Radio Victoria and the rural community that operates it, located in the northern department of Cabañas, have been the victim of threats and harassment for the past five years and it is time this stopped.
A new wave of warnings and death threats were received by four of the community radio station’s journalists – Pablo Ayala, Oscar Beltrán, Manuel Navarrete and Marixela Ramos – in writing and by phone from 30 April to 2 May.
Ramos and her 3-year-old daughter were threatened with immediate execution if the station did not change its editorial policies. The other three were told they would be killed if they had not left the department by 4 May.
For nearly a decade, Radio Victoria has been the mouthpiece of local communities and environmental activists opposed to the mining operations of Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining Corp. The station has played a key role in providing the local population with information about the dangers that the mining poses to their health and even their survival.
Despite the police protection that the station gets from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., the threats have not let up. The station’s lawyer, Héctor Berríos, who has also been targeted, told Reporters Without Borders last January that an investigation into the threats by the prosecutor-general’s office had drawn a blank.
“The death squads that claim to be sending these threatening messages have not been disarmed since the 1979-1992 civil war,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The need to step up the investigation is greater than ever because of the danger these threats pose. There also needs to be a broad-based campaign by El Salvador’s political class for the dismantling of these criminal rings, which enjoy complete impunity.”
The press freedom organization added: “Surveillance of Radio Victoria’s installations is not enough. Its journalists and the other members of its staff need direct protection. And Pacific Rim’s international headquarters must publicly condemn this persecution of those living on the land it covets. We await its statement.”
Covering environment dangers is very risky for journalists both in El Salvador and elsewhere in Central America. Spanish husband-and-wife journalists Paco Gómez Nadal and Pilar Chato were deported from Panama on 28 February for taking up the cause indigenous groups that are campaigning against mining projects.
The persecution of community radio stations Radio Faluma Bimetu (Radio Coco Dulce) and La Voz de Zacate Grande in Honduras is largely due to their taking the side of the local rural population in land disputes.