Opponent to Canadian Pacific Rim Assassinated in El Salvador

Dec 21, 2009

Opponent to Canadian Pacific Rim Assassinated in El Salvador

Another citizen opponent to mining in Latin America has been assassinated. Another Canadian mining company is implicated in the murder.

Yesterday at 4 pm, Ramiro Rivera Gomez, Vice President of the Environmental Committee of Cabanas (ACC), was gunned down and killed in Canton Trinidad, a village in Cabanas, El Salvador.

Rivera was a leader in the resistance to Canadian mining company Pacific Rim Mining Corporation, which has been trying to secure permits for its El Dorado gold mine in Cabanas.

The company initially met with resistance from residents of Trinidad when test drilling resulted in their wells drying up. Some wells were poisoned, resulting in stillborn calves and dead livestock.

"Pacific Rim's primary asset and focus of its growth strategy," states the company on its website, "is the high grade, vein-hosted El Dorado gold project in El Salvador."

This was not the first time Rivera suffered physical attacks by individuals connected to Pacific Rim. In August, he was shot eight times in the back in front of his house. He identified one of his attackers as Oscar Menjivar, who has relationships with local mayors in favour of opening the El Dorado mine.

Nor was this an isolated incident of violence with respect to the company's activities in the region. In June, the body of environmentalist Gustavo Marcelo Rivera Moreno was found in a well, with signs of torture.  In July, priest Luis Alberto Quintanilla survived an attempted kidnapping and assassination. In April, 2008, Santos Rodriguez, a farmer, was attacked by Menjivar, who cut off two of his fingers with a machete. Members of Radio Victoria, a community radio station, have been threatened by mail, text messages and phone calls over the past months.

Rivera was under 24-hour police protection at the time of his murder. Neither of the two National Civil Police who were protecting him were injured. A 14-year-old girl who was with Rivera at the time of the shooting was wounded.

Violence toward opponents of Pacific Rim's mining operations is escalating. More disturbing, says Movimiento Unificado Francisco Sánchez-1932 (MUFRAS-32) in a press release yesterday, is the attitude of local authorities, who claim this incident was a common crime. Rivera Moreno's murder in June prompted a similar statement from authorities: "The incident was a result of random violence and there exists no evidence of intellectual authorship." They refused to pursue other lines of investigation, according to the press release, and the community "has been given enough clues to point to the existence of an intellectual author" of the murder.

Pacific Rim announced its intention to sue the state of El Salvador "in the hundreds of millions of dollars," according to the company's April 30 press release, for violations of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. "Sadly," reads the release, "it is not just the rights of Pac Rim that are being compromised, but the rights of all Salvadorans... The people of our local communities are being denied the benefits of over 400 recently active exploration jobs, approximately 600 jobs to develop and operate the mine, and the benefits of numerous community and social programs."

The release goes on: "... [I]n the past nine months we have been forced to displace over 400 local workers in the single poorest region of El Salvador..."

"We are committed to responsible mining that can put the people of Cabanas back to work in these extremely difficult economic times," states CEO Tom Shrake, in a November press release. "El Salvador has tremendous gold wealth that can be translated to jobs and economic prosperity in the poorest region of the country in a safe and responsible manner."

The price of gold peaked in November at $1282 per ounce, after a rapid climb from $600 per ounce in 2006.