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November 17, 2009

Teamster Official Gives Copy of Blood of Paradise to El Salvador's President On Eve of 20th Anniversary of the Murder of Six Jesuits

Funes & Ron Carver
Ron Carver, Assistant Director of the Port Division, International Brotherhood of Teamsters (right), hands a personally dedicated copy of Blood of Paradise to El Salvador's new president, Mauricio Funes (left).

I was sent this picture by Ron Carver (pictured, on the right), who regretted that the colleague who snapped the picture failed to get the book in the frame.

Ron has become a good friend and a devoted pitchman for Blood of Paradise, which is dedicated to Gilberto Soto, a Teamster who was murdered in El Salvador in 2004. (For my previous Commentary on the Soto case, go here: www.davidcorbett.com.)

Ron was Gilberto's boss, and the two were very close. Ron therefore has a very personal connection to the book, and he has become one of its most loyal proponents. He has personally provided copies that I have endorsed and signed to dozens of labor and human rights advocates around the world.

On his current trip to El Salvador with Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern, Ron took the opportunity to provide a signed and dedicated copy to President Mauricio Funes, whose historic election as the first leftist president in the history of El Salvador took place earlier this year. (For my earlier Commentary on Funes' election, go here: www.davidcorbett.com.)

Ron and Rep. McGovern traveled to El Salvador to take part in the ceremonies surrounding the twentieth anniversary of the slayings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her sixteen-year-old daughter. President Funes used the occasion to bestow on the six priests the nation's highest honor, the National Order of Jose Matias Delgado. (For more on the ceremony honoring the priests, and the surprise declaration by the head of the Salvadoran military that he was ready to open military archives for a full airing of the murders, go here: www.latimes.com.

The issue of human rights violation in El Salvador, however, is hardly moot. Rep. McGovern and Ron Carver also used their trip to lobby for an honest and thorough investigation not only into Gilberto Soto's murder, but that of Marcelo Rivera, an anti-mining and water rights activist who was murdered this past June. (For more on Rivera's murder, go here: www.dominionpaper.ca.)

As the article just noted states:

Rivera's body was found in an empty well twenty-seven metres deep twelve days after he was reported missing. The body had no hair or fingernails, the trachea had been broken and the thumb of the right hand was stuck in the mouth like a baby's, tied in place with a piece of rope around the naked body. The victim had been beaten and his face was unrecognizable.

Despite this evidence of torture, the local police and national prosecutors continue to maintain that Rivera was the victim of a gang altercation that took place after a night of drinking, a theory vehemently denounced by virtually everyone who knew Rivera well. He was a community leader opposed to Pacific Rim's El Dorado mining project near his home village of San Isidro. (Pacific Rim is currently suing El Salvador for several hundred million dollars because of its decision not to approve the mining project.)

The Rivera case has been on my radar for a while, since it involves local community members fighting for the right to have potable water, something they believe the gold mining operation would seriously compromise. (El Salvador's potable water situation is considered one of the worst in Latin America, second only to Haiti's. All surface sources of water are contaminated, either from industrial sources or human waste, and groundwater sources are increasingly becoming compromised as well. This lack of clean water seriously undermines El Salvador's chances of climbing out of poverty, since water is an absolute bedrock necessity for any development.)

Gilberto Soto's murder was also blamed on gang members, supposedly hired by the victim's mother-in-law. The woman and two of the alleged killers were acquitted at trial; one man was convicted, supposedly for supplying the weapon, even though the chain of evidence linking him to the weapon was suspect: such was the opinion of Human Rights Ombudsman Beatrice Alemanni de Carillo, who issued a scathing report on the shoddiness and unreliability of the investigation.

Ron and Rep. McGovern's trip apparently met with mixed results. The Fiscál General (the equivalent of our Attorney General), a holdover from the previous right-wing ARENA regime, refuses to look beyond the gang theory in the Soto murder and is committed to retrying the victim's mother-in-law; he similarly refuses to listen to the members of the community of San Isidro who have complained about the mishandling of the Rivera case by the police (and the potential collusion in the cover-up by the Fiscál General's office itself).

Subsequent meetings went somewhat better. In their conclave with President Funes, they learned he is well aware of the Soto case and is committed to finding a way either to preempt the Fiscál General's effort to block an investigation or build a coalition in the assembly large enough to replace him.

They also spoke with Carlos Giron, a former FMLN soldier and the new Director General of the Policía Nacional Civil, and his Inspectora General Zaira Navas, who was the lead investigator for the Human Rights Ombudsman on the Soto case, and the person who brought to light the sexual torture of the gang members by the police to extract the "confessions" implicating Soto's mother-in-law. (The Fiscál General claims Ms. Licda bribed the gang members into this admission; to date, he has offered no evidence.)

They also met with Benjamin Cuellar, director of the Human Rights Institute at the University of Central America (IDHUCA).

Sadly, Blood of Paradise now seems eerily prescient on these matters. The murders of community activists and others trying to speak the truth about scandalous exploitation of water rights for the sake of a privileged few, with blame for the killings fawned off on gang members, lies at the heart of the book. And, tragically for this poor but beautiful country, it also lies at the heart of current events.

McGovern, Buehl, Funes
Rep. Jim McGovern (right), and President Mauricio Funes (left), with the president's translator (name unknown—center).

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