Reporters Without Borders is disturbed to learn that Radio Victoria, a community radio station in the northern department of Cabañas that has been supporting environmental activists in their opposition to a Canadian company’s local gold-mining operations, has received renewed threats just days after two more activists were murdered at the end of last month.
“We support the call by the people of Cabañas and we request a thorough and independent investigation aimed at identifying those responsible for these threats,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is vital that Radio Victoria’s journalists, who are playing an essential reporting role for both the local population and the international community, are given protection.”
The threats first began last July when Radio Victoria’s journalists condemned the abduction, torture and murder of environmental activist Gustavo Marcelo Rivera. The police quickly concluded that his death was a routine murder despite overwhelming evidence that it was linked to his leading role in opposing the Cabañas operations of Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining Corp.
Ades Santa Marta (http://adessantamarta.codigosur.net), an NGO that defends the rights of the population in Cabañas, made a video at the time in which Radio Victoria’s journalists talked about the frequent attempts to intimidate them.
The threats against Radio Victoria resumed just a few days after the 20 December murder of Ramiro Rivera Gómez, a member of the Cabañas Environmental Committee (Comité Ambiental de Cabañas), who had survived an earlier attack in July, when he was shot eight times. The person who was arrested and jailed for the August attack had already been convicted of violence against environmental protesters and is reported to be a former Pacific Rim employee.
Another member of the same committee, Dora “Alicia” Recinos Sorto, was gunned down on 26 December. She was eight months pregnant and, at the time of the shooting, was carrying her two-year-old son, who was injured in the leg.
An anonymous email was sent to several Radio Victoria employees claiming responsibility for Rivera Gómez’s murder and announcing that the next victim could be “a presenter, a reporter or anyone else working for this damned radio station.”
A politically committed station, Radio Victoria has condemned both the murders and shortcomings of the police investigations. The National Civilian Police (PNC) insists that the three murders are not linked and are all just cases of routine criminal activity. The police still have not conducted a proper investigation into the threats against Radio Victoria either.
Reporters Without Borders interviewed Radio Victoria journalist Ludwin Iraheta.
Why has Radio Victoria been the target of threats?
Radio Victoria has adopted a position of support for the environmental activists and has allowed the acknowledged leaders of the opposition to the mine to speak on the air. Community radio stations defend the community. We have been getting threats for six years for criticising fraud and corruption.
What has been the authorities’ response to these threats?
The station’s staff has been reporting these threats to the police for months. The authorities say have no clues as to their origin. They tell us they are investigating, but in our view there has not been any investigation.
The authorities said Alicia Recinos was not an environmentalist. We find that outrageous. She and her husband were among the acknowledged leaders of the struggle against the mine. A few months ago, her husband was attacked by the man who attacked Ramiro Rivera the first time, in July, and who is now in prison.
Are you being given any protection?
Some journalists are given protection but it is not common. At night, there are policemen on the premises but the threats continue.
Do you have any idea who is responsible? What interests are at state?
There is a lot of gold in the department of Cabañas. We do not know who is responsible for these threats, but there are a lot of interests at stake in the mine – political and business interests. A few years ago, Pacific Rim offered us 8,000 dollars to shut up, but we refused.
What impact would the mine have on the community?
The main problem in Cabañas is water. The mine uses powerful chemical products. And 32 per cent of the country’s water is already polluted. The water had been polluted here too ever since there have been mines. Thanks to the campaign waged by the community, the mining activities have stopped for the time being. But the people want a law banning mining.
What are you going to do? Are you thinking of suspending your activities?
Many national and international organisations support us, and that motivates us to continue working. They will have to think twice before attacking us, because many organisations are on the alert and are monitoring what is happening. We are part of the people and we will continue to cover its struggles.