Death threats targeting journalists were distressingly common during the tumultuous Salvadoran Civil War that took place in the late seventies and eighties. Over the course of the war, a total of twenty-five to thirty journalists fell victim to the various death squads operating in the country.
Radio Victoria, based in the department of Cabañas, provides a critical source of news and information concerning the social, environmental, and controversial labor impacts of The Pacific Rim Mining Company.1 Radio Victoria's forthright journalistic style and its tenacious anti-mining stance, as well as its vigorous investigative journalism, may have prompted these threats, which were issued undoubtedly in an effort to stifle freedom of expression. Despite national police security officers posted to stand guard outside the station, the anonymous "extermination group" has successfully delivered a series of threats both to the Cabañas office of the radio station and to the journalists' personal phones via text message.
Journalists Maricela Ramos, Pablo Ayala, Oscar Beltrán and Manuel Navarrete were sent threatening messages that demanded that they must leave the Cabañas community by May 4th or face certain death.2 On that day, journalists received additional text-message intimidations, however, the death squads had not yet chosen to act on their threats by that time. This shadow group is not the only reporters' group being threatened by a variety of death squads. Anti-free speech groups that have proven that they are prepared to resort to murder to intimidate the free dissemination of information also exist today in Morocco, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras. The Inter-American Press Association has deemed Honduras, a neighboring country of El Salvador, one of the most dangerous nations for journalists in the Americas, seeing that the assassination of approximately 13 journalists has taken place in the last eighteen months.3
Although the inaction up to this point may seem to signal a reduction in the ongoing struggle between the Salvadoran journalist community and its corporate and political opponents, the terrorization of the process is far from slumbering. On the night of Tuesday May 24, tension escalated once again when the radio station director, Christina Starr, received an alarming text that read: "Today, yes, we have to act…Manuel, Pablo, Oscar and Maricela are to be assassinated you should leave…" 4
On the same night, at between six and seven p.m., Correspondent Pablo Ayala received the following message: "look Pablo we are watching you better than your police. We are close to you where you go. The cameras in the radio [station] will not save anyone. Get out or [else]."5
As suggested in this message, the terrorists are not limiting their targets to a specific few. A text message received by journalist Oscar Beltrán read: "many guerrillas from Santa Marta are on the list like Walter, Leti, Aida, Carlos Bonilla, Luis Rivas, Gerardo and more. The war starts with you all." In the last part of the communication, its sender essentially declared war on the entire radio community.6
Threats of violence and intimidation leveled against the journalist community began once again in 2006 and were reported immediately to the Salvadoran Attorney General, who until the present time has neglected to implement precautionary measures as recommended by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).7 The recent threats signal an urgent call for the Salvadoran government, the national police, and human rights organizations to take a determined stand against these updated "death squads." The recent government inaction in safeguarding journalists is very alarming and could have a grave impact on the reputation of the Mauricio Funes administration.
Please help COHA guarantee the safety of these journalists by signing this urgent letter to Salvadoran officials (Spanish only) being provided by the Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) to demand the secure protection of Radio Victoria journalists.
1) IFEX. "Alert: Death squads threaten Radio Victoria journalists." May 9, 2011. accessed May 22, 2011.
2) World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, e-mail message to author, May 22, 2011.
3) Llana, Sara M. "Honduran journalists face increasing threats." The Christian Science Monitor. May 20, 2011.
4) Christina Starr. e-mail message to author, May 24, 2010.
7) AMARC América Latina y el Caribe. "Se incrementan las amenazas de muerte en contra de periodistas de Radio Victoria." May 5, 2011. Accessed May 22, 2011.