Friday, February 24, 2006

Gilberto Soto

The US of A has full confidence in the investigation into the the murder of a union leader in El Salvador. Almost no one else does.

The first article below is from North The rest of the information is from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Teamsters call death probe tainted

U.S. Embassy officials in El Salvador insisted Wednesday that the right people were tried in the 2004 murder of a Cliffside Park labor leader, even though two of three were acquitted over the weekend.

The response came on the same day Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa blasted the Salvadoran government for what he said was a coverup in the shooting death of union official Gilberto Soto.

"We received assurances that the Salvadoran government would conduct an objective, open-ended inquiry," Hoffa said. "That never happened."

Teamsters have long claimed that Soto, 49, was shot dead on Nov. 5, 2004, because of his efforts to organize truck drivers as part of a trip through Central America.

A month later, his mother-in-law, Rosa Elba Zelaya de Ortiz, was charged with hiring hit men to kill Soto because of a dispute between him and his estranged third wife.

But Zelaya de Ortiz and alleged gunman Santos Sanchez Ayala were acquitted Saturday night. Herbert Joel Gomez, who was charged with supplying the murder weapon, was convicted.

Embassy officials maintained they did everything to ensure Salvadoran police investigated all angles of the killing and were pleased with the results of their work.

"We had confidence in the investigation and the police and thought the right people were on trial," said Rebecca Thompson, an embassy spokeswoman in San Salvador. "We're still awaiting the sentencing. But in the end you have to respect the results of the judicial process, even if you're disappointed with the outcome."

Teamsters have accused U.S. officials of tiptoeing around the investigation to avoid disrupting negotiations on the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

The measure, which is opposed by labor unions, would eliminate trade, investment and business barriers between the United States and El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

It was approved by Congress during the summer. It is expected to take effect Wednesday in El Salvador.

Embassy officials said it was insulting to say that trade negotiations muted their response to the Soto killing.

"We've had communication with the highest level of this government," Thompson said. "Soto was a U.S. citizen, and nothing is more important to this embassy or any embassy than protecting U.S. citizens."

Thompson said the embassy set up and publicized a hot line for tips but received only prank phone calls. She said U.S. officials continually met with police and prosecutors during the investigation. She said there has been no evidence to show that Soto was killed because of his union activities.

"We were a little surprised by the verdict," she said.

Others were not.

The charges were scrutinized by the ombudswoman in the Salvadoran Office for the Defense of Human Rights immediately after they were filed. She said police refused to let her review the evidence, including the chain of custody of the bullets and the handgun that were recovered. Beatrice Alamanni de Carrillo later issued a report saying that the suspects had been tortured and the charges trumped up.

Embassy officials said the torture claims were later discredited.

They said that the national police, once notorious for corruption, have become one of the best law enforcement agencies in Central America.

"We've had full confidence in the police and prosecutors in this case," Thompson said. "All of us want the same thing the Teamsters want: justice."

But Teamsters officials said they have hired their own investigator to review the shooting because they no longer trust the police.

"This shows we can't rely on them to get to the root of this," said Ron Carver, a Teamsters official who has met with embassy staff in San Salvador.

Soto grew up in El Salvador and immigrated to the United States in 1975.

He joined the Teamsters 10 years later, becoming president of Local 11 in Haledon, a business agent for Local 723 in Montville and an organizer of truck drivers at ports from Elizabeth to Boston.

Teamsters Call Upon the President of El Salvador to Reopen Soto Murder Investigation
Official Statement of Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- The following is a official statement of Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President:

On November 5, 2004, Gilberto Soto, a Teamster official representing our union's Port Division was assassinated in Usulutan, El Salvador. Lacking any compelling evidence, the Salvadoran government arrested and jailed Rosa Elba Zelaya de Ortiz, Soto's mother-in-law. Now, more than 15 months later, the Salvadoran government has dismissed their case against Zelaya de Ortiz. The case was groundless from the start, as the government refused to consider any other possibilities.

They have squandered time and resources. They have ruined an innocent woman's life by subjecting her to a witch-hunt to avoid pursuing the mastermind of this death squad killing while allowing the true culprits ample opportunity to erase any evidence that may connect them to the crime.

It has been our longstanding belief that the government of El Salvador made an unconscionable rush to judgment regarding the murder of our official representative. We received assurances that the Salvadoran government would conduct an objective, open-ended inquiry. That never happened.

Most disturbing has been the Salvadoran government's determination to thwart the constitutionally guaranteed right of the Office of Human Rights to oversee the criminal investigation. In the initial stages of the case and in the months prior to the trial, the Ombudswoman of the Office of Human Rights, Beatrice Alamanni de Carrillo, was barred from reviewing the files and interviewing witnesses and investigators.

The behavior of the Salvadoran government officials in this case appears to be an attempt to cover up or deflect attention from the instigators of this heinous crime or perhaps to avoid prosecuting parties who were determined to keep unions from establishing a foothold in El Salvador's Acajutla port. I call upon President Elias Antonio Saca Gonzalez to reopen this case, assign the best investigators, and follow through until the perpetrators are brought to justice, whoever they may be.

In the end, the only way that the government of El Salvador will be able to gain the confidence of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the international community is to show respect for the Salvadoran Office of Human Rights. The Salvadoran government must protect the office's director and investigators, give them full access to the case files and police investigators, and allocate appropriate funding to their work. Any lesser commitment gives the impression that government officials have something to hide.


Biography of Jose Gilberto Soto, 1954 - 2004

Jose Gilberto Soto was born on November 6, 1954 in Usulutan, El Salvador. Gilberto was devoted to his family and leaves his children (Blanca, Rosalva, and Edson), his wife (Alva “Maritza”), his mother (Blanca Rivas), his siblings (Henry, Julio, Francisco, Yolanda, Araly and Mayra), and his extended family of port drivers and Teamsters.

In 1975, Gilberto came to the U.S. from El Salvador, where he had been working as a bank teller. In New Jersey, he worked as a trash collector, waiter, cook, factory worker, general maintenance, and landscaper until he settled at CEFCO, an electrical fuse manufacturer, in North Bergen, NJ. It was at CEFCO that Gilberto first joined the Teamsters and served as a union shop steward until 1985. In April of 1985, Gilberto was appointed as a Business Representative for Local 11 and in this capacity he developed his organizing skills and recruited new members into the Local. Gilberto quickly rose through the ranks and became President of Local 11 in 1993, the first Latino president of a Teamsters local union in New Jersey. At the same time, Gilberto was committed to fulfilling his life dream of obtaining a college degree. He attended Hudson County Community College and then transferred to Kean University, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science in May of 1994.

After attaining his degree, Gilberto continued organizing workers with the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees from 1994-2000, and then served as a Business Agent for Teamsters Local 723 until he was hired by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters as Port Division Representative for the New York-New Jersey and New England regions.

Gilberto was an ardent supporter of the FMLN and the New York chapter of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.

In early 2004, Governor James E. McGreevey appointed Gilberto to the New Jersey Clean Air Council and to the New Jersey Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

In addition to Gilberto’s union activities, Gilberto organized and managed El Sirpo soccer team. He also convinced Hudson County to build a soccer field in North Bergen’s Hudson Park. Gilberto was a founder of CEUS, an organization that sends financial aid and computers to El Salvador. Gilberto also wrote poetry, played the guitar, and was an elegant salsa dancer.

On October 30, 2004, Gilberto traveled to Central America to meet with port truck drivers and labor officials in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras to better understand working conditions for port drivers there and to create a solidarity network between Teamsters and their Central American counterparts. Gilberto was assassinated Friday evening, November 5, at 6:00 p.m., outside of his mother’s house in the city of Usulutan, El Salvador. Witnesses say he was shot in the back by three men, who waited outside his house and fled in a getaway car. He died immediately.


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