Update on the detention of the ADES Five water defenders

John Cavanagh’s article in Chapter 5 of this website (‘Is Mining Money Behind the Arrest of Salvadoran Water Defenders?’) was written in January this year. In August this year the five detained water defenders of Santa Marta and the Association of Economic and Social Development (ADES) celebrated a minor victory as they were released from jail into house arrest. This meant that they were free of the horrific conditions in the Salvadoran penitentiary system and that they were reunited with their families. The court order also required the detainees to be released into hospital for medical evaluation, but the General Directorate of Correctional Centres of El Salvador failed to comply with the order and released them directly into their homes instead.  

In June this year, before their release, Martin Mowforth received an email letter from a Salvadoran friend and a prominent member of the Roundtable Against Metal Mining in El Salvador tying together the links between the arrest of the ADES 5, the current repressive state of exception in El Salvador (reported in Chapter 10 of this website) and the threat of an end to the prohibition of metal mining in El Salvador. We are not using our friend’s name because of the high possibility of reprisals against him resulting from his information and opinions. His letter (below), translated for the TVOD website Jill Powis, is given below. (Thanks Jill.)


“Anyone who criticizes the state of emergency which has been imposed on an apparently permanent basis suffers police harassment and persecution.

A number of organisations (Institutions such as UCA, FESPAD and CRISTOSAL) have documented a range of human rights violations in El Salvador during this state of emergency. For example, they estimate that as many as 66,000 people suffered arbitrary detention without an investigation or arrest warrant, during which 170 have died.  According to personal testimony from the victims themselves, human rights abuses committed in the prisons include physical and psychological torture, beatings, electric shocks, suffocation, and malnutrition.

The Movement of Victims of the Regime in El Salvador (MOVIR) presented a letter to the offices of the Presidential Commissioner for Human Rights, Andrés Guzmán, asking him to review the cases of innocent people arrested under the state of emergency.

In public statements, the Presidential Commissioner has repeatedly claimed to be unaware of human rights violations in El Salvador and is therefore complicit in the current policy of terror. In El Salvador, people continue to be disappeared and, despite the fact that this has been reported to the authorities and a search association has even been set up in response, the State has shown itself to be indifferent to the issue.

In the case of the environmentalists [here he is referring to the water defenders, the Santa Marta 5], they have now been in arbitrary detention for seven months. On 16 May, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders requested their release, but the Salvadoran State has refused.

The Sensuntepeque Investigating Court (Juzgado de Instrucción) has twice refused to review their detention and has still not held the special hearing to review the measures handed down by the Criminal Chamber of Cojutepeque on 30 June.

Grassroots organisations have asked the Prosecutor’s Office to withdraw the charges against the environmental leaders of Santa Marta and ADES.

Their request is based on the lack of real evidence incriminating the leaders and environmentalists and on the provisions of the National Reconciliation Law of 1992. The organisations also point out that the criminalization of environmental defenders is an abuse of the judicial process motivated by plans to recommence metal mining.

If the Salvadoran government continues to ignore the calls of the Special Rapporteur, El Salvador could be considered to be in contempt of this body.

The President has now sent 7,000 soldiers and 1,000 police officers to Cabañas, further consolidating their presence in the municipality of San Isidro and the community of Santa Marta, both centres of resistance to mining companies.

This deployment of state forces, far from guaranteeing security, is instead intimidating and terrorizing the inhabitants, as innocent people are being detained, accused of being criminals.”