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Unionist Assassinated

April 3, 2008  |  Share

Original Update: November 9, 2004
Revised: November 19, 2004

To: National Labor Committee Contacts


-A Friend of the National Labor Committee

Mr. Gilberto Soto was assassinated Friday evening, November 5, at 6:00 p.m., while visiting his mother in the city of Usulutan, El Salvador.

Mr. Soto received a call on his cell phone and had just stepped outside the doorway of his mother's home searching for better reception, when he was approached by two men who shot and killed him at close range. He was shot in the upper back and on the lower side, near the kidney. It was this shot which severed his aorta, the major artery to the heart.

The killers fled.  Some say they ran to a white van waiting about 100 yards away. There may also have been a third assailant on a bike.

Gilberto's sister, Arely Soto Rivas de Chacón, was the first to reach him.  She heard what she thought were firecrackers.  But then her brother cried out, "Mother, they've killed me!" She ran to him and found Gilberto on his knees, with his back to the front door.  His arms were stretch out.  His head was slumped over.  Arely hugged him and begged him to speak, but Gilberto could no longer talk.  Within five to seven minutes they had placed Gilberto in a pick-up truck and were racing him to the hospital.  He was still breathing.  Just four blocks from home, they ran into two police cars, one of which insisted on following them to the hospital rather than both cars attempting to catch the killers.

Gilberto died within 15 minutes of being shot.  The doctor at the hospital told his family, "He never stood a chance.  These people knew exactly where to put the bullets."

There had been no attempt to rob Mr. Soto. It was clear that the sole intent was to kill him. There were several eye witnesses.

The police failed to cordon off the murder scene until several hours after the shooting, and by that time a hard rain was falling.

Of course, witnesses are afraid that if they talk, they will be next.

Mr. Gilberto Soto was a long time organizer with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). Based in New Jersey, he was in charge of organizing port container drivers in the northeast of the U.S. He was currently involved in organizing drivers in Elizabeth, N.J.

Less than a year ago, Mr. Soto met in New York City with Denmark's SID Union (The Specialized Workers Union in Denmark) Central American Representative, Bjarne Larsen. The IBT and SID were interested in collaborating on a joint project documenting the systematic violations of worker rights by Maersk, one of the largest shipping companies in the world.

Mr. Soto was just about to begin his organizing work in Central America when he was assassinated. He was going to meet with port workers in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. However, his real interest was to meet with and assist the drivers who hauled Maersk containers. In El Salvador, the working conditions are horrible, with excessive shifts and low wages. The drivers have absolutely no right to organize, and any hint of workers trying to exercise their legal right to Freedom of Association would be met with mass firings. The drivers are paid for only the hours they are on the road. A trip from a free trade zone in El Salvador to Puerto Cortez in Honduras could take seven-to-nine hours. Then there would be all the down time for which they are not paid, followed by another long haul back to El Salvador.

In Honduras, about 700 of the container drivers are organized, and a much smaller group was just newly organized in Nicaragua.

Weeks had gone into preparing for Mr. Soto's trip. Many emails had gone back and forth, and many drivers had been approached and spoken with. It is possible that word leaked out.

Mr. Gilberto Soto's family in El Salvador will not be frightened. They are calling for a full investigation.

Mr. Soto's sister told us: "We need an investigation. This murder did not just happen. There is something behind this. We demand justice in this country (El Salvador), where there is so little justice."

Mr Gilberto Soto would have been 50 years old on Saturday, November 6, the day after he was assassinated. He leaves behind a 23-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter. His mother and sister are accompanying his body from El Salvador to the U.S. this Thursday.

Mr. Soto was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the U.S. in 1975. His family says that Gilberto had no enemies in Usulatan. It was quite the opposite, he was loved and respected.

Starting in the mid 1980's, Mr. Gilberto Soto was a long term collaborator with the National Labor Committee, participating in several of our campaigns. While we were on the road for the last five weeks with a tour of young Bangladesh workers, Gilberto called us. He asked us to help the exploited containers drivers in El Salvador, and we said we would. We were to speak later this week.

More than ever, the NLC intends to go ahead with that solidarity, and we ask your help.

If they can assassinate a U.S. citizen and trade union leader in El Salvador, we can only imagine the repression the Salvadoran workers are facing on a daily basis. This is another tragic example of how CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) will continue to fail the workers in Central America and the U.S. While CAFTA goes out of its way to provide all sorts legal protection to the product, there are no similar enforceable laws backed up by sanctions to defend the rights of the human being and workers who made the product.

We need to continue the struggle for worker rights protections in Central America and in the U.S. But first we need an immediate and thorough investigation to get to the truth of why and who killed Mr. Soto. As a first step, please write to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell demanding a full investigation.

"Maersk Driver Face Repression and Abuse in El Salvador", Original Report

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