Salvadoran environmental activists killed and radio station staff threatened

Amnesty International has called on the Salvadoran authorities to investigate the killing of two environmental activists who opposed mining projects in the central Cabañas area, and threats against the staff of a community radio station.

Ramiro Rivera was killed on 20 December and Dora Alicia Recinos Sorto on 26 December. Both were representatives of the Cabañas Environment Committee, a grass-roots organization campaigning on local environmental issues which had spoken out against a proposed mining project in the area.

Dora Alicia Recinos Sorto, who was eight months pregnant, was shot dead in front of her two-year-old child, who was also wounded in the attack. Her husband, José Santos Rodríguez, is the Cabañas Environment Committee spokesperson.

The killings occurred in the same week that staff at a local community radio station received death threats by email and text message. Radio Victoria is committed to social and human rights reporting and has covered corruption issues and anti-mining campaigns. The radio station called for justice earlier in the year in the case of the June 2009 abduction and killing of another anti-mining activist, Gustavo Marcelo Rivera

Five people have been arrested for the killing of Marcelo Rivera, but local organizations are concerned that the authorities are not pursuing those who may have ordered the crimes.

A number of organizations in the Cabañas region campaigned against fraud they alleged had taken place in local elections in January 2009, and have also been campaigning against plans for a gold mine in the area.

Activists have said they began experiencing threats, attacks and intimidation as early as May 2008, when campaigning against mining exploration in the area began. This has intensified since January 2009, when activists reported irregularities in the elections.

The 23 December email threat, sent to 16 Radio Victoria staff, said:

“Well, we already sent two to the pit, the question is who will be the third…it’s not a bad idea to carry on with one of the big mouths from Radio Victoria…the deaths will continue and nobody can stop the revenge already begun, we prefer that the third of the dead should be a presenter, or a correspondent, or anybody else from that damn radio station, the safest target is a presenter, be careful, we’re not playing around this is the new wave of warnings that we’re beginning after killing Ramiro.”  

Another threat was sent by email the next day, to eight of the original 16 people. It read:

“we’ve already chosen the next one to die, it’s one of the best-known presenters at that radio station, this will be a real blow for all of them at the radio station, today we’re not going to make mistakes saying any names we’re just saying that this presenter is better known and that sooner or later this will hurt you we’re going to kill you.”

The Cabañas Environment Committee consists of approximately 140 members, representing 26 communities in Cabañas Department.

Ramiro Rivera was the legal representative of the Committee and had previously survived an August attack in which he was shot eight times. One person was arrested for that attack.

Amnesty International has called for a prompt, full and independent investigation into the threats against Radio Victoria staff.

The organization has also urged the authorities to protect members of the Cabañas Environment Committee and their relatives who have received threats, in accordance with their own wishes.