Blog Entry

International Solidarity with El Salvadoran Environmentalists

Jen Moore

Latin America Program Coordinator / Coordinadora del programa para América Latina, 2010-2018.

Forty-nine international civil society organizations have expressed their concern over a series of detentions and robberies against members of an El Salvadoran environmental organization that have taken place during the last six months. Their letter notes a disturbing tendency of increasing violence against environmental defenders in Mexico and Central America, too often in association with Canadian mining projects. The signatories support a request from the Centre for Research in Trade and Investment (CEICOM) for a full investigation by El Salvadoran and Guatemalan authorities into the attacks, which have occurred in both countries.

CEICOM is a member of the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador and has been leading a process of participatory education and resistance against the proposed Cerro Blanco mine, owned by Vancouver-based Goldcorp Inc. The project is situated in Guatemala, near the border with El Salvador, and CEICOM is concerned about the risks that this project could entail for Salvadorans living downstream. CEICOM has said they will maintain that attacks taking place on Guatemalan territory to be a product of their resistance against Goldcorp's Cerro Blanco project until investigations carried out by the responsible authorities demonstrate otherwise.

February 10th, 2011

Hugo Martínez
Minister of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador

Sigfrido Reyes
President of the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador

Roger Haroldo Rodas Melgar
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala

Dear Honourable Representatives of El Salvador and Guatemala,

We are writing with the utmost respect in order to bring your attention to a series of complaints regarding criminal acts that various members of the Centre for Research in Trade and Investment (CEICOM), an environmental organization in El Salvador, have suffered in both Guatemala and El Salvador during the last six months.

We have become aware of this situation through various press releases from CEICOM, and as a result of the recent visit from Ms. Nelly Rivera de Silva to Canada, a member of CEICOM, between January 8th and 15th 2011. Additionally, we have observed with deep concern the growing tendency in the region of increasing violence toward environmental defenders in the context of mining industry expansion in Central America, often in relationship with Canadian mining companies, as documented by groups such as the Center for International Environmental Law in Washington, DC in their report prepared for the Thematic Hearing on Situation of Environmentalists in Mesoamerica at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on October 25th 2010. [1]

During the last few years, CEICOM, as a member of the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador (known as the Mesa), has led a process of participatory education and resistance against the Cerro Blanco mining project owned by Vancouver-based Goldcorp Inc. Situated in Guatemala, on the border with El Salvador, CEICOM is concerned about the risks that this project could entail for Salvadoran people living downstream of this proposed industrial operation. The project site is at the headwaters of the Ostua River that drains into Güija lake, a body of water shared between Guatemala and El Salvador and included on the list of internationally important wetlands under the Ramsar convention. Güija flows into the Lempa River, the principle source of water for more than three million Salvadorans.

On two occasions since July 2010 the CEICOM team has been assaulted and robbed while on their way to Guatemala City to present their complaints about this project to Guatemalan officials. CEICOM has indicated that it has formally lodged complaints following both instances to the appropriate authorities in Guatemala and El Salvador.

To briefly recount what occurred, on July 30th 2010, CEICOM reported that three environmentalists from their organization and members of the Office for Peace and Justice of the Franciscan Order were detained by unknown subjects at the 43rd kilometre point along the highway toward Guatemala City. They were detained for approximately two hours and then robbed of their belongings, after which they were left tied up and abandoned on a coffee farm. Later, on October 28th 2010, three affiliates of CEICOM were intercepted by heavily armed individuals, once again at the 43rd kilometre point along the highway to Guatemala City. They were taken to a nearby farm and, after registering their information, were robbed of personal and institutional belongings. They were then left abandoned on the farm, and threatened against lodging a complaint. CEICOM has indicated that they will continue to attribute these violent events to be a product of their resistance against Goldcorp's Cerro Blanco project until investigations are carried out by the responsible authorities in both El Salvador and Guatemala demonstrating that this is not the case.

Since Ms. Rivera de Silva's return to El Salvador from her trip to Canada, we have received further disturbing news that CEICOM has twice been a victim of robbery. According to press releases from CEICOM, the first attack took place on January 20th while members of the organization were on their way to eastern El Salvador for an activity planned with residents in the department of La Unión. They had stopped for breakfast at a pupusa restaurant along the primary road entering Olocuilta when a black truck stopped in front of their vehicle. An individual dressed in black stepped out of the truck and began to steal CEICOM members' belongings from their minivan. Personal documents, a digital recorder, a digital camera, laptops, printed documents from CEICOM and USB memory sticks containing highly important information to the organization were stolen. [2] Then, on January 26th, CEICOM reported that a grey 4x4 pick-up truck with tinted windows was stolen from in front of their offices. [3]

As members of civil society organizations from Canada and the US, we express our support for CEICOM's petition before the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala, asking you to act quickly to carry out an exhaustive investigation regarding the above-mentioned attacks in order to identify the material and intellectual authors, and to hold them responsible. This is necessary not only to resolve this case and to be able to assure the security of the members of CEICOM, but also to reverse the growing trend of violence against environmental defenders in Central America, and to end the impunity that those responsible currently enjoy.

Attentively,

MiningWatch Canada
Salvadoran Canadian Association of Ottawa and National Capital Region (ASCORCAN)
Canadians Against Mining in El Salvador (CAMES)
Public Service Alliance of Canada
United Church of Canada
Council of Canadians
The Polaris Institute, Ottawa, Canada
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, Seattle (CISPES-Seattle)
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, Education Fund
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala en Washington, US
Consejo Científico de Salvadoreños en el Mundo
Comite de Apoyo para el Desarrollo Social en El Salvador – Vancouver (CODESES)
BC CASA/Café Justicia British Colombia, Canada
Center for Alternative Mining Development Policy of La Crosse, Wisconsin
U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities
Voices on the Border
Center for International Environmental Law
The Democracy Center
Collectif Guatemala, France
Mining Working Group, Maritime Conference, United Church of Canada
Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network
Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network, Canada
The Social Justice Committee of Montreal
Salvadoran Canadian Association (ASALCA)
Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network (LACSN)
ABYA YALA Network
Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, Toronto
Institute for Policy Studies, Global Economy Project, Washington
The Sandy Pond Alliance for the Protection of Canadian Waters, Newfoundland and Labrador
Mining Justice Minière, Ottawa
Midwest Coalition Against Lethal Mining (MCALM), US
The Student Christian Movement of Canada
Latin American Trade Unionist Coalition (LATUC), Canada
Ottawa Diocesan Council of Development and Peace, Canada
Dina L. López, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Ohio
Caribbean & Latin America Support Project (CLASP), New York, US
Barrio Nuevo, Toronto, Canada
Romero Interfaith Centre, Toronto, Canada
Philadelphia -Las Anonas Sister Cities, Philadelphia, PA
US-El Salvador Sister Cities Network
Saint Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church, Philadelphia, PA
Sister Parish, Inc./Iglesias Hermanas, El Salvador
Shuswap Association for the Promotion of Eco Desarrollo, British Colombia
Coalición Quebenquense Sobre los Impactos de las Transnacionales en América Latina
Jamie Moffett Media Design & Production, Inc.
The Social Justice Committee of les Soeurs du Sacré-Coeur de Jésus of Canada
Students for a Free Tibet Canada
CoDevelopment Canada

cc:
Dr. Oscar Humberto Luna

Dr. Sergio Fernando Morales Alvarado
Public Prosecutor for the Defence of Human Rights (PDH) of Guatemala

Mrs. Evelyne Coulombe
Chargé d'affaires, Canadian Embassy in Guatemala

Mrs. Marianick Tremblay
Ambassador, Canadian Embassy in El Salvador

Sra Ana Coralia Mejía de Morot-Gaudry
Chargé d'Affaires, Embassy of El Salvador in Canada

Licenciado Georges de La Roche
Ambassador, Embassy of Guatemala in Canada

[1] Center for International Environmental Law, “Environmental Defenders in Danger: The situation in Mexico and Central America with regard to the Mining Industry,” Report prepared for a Thematic Hearing held on October 25th 2010 during the 140th Ordinary Period of Sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
[2] CEICOM, Press Release, Public complaint for robbery of environmentalists from CEICOM, January 21st 2011
[3] CEICOM, Press Release, Environmentalists suffer another attack, January 27th 2011