As fireworks were going off in the US, La Mesa human rights defenders were being threatened.
Sofia Vergara is the Advocacy Advisor on extractive industries at Oxfam America.
As US citizens celebrated their freedoms during the 4th of July holiday, in El Salvador the National Roundtable on Metallic Mining, La Mesa, was denouncing acts of violence against its members to the Salvadoran and international press.
The Foundation for the Study of Applied Rights (FESPAD), a member of La Mesa, denounced that one of its staff, Zenayda Serrano, had been robbed at gunpoint by unknown Individuals close to her place of residence.
“It is suspected that these individuals were stalking her home before violently snatching her belongings and taking all documentation and identification she was carrying,” stated the press release issued by La Mesa on July 2.
The Center for Research on Investment and Trade (CEICOM) warned that they have been subject of numerous cyber-attacks and that confidential information had been stolen from their web site.
“It is not the first time violence occurs against our members,” La Mesa wrote. “In the past, men and women, and environmentalist leaders that opposed Pacific Rim Mining Corporation were killed in communities in the department of Cabañas. Zenayda Serrano and her family have been affected by burglaries and death threats. Journalists from Radio Victoria that have accompanied the anti-mining struggle in Cabañas have continuously received death threats and to date must remain on constant alert,” continues the press release.
Oxfam denounced those deaths back in 2009. In 2013, they are yet to be resolved.
Despite these risks, La Mesa members remain strong, convinced that their fight is for their lives, their families, and the entire population of El Salvador. When anti-mining activist, Sandra Carolina Ascencio (pictured above in the back row, 2nd from the right), visited Washington, DC earlier this year, she told us that even though she is aware of these risks, she is committed to future generations.
Ascencio works for the Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of the Creation of the Order of Friars Minor (JPIC), a member of La Mesa since 2007. JPIC, along with other organizational members, ADES, CRIPDES, MUFRAS 32 and UNES, and others are fighting together to achieve one lasting goal, that is, El Salvador permanently bans open pit metallic mining in the country.
I met with the members of La Mesa from across El Salvador last March—impressive people representing the voice of a population striving for its own development. We discussed all the ways in which progress can be brought about without mining—agriculture, small business, education, health, the arts. These are not conversations unlike those that happen in the US, but the threats to people’s safety and well-being are very different in El Salvador, Guatemala, and throughout indigenous communities in South America.
Defending freedoms is universal. Even though the fireworks, parades, barbeques, picnics, family reunions and ceremonies are over, you can still express your Independence Day spirit by supporting La Mesa during this difficult time. Act now to stand with those who are making sure people’s voices are heard in the campaign to stop mining in El Salvador.
To read more about La Mesa activists in El Salvador, read this Oxfam interview with Sandra Carolina Ascencio of the Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of the Creation of the Order of Friars Minor from her visit earlier this year.
Support communities’ right to decide about oil, gas, and mining development, and right to know about its impacts, by following the Right to Know, Right to Decide page on Facebook.