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El Salvador: ‘we can live without gold, but we can’t live without water’

In 2005, Friends of the Earth El Salvador/CESTA began a campaign to inform the public about transnational corporations operating in their country. This included the corporations’ plans, projects, areas of operation, and the social-ecological impacts they generate.
el salvador mineria.jpgThe Sensuntepeque municipality expresses its opposition to mining. Canadian transnational company Pacific Rim began carrying out mining exploration activities in El Salvador in the same year, with serious consequences for communities: polluting and depleting water sources, logging trees and destroying soils. 


It has also generated conflict, which has resulted in attacks, threats and the murder of leaders opposing these mining projects, including Gustavo Marcelo Rivera, Ramiro Rivera Gomez, and Dora Alicia Sorto, who was in her eighth month of pregnancy. Priest Luis Quintanilla and Francisco Pineda, the president of a grassroots organisation at the centre of this struggle, the Cabañas Environmental Committee (CAC), have also been threatened and survived attempts on their lives.

Despite these brutal attacks, resistance continues unabated, with marches, demonstrations, legal battles and constant denunciations by the affected communities, together with organisations such as Friends of the Earth El Salvador. Such is the overall strength of feeling that as of 2008 two successive Salvadoran governments had denied mining exploitation permits to Pacific Rim and other transnational companies. There is also a proposal for a law to ban metallic mining in El Salvador. One can rightly claim that these companies have been defeated by the bravery of the peasants, young people and children who blocked the roads.


In 2009, Friends of the Earth and 16 groups from communities affected by megaprojects, prepared a legal proposal called El Grito de las Víctimas (The Scream of the Victims). This initiative contains proposals for reforms to El Salvador’s Environmental Law, Public Health Code, and Municipal Code, and was publicly presented to the Ministry of Environment and Strategic Affairs.


However, in January 2010 Pacific Rim’s subsidiary, Pacific Rim Cayman LLC, responded by filing a complaint against El Salvador through the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in January 2010, under the Dominican Republic-United States-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The ICSID Tribunal will decide whether the government of El Salvador has to pay US$77 million in compensation. Pacific Rim also initiated a legal case against seven environmental activists opposing the mining development. But these strategies have damaged Pacific Rim’s image in El Salvador, which is also a significant campaign victory.


Furthermore, a similar ICSID complaint, again under CAFTA, was also lodged by another company, Commerce Group Corp, which was demanding compensation of an alleged US$100 million because its requests for licenses to exploit gold and metals had been denied. In March 2011, this claim was rejected by ICSID.


Communities are hopeful that their long battle against mining in El Salvador is succeeding.


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