Saturday, August 22, 2009

El Salvador: Hoffa welcomes decision to reopen Soto murder case

Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa applauded the announcement by the Salvadoran government that it will reopen the investigation into the assassination of Teamsters Port Division Representative Gilberto Soto after nearly five years since his death in Usulutan, El Salvador.

Recently elected Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes ordered the reopening of the case following requests from labor and government officials to follow through on his promise to strengthen the judicial system and crack down on crime in El Salvador by bringing Soto's murderers to justice.

"President Funes has taken an important first step in strengthening human rights in El Salvador," Hoffa said. "The violence against trade unionists in El Salvador and across Central and South America has been allowed to go unchecked for far too long. Gilberto Soto's murderers must not be allowed to remain free if the Salvadoran government seeks to make significant strides in strengthening democratic institutions."

Hoffa, in a recent letter to Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton, urged the State Department to inform President Funes that solving the Soto case will go a long way to further human rights in El Salvador.

"Convicting the Soto assassins is not simply an issue of importance to the Teamsters," Hoffa wrote. "Those who murder labor and human rights activists in El Salvador have operated with impunity for too many years. This has stifled the development of a trade union movement and stymied the development of a democratic civil society."

Rep. McGovern also called on President Funes to reopen the Soto case in a June 8 letter.

"This case has not duly advanced through the Salvadoran judicial system, and while Salvadoran authorities made arrests in the case, they have done little to fully investigate," McGovern wrote.

In an interview with a Salvadoran newspaper, former Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudswoman Beatrice Allamani de Carrillo expressed her satisfaction with the reopening of the case, indicating that it confirms the findings in a report she and her staff originally submitted to authorities.

"Now the Office of the Attorney General has the responsibility to conduct a sound investigation," said De Carrillo, who has long contended that Soto was murdered because of his trade union activities.

Soto was shot in the back and killed while visiting Usulutan on union business on November 5, 2004. To date, the police have done little to apprehend what appears to be a death squad that killed the union representative. In fact, in De Carrillo's report, the former ombudswoman charged that the police had perpetrated a cover up rather than conduct an exhaustive investigation. A prominent figure involved in organizing port drivers in the United States, Soto was visiting El Salvador on behalf of the Teamsters to meet with Central American trade union leaders and port drivers.

Immediately following Soto's death, the Teamsters Union sent a delegation of labor and human rights representatives to El Salvador to appeal for a transparent and effective investigation. The union offered a $50,000 reward for any information leading to the conviction of Soto's assassins.

Source: International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Published by Mike Hitchen,
Putting principles before profits