Today I want to tell you about a young man named Juan Francisco Duran Ayala. Juan Francisco attended University in San Salvador. Apparently he was very gifted in the area of languages and was in his fourth and final year. He was an active participant in his community and like many other people here he was opposed to mining. On June 2nd he spent time putting up posters in his community that called on the Salvadorian Government to pass a law prohibiting mining. It has been reported that the Mayor of his town ordered his staff and members of the Police to both remove the signs and to intimidate the person putting them up. Mayors here have a lot more power both legitimately and illegitimately than do their counterparts in Canada. It is widely believed the Mayors of several of the Municipios in the department of Cabanas are corrupt.
On June 3rd, I participated in the Green March (this is the topic of two earlier blogs), which was event that demanded the Salvadorian government pass a law prohibiting gold mining. I really enjoyed being a part of this event. It was amazing to feel a part of something that was so democratic. Participating, or this case, observing a demonstration is not something that I have done a lot of in Canada. There was something so invigorating about joining with so many in an event that felt so much bigger than me. The energy was palpable. While the seriousness of the event was not lost on anyone, it was nevertheless a very enjoyable event.
I don't know if Francisco was part of the march. It certainly was a cause that he believed in. That day he left his home for classes at the University. That was the last time that he was seen alive. 10 days later his family was asked to identify a body. Juan Francisco had been shot in the face and so it took the systems here a while to connect the body with Juan Francisco. It is believed that he is the 4th person from Cabanas to be murdered as a result of his participation in the anti-mining campaign.
Everything about this is unbelievable and outrageous from a Canadian perspective. It is incredible to think that this young man likely died because he hung up posters and was part of a group working for a sustainable environment in El Salvador. The "resistencia" to "mineria metalica" (metal mining) holds workshops, puts up posters and holds demonstrations. There is nothing "radical" or "subversive" in these actions. They are a group of people who are deeply and passionately committed to created a sustainable future for their country.
It is unimaginable that these types of actions get people killed here.
There are many, many questions that will likely never be answered. There are a number of issues that suggest that Juan Francisco was not the victim of a random crime. In one of the other deaths people were arrested and convicted, in the others there has been no arrests. With the murders, threats and intimidation it seems like too much is happening for it to be anything but an organized campaign. Despite calls from both inside and outside of the country the PNC (Polica National Civil) and the El Salvadorian government have been unwilling to thoroughly investigate these matters and work toward finding the organizers of these crimes. While an active campaign continues to have the authorities investigate this whole string of horrendous crimes, no one is anticipating that anything will be any different in this case.
This weekend there is a memorial event to remember the death of Marcelo Riveras who was murdered on June 28, 2009. Marcelo was the first anti-mining activist to be murdered here. His brother Miguel works at ADES and continues with the work that he and his brother used to do together. The memorial event is being held at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero. I believe that it is very fitting that one martyr is remembered at the tomb of another. Both Marcelo and Archbishop Romero stood up for the poor people in El Salvador. Both challenged power structures and both were assassinated because of their work.
I believe as Canadians we all bear some responsibility for this situation. In the middle of all of this social upheaval sits Pacific Rim, a Canadian mining company. Company executives continue to deny any involvement. There is no process for Canadian authorities to investigate the behaviour of Canadian companies abroad. We will likely never know for sure what role if any, that this company played directly or indirectly in the murder of Juan Francisco Duran Ayala.
I would strongly encourage you to check out the web site of Mining Watch Canada (www.miningwatch.ca) to learn more about the impact of Canadian mining companies around the world. It is outrageous that many Canadian mining companies do not follow the laws of the countries they are in, International Law and are named in very serious human rights abuses. We as taxpayers subsidize their work around the world despite the havoc they are causing. It is appalling and ridiculous. I am ashamed that I didn't know more about this until recently.
For more information about the death of Juan Francisco Duran Alaya, you can also view the press release by Mining Watch Canada and others.