By Larry Ladutke, Legislative Coordinator
Earlier this week, Amnesty issued an urgent action calling on the Salvadoran government to protect journalists at Radio Victoria, a community station in rural Cabañas, and to fully investigate threats against them from a self-proclaimed death squad (grupo de extermino).
Unfortunately, this was not Amnesty’s first urgent action concerning Radio Victoria. In the summer of 2009, journalists were threatened after calling for justice in the abduction, torture, and murder of anti-mining activist Gustavo Marcelo Rivera.
While the police were quick to blame Rivera’s death on youth gangs (mareros), Radio Victoria and others believed that he was killed in retaliation for his leadership in the movement against Pacific Rim’s plan to mine gold in the area. Rivera and other activists argued that these operations would divert water from poor farmers, poison the water supply with cyanide, and fail to produce economic development. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights echoed Amnesty’s call for a thorough investigation and protective measures.
Amnesty was forced to issue another urgent action following the murder of Ramiro Rivera and another anti-mining activist, Dora Recinos, in December 2009. Once again, the government claimed that the violence had nothing to do with the mining conflict. This time, it insisted that the two were killed as part of an dispute between local families. Nonetheless, over a dozen journalists from Radio Victoria were told that one of their own would be the next to die because of their “big mouths.”
In January 2011, Amnesty issued yet another urgent action following increased threats against Hector Hector Berríos, a lawyer who works on behalf of Radio Victoria and the anti-mining movement. This month, Radio Victoria journalists Pablo Ayala, Manuel Navarrte, and Marixela Ramos received further death threats, prompting Amnesty’s latest action.
Shortly before these latest threats, Salvadoran activist Francisco Pineda received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for his role in the movement against gold mining in Cabañas. The award recognized not only the ecological importance of this movement, but the violence and intimidation that Pineda and others have faced.
Our recently launched Demand Dignity campaign draws the connections between poverty and other human rights abuses. A key component of this campaign is the recognition that poverty and violence reinforce each other by silencing and disempowering poor people. Extractive industries have often spawned conflict and violence against poor people organizing to defend their livelihoods. It is therefore not hard to understand why community journalists have come under attack in El Salvador.
Help protect the voices of poor Salvadorans by calling on their government to investigate the ongoing violence in Cabañas and to punish those responsible! Given his background as a leading television journalist, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes should feel an even greater responsibility to protect freedom of the press in his country.