Washington, D.C. – On January 11, at the order of the Salvadoran Attorney General, police arrested five prominent Water Defenders in northern El Salvador: Miguel Ángel Gámez, Alejandro Laínez García, Pedro Antonio Rivas Laínez, Antonio Pacheco, and Saúl Agustín Rivas Ortega.

These 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 that nation’s rivers. In 2009, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) honored the coalition that several of the five helped build, the National Roundtable on Metals Mining, with IPS’s Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award.

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 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 by El Salvador’s Attorney General of an alleged murder over 30 years ago during the brutal civil war in El Salvador that claimed the lives of 75,000. The victims of crimes from that war, which saw a U.S.-backed dictatorship and right-wing death squads kill tens of thousands, deserve justice. The extreme-right Salvadoran government has actively blocked attempts to seek justice for the killings of hundreds in the infamous El Mozote massacre and has not investigated the dozens of cases of human rights violations and crimes against humanity filed by members of the Santa Marta community against the military (including the murders of the Lempa River massacre in 1980, where 30 people were assassinated and 189 were disappeared).  This further raises questions about whether the Attorney General’s true motivation is to attempt to silence these Water Defenders.

IPS is proud to have spent 14 years working with the Salvadoran Water Defenders to support their successful campaign to ban the mining of metals in their communities.  IPS has worked closely with one of the arrestees, Antonio Pacheco, who leads the dynamic organization, ADES, the Association of Economic and Social Development.  ADES has long been a leader in northern El Salvador on mining, water policy, organic agriculture, and curbing violence in the surrounding communities.  Pacheco is a brilliant leader whose work educating the public on the adverse environmental impacts of mining was key to the victory of the Water Defenders.

Hundreds of groups around the world worked with the Salvadoran Water Defenders in the successful campaign to save the country’s rivers from toxic gold mining. They join in demanding the release of the five Water Defenders and to allow them to await their trial in their community.

Press contacts:

John Cavanagh, Senior Advisor at  IPS, co-author (with Robin Broad) of The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved a Country from Corporate Greed: (202) 297-4823, johnc@ips-dc.org

Manuel Perez Rocha, Director of IPS’s Trade and Mining Project: (240) 838-6623, manuel@ips-dc.org

Olivia Alperstein, Deputy Communications Director, IPS, (202) 704-9011, olivia@ips-dc.org

About the Institute for Policy Studies

For nearly six decades, the Institute for Policy Studies has provided critical research support for major social movements and progressive leaders inside and outside government and on the ground around the United States and the world. As the United States’ oldest progressive multi-issue think tank, IPS turns bold ideas into action through public scholarship and mentorship of the next generation of progressive scholars and activists.

About the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards
Since 1976, IPS has hosted the annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards to honor fallen colleagues Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt and celebrate new champions of the human rights movement who embody the spirit of Letelier and Moffitt in their own work. Over four decades after the car bombing that took their lives, the pursuit of justice for Letelier, Moffitt, and other victims of the Pinochet regime continues.  In 2009, the Letelier-Moffitt Award was presented to El Salvador’s National Roundtable on Metals Mining by Maine Congressman Mike Michaud.


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