With tears and chants, a goodbye to activist Marcelo Rivera in El Salvador

Jul 15, 2009

With tears and chants, a goodbye to activist Marcelo Rivera in El Salvador

His relatives, friends, neighbours. His students from the school, attendees of his art workshops, colleagues of the association (ASIC). His comrades from the party, his partners in the anti-mining fight [in El Salvador]. Everyone. Perhaps even his murderers.

Almost always it is the family members and closest friends who say goodbye to a fallen one by crying profusely. It is rare at a funeral to see everyone in attendance crying. The burial of Gustavo Marcelo Rivera Moreno is one of those exceptional cases, hundreds of children, youth and elders, men and women, all crying together.

He was missing for three weeks and later was found murdered, with signs of torture.

Representatives of the ecological movement of Cabañas confirm that Rivera Moreno was a victim of persecution and threats over the last few months, especially since the legislative and municipal elections of January 18th, when he took lead the protests against the alleged attempted electoral fraud by the Mayor of San Isidro, ARENA's José Ignacio Bautista, who succeeded in being reelected one week later when they went back to the polls.

Over the last five years, Gustavo Marcelo also lead the resistance against the projects of Pacific Rim, a Canadian mining company that has brought the Salvadoran state before a corporate tribunal of the World Bank, for having denied them permission to reopen the El Dorado mine, situated only two kilometres from the urban centre of San Isidro.

"He fought against the mining threat from the perspective of a teacher, a cultural promoter, a director of a community organization, and as a political leader", says Francisco Piñeda, leader of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas.

Gustavo Marcelo, at the time he disappeared--Thursday, June 18th--was working as Director of the Cultural Centre of San Isidro, Legal Representative of the Friends of San Isidro Cabañas (ASIC), member of the National Coalition Against Metallic Mining, and member of the Regional Board of Directors for the FMLN in Cabañas.

Last Friday the 10th of July, members of the Institute of Legal Medicine confirmed to his relatives that the body--found three days earlier at the bottom of a 30-metre-deep well--was that of Marcelo.

"There were twenty days of anguished searching," expresses Miguel Rivera, who has not had time to cry for his brother. His indignation weighs more than his sadness. It enrages him that the Prosecutor's office and the Police are declaring that it's "a case of common delinquency" because Gustavo Marcelo "chatted with a group of gang members who then killed him after a heated discussion."

Miguel maintains that his brother was not a drinker or a smoker, nor did he hang around gang members.

"The line of investigation needs to begin with the threats that he received, due to his opposition to mining and his resistance to ARENA's electoral fraud in San Isidro", added a representative of a human rights NGO who asked to remain anonymous.

Residents of San Isidro also comented that Rivera Moreno's name was often attacked in official publications from the Mayor's Office in San Isidro. "In the program for the last patron saint festivals, and in a pamphlet that appeared afterwards, they threw all kinds of insults at him", commented a member of "Marcelo's Search Committee", a brigade of neighbours who scoured the area's roads, hills and rivers in search of him.

Saturday, July 11th, at two in the afternoon, the sun in San Isidro was hotter than in any other place. After the funeral mass hundreds of people accompanied the teacher, environmentalist, cultural promoter and political activist, in his last pass through the community that he defended, before heading to the site where he will rest for ever from the earthly struggles.

He left the Cultural Centre (Casa de la Cultura), where the funeral took place. Passed in front of his house that was under construction. Continued to the headquarters of ASIC and returned to the town centre, where a group of youths greeted him with "Camarada," his favourite song from the Venezuelan group, "Los Guaraguaos."

Those leading the funeral march took turns carrying the casket. While a group of youths carried a banner that read: "Marcelo. Nobody will mute your voice, nor bring an end to your struggle. We demand justice! You can kill people, but you can't kill ideas."

Later, in the crowd. A woman faints. You can hear the cries, the voices: "I liked when he did his Cipitío impression," said a girl. "He came to the community, and he opened our eyes," declared a woman.

Gustavo Marcelo passed by the school, and then by the police station that is showing very little interest in investigating the disappearance and murder. "The police here protect the mayor more than the people", complained a man. "They ought to be purged!" he yelled.

The distressed mother made it to the entrance of the cemetery. Her son was, until the end, up to the place she said he would arrive. Before burying him: a hymn, a prayer, many chants, some words from a relative, another song, a prayer, a speech from FMLN congressman Sigfrido Reyes. Everyone wanting to say something to Gustavo Marcelo before leaving.

"Here rests your San Isidro, your Titihuapa River, with your hills free from mines. Here we will continue your path and we will defend our inheritance with pride so that tomorrow, when we find a child reading under the shade of a tree, we will see your face, your living face," said one of the letters what was read.

Afterwards, tears and a round of chants: "What do the people of San Isidro want? Justice!" And the demand that the authorities get to the bottom in their investigations, to discover both those who planned and carried out this crime.

[Translated by Jesse Freeston]