, a member of the community of Trinidad.  María is a fictitious name, she agreed to give her account on the condition that she retains her anonymity.  “I’m afraid for my family, which has already suffered a lot due to this problem,” she declared. The “problem” which María refers to is mineral mining.  “It all began when the [Canadian mining] company Pacific Rim entered the region, around 2006, and we began to reject their presence, because we realized the it was something harmful to the community”, she remembers. 

But the story begins years before and in another place in the same department of Cabañas, as explained by Francisco Pineda, resident of the municipality of San Isidro, Sensuntepeque, member of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas (CAC) and the National Round Table Against Mineral Mining, “On April 30th, 2004 the Viejo River dried up, [at the height of Cantón Llano de la Hacienda].  We discovered that the river above the Green Zone tourist center was collecting water.  Up further a water pump system owned by Pacific Rim was found, and it was taking water for mining exploration, because they use a lot of water to lubricate the pipes.”  At that time approximately 3,000 inhabitants of the municipality of San Isidro were affected. Due to the lack of attention by the ARENA mayor, Ignacio Bautista, the inhabitants arrived at the Attorney General of the Environment's office denouncing Pacific Rim and the first news appeared in the media. The water ran again through the Viejo River. 

Pacific Rim has a permit for exploration given by the then minister Yolanda Mayorga de Gaviria, during the Saca administration. For Luis López, lawyer for the National Round Table Against Mineral Mining, in the case of Trinidad, the population is evidently against the installation of the company in the region. “Simply put if the people do not want it, the company can not enter. And the people do not want it. “

The Economic Factor

López explains the particular interest of the Canadian company in this region: “Trinidad is literally a gold mine. According to the company's impact study, there are 118 grams of gold per ton of rock.  Two grams of gold per ton is worth extracting.”  Pacific Rim's official web page dedicated to El Salvador reports that “the gold deposits of El Dorado exist in veins whose total reserves (measured and indicated) are 1.1 million ounces of gold and 7.4 million ounces of silver”. Before the world financial disaster, an ounce of tray gold was worth less than $500, USA, now it costs $1135, with a tendency for upward acceleration.   

President Mauricio Funes assured on January 12 that his government will not support or authorize mining extraction projects in this country. Never the less, the affected inhabitants demand a clear and precise law that prohibits all mineral mining extraction in El Salvador from the authorities.  

In reality, for the Canadian company, the issue would not be more than an economic question and speculation.  Although gigantic by Salvadoran business standards, Pacific Rim is a relatively small company in the multinational mining sector and does not have sufficient capital to wait five or ten years until a government more favorable to international interests approves extraction. The Canadian company would sell those lands to an even stronger company, capable of waiting the necessary time in order to snatch up those riches.

The thing that would really affect its interests would be a law that would definitively impede such extraction. According to how the company’s legal representation explained themselves before the international arbitration tribunals, but over all, the pressure that it exercises in El Salvador is toward a population that is among the poorest in the country and that is subjected to constant promises of hundreds of jobs in the case of approval for extraction in El Dorado.

A divided society

Naturally, the opposition to mining in the region is not unanimous. Some sectors of the community have believed the arguments of the company.  The result has been the irreconcilable division of a society that, until the appearance of Pacific Rim, lived not only in peace but in harmony and friendship. Today, the clashes happen inside the same families.

Neftalí Ruiz, a young deacon of the Church of the Magnificent, gave testimony to that division.

He has visited the Trinidad since 2006, first as a reporter from Radio Victoria and afterwards in 2008 as a member of a religious order. “The community breathed an atmosphere of peace and harmony. People dialoged, we conversed with them until the mining company appeared and families began to divide themselves and until many much graver problems appeared.

The chain of crimes

The first death attributed to the mineral mining conflict was the disappearance and later murder of Professor Gustavo Marcelo Rivera in the municipality of San Isidro in June 2009. Rivera was a well known leader against mineral mining, a member of the departmental board of the FMLN in Cabañas and president of the local Casa de Cultura. He had had many run-ins with the mayor of San Isidro, Ignacio Bautista.

Marcelo disappeared on June 18 and his body was found on the 30th of the same month with obvious signs of torture in an abandoned well. The police report blamed the murder on gangs with the intention of robbery.  The contradictions in the investigation of the case appear evident. According to Francisco Pineda “The autopsy says that Marcelo died from a hammer blow to the head and the police claim that he died due to a gun shot to the head.  The autopsy also indicated that he had been dead for four days.”

In relation to this case, Luis López added facts, “On June 16, 2009 the FMLN presented a reform proposal of seven articles of a mining law for the prohibition of the extraction of mineral mining, especially gold and silver and the definitive closing of those mines that are in operation for a maximum period of 180 days. Two days after this piece, that directly affects mining extraction, was presented, Marcelo was kidnapped and murdered.”

As recounted by Francisco Pineda “On July 27 we received (Neftalí Ruiz, el Padre Luis Quintanilla (of Radio Victoria) and Pineda) a message which said if we did not keep our mouths shut, what happened to Marcelo would happen to us.”  December 20 four men armed with M-16 weapons ambushed Ramiro Rivera, member of the Committee of the Environmental Association of Cabañas in Defense of Water and Culture, 200 meters from his house in the community of Trinidad. Traveling together in the pick up with Ramiro were two neighbors, Felicita Echeverría who died in the attack and another youth who was wounded although her life was saved. In the truck's bed were two agents from the Division of Victim and Witness Protection of the National Civil Police. They were unharmed. Rivera was under constant police protection since suffering his first attack where he received eight shotgun wounds. In that attack he recognized one of his attackers as Óscar Menjívar, a local ARENA activist, friend of the mayor of Sensuntepeque, Jesús Edgar Bonilla and of other ARENA leaders of the region, as well as being a recognized promoter of the Pacific Rim Company.

Menjívar is the only one detained until now, not because to the murder charges but because of the first attack against Ramiro Rivera. He was also responsible for a machete attack against another environmental leader from Trinidad, Santos Rodríguez, who lost a finger and suffered various wounds in his right hand. Rodríguez was the victim of murder attempt on December 20, the same day that they murdered Ramiro Rivera. He now has police protection.

Six days after the murder of Ramiro, Dora Alicia Sorto, Santos Rodríguez's wife and member of CAC was murdered. She was 32 years old and 8 months pregnant. She was murdered by a man who was alone, a hit man who suddenly appeared from behind in the middle of a deserted paved street that she was climbing with her children toward her house. Her 2 year old son, whom she was carring in her arms, was wounded in the leg. Dora was murdered barely 200 meters from the police post.  According to statements from the neighbors, despite the recent murder of Rivera, the police did not appear to pay attention to the shots.

On January 12, 2010, president Mauricio Funes promised to investigate the crimes in Cabañas. “We promise the environmentalists that we are going to shed light on the human loss caused by to the environmental struggle,” he affirmed. Nevertheless, the investigations of the National Civil Police do not appear to bear fruit.  Nor have there been arrests due to the threats. Meanwhile the attorney general is being strongly criticized by his slowness in carrying forward the case.

There is talk of powerful economic sectors interested in mineral mining buying people off, as well as talk of political interests from the parties on the right, both in the municipalities in Cabañas as well as in the legislative assembly, being suspected of having links with narcotic traffickers, the military or paramilitary who could have participated directly in the murders. 

There are two other dark cases also waiting without resolution that are not necessarily related to mining:  That of the parents of the currently detained Óscar Menjívar. His father, Horacio, was murdered in his house in the community of Trinidad on April 9, 2009. His mother, Esperanza Velasco, died October 8 in the same place. Three people fired rifles at the woman and fled without a trace.           

It is essential that justice be done in all the murder cases related to the defense of the environment in Cabañas. Those who are the material and intellectual authors should be detained. On one side or the other, the community has placed blame for the murders but the other crime continues unpunished: the crime of mineral mining. As long as our country does not have legislation that that clearly prohibits this activity of contaminating and destroying communities, the social and ecological crimes will continue unpunished in El Salvador.



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