You are here


El Salvador: 245 Leading Organizations from 31 Countries Deliver Petition Calling on the Salvadoran Attorney General to Drop All Charges against 5 Prominent Salvadoran Water Defenders

The water defenders' arrest signals both a crackdown on civil society under President Nayib Bukele and a signal that Bukele may seek to resume metal mining operations.

Washington, D.C. and San Salvador – On February 15, 245 international organizations from 31 countries delivered a petition demanding that the Salvadoran  Attorney General drop the politically-motivated charges against five prominent Water Defenders arrested on January 11, 2023.


In the wake of the February 4 elections in El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele is expected to ramp up his campaign to persecute community-led environmental resistance, and to undo critical hard-won environmental protections in the country. The five arrested water defenders, known as the “Santa Marta Five,” led a successful national campaign to ban environmentally destructive mining in El Salvador that culminated in a historic nationwide ban on mining in 2017. 


Their arrest signals both a crackdown on civil society under the increasingly authoritarian president Bukele and a signal that Bukele may seek to resume metal mining operations — in part to offset costs incurred by his own disastrous economic policies, including the adoption of Bitcoin as a national currency.


"The Salvadoran government is under enormous pressure to find new revenues," the petition letter states. "The government is reportedly considering overturning the mining ban to bring back environmentally-destructive mining corporations. Environmental and human rights organizations in El Salvador have stated that the arrests are politically motivated as they seek to silence these Water Defenders and to demobilize community opposition at this critical moment."


At this time, when president Nayib Bukele has consolidated his dictatorial control of all the democratic institutions of the Salvadoran state, we need the continued support of the international community to ensure that basic human rights, such as the right to due process, are upheld in El Salvador,” said Vidalina Morales, President of The Association of Economic and Social Development Santa Marta (ADES).


On January 11, the Institute for Policy Studies in partnership with the Central American Alliance on Mining (ACAFREMIN), MiningWatch Canada, Pax Christi International, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the SHARE Foundation, the United Church of Canada, and the Washington Ethical Society released a new fact-finding report on the state of human rights in El Salvador, "State of Deception/ Estado de Decepción". 


The report, which draws on  interviews and careful analysis of evidence and materials from an October 2023 fact-finding delegation to El Salvador, reveals new information about the arrests of water defenders and the state of human rights in El Salvador under the Bukele administration, as well as evidence that his government intends to bring back mining. 


Key findings spotlight:

  • The weakness and political nature of the case against the Santa Marta 5, and of the arrests of 17 prominent Salvadoran labor leaders

  • The economic impact of Bukele's policies and the evidence that the Bukele government intends to bring back mining

  • The human rights situation in El Salvador

  • Massive fear among communities in El Salvador due to the arbitrary nature of political arrests that disregard the application of the rule of law and due process


We were shocked by the level of fear of arbitrary arrest among ordinary people in El Salvador today,” said John Cavanagh, Senior Advisor of the Institute for Policy Studies. “We call on the Salvadoran government to drop all charges against the five prominent water defenders and to protect, not undermine, the human rights of all Salvadorans.


Full text of the petition: