Death Threats Against Community Activists in El Salvador

by Denise Zwahlen

Our Santa Marta El Salvador partners receive death threats for their participation in the local anti-gold mining campaign and their support of Marcelo Rivera, a local activist recently murdered.

On the heels of the brutal assassination of Marcelo Rivera, a long time anti-goldmine activist from the community of San Isidro, El Salvador, three young reporters from local popular Radio Victoria who covered the story of his activities, his disappearance and his death, in turn have received death threats that explicitly allude to their coverage of his work and his demise. A few days later, Father Luis Quintanilla, a local priest who also was involved in the anti-mining campaign, was dragged from his car by armed men and narrowly escaped. Since then, many people and leaders of local organizations involved in the campaign have also received death threats.

Marcelo Rivera was a community artist, the founder and director of the local Cultural Center, a member of the Regional Board of Directors for the FLMN (Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional) in Cabanas, and the legal representative of the Friends of San Isidro Cabanas (ASIC).

He took a leading role in the protests against attempted electoral fraud by the Mayor of San Isidro, a member of the Arena party. He was a leader in the resistance against the projects of Pacific Rim, a Canadian mining company. He disappeared on June 18 and his tortured body was found at the bottom of a well on July 1st.

The Attorney General's office and the local Police have declared his death a case of common delinquency and attributed his murder to gang members. But it is clear to all who knew him that his murder was politically motivated. For months, he had been the victim of a campaign of defamation and subjected to constant threats. The autopsy results were clearly consistent with torture of several days duration, and subsequent death by asphyxiation.

Despite the tactics of Pacific Rim Company, which has engaged in bribes, threats, and lies to garner support for its mining project, as documented by MESA (the National Working Group against Mining in El Salvador), the community educated itself about the health and environmental threats that gold mining would present for their community. They convinced the Salvadoran authorities to deny the permit to reopen the El Dorado mine, which is situated only two kilometers from the urban center of San Isidro.

People in San Isidro and Cabanas are part of a larger movement to resist the environmental devastation caused by mining and other projects that serve the interests of multinational corporations with little regard for the consequences for the local population.

Doctors for Global Health has joined more than one hundred international organizations and individuals in demanding an in-depth investigation into the case of Marcelo Rivera's assassination and protection for those threatened.

We join our voice with those of ADES, the "Asociacion de Desarollo Economico y Social Santa Marta," who, in a press communiqué on July 27th, protested the human rights violations suffered by the young journalists and chastised the police and attorney general for not conducting an in-depth investigation of the crime, for not intervening to stop the death threats and the acts of violence and for not offering proper protection to those at risk.

Radio Victoria is the voice of the people of Santa Marta, a rural community in Cabanas, El Salvador with whom we have partnered for the past 10 years.

To demonstrate your support, please contact the Salvadoran Authorities and ask them for a prompt investigation into the crimes and request protection for those threatened. An action alert, sample letters and list of contacts are available at