2014 Stanford Delegation

2014 Stanford Delegation
Stanford Delegation in the UCA Chapel

Sunday, March 21, 2010

3/21: Reflections from 2010: Cabanas and Pacific Rim

Despite all the hope that Funes' new administration and the international solidarity movement (ever so present in the country this week for celebrations of Romero) bring, it all seems to crumble in the face of an overwhelmingly complex set of problems that seem to have no reasonable solutions in sight. Mining is one of those problems. Corruption is another. Drug trafficking yet another. And all three, as we saw today in Cabanas, are intricately related.

Pacific Rim, a Canadian mining company, appears to be one of the most aggressive mining companies pursuing exploitation rights in developing countries. According to established CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) doctrine, Pacific Rim sent surveyors into El Salvador to investigate the prospect of mining for precious metals in the country. To the great (dis?)advantage of El Salvador, they found millions of dollars worth of gold in the mountains of the Cabanas region, near Honduras. Pacific Rim filed the appropriate paperwork to acquire exploitation rights, waited the determined time period, and when such rights had not been granted, sought international legal action through CAFTA. The trial is currently under review by a tribunal in Washington DC.

Meanwhile, in Cabanas, people have begun to actively advocate for a law demanding an end to all mining in the Cabanas region. These activists--as we saw in the day of protests and action in La ciudad Victoria on behalf of the anti-mining faction in the region--draw much of their strength from the life and work of Oscar Romero. And sadly, many of them face the threat of following in his footsteps.

Four anti-mining (and two pro-mining) activists have already been killed in the conflict, and many more have received serious threats and assassination attempts. Marcelo Rivera, the first to be murdered, was found severely tortured and strangled 14 days after he was disappeared. However, the attorney general and his appointed investigator on the case covered up the murder, claiming the autopsy demonstrated Rivera had been killed by hammer blows to the head. Today at the rally, we heard Miguel Rivera, the brother of Marcelo speak about the loss of his brother and the need to continue the fight. He stated unabashedly that everyone must know that they are targets of violence and hatred--and that anyone may be next. The reality of those words weighed heavily on us all.

Padre Luiz Quitanillo, who led the ecumenical service this afternoon, has also been threatened, followed, and ambushed on numerous occasions by opponents to his call for justice and an end to mining in these rural communities. Part-way through his sermon he broke into tears, stating, "Please forgive me but I am scared. You know, men can cry too." This statement, bold and honest while simultaneously countering the prevailing culture of machismo in the country, hit home. Like Romero, Quitanillo probably understands well that his time may come soon. Yet he has no choice but to continue his fight for his people and for their livelihoods.

These activists, along with the free press radio station Radio Victoria, have been receiving increasingly dangerous threats beginning in 2006 but intensifying heavily since last summer. While many theories exist, there is still not a clear understanding where these threats are coming from. There are essentially three major pro-mining factors at work here, and at times they overlap entirely. Determining who is at fault and who is simply a front man is challenging. Yet the three groups preside over the situation of fear and condemnation of anti-mining activism in the region.

The first group are the right wing mayors of many cities in the department. These mayors, supported by ARENA (the right-wing political party in the country) have people in high places supporting them. The money ARENA has accumulated from privatizing industries and siphoning off money through widespread corruption has helped maintain these politicians in power. The second group, of course, is Pacific Rim and their supporters. While they have only a small official presence in the region, it is impossible to rule out the possibility that they have hired thugs to do their dirty work for them. Finally, the third group are the drug traffickers. While the traffickers have no direct stance in the mining industry, they do have an interest in ensuring that the region is accessible for their regular border-crossings.

While politics are changing and Pacific Rim is currently being managed through legal action, the drug trade is essentially untouchable. No one dares speak out against it, for fear of immediate retribution--and death. With a problem so intractable so fundamentally tied into the mining issues in Cabanas, it is hard to imagine a solution any time soon. However, seeing the powerful grassroots support, the unprecedented and historic international solidarity, and the commitment of people in the face of danger to stand up for their rights, one has to hope, if only briefly, that justice will be had in the region.

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