agriculture, Climate Change, Corruption, Disasters, Economy, El Salvador Government, Environment, Food Security, International Relations, Mining, Partnership for Growth, Public Health, transparency, Uncategorized, violence, Voices Developments

El Salvador’s Metal Mining Debate

Versión Español

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.

Advocacy, agriculture, Climate Change, Corruption, Economy, Environment, International Relations, Public Health, Tourism, transparency, U.S. Relations, Uncategorized

The Case of Privatizing Happiness

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Dozens of reporters, spent an entire day, braving the heat to cover a story concerning one of the major issues Voices is currently working on. The story is about the implementation of mega-tourism, sponsored by the Millennium Challenge Corporation in the Lower Lempa Region of El Salvador. The main theme is it’s negative impacts on the communities living in and around the Jiquilisco Bay.

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IMG_0040 IMG_0055  IMG_0031 An article published by the Foreign Policy Journal said: “U.S. foreign aid is expected to promote poverty alleviation and facilitate developmental growth in impoverished countries. Yet, corporations and special interest groups have permeated even the most well-intended of U.S. policies.”

The United States has $277million in aid money to grant El Salvador and much of it will promote tourism in the Jiquilisco Bay by funding infrastructure projects like wharfs ans marinas in order to encourage private investment.

IMG_0116 IMG_0108 IMG_0092 IMG_0134Voices has been working extensively with communities and NGO’s in the Lower Lempa region to ensure that residents are bring represented, rights are being protected and those in charge are being held accountable for non-ethical practices. La Tirana and El Chile are two communities most affected by the plans and have expressed concerns about the potential threats to the land, the water, the culture and the economy of their communities. Voices even collaborated with them to create a detailed report on the situation.                >> Read the report here                                                                                                        >> Read the article here

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IMG_0149  IMG_0009“They are privatizing our happiness. They are stealing our smiles.”  La Tirana’s community leader said as he looked over the bay where kids were playing. Thanks to the efforts of leaders like him, many of these people here know what’s going on. They know that this isn’t free money coming into their communities and they are banding together to demand that their lives and rights be taken into consideration.

The day’s event was a great opportunity for exposure. Many diverse, national and international journalists were able to experience the reality these communities face. These communities have been taking good care of the natural resources through climate change, contamination and even flooding with little to no help from the government. To them, these resources are their lifeline. This is something that tourists who are primed to vacation here will never understand.

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El Salvador Government, Mauricio Funes, News Highlights, transparency

Transparency Law Passes Unanimously

(To read more on our coverage of the Transparency Law, look here and here.)

A mere three months after its introduction on December 2, 2010, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador voted yesterday to accept President Funes’s comments on the Transparency and Public Access to Information Law. Despite minor differences in opinion among the parties on certain points of the law, it was passed unanimously (81 votes). This complete consensus comes as somewhat of a surprise, especially given the strong opposition originally presented by the PCN (National Conciliation Party), GANA (Grand Alliance for National Unity), and the PDC (Christian Democratic Party). However, commented the president of the Legislative Committee, Guillermo Ávila Qüehl (ARENA), “what’s important is that it passed.” This vote was the final step in the law-making process, and the law is scheduled to become effective in March 2012.

The law recognizes three categories of information: reserved, confidential, and public.  Reserved information, which the government may refuse to divulge, is anything that could compromise national security or the public interest. Personal information about individuals (such as any health conditions, or religious or sexual preferences) is considered confidential and will also not be available to the public. What constitutes public information has yet to be precisely defined, but may potentially encompass all information which is not reserved or confidential.

The law now requires government institutions, and private entities funded by the state, to make information available to the public by establishing an accessible database of information, in addition to supplying inquirers with their requested public information. Additionally, the law creates a new government agency (yet to be appointed), tasked with implementing the law and punishing those who do not comply.

 

El Salvador Government, Politics, transparency

Surveys on Democracy in El Salvador

Earlier this month, El Faro published the results of a November 2010 survey conducted by Analítika Research & Marketing (ARM) that highlighted the public’s willingness to sacrifice democracy for greater economic stability and publicDemo security. Almost half the respondents said they would support a military coup to replace the democratic system in place if economic and security issues are not resolved. Seventy-two percent of the respondents said that the resolution of their problems, regardless of the means, is the government’s most important responsibility.

A 2008 survey by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) reported that 61% of Salvadorans consider the most pressing problem to be their economic situation, while 34% said security was their primary concern. Combined, 95% of Salvadorans list the economy or security as their top concern. Similarly, the Latinobarómetro’s annual poll found that only 18% report that they are satisfied with their economic status.

El Salvador’s numbers are in line with the rest of Latin America. The 2006 United Nations Report on Democracy in Latin America found that 56% of Latin Americans “believe that economic development is more important than democracy, and 55% would “support an authoritarian government if it resolved economic problems.”

At first glance, these surveys might seem to indicate that half of all Salvadorans are itching for an overthrow of the current government, with the economic situation not improving and security situation only becoming more serious. Fortunately, several other factors keep extremists from organizing a coup. For one, in December 2010, President Funes still enjoyed a 79% approval rating, indicating that while people are not happy about their economic situation, they don’t necessarily blame it on the Funes Administration. In addition, of those who are willing to sacrifice democracy for a better economy, at least some of them are also among the 18% who are satisfied with their economic status, but believe that an autocratic government is better. Finally, most Salvadorans over the age of 25 or 30 remember life during wartime and would probably not support another conflict.

What is most telling about the ARM survey is that 72% believe the government is responsible for resolving their problems, possibly indicating that Salvadorans could be more proactive in solving their own problems. Similarly, the willingness to trade democracy for a better economy and higher levels of security indicate a lack of commitment or confidence in the democratic process. This is born out in the low levels of public participation in local and central governments. And arguably, it’s the lack of public participation that allows those with economic and political power to protect their interests while the majority continues to struggle. Or put another way, it’s the widespread willingness to sacrifice democracy for economic development that leaves Salvadorans without either.

While the economic and security issues have not improved much since President Funes took office in June 2009, the administration and Legislative Assembly have taken steps to eliminate corruption and make the government more transparent. Now is a good time for more Salvadorans to get involved in their local and central governments, and contribute to building the economy and improving security.

Corruption, El Salvador Government, Mauricio Funes, transparency

Update on the Transparency Law

Last week, we blogged about the status of El Salvador’s proposed transparency law and the myriad reactions to it.

Today, a Diario CoLatino piece makes us hopeful for its quick passage. Three parties (FMLN, GANA, and PCN) have united to support the incorporation of President Funes’s recommendations into the legislation. These three parties, together, have 60 votes worth of say in the matter, 17 more than the minimum needed for the law’s passage. They aim to vote and resubmit the legislation to the President quickly, so that it may become effective early in 2012, before El Salvador’s presidential elections.

The energetic effort made toward passing this law may be due in part to the recent election of a new president of the Legislative Assembly: Sigfrido Reyes, of FMLN. Reyes spoke to El Faro about his election, outlining his goal of transparency in the Assembly and executive branch, which do not have a lot of trust with the Salvadoran public.

Still too early to celebrate, but this seems to be an important step to letting the sun shine on the Salvadoran government.

El Salvador Government, Mauricio Funes, transparency

New Transparency Law Stalled

On December 2, 2010, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador approved the Transparency and Public Information Access Law (Ley de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública in Spanish), and on January 6, 2011, President Funes vetoed it and returned it with comments to the Assembly.  The proposed law would have required government institutions, and private entities tied to the state, to make information available to the public without, necessarily, a formal request, by establishing an accessible database of information. Additionally, the proposed law would have created a new government agency tasked with implementing the law and punishing those who do not comply.

The bill passed by the Legislative Assembly created three categories of information: reserved, confidential, and public.  Reserved information, which the government may refuse to divulge, is anything that, if made public, would compromise national security or the public interest. Personal information about individuals (such as any health conditions, or religious or sexual preferences) is considered confidential and would also not be available to the public.  All information that does not fall into these two categories is categorized as public and would be available to everyone.

This would be El Salvador’s first law regulating transparency and the establishment of a database of public information. Currently individuals have the constitutional right to request information from state-affiliated agencies on the municipal level, but, as there is no law to guarantee and enforce this right, it is not currently used to its full advantage. Under this new law, institutions would have 10 business days from the date of a request for information not already public to provide the inquirer with either a) the information requested or b) a response denying the request if the information is reserved or confidential. If denied, the person making the request may appeal to the government agency implementing the law. If the enforcement agency, which will be comprised of five people that the President selects from a list of nominees from five social sectors, finds that the government body was unjustified in denying the request, they may release the information and impose a penalty of up to $8300.

The law passed the Legislative Assembly with a vote of 55-30, enjoying support from representatives from both the FMLN and ARENA parties. On January 6, President Funes vetoed the proposed law and returned it to the Assembly with comments. The law that was passed by the Legislative Assembly would give Salvadorans the right to request information 30 days after the President signed it into law. In his comments, President Funes requested that they give his administration one year before people can make requests, allowing his administration to create the new government agencies. He also suggested a more clear definition of what is ‘public’ information, instead of letting it be defined simply as what is not reserved or confidential, terms that are also vaguely defined. Lastly, he proposed that the Legislative Assembly better define how government institutions must respond in the case of an inquiry. In general, the President’s comments on the law and his reasons for vetoing it seem based on improving the law and its application, and not out of an opposition to its underlying principles.

The law was returned to the Legislative Assembly, which will look over the President’s comments and decide whether to address the issues he raised.

If the President eventually signs the bill into law, it would mean increased access to information and governmental transparency, which would theoretically foster more active and effective community participation and, in turn, keep government-affiliated institutions accountable to the people they represent. However, as columnist and professor Guillermo Mejía points out, in a politically developing nation like El Salvador, the public may not recognize the importance of this law or the importance of their role in its success. If Salvadorans do not use the law or take a more active role in holding their government officials accountable, the law will not have much of an impact on the country’s nascent democracy. To illustrate this point, Mejía cites the recent Wikileaks scandal as indicative of the persistence of governmental duplicity in the face of popular apathy even in developed nations like the U.S.

Many of those who have supported the laws passage are concerned that Funes’ veto is less about making the law better, but trying to kill the bill altogether. The Promoters of the Transparency and Public Information Access Law (abbreviated GP in Spanish – a summary of the group and a list of its members can be found here), writers for El Faro in particular, have expressed such concerns , and fear that the President is trying to minimize the transparency of his administration.  Others believe that Funes is trying to slow down the implementation of the law in order to give government officials more time to reorganize sensitive documents before they become public.

Funes has responded to these accusations by noting that the previous ARENA-run administrations that were in power for 20 years blocked all previous efforts to promote a transparency law. He has pointed out that he did not veto the bill outright, but sent it back with comments and a mind toward future progress.

 

Corruption, El Salvador Government, Organized Crime, transparency

Update on Inspector General of the PNC, Zaira Navas

Since last week when we posted an article about the Legislative Assembly’s plans to form of a Special Commission to investigate the Investigator General of the National Civil Police (PNC) Zaira Navas, several top ranking officials, including Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes have spoken out on her behalf. Members of the Legislative Assembly, including Diputado José Antonio Almendáriz, accuse Navas of improperly investigating Police Commissioner Douglas Omar Garcia Funes, former Commissioner Godofredo Miranda, ex-Director of Police Ricardo Menesses, and many others for corruption and ties to organized crime and drug trafficking.

During the legislative session last Thursday, the 45 votes in favor of the Special Commission were enough to move ahead with the investigation of the Inspector General. While no left-wing FMLN diputados voted in favor of the special commission, 45 right-wing ARENA, PCN, PDC, and Gana legislators supported it.

Yesterday, President Funes expressed his support for Navas, confirming that she has only followed the guidelines he gave her in conducting a thorough “cleaning’ of the PNC. Simialrly, the Minister of Justice and Security, Manuel Melgar, has claimed that the commission may be unconstitutional and should not be permitted to go forward. Even Carlos Ascencio, the Director of the PNC, defended Navas, saying that she was simply following the lines of investigations that President Funes had ordered. The Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights has also stated “we must respect the work of the Inspector General.”

Government Agencies in El Salvador have operated in the shadows for a little too long.  A little sunshine every now and then is good for everyone, unless they have something to hide.