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El Salvador: U.S. House of Representatives sent letter to Secretary of State expressing concern over detainment of five prominent anti-mining activists

source: CISPES

Today, a group of 17 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing serious concern over the prolonged detainment of five prominent anti-mining activists in El Salvador.

The arrests, which occurred on January 11, targeted leaders from the rural community of Santa Marta in northern El Salvador who were instrumental in passing a 2017 ban on metallic mining; El Salvador remains the only country in the world with such a ban.

The Members, led by long-time human rights leaders Marc Pocan (D-WI) and Jim McGovern (D-MA), both of whom have spent time in the country, stated in the letter: “There are strong indications that the current Salvadoran government intends to repeal that law and we are concerned these arrests are politically motivated and intended to silence the overwhelming opposition to mining in the country. We also have concerns that these men have been denied their basic right to due process.” They urged the U.S. State Department “to send a clear, public message calling for their release from pre-trial detention and for the charges against the accused to be dismissed.”

The arrest of the Santa Marta water defenders has drawn worldwide condemnation, including, as the Members noted, from United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Human Right Defenders and the Vice President on Arbitrary Detention, who expressed “serious concern about the alleged misuse of the criminal law against the human rights defenders, … [fearing] that the case is an attempt to intimidate those who seek to defend the environment in their country, and especially those who defend the human rights of those who are negatively affected by mining.”

Prominent U.S. environmental, economic justice, and human rights organizations celebrated news of the letter.

“IPS applauds the 17 members of the U.S. Congress who have asked for the release of the five water defenders.  These men are heroes who helped spearhead the historic 2017 legislative vote when El Salvador became the first nation on earth to ban toxic mining to save its rivers,” said John Cavanagh, IPS Senior Advisor and co-author of the award-winning book The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved a Country from Corporate Greed.

“We denounce the continued detention of the five leaders from Santa Marta as a wanton attempt to intimidate the water defenders of El Salvador. This brazen action exposes the Salvadoran government’s desire to overturn the country’s historic mining ban, a ban supported by the overwhelming majority of Salvadorans,” Jan Morrill, Tailings Campaign Manager at Earthworks.