Cabanas, El Salvador Government, Mining

Pacific Rim’s ICSID Claim Lives to See Another Day

This morning Pacific Rim Mining Co. announced that yesterday the ICSID (International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes) tribunal denied the Government of El Salvador’s preliminary objections that sought to dismiss most of the mining company’s claims.

In April 2009, Pacific Rim filed international arbitration proceedings against the government of El Salvador claiming that their denial of mining exploitation permits violated their rights under the Central American Free Trade Agreement and Salvadoran Investment Law. In January of this year, the government filed preliminary objections requesting that the tribunal throw out most of Pacific Rim’s claims. They argued that even if all alleged facts are accepted as true, the tribunal still does not have a legal basis on which to decide in Pacific Rim’s favor. (Click here for a summary of the oral arguments). The tribunal heard oral arguments over these preliminary objections on May 31 and June 1, 2010, and yesterday released its decision denying the government’s request.

The tribunal’s decision does not mean that Pacific Rim is necessarily any closer to securing mining permits – only that their ICSID claims will live to see another day. In Pacific Rim’s press release, the company’s President and CEO states “We are very pleased with ICSID’s decision on the Preliminary Objection.” He continues, “[t]his is a positive and crucial step in the CAFTA process for PacRim. We are, however, reticent to celebrate, as we believe a more productive outcome is possible for both the Salvadoran people and foreign investors. With this phase of the arbitration now completed, we hope to resume a mutually beneficial dialogue with the GOES to resolve the impasse on the El Dorado project.”

In filing their claim, Pacific Rim is seeking to recover the $77 million they have invested in exploring their El Dorado site in Cabañas, El Salvador, as well as damages. In his statement, however, Tom Shrake seems to indicate that in trying to negotiate a settlement they are still working to secure exploitation permits. At this point, however, it seems very unlikely that Pacific Rim or any company buys their Pacific Rim El Salvador subsidiary will be able to mine for gold anytime soon. Public support for mining in Cabañas is so low that even Mayor Bautista (once a Pacific Rim promoter) from San Isidro, the municipality where the El Dorado site is located, has expressed his opposition to their efforts.

Investors are apparently not too impressed with the ICSID decision. Pacific Rim’s stock closed at $0.17 a share yesterday and is currently selling for $0.16.

While Pacific Rim’s ICSID claim may live to see another day, the likelihood that they will be resuming their activities in the region are slight.

Advocacy, Cabanas, Corruption, Mining, violence

One Year Anniversary of Marcelo Rivera’s Assassination

On June 24th hundreds of people gathered in San Isidro, Cabañas to honor the life of Marcelo Rivera. Exactly one year earlier many of the same people had been searching for the missing Rivera only to find him tortured, hidden, and dead at the bottom of a local well. Before his body could be properly identified, employees at the coroners office were ordered to bury his body in a common grave – but his brother and another friend demanded to be escorted there and dug the grave out themselves. The attorney general still maintains that Marcelo’s death is a common homicide, despite glaring disparities between the report and the original autopsy. Luis Quintanilla, a Catholic priest who has been threatened and attacked himself, demands justice in this video clip.

Cabanas, International Relations, Mining

Interview with Antonio Pacheco, Director of ADES

On June 8th, the CEO of Pacific Rim mining company, Thomas Shrake, spoke before a Canadian congressional committee about his experience with the El Dorado mining project in Cabañas, El Salvador.  The congressional committee was debating the Bill C-300 that proposes oversight of the government’s investments into international mining projects.  The committee invited Mr. Shrake to testify as an example of why the bill is needed to protect Canada’s reputation abroad.  Mr Shrake’s testimony argued against the Bill and demonized the sectors of Salvadoran society that have opposed the company’s projects in their communities.  Here we provide a response from the community association, ADES, targeted in Shrake’s testimony.

Interview with Antonio Pacheco, Director of ADES:

ROSIE: We’re here with Antonio Pacheco, the Director of ADES, and we have reviewed the comments made by Thomas Shrake to the Canadian Congressional committee on June 8, 2010. I’d like to ask, after reviewing these accusations against ADES, how do you perceive what he has said?

ANTONIO:  Mr. Shrake’s objective was to create a strong impression in the Canadian Congress, to the end that they will not approve a law that controls the behavior of Canadian businesses. Mr. Shrake accuses us of promoting violence, but in reality, the authorities of this country know very well that ADES had nothing to do with these acts, and that ADES is very removed from this type of event.  ADES has done nothing to cause violence in the area of Cabanas.

ROSIE: So, why do you think it was in Mr. Shrake’s interest to make this type of accusation against your organization?

ANTONIO: He tries to paint ADES as the devil, and to make himself into the victim of our actions. He tries to make an impression on the Canadian public that they are the victims of an attack from a Salvadoran organization, and that the Salvadoran government has done nothing to prevent this type of action.

ROSIE: So, what is the real history of ADES? What’s the organization’s mission?

ANTONIO:  ADES is a community organization, comprised of campesinos and campesinas, dedicated to agriculture and community organization. Its focus is community development. This mission leads us to oppose a project like mining exploration, which is so environmentally devastating. Before we knew about the damage caused by mines, we thought it was a good project because of the employment opportunities and development that it could bring. However, our position changed when the people effected by Pacific Rim’s initial exploration came to our office to ask for help and accompaniment. The population, coming to their own conclusions, had already tried to denounce the project through the municipal government, the attorney general, and prosecutor’s office, but these organizations didn’t pay any attention to their complaints.

From this point, ADES began to get involved in this issue. The first thing we had to do was investigate the issue, and we realized that effectively in Central America and Latin America there had been a lot of damage caused by mining companies.  We are convinced that our vision, which is sustainable development, including the rational use of natural resources, is the best way to improve our standard of living.  So, due to this situation, specifically the persistent increase of mining exploration throughout the department, and the continuous complaints of the population, we decided to accompany them by raising awareness of the potential damages, scientific research with outside experts, and to begin to bring the issue onto the national stage. We decided to bring the issue to politicians, to the Salvadoran Congress, ministers, and the church, while respecting the mining industry’s presence in Cabañas.

ROSIE: Mr. Shrake has said that on 2 occasions armed groups attacked his employees and damaged his property, along with other incidences of violence, and he says that ADES is responsible for all of these violent events.

ANTONIO: Frankly, we don’t know where this accusation; that we have acted in a planned manner with armed groups, is coming from.  We are a social organization, legally constituted, and we focus on peaceful advocacy. We understand the detrimental impact that this type of activity could cause on our area, where we work and live with our families. We make it very clear that it is not our political practice to use violent means, as Mr. Shrake suggests.

ROSIE: So, ADES is going to prepare a more detailed response to these accusations, and we will await this document.

ANTONIO: Of course ADES will respond to the accusations of the president of Pacific Rim, so that the citizenry, not only in El Salvador but also in USA and Canada can hear our point of view.

Advocacy, Cabanas, Mining, violence

Voices on the Border’s Fact Finding Mission Returns from Cabañas

Last week, an independent, international fact-finding delegation led by Voices on the Border, traveled to El Salvador to investigate the increased levels of violence in the province of Cabañas.  The delegation, comprised of concerned citizens from El Salvador, the United States and Canada, interviewed over 30 people, including victims and their families, representatives from the police and judiciary, public officials, human rights and environmental experts, and religious leaders. Delegates also reviewed documents, past testimonies, and other evidence related to the Cabañas violence.

Meeting with Francisco from the Environmental Committee of Cabañas
Meeting with Francisco Pineda from the Environmental Committee of Cabañas

In Cabañas the delegation found a climate of intimidation and insecurity that reflects a culture of chronic impunity. Such a climate has resulted in three homicides; attempted kidnappings and other violent attacks; and constant threats against citizens engaged in a local and national debate on Pacific Rim Mining Corporation’s (Pacific Rim) efforts to mine gold. These attacks on citizens attempting to influence public policy are nothing less than terrorism. The delegation found that this climate of impunity and violence has resulted in obstruction of justice, inadequate investigations by government authorities, and a chilling affect on civic participation. Delegate Julia Kaminsky stated, “The consequences are ruinous to civil society and impede democracy.”

With regards to the debate over mining, delegates found existing environmental damage from Pacific Rim exploration projects, a fatally flawed environmental assessment, insufficient public consultation on proposed mining projects, and attempts by Pacific Rim to curry favor among segments of the government and local population. Pacific Rim’s activities have created deep divisions in Cabañas. For example, in an interview with the delegation, the Mayor of San Isidro, Cabañas admitted that his government accepted significant financial support from Pacific Rim.  Accepting financial contributions makes it difficult for the Mayor to remain objective when considering the needs and demands of his constituents, and deepens the fissures between those who are pro- and anti-mining. The debate over mining is healthy, but it cannot be held in a climate of impunity, where intimidation and violence prevail.

Meeting with the Mayor of San Isidro

Delegates also found that Pacific Rim’s promise of “green mining” remain unfounded, and that they have failed to meet standards set forth in the Salvadoran law.  Most proposed mining sites are in the northern regions of El Salvador, within the Lempa River watershed. According to hydrologist Dr. Robert Moran, “if high environmental standards are not demanded… it could spell disaster for the hundreds of thousands of Salvadorians that rely on the river for their livelihoods and basic needs.” Though Pacific Rim has claimed that they will achieve such high standards, they have yet to provide details of how they will do so, justifying the government’s stand that they will not grant exploitation permits. Pacific Rim responded by filing a complaint under the DR-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)

Based on its findings, the delegation has identified several actions that should be taken by Salvadorans and their government, Pacific Rim, and members of the international community.

Most importantly, the delegation calls on those perpetrating the violence to stop immediately. While they are likely motivated by short-term economic or political gains, using violence and terror to influence a public debate undermines El Salvador’s democracy.  In the long-term, an instable democracy will only undermine any economic or political gains that the perpetrators achieve in the short-term.

The delegation also calls for an independent investigation into the violence. A broad consensus of Salvadorans does not trust government authorities to conduct a thorough investigation, believing that their economic ties to Pacific Rim and the mining industry create a conflict of interest. The Salvadoran Government should request that an international body conduct an independent investigation in coordination with the Ombudsman for Human Rights. In addition to identifying those committing the violence and terror, the independent investigator should identify the intellectual authors of the attacks and any government officials who have been complicit or interfered with an investigation.

Meeting with Police Investigators

In order to ensure sustainable development, the delegation calls on all corporations that conduct business in El Salvador to demonstrate that their activities would not or do not jeopardize public safety, or harm the environment. Corporations should comply with Salvadoran law and ensure that citizens have a voice in determining whether proposed economic activities would have an adverse impact on their community.

Similarly, the delegation urges Pacific Rim to respect the rights of the citizens of Cabañas to determine the course of their own development, and stop contributing to a culture of division and instability in the region. This includes abandoning its CAFTA arbitration proceedings.  Delegate Jim Munro states “these proceedings attempt to by-pass democratic processes in El Salvador, and ultimately place the decision in the hands of appointees of the World Bank, which would set a dangerous precedent.” In the alternative, the delegation supports Salvadoran civil society that seek amicus curiae standing at the CAFTA proceedings to ensure that the environmental concerns of the people in Cabañas are given due consideration.

The delegation joins other civil society organizations in calling for the repeal of CAFTA provisions that prioritize foreign investor rights over government interests in preventing environmental degradation or jeopardizing public safety. The right for a corporation to sue a sovereign nation compromises the government’s ability to enforce its environmental and public safety laws, creating tension and fissures between government agencies and the communities that they serve. In the alternative, the delegation supports Salvadoran civil society organizations in their constitutional challenge to CAFTA.

Entrance to Pacific Rim's El Dorado Mine

The delegation left El Salvador today, and will continue working together in the coming weeks to complete a comprehensive report, which it will share with all stakeholders in El Salvador, and distribute widely in the United States and Canada.

See the Co-Latino’s story on the press conference in Spanish from the same day, Feb. 15 2010.


Fact-Finding Delegation to Cabanas

Voices on the Border is hosting a fact-finding delegation to Cabañas for Febrary 6 – 14, 2010 to gather information about the recent wave of violence in the region and accompany those who are still at risk.

Communities in Cabañas are in crisis following the assassination of three civic leaders, and numerous other attacks and threats. We scheduled the delegation for the earliest dates possible so that we may respond in a timely manner.

Delegates will meet with civil society leaders and activists in Cabañas to get detailed accounts of the violence, and discuss how the international community may best accompany them.  We will also ask for their views about how the Salvadoran Government has responsed to the crisis.  The Delegation will then meet with the Ombudsman for Human Rights, the Attorney General’s office, police officials, and representatives from the Funes Administration to receive an update on the investigation.  Before departing, delegates will produce a preliminary report of their findings with recommendations about how government agencies and civil society may end the violence and bring those responsible to justice.

Cost: $760 plus airfare (includes food, in-country ground transportation, hotel costs, and translation services)
Dates: February 6-14, 2010

To sign up, or get more information, contact Roddy Hughes at

If you are unable to participate in this delegation, but would like to help out, we encourage you to contribute to a scholarship fund so that others may participate.  To do so, visit our website ( and click on the Paypal button – or send a check to:

Voices on the Border
3321 12th St. NE
Washington DC 20017
(Please indicate that you are contributing to the scholarship fund)

Mining, violence

Attacks on Civil Society

As we reported in our last post, the violence in Cabañas continued this past Saturday with yet another brutal assassination. Dora “Alicia” Sorto Recinos, a member of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas, was 8-months pregnant and carrying her two year old child in her arms when she was gunned down. The murders of Marcelo, Ramiro, and Alicia are as tragic and despicable as they are cowardly.

While their exact motives remain unclear, the perpetrators have chosen violence over words, brutality over civility, and intimidation over democracy.  More than the loss of three lives, these killings are an attack on all of civil society in El Salvador, and if they continue could challenge the country’s nascent democracy.

Marcelo, Ramiro, and Alicia, were members of a grassroots movement to prevent gold mining in Cabañas. They depended upon the democratic process to accomplish their goals – attending public hearings, meeting with government officials, participating in marches and protests, speaking out on radio and television, and getting their neighbors involved in the movement.

Their success against such a well-financed, and connected opponent as Pacific Rim Mining is testimony to what citizens may accomplish in a democracy. When people stand up to be heard, government must listen. Unfortunately, their success also made them a threat to those who continue to profit from the corruption, impunity, and self-dealing that has plagued El Salvador for generations.

If the Salvadoran police, attorney generals office, and other government agencies do not act swiftly to bring the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice it will further weaken the democratic voice among Salvadorans. Impunity will perpetuate the frightening notion that violence, brutality, and intimidation remain acceptable means of influencing public policy in El Salvador. The current victims are civil society leaders in Cabañas. Next month it could be communities along the coast that want to stop a hotel development that threatens mangrove forests. Or it could be the communities along the Rio Sucio (Dirty River) who demand that the government stop factories from dumping untreated waste into the river that they depend upon. Impunity may also deter other Salvadorans from getting involved, fearing the kind of retribution we have witnessed in Cabañas.

Marcelo, Ramiro, and Alicia courageously continued to voice their concerns and defend their communities while receiving death threats. They did more than participate in and lead an anti-mining movement; they shouldered El Salvador’s burgeoning civil society and young democracy.  Those who cower in the shadows making threats and killing pregnant women have tried to silence these three voices. We must now stand with our friends in Cabañas to ensure that the voices of Marcelo, Ramiro, and Alicia continue to be heard, and that others around the country follow in their path of choosing words, civility, and democracy over violence, brutality, and intimidation.

Click here to take Action

Environment, Mining, violence

The Assassinations Continue in Cabañas

Yesterday – Saturday December 26,2009, assassins killed Dora Santos Sorto Rodríguez, also known as Alicia, in Canton Trinidad in Sensuntepeque, the same community where Ramiro Rivera was killed just one week ago. When she was attacked, Alicia was eight months pregnant and carrying her two-year-old child back from a river where she had been washing clothes. Dora and her husband José Santos Rodríguez were members of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas, a local organization that has opposed Pacific Rim’s efforts to mine gold in the region. Santos Rodríguez was attacked in May 2008 by Oscar Menjivar, who is now in jail for shooting Ramiro Rivera 8 times in August 2009.

This is the latest in a series of violence and threats in Cabañas.  Assassins have also claimed the lives of Ramiro Rivera and Marcelo Rivera, and attacked and threatened numerous others.

The international community must stand strong with our friends in Cabañas, and demand that the government respond with a thorough investigation and bring all of those responsible to justice. Again, we ask that you to please take a moment to email the Salvadoran Attorney General and Ombudsman for Human Rights and demand that they do their jobs. Click here for instructions.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Marcelo, Ramiro, and Alicia – and all those who are standing up against injustice.


More Death Threats in Cabanas

This summer we reported on several cases of violence and threats of violence in Cabanas, including the murder of Marcelo Rivera and subsequent attacks on the Radio Victoria in Sesuntepeque, and its employees.

This morning we received an email from our friends at the Radio Victoria reporting that they have received more threats of violence.  One of their correspondents who has been an outspoken critic of Pacific Rim Mining and local government leaders, awoke this morning to find a death threat on his door.  The note warns that those who committed the acts of violence this summer are still around, and that the radio better stop speaking out against the mayor’s office and representatives from the national assembly, or they will kill again.  The note also states that they have received “orders from above”. 

Since July, the number of threats and cases of violence has decreased, though they have not stopped altogether.  One young woman who works at the Radio and was friends with Marcelo Rivera and Jose Beltran, who has received death threats for his speaking out against Marcelo’s murder, has received threatening phone calls and been followed by men who have been spotted loitering outside her house at night. 

Members of the Radio ask that members of the international community denounce these threats by writing an email to the office of Attorney General Romeo Barahona (

Environment, Mining

Mining in El Salvador – So what’s next?

On March 13, 2009, Pacific Rim posted their Fiscal 2009 Third Quarter Result, in which they state, “[i]n deference to [the] democratic process, Pacific Rim may elect to wait until after the election is decided and then evaluate the post-election climate for mining in El Salvador before initiating CAFTA arbitration proceedings.” 

Recall that on December 8, 2008, Pacific Rim filed a notice of intent to commence international arbitration proceedings against the Government of El Salvador under CAFTA-DR.  Their claim is that El Salvador violated international and Salvadoran law by failing to issue exploitation permits, resulting in significant loss.  Under CAFTA-DR rules, Pacific Rim could proceed with formal arbitration on or after March 9, 2009, which is when the three-month negotiation/cooling-off period ended.


So what is Pacific Rim’s next move? (Click here to read on)