Despite a short 72 hour notice, some three hundred people from across the country, descended on the courtyard of the Legislative Assembly in San Salvador to be be present during one of the most historical votes in the counter’s recent history. Today was the result of a persistent movement led by communities, national and international environmental organizations, universities, politicians, lawyers, scientists, health professions and most recently, even the Pope himself, recently joined the cause.
According to the UN, El Salvador has the second highest degree of environmental deterioration in the Americas, with only 3% of intact natural forests, soils ruined by inadequate agricultural practices and more than 90% of contaminated surface waters. A recent study by the Central American University José Simeón Cañas (UCA) revealed that 90% of the population demands that the Government take immediate measures to prohibit this putrid industry.
Today was not only a victory for the Anti-Mining activists but it also gave a glimpse of hope that the Water Rights Act, another overdue, essential bill could finally be put before the same assembly and passed. Both laws go hand in hand in the protection of the most basic and important human right of Salvadorans; the right to a dignified and healthy life.
A pesar de un breve aviso de 72 horas, unas trescientas personas, representado varios regiones del país descendieron al patio de la Asamblea Legislativa en San Salvador para estar presentes durante uno de los votos más trascendentales de la historia reciente del país. Hoy en día, fue el resultado de un movimiento persistente liderado por comunidades, organizaciones ambientales nacionales e internacionales, universidades, políticos, abogados, científicos, profesiones de la salud y más recientemente, incluso el Papa mismo , se unió a la causa.
Según la ONU, El Salvador tiene el segundo mayor grado de deterioro ambiental en las Américas, con sólo el 3% de bosques naturales intactos, los suelos son arruinados por prácticas agrícolas inadecuadas y más del 90% de las aguas superficiales son contaminadas. Un reciente estudio de la Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA) reveló que el 90% de la población exige que el Gobierno tome medidas inmediatas para prohibir esta industria pútrida.
Hoy, no sólo fue una victoria para los activistas antiminerales, sino que también dio un vistazo a la esperanza de que la Ley del Agua, otro proyecto imprescindible y atrasado, podría finalmente ser sometido a la misma asamblea y aprobado. Ambas leyes van de la mano en la protección del derecho humano más básico e importante de los salvadoreños; El derecho a una vida digna y sana.
In 2002, the Canadian corporation Pacific Rim registered in El Salvador. It was invited by the Salvadoran government to exploit the potential of the country in terms of gold and silver. Pacific Rim identified at least 25 favorable sites for the extraction of gold, in the beginning of its explorations. One of these sites is known as El Dorado, in the department of Cabañas. In December 2004, the company formally requested permission to operate the El Dorado mine, but the government denied permission for inconsistencies in the environmental impact study, and because the company did not have the authorization of the owners of the land where the exploitation of gold and silver would be carried out.
In response to the Salvadoran government’s refusal to grant the El Dorado project exploitation permit, in July 2008, Pacific Rim filed a lawsuit against the Salvadoran government through the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
The company demanded El Salvador pay them $77 million for the amount invested before they were denied the authorization permit. Later this requirement was increased to $301 million and finally reduced to $250 million. At the end of 2013, Pacific Rim filed for bankruptcy and sold its shares to the Australian transnational company Oceana Gold, which continued the lawsuit process.
After a long litigation, on October 14, 2016, the international court ruled in favor of the Salvadoran government and against the mining company. The verdict also determined that the company must compensate with $8 million to the Salvadoran government to cover the procedural costs of the litigation.
Following this ruling, on November 24, 2016, the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change and Corporations (MOVIAC), submitted a letter to the Legislative Assembly requesting a ban on all metal mining in the country. This request opened an intense debate that is increasingly gaining strength. On February 6, the Central American University José Simeón Cañas (UCA) and the Catholic Church presented a proposal for a law to ban metal mining.
The request for a ban is justified by the serious social and ecological impacts caused by the mining industry and by the high degree of pollution and environmental deterioration that the country is currently suffering. According to international experts, El Salvador is the country with the most environmental deterioration in the continent, after Haiti. The United Nations has described El Salvador as the country with the least amount of water available throughout the continent, while the Ministry of the Environment has reported that more than 90% of surface water is seriously contaminated and only 10% are suitable for use as potable.
This water crisis could become much more serious if gold and silver mining projects are located in the basin of the river Lempa, which is the most important river in the country. Its basin makes up 50% of the national territory, and houses 70% of the country’s population.
El Salvador is the only country in Central America that does not have mineral exploitation and in an opinion poll conducted by the UCA in June 2015, 76% of the population is against the opening of mining projects. Despite this opposition, there is great pressure from transnational companies to initiate gold and silver mining projects. This of course is due to the findings from Pacific Rim that discovered approximatly 1.2 million ounces of high-purity gold and more than 7.5 million ounces of silver in the subsoil of the northern part of the country. In addition to another 558 thousand ounces of gold and 1.2 million silver of lower quality.
Apparently this is a good thing; however, experience in neighboring countries such as Guatemala and Honduras demonstrates how harmful the mining industry is to people and the environment. Especially when it comes to water resources. According to a recent UCA publication, the Marlin mine in Guatemala uses about 6 million liters of water per day; and nearby communities have reported 40 dry communal wells in the eight years of the mine’s operations. Likewise in the region of Valle de Siria in Honduras, the San Martín mine has dried 19 of the original 23 rivers in the area throughout its’ nine years of operation.
These effects could be worse in El Salvador, due to the fragility of its ecosystems and the population density of around 300 inhabitants per square kilometer. In these circumstances the human rights of the population would be seriously affected. In this regard, the Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights (PDDH), in a recent statement said: “The harmful effects of mining activity constitute serious violations of the human rights of the population. Among them is the right to life, health, water and food. The concern persists because the mining industry still has an interest in developing its projects in the country and there is no legislation or institutional mechanisms to guarantee the protection of the environment against mining activity.”
The interest of the mining industry to which the PDDH refers to is manifested in a series of actions carried out by the mining company Oceana Gold, which MOVIAC has repeatedly denounced. For instance, in a letter delivered to the Legislative Assembly on November 24, 2016, MOVIAC states: “We know that in all the impoverished countries of the world, transnational mining companies use the same strategies: division of communities, murder of environmentalists, bribing corrupt officials and false media campaigns such as the promises of job creation and social development. The truth is that mining does not generate more jobs than it destroys. Where there is mining there is no agriculture, there is no livestock, there is no tourism, there is no health, there are no peaceful or free communities.”
For all these reasons at the moment, in El Salvador there is a strong debate about the need to pass a law that definitively prohibits metal mining.
El Salvador Debate la Prohibición de la Minería Metálica
En el año 2002 la corporación canadiense Pacific Rim se registró en El Salvador, invitada por el gobierno, para explotar el potencial del país en cuanto a oro y plata. Desde el inicio en sus exploraciones, la minera identificó al menos 25 sitios propicios para la extracción de oro, uno de estos es el lugar conocido como El Dorado, en el departamento de Cabañas. En Diciembre de 2004 la empresa solicitó formalmente el permiso de explotación de la mina El Dorado, el gobierno negó el permiso por inconsistencias en el estudio de impacto ambiental y porque la empresa no contaba con la autorización de los propietarios de las tierras en donde se realizaría la explotación del oro y la plata.
Ante la negativa del gobierno salvadoreño de no conceder el permiso de explotación del proyecto El Dorado, en julio de 2008Pacific Rim inicia una demanda contra el Estado salvadoreño, en El Centro Internacional de Arreglo de Diferencias Relativas a Inversiones (CIADI) del Banco Mundial.
La petición pedía que el Estado salvadoreño le pagara $77 millones de dólares, por el monto invertido antes de que se le negara la autorización de explotación, más tarde esta exigencia fue incrementada a $ 301 millones y finalmente se redujo a $ 250 millones. A finales de 2013, Pacific Rim se declaró en quiebra y vendió sus acciones a la transnacional Australiana Oceana Gold, quien continuó el proceso de demanda.
Después de un largo litigio, el 14 de octubre de 2016, el tribunal internacional falló a favor del Estado salvadoreño y en contra de la empresa minera. El veredicto también determinó que la empresa deberá indemnizar con 8 millones de dólares al gobierno salvadoreño para cubrir los costos procesales del litigio.
A raíz de este fallo, el 24 de noviembre de 2016 el Movimiento de Víctimas y Afectados por el Cambio Climático y Corporaciones MOVIAC, presentó un escrito a la Asamblea Legislativa solicitando la prohibición de la minería metálica en el país. Está petición abrió un intenso debate que cada vez está cobrando más fuerza. El 6 de febrero la Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas, UCA y la Iglesia Católica presentaron una propuesta de ley de prohibición de la minería metálica.
La solicitud de prohibición se justifica por los graves impactos sociales y ecológicos que ocasiona la industria minera y por el alto grado de contaminación y deterioro ambiental que ya sufre el país. Según expertos internacionales El Salvador es el país del continente con mayor deterioro ambiental, después de Haití. Las Naciones Unidas ha calificado a El Salvador como el país con menos disponibilidad de agua de todo el continente, y el Ministerio de Medio Ambiente ha informado que más del 90% de las agua superficiales están seriamente contaminadas y que sólo el 10% son aptas para potabilizar por medios convencionales.
Esta situación de crisis hídrica podría ser mucho más grave si se concretan proyectos de explotación de oro y plata ubicados en la cuenca del río Lempa, que es el río más importante del país, su cuenca comprende el 50% del territorio nacional, en donde habita el 70% de la población del país.
El Salvador es el único país de Centroamérica que no posee explotación de minerales y en una encuesta de opinión realizada por la Universidad Centroamericana UCA, en junio de 2015, el 76% de la población está en contra de la apertura de proyectos mineros; no obstante se tiene gran presión de empresas transnacionales para iniciar proyectos de extracción de oro y plata, ya que según la exploraciones realizada por la empresa Pacific Rim, en el subsuelo de la zona norte del país existe un aproximado de 1.2 millones de onzas de oro de alta pureza y más de 7.5 millones de onzas de plata. Además de otras 558 mil onzas de oro y 1.2 millones de plata de menor calidad.
En apariencia esto es algo bueno; sin embargo, la experiencia en países vecinos como Guatemala y Honduras demuestra lo dañina que es la industria minera para las personas y para el medio ambiente, especialmente en el recurso hídrico. Según una publicación de la Universidad Centroamericana, UCA la mina Marlín, en Guatemala utiliza unos 6 millones de litros de agua por día, las comunidades que viven cerca reportan 40 pozos comunales secos en los ocho años de operaciones de la mina; así mismo en la región Valle de Siria en Honduras la mina San Martín en nueve años de operaciones ha secado 19 de los 23 ríos originales de la zona.
Estas afectaciones podrían ser peores en El Salvador, por la fragilidad de sus ecosistemas y por la densidad poblacional cercana a los 300 habitantes por kilómetro cuadrado, en estas circunstancias los derechos humanos de la población serían gravemente afectados. Al respecto la Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, en un comunicado reciente expresó que: “los efectos nocivos de la actividad minera constituyen graves violaciones a los derechos humanos de la población; entre estos al derecho a la vida, a la salud, al agua y a la alimentación. La preocupación persiste porque aún concurre el interés de la industria minera de desarrollar sus proyectos en el país y no se cuenta con una legislación ni mecanismos institucionales que garanticen la protección del medio ambiente ante la actividad minera”
El interés de la industria minera al que hace referencia la PDDH se manifiesta en una serie de acciones que lleva a cabo la empresa minera Oceana Gold, las cuales el Movimiento de Víctimas y Afectados por e Cambio Climático y as Corporaciones, MOVIAC ha denunciado en reiterada ocasiones, por ejemplo en una carta entregada a la Asamblea Legislativa el 24 de noviembre de 2016, el MOVIAC expone: “Conocemos que en todos los países empobrecidos del mundo, las transnacionales mineras emplean las mismas estrategias: división de las comunidades, asesinato de ambientalistas, compra de funcionarios corruptos y campañas mediáticas mentirosas como lo son las promesas de generación de empleo y de desarrollo social. La verdad es que la minería no genera más empleo que el que destruye, donde hay minería no hay agricultura, no hay ganadería, no hay turismo, no hay salud, no hay comunidades pacíficas ni libres”.
Por todas estas razones en el momento actual, en El Salvador se debate fuertemente la necesidad de aprobar una ley que prohíba definitivamente la minería metálica.
This morning, the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change and Corporations (MOVIAC, in Spanish), published a two-page statement in Diario Co Latino on pending environmental issues in El Salvador – the Pacific Rim claim in the World Bank tribunal and the proposed ban on mining, Climate Change and the current economic model, the recent signing of the Millennium Challenge Corporation grant, and the Legislative Assembly’s failure to recognize water as a basic human right. MOVIAC wants the new Sánchez Cerén administration and the Legislative Assembly to be doing way more than they are.
Voices staff translated the MOVIAC statement to English and have attached it below along with the original in Spanish. (We will update this post with a link to the digital copy of today’s Co Latino when it is available.)
Last week Pacific Rim Mining Company announced it is seeking $315 million dollars in damages from El Salvador. It was a stark reminder that the 8-year old mining debate, which included several years of threats and violence between mining supporters and opponents, has yet to been resolved and could still result in a devastating economic blow to El Salvador.
As the mining issue continues, another debate with the potential to become just as volatile is brewing. In March the Funes Administration provided some details about its proposal for a second round of funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US aid program started by President Bush in 2004. The proposal is worth $413 million dollars, half of which will likely go towards an infrastructure project like improving the Litoral Highway that runs along El Salvador’s southern coast. The other half is likely to help finance public-private partnerships and improve human capital, which seems to mean education.
As details of the proposal emerge, opposition to a second round of MCC funding is growing. So far, opposition has opened on two fronts. The Salvadoran labor movement has been the most outspoken opponent, denouncing the proposed Law on Public Private Partnerships (P3 Law) since last year. Environmentalists and communities in the Lower Lempa region of Usulután have been less outspoken, but oppose the MCC proposal because the public-private partnerships will support tourism, which they strongly oppose. In 2011, members of the anti-mining movement also spoke out against the P3 Law fearing it would result in mining activities.
Because politicians within the FMLN are supporting the MCC, the politics of opposing the P3 Law and tourism are a little more complicated than opposition to mining was. Other than a protest outside the US Embassy in March and other small activities organized by the labor movement, opposition has remained largely behind closed doors, which may change soon.
The Public Private Partnership Law
US Ambassador Maria Carmen Aponte said in October 2012 that approval of a second round of MCC funds relies on the passage of the P3 Law. The labor movement and their international supporters, argue that the P3 Law will privatize government operations including the airport, seaports, health care facilities, and other important services. They fear it will result in the loss of thousands of jobs, increasing the country’s already high rates of unemployment and driving wages down even further.
The labor movement and other opponents also do not want the private sector to control important resources and services like water, education, and health controlled. For example, Salvadoran civil society has fought against privatization of water for many years, making it such a toxic issue that politicians are unable to advocate for it publicly. Just like the government has not been able to privatize water, civil society organizations have not been able to pass a water law they have been promoting for over 8 years. Among other things, the law would protect water resources from privatization. Similarly, in 2002 then President Francisco Flores tried to privatize part of the health care system, but health care workers and many others took to the streets and forced the government to back off. Opponents of the P3 law fear it will make it easier for the government to accomplish what it has failed to do in the past – privatizing water and health care.
Supporters of the P3 Law, including President Funes, counter that public-private partnerships are not privatization, and the government will not privatize any important services, like health and education. They argue, instead, that public-private partnerships will result in more foreign direct investments, injecting capital into services and industries that are lagging behind.
The labor movement and other activists fear, however, that while not called privatization, the P3s are a way to accomplish the same goals. Concessions could last as long as 40 years, which means the state is essentially relinquishing control of an asset. Similarly, while capital investments are needed, the P3 Law will allow private, international investors to generate profits from basic services in El Salvador and take the profits overseas instead of re-investing in El Salvador.
Public-private partnerships are not new in El Salvador – they government has contracted out many operations to private companies over the years. One regular criticism is that these relationships prioritize profits over the well being of Salvadorans. For example, in the aftermath of the October 2011 floods, communities and organizations in the Lower Lempa blamed the CEL for washing them out. The CEL is the state-owned agency that manages the dam, generating electricity that private power companies sell for profit. The more electricity produced, the more money the companies make. In the months after the 2011 floods CEL representatives responded frankly, stating they operate the dams to make electricity and generate profits, not protect the people downstream.
Tourism is not inherently bad, but communities in the Lower Lempa of Usulután fear that building hotels and resorts in and around their important and fragile ecosystems will cause irreparable harm. One Lower Lempa community targeted for a tourism project is La Tirana, an isolated and economically poor community located at the edge of one of the most pristine mangrove forest in Central America. In addition to its immense natural beauty, the forest supports thousands of species of flora and fauna. The nearby beaches are protected as a nesting ground for several species of endangered sea turtles. Residents of La Tirana fear tourists would damage the fragile mangroves with construction of houses and resorts, jet skis and motorboats, and solid waste and sewage, while displacing local residents and their farms.
Proponents of tourism argue that resorts and hotels in places like Tirana would provide jobs and spur the local economy. They believe this to be especially important in communities, such as those in the Lower Lempa, that have had their agricultural economy diminished by free trade. But locals doubt resorts will help the local economy. They know that hotels are much more likely to hire bilingual youth from San Salvador who have degrees in hotel management than poor campesinos who barely have a sixth grade education.
Voices staff recently met with community members in La Tirana, and they are very much against outside investors building resorts in their region. Recognizing that they live in a special place, the community board is proposing that the community build a series of small, humble cabanas that would have a small ecological footprint, but provide comfortable housing for a small number of guests. They are also proposing that the community build a small community kitchen that could feed guests. The community wants to develop its own small eco-tourism industry that it can regulate and ensure does not harm the forest or turtle nesting ground. It would also mean that the money from tourism would benefit the community, and not just make wealthy investors in San Salvador or abroad even richer.
Other communities in the region are even more vulnerable than La Tirana. In El Chile and other small communities, many residents still do not have title to their land. They fear that if a private investor wants to build a hotel or resort the State could take their land and they would have no legal recourse.
Our staff also met with other communities in the Lower Lempa – Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, Amando Lopez, Nueva Esperanza – and several local organizations. They are also completely opposed to tourism projects in the region. They fear that hotels and resorts will further destroy agricultural land, use up limited water resources, and destroy local culture. The community of Octavio Ortiz even wrote in their strategic plan that they see tourism as a large threat to farming and their peaceful way of life.
While most of the public-private partnership proposals involve tourism, there are quite a few agricultural projects. According to PRESA, the government agency managing the project proposals, they received 14 requests to support production of exports in dairy, mangoes, limes, and honey. In order to be considered for a public-private partnership, investors have to have $100,000 in capital and be producing export crops. The capital requirement means local farmers will not be able to participate. And the requirement that products be grown for export means even more land will be dedicated to products that do not contribute to food sovereignty, which is a top priority for the region.
There are also civil society leaders and academics in El Salvador who oppose the MCC because they see it as the latest phase in implementing a neoliberal economic agenda in their country. They hold it in the same regard as the privatization of state assets (1990s), dollarization (1995-2001), Central American Free Trade Agreement (2006), the first MCC compact (2007-2012), and Partnership for Growth (2011). Similarly, Gilberto Garcia from Center for Labor Studies (CEAL, in Spanish) believes the
highway projects, including the northern highway funded by the first MCC compact and the Litoral Highway project planned for the second compact, are part of an effort to build a land bridge in Guatemala. The “Inter-Oceanic Corridor” will connect ports on the Pacific coasts of Guatemala and El Salvador with Caribbean or Atlantic ports in Guatemala. ODEPAL is managing the project in what they call a public-private partnership. The land bridge is located in Guatemala, but it is right on the borders with El Salvador and Honduras, giving both countries easy access.
Politics of Opposing the MCC and P3 Law
Building a strong national movement around opposition to the second MCC compact and the P3 Law may be more difficult than organizing Salvadorans against mining. While the anti-mining movement was able to reduce the debate to a single issue that all Salvadorans could understand – i.e. gold mining will destroy water resources for 60% of the country – most people believe that tourism, better highways, and other capital investments are always good. Similarly, the P3 Law is fairly abstract and difficult to reduce into a simple message that the majority of Salvadorans can relate to their everyday lives.
The politics around the MCC and P3 Law will make it more difficult to achieve the kind of nation-wide opposition that the anti-mining movement was able to garner. During the mining debate, the FMLN (leftist political party) was the opposition party and had the political freedom to take an anti-mining position. The FMLN is now in power and has to consider the economic and political interests that helped them get there. President Funes and FMLN presidential candidate Sanchez Cerén support the P3 Law and MCC compact, arguing the investments will be good for the economy. According to anonymous sources, many of the same business interests that helped Mauricio Funes with the 2009 presidential elections will benefit from the P3 Law and MCC funds. FMLN legislators have been a slower to sign on to the P3 Law. At times FMLN legislators have said it was not their top priority, and more recently they have tried to negotiate amendments to exclude certain sectors such as health and education from public-private partnerships. Officials from the conservative ARENA party have accused the FMLN legislators of not supporting the law because they want to implement a socialist economy agenda.
But the civil society organizations, communities, and labor unions that are opposed to the P3 Law and the MCC funding generally make up much of the FMLN’s base. If Sanchez Cerén and his supporters continue to embrace the P3 law and the MCC funding, while many in their base protest against it, it could exacerbate an existing split within the party in the months leading up to the February 2014 presidential elections. Many former FMLN militants and supporters, especially in the Lower Lempa, already believe the movement they once fought for no longer represents their interests and values.
Though the US and Salvadoran governments want to pass the P3 Law and sign the MCC compact before the elections, many opponents are gearing up for a long struggle. Even if the P3 Law passes, when the government wants to enter into a public-private partnership the Legislative Assembly will have to approve it. They are likely to face great scrutiny and opposition. Similarly, developers wanting to break ground on tourism projects in La Tirana and other communities are likely to face some rather significant legal and social barriers – much like Pacific Rim faced in Cabañas.
This morning we (Voices staff) received an invitation for an important event next Tuesday evening (October 30th) concerning the Cerro Blanco Mine in Guatemala and the environmental implications for El Salvador. The event is sponsored by the Salvadoran Consulate, the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights in El Salavdor, and CISPES.
The Cerro Blanco mine, which is owned and operated by Goldcorp –a Canadian mining company –, is in the Guatemalan province of Jutiapa. Environmentalists and local communities are concerned that mining activities will contaminate Lake Guija, which spans the border between El Salvador and Guatemala. Salvadoran environmentalist David Pereira explained a couple years ago that “toxic waste water from the mine will flow into the 45 square kilometers of Lake Guija, and on into the Lempa River, the main river basin in El Salvador.” Fears are substantiated by a study produced by Dina Larios, professor of geochemistry and hydrology at Ohio University, that contains serious warnings about wastewater from the mine.
Here’s some information on the event:
“Implications of the Cerro Blanco mine on the El Salvador/Guatemala Border Area”
Report presented by the Ombudsman for Human Rights and the Center for Investigation of Commerce and Investment to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights in Washington DC
We don’t hear as much about mining in El Salvador these days, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a huge issue. As long as there is gold, silver, and other minerals of value there will be people trying to extract them.
So if you’re in DC on Tuesday, please try to attend.
Yesterday morning (June 13), a small group of anti-mining activists held a peaceful protest and press conference on the sidewalk in front of the Canadian Embassy. The protest was the culmination of a two-week effort by anti-mining activists to hand-deliver a letter to the Canadian Embassy asking them to end their support for Pacific Rim’s lawsuit against El Salvador. (For background on the lawsuit and Pacific Rim’s efforts, click here and here).
One highlight from the event was when two Canadian law students (Erica and Leah) who are interning for Voices on the Border and FESPAD this summer, tried to enter the embassy to deliver the letter, and talk to Embassy officials about the case. The Embassy turned them away without explanation. Yesterday afternoon, Erica wrote:
“This is outrageous treatment. Any citizen of any country is allowed to enter their embassy while traveling abroad – that’s what embassies are for. Your political affiliations don’t affect this basic right, nor do your stances on controversial issues. The embassy is Canadian territory. As citizens, we have the right to enter our embassy. They do not have the right to refuse entry to law-abiding Canadians.”
When they pressed the issue with security guards, they received word from Embassy officials that one of them could enter if they had document problems, otherwise they could not enter. That’s true solidarity! Erica and Leah experienced the kind of exclusion that Salvadorans and impoverished people around the world experience every day as they try to defend their environment, protect their economic security, and build a healthy life for their children.
Yesterday’s events came almost two weeks after the International Center for Settlement of Investor Disputes (ICSID) tribunal announced their decision on preliminary objections in Pacific Rim’s lawsuit against El Salvador. This round of objections focused on jurisdiction – determining whether ICSID had the authority to hear Pacific Rim’s claim against El Salvador. In their lawsuit, Pacific Rim argues that El Salvador violated rights protected under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and El Salvador’s investment law. The tribunal decided it did not have jurisdiction to hear the CAFTA claims (Pacific Rim is a Canadian firm and Canada is not a CAFTA signatory), but that it would hear the claims under El Salvador’s investment law.
Following the decision, Gus Van Harten, Associate Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School, said,
“The case will now be one of the rare ones that proceeds under the host state’s domestic law on investment, but it is no less threatening than the treaty cases because of this. The arbitrators retain essentially the same wide-ranging powers, including to decide what a regulatory expropriation is, what is fair or unfair regulation, etc…. and to award damages or make affirmative orders against the government. Their award will also be widely enforceable in the manner of any treaty case.”
The Salvadoran Attorney General has tried to spin the decision as a victory, and that CAFTA works, but few agree. Pacific Rim’s lawsuit is still alive and a victory under Salvadoran law is just as enforceable as a victory under CAFTA.
What happens next remains a little unclear. It could be that Pacific Rim and El Salvador proceed to the next phase of the trial. Pacific Rim will present their complaint and EL Salvador will present their defense. Then the tribunal will hand down their decision. Or it could be that Pacific Rim and El Salvador negotiate a settlement; though El Salvador has yet to indicate they’d even consider doing so.
There is another, more extreme option worth mentioning, if for no other reason than highlighting El Salvador’s more serious problem – the fact they give corporations the right to sue them in the first place.
Historically, individuals and corporations did not have the right to sue a country – only a country could sue another country. That began to change when the U.S., Mexico, and Canada signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which gave corporations the right to seek arbitration if a signatory country appropriated an investment. International law still dictates that a country has to submit to jurisdiction, and unless they have, individuals and corporations cannot sue. By signing CAFTA, the U.S., Mexico, and Canada all agreed that they would give international courts jurisdiction to arbitrate any disputes with investors.
El Salvador first submitted to jurisdiction in 1999 when the Flores Administration and ARENA-controlled Legislative Assembly passed the Foreign Investment Act – the law Pacific Rim is using now. The also agreed to give international tribunals jurisdiction to arbitrate disputes when they signed CAFTA and other trade agreements.
Professor Van Harten suggested after the recent ruling that one way El Salvador could get out of the Pacific Rim suit would be to repeal part or all of the 1999 Investment Law and no longer submit to jurisdiction. The Legislative Assembly would have to explicitly state that the law is retroactive and apply to any current actions. While that would likely be a popular move at home, it probably wouldn’t go over well with the U.S. and other international bodies, and it seems unlikely that the Salvadoran government would put those relationships at risk without careful consideration.
Withdrawing from jurisdiction may be something El Salvador wants to do anyway. Pacific Rim is only one of many mining companies that have applied for but not received exploitation permits from the Salvadoran government. If Pacific Rim is successful in their lawsuit, many others will likely follow. If El Salvador is unsuccessful in defending itself, it may end up granting more than 30 mining permits or face defending itself against an equal number of very large lawsuits.
Another reason to withdraw jurisdiction from international arbitration panels like ICSID is because future trade agreements may grant investors even more protection and rights than NAFTA and CAFTA.
Just yesterday, Public Citizen published a report on the investor protection provisions in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a trade agreement being negotiated by Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the U.S. According Public Citizen’s analysis, some of the most outrageous provisions would:
Limit how countries can regulate foreign firms operating within their jurisdiction, with requirements to provide them with greater rights than domestic firms;
Establish a two-track legal system that gives foreign corporations to avoid domestic courts and laws, and sue States in foreign tribunals; and
Grant foreign corporations the right to demand compensation for financial, health, environmental and land use regulations they claim undermine their TPP privileges, and demand compensation for costs of complying with financial or environmental regulations that apply equally to domestic and foreign firms.
El Salvador is not a signatory to the TPP, and the agreement has not even been signed or ratified, but the pendulum seems to be swinging very far in favor of these kinds of pro-investor rights. Once that is the standard, any efforts to protect local environments and resources are subject to the desires of international corporations… until countries organize and push the pendulum back to protect their interests.
Corporations and the U.S. have worked hard to keep concerned citizens and civil society groups from influencing negotiations of these trade agreements. Public Citizen’s account of how hard the U.S. has worked to keep the TPP negotiations sounds a lot like the CAFTA negotiations eight and nine years ago. While Corporations and business interests have a say in the process, concerned citizens and civil society organizations are left on the sidewalk to protest.
In that context, it’s not really surprising that the Canadian Embassy denied Erica and Leah (the Canadian law students interning in El Salvador) entry to the Embassy – they were hanging out with the wrong crowd. Perhaps if they were interning for Pacific Rim or any other international corporation they would have had a different experience.
Word on the street is that the ICSID (International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes) tribunal hearing Pacific Rim Mining Company’s lawsuit against El Salvador will hand down a decision on the second round of preliminary objections before the end of the month. (Here is an article and a webpage with good information on the case). Pacific Rim, a Canadian firm based out of Vancouver, filed suit against El Salvador over three years ago for not granting them the permits necessary to extract gold from their Cabañas properties. Between 2002 and 2008, Pacific Rim allegedly invested $77 million in exploring properties in Cabañas and other parts of El Salvador. When the government and people of El Salvador said the mining company could not mine, Pacific Rim sued to recover their investment, lost profits, and damages. If Pacific Rim wins, they could receive a judgment worth more than $100 million.
El Salvador responded to the lawsuit by filing two rounds of preliminary objections, asking the court to dismiss Pacific Rim’s claim on procedural grounds. The first round of objections was unsuccessful, and we should hear about the second round in the next week or so. If the Tribunal finds in favor of El Salvador, they could dismiss part or all of Pacific Rim’s case. If they find for Pacific Rim, the mining company’s suit lives to see another day.
Oxfam is currently organizing a petition asking U.S. citizens to demand that the U.S. end their support for Pacific Rim and their claim against El Salvador. The petition reads:
Act Now: Speak up for El Salvador’s Right to Decide
In El Salvador, communities are fighting for their right to decide how companies can use their lands. Many of them have made a decision: they don’t want the metal mining industry to continue to destroy the environment they live and farm in. And they’re paying the price – each day, community leaders and activists face threats of violence and death because they’re standing up to metal mining companies.
What’s making this fight even harder? Right now, Canadian mining company Pacific Rim is trying to force El Salvador to keep metal mines in business by suing El Salvador for $77 million under the US-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). This case could not only cost El Salvador a significant portion of its GDP, but it could prevent citizens from deciding which industries develop in their country.
A win for El Salvador in this case means that El Salvador could choose to stop metal mining – for good. The US government’s support for El Salvador over Pacific Rim in this case has been crucial. That’s where you come in. Will you help us make sure the US supports El Salvador in this case?
Tell Secretary of State Clinton: Support the people of El Salvador.
The petition is important because some within the US State Department associate anti-mining with being anti-development. They argue that if El Salvador passes a law that bans mining, it means the country is hostile to foreign investment. In 2009, Former Chargé d’Affairs Robert Blau wrote a cable to the U.S. Secretary of State with the Subject line: “New Environment Ministry Moves to Ban Mining, Sends “Anti-Development” Signals.” A ban on mining is not anti-development, it is respecting the wishes of the people who would be most affected by its disastrous environmental impacts.
The cable is worth a read. We recognize that Robert Blau has a pretty extreme view of U.S. foreign policy and that his view may not represent everyone within the Embassy (Blau is no longer at the Salvadoran Embassy). His view, however, exemplifies how neoliberalism affects policies in countries like El Salvador. The same people who want to gut the EPA and remove the environmental regulations that protect air, soil, and water in the U.S., also want to remove any barriers that might prevent them from pillaging resources around the world. Any efforts to protect the environment and the communities where people live are called anti-development.
The petition is important because we have to make sure the State Department understands that Salvadoran communities said no to mining because they want to protect their very limited natural resources. They are not anti-development, rather they don’t want their vision of development trumped by an international corporation that is only interested in profit. The U.S. should not support Pacific Rim and other corporations, but ought to respect the wishes of the affected communities.
Oxfam’s petition is not the only anti-mining news to report. Yesterday the MESA (Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador) released a statement expressing their frustrations with the Salvadoran government’s inaction on mining. , the government commissioned a Strategic Evaluation of the Mining Sector to determine whether mining was feasible in El Salvador. The report was supposed to inform the Legislative Assembly and government ministries on how to manage mining, and whether they ought to pass an all out ban on mining, which is what the MESA has been advocating.
The MESA is frustrated with the lack of transparency in completing the study and the release of its findings. They recently filed a request for information about the report under El Salvador’s relatively new Law on Access to Public Information. They also requested information about what mining companies have applied for or hold mining permits. Lina Pohl, the Vice-Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources recently said the only possible scenarios are the suspension of mining permits (so far for just exploration, no mining company currently has an exploitation permit), and not granting new ones. The MESA believes this to be insufficient and that the study fails to take on the most important issues concerning the impact that mining would have on the country. They call on the government to be more proactive in defending Salvadorans and banning mining altogether. The MESA has posted several interviews on Youtube detailing these issues. If you speak Spanish, they are worth watching.
The secretary of the Cabañas Environmental Committee, Neftali Ruíz, was the latest victim of violence and theft this past Friday. Several young men tied him up in his home and proceeded to search his home, computer files, and cell phones for information and supposed weapons. This morning Father Neftali, David Pereira, and Bishop Sol held a press conference at the CRIPDES office in San Salvador. Please read here for a translation of the press release and links to video of the press conference.
It has been over three years since Pacific Rim closed down its operations in El Salvador and filed a notice of intent to seek arbitration against the Salvadoran Government for denial of mining permits.
Pacific Rim, a Canadian company that bills itself as “an environmentally and socially responsible exploration company,” reports that in the first half of fiscal 2012, their “cash and cash equivalents increased $1.4 million from $0.3 million at April 30, 2011 to $1.7 million at October 31, 2011. The company’s short-term investments increased from $0.8 million to $1.1 million over the same period, resulting in a $1.8 million total increase in assets.
The increase in assets does not indicate that they are all of a sudden profitable. According to a Pacific Rim’s press release announcing their quarterly report, the increase “reflects the cash proceeds of a private placement equity financing undertaken by the Company.” This means that Pacific Rim found new private investors to finance their operations. In fact, the press release states clearly that they have “no source of revenue, and will require additional cash to continue fund legal, exploration and administrative expenses.”
While Pacific Rim’s El Dorado project in San Isidro, Cabañas is their most advanced, the company recently acquired an option to earn 65% interest in the Hog Ranch gold property in Nevada and has begun field exploration. Pacific Rim also has the opportunity to acquire a 100% interest in the Remance property in Panama – an interest they secured in 2010. While they have begun “phase 1 drilling” at Hog Ranch, Pacific Rim reports that the Remance project is “in doubt” and they have no plans for exploring the property.
The biggest question mark for Pacific Rim remains their ICSID claim against El Salvador, which is potentially worth $100 million dollars and the rights to mine gold in Cabañas. In their press release, Pacific Rim says,
“Expenditures related to Pacific Rim’s CAFTA/ILES arbitration claim are expected to continue at present or modestly higher levels during the coming months, and are directly related to the level of arbitration activity. The Company has currently accumulated a liability of approximately $1.4 million related to the CAFTA/ILES arbitration action and is currently discussing vendor-specific alternative financing opportunities that will reduce this accounts payable position.”
The ICSID Tribunal will likely hand down a ruling any day on the last round of preliminary objections filed by El Salvador. If the Tribunal finds in favor of El Salvador, part or all of Pacific Rim’s claim could be dismissed. If the Tribunal finds for Pacific Rim, the case moves a little closer to a full hearing.
In anticipation of the decision, a group of labor, union, environmental and other civil society leaders will hold a rally outside the World Bank tomorrow (Thursday, December 15) protesting Pacific Rim’s claim. Those attending the rally will present a letter to World Bank and ICSID officials calling on them to respect El Salvador’s decision to prohibit mining in order to protect their local communities and water resources from environmental damage.
Though Pacific Rim continues to engage in minor exploration activities, their primary activity and asset is this lawsuit. A favorable outcome of the ICSID arbitration would be a windfall for Pacific Rim’s investors, possibly allowing them to recoup their $77 million investment and perhaps damages and lost profits.
The body of murdered fourth-year university student and active member of the environmental movement in the area of Ilobasco, Cabanas, Juan Francisco Duran Ayala, has finally been returned to his family in San Salvador. On June 24, 2011, the family gathered together with members of civil society and representatives from government agencies to exhume his body from a common grave in the Bermeja Cemetery, where he had been buried by the National Civilian Police. Juan Francisco, who lived in Ilobasco, left his home at 9 a.m. on June 3 to attend his classes in San Salvador and never arrived. His body was found on the same day by the police, next to a basketball court in the community of Amatepec in metropolitan San Salvador, with two gunshot wounds to the head.
Juan Francisco’s cousin and a designated family representative, Norberto Hernandez Ayala, claims that because the cadaver had several tattoos, the coroner’s office labeled it as an unidentified person and probable gang member, and buried it in a common grave. Juan Francisco had a tattoo of Che Guevara on his abdomen, and another two of the Barcelona soccer team and a favorite U.S. basketball team on his side and back, respectively.
His body was identified on June 14 by his father, Jose Benjamin Ayala, in photographs provided by the coroner’s office. Logistical negotiations between the attorney general’s office and the family slowed the process of exhumation ten days. Juan Francisco was laid to rest in a funeral on Saturday June 25, 2011.
Though there exist various theories about the motive for Juan Francisco’s assassination, in a press conference today, Hernandez Ayala confirmed that the primary hypothesis is the young man’s involvement as an environmental activist. The victim’s mother, Marta Duran, added, “What is clear here is that they’re killing innocent people. My son was only a student, dedicated to his studies. I just want justice for my son.”
The afternoon before he disappeared, June 2, Juan Francisco had been seen putting up fliers around the Ilobasco area where he lived, as an active volunteer for the Environmental Committee of Cabanas (CAC.) The messages on the fliers included an open invitation to a public forum on mining, phrases promoting respect for the environment, and a demand for the controversial Canadian mining company, Pacific Rim, to retire its operation from El Salvador. (Pacific Rim is one of two mining companies that have sued the Salvadoran government for a total of almost $200 million, for refusing to grant them permits to conduct metallic mineral mining in several regions of the country.)
Juan is the fourth person active in the anti-mining movement in the department of Cabanas to be murdered in the past two years, and the third victim from the CAC specifically. In a press release published by the CAC, the committee declares, “This assassination comes only two years since the kidnapping and assassination of the anti-mining activist Marcelo Rivera and the assassinations of two of our members, Ramiro Rivera and Dora Alicia Sorto. We believe that if these cases are not cleared up with an investigation that leads to the intellectual authors, impunity will continue reigning in Cabanas, and the intimidation, violence and assassinations will continue.”
A secondary hypothesis of Juan Francisco’s murder is that he was yet one more victim of the constant daily violence that plagues this nation of only 6 million people. According to data from the National Civilian Police, the current daily murder average is 11, and on the date of Juan’s killing, four other unidentified partial-or-complete corpses were found. That number does not include the identified victims of that day. In fact, if the violence continues at this pace, the homicide total for 2011 would be more than 4,000. The local organization Voices on the Border points out that this is an astoundingly high number when compared to New York City, whose population size is higher than El Salvador’s and reports only 412 homicides for the entirety of 2009. The environmental movement discards this theory, stating that Juan Francisco’s involvement with the movement was too public and too recent to his sudden murder for these things to be unconnected. They also cite the continuing string of assassinations involving anti-mining activists.
Local environmental activists call on the National Civilian Police and the Attorney General of the Republic to conduct exhaustive investigations of the string of violent crimes in the department of Cabanas. They cite corruption and illicit trades within three local mayoral offices—facts they claim to be well-known among the local population, and which they list in today’s press release—as well as ties between the aforementioned authorities and the mining company Pacific Rim, as possible motives for the violence. As Francisco Pineda, President of the CAC and recent recipient of the internationally recognized Goldman Environmental Prize, asserts, “We can make a good guess about who are the intellectual authors of this crime given our lived experiences here, but that’s not our responsibility. The attorney general and the police have the obligation to investigate and determine the guilty parties.”
On June 24, the attorney general’s office informed Juan Francisco’s family that they had appointed them a lawyer. On the same day, the police also assured them that the investigation had begun. Hernandez Ayala says that the family trusts that what they’ve been told is true, and that justice will take its course. However, a lingering concern is the Salvadoran court system’s lack of precedent in completing exhaustive investigations. A United Nations Development Program report from 2007 found that only 14% of cases enter the judicial system, and only 3.8% are ever fully prosecuted, with the guilty party brought to justice. Speaking specifically of the anti-mining struggle, in all four previous assassination cases, material authors were quickly rounded up and prosecuted, but there exists significant evidence to suggest that they were hired assassins. In none of these cases — of which Juan Francisco is simply the most recent, and the movement fears will not be the last — have intellectual authors been identified by the authorities.
Juan Francisco’s family remembers him as humble, respectful and optimistic. His university professors say that he stood out for his willingness to work together with his peers and his dedication to his studies. He was thirty years old at the time of death, and would have graduated next year with a degree in Linguistics from the Technological University of San Salvador.