Salvadoran Water Defenders

Against the Current, No. 223, March/April 2023

FIVE PROMINENT WATER defenders in El Salvador were arrested on January 11: Miguel Angel Gamaz, Alejandro Lainez Garcia, Pedro Antonio Rivas Lainez, Arturo Pacheco, and Saul Agustin Rivas Ortega.

Several of the five helped organize the National Roundtable on Metals Mining, honored in 2009 by the Institute for Policy Studies with IPS’s Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award.

A call for the Salvadoran government to drop the charges against these activists and release them from prison awaiting trial has been issued by more than 250 organizations in 29 countries, including the U.S. Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES).

Their January 20 press release states that the arrested individuals “were among leaders of the historic and successful campaign that convinced the Salvadoran legislature to unanimously pass a ban on metals mining in 2017 to save the nation’s rivers.

“Today, thanks in part to its ill-advised embrace of Bitcoin, the Salvadoran government is under enormous pressure to find new revenues. The government is reportedly considering overturning the mining ban and allowing environmentally destructive mining. 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.”

The five are accused of an alleged murder more than 30 years ago, during the civil war where 75,000 people died. “Rather than investigate or prosecute those responsible for the dozens of cases of human rights violations and crimes against humanity that members of the Salvadoran military committed against against the Santa Marta community,” the press release states, including the 1980 Lempa River massacre where 30 people were assassinated and 189 disappeared, “the government is now re-victimizing the community by targeting their leaders, who have been outspoken against the policies of the current government.”

Struggles around ecocidal practices of extractivism, as well as toxic dumping and dams, are prevalent across the global South. Under Brazil’s previous Bolsonaro government, they take a deadly turn.

In the early days of Pink Tide South American governments, extractivist policies benefited from high prices that could be used to fund social programs. But without a transition to a new economic model, extractivism continues even after prices plummeted.

For information and updates, contact:

John Cavanagh, Institute for Policy Studies, 202-297-4823,

Pedro Cabezas, Central American Alliance on Mining,  +503-7498-4423,

Alexis Stoumbelis, CISPES, 202-521-2510 ext. 205,

[For background on the struggle, see Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved The Country from Corporate Greed by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh, 2022.]

March-April 2023, ATC 223

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