Press Conference: 1st Anniversary of the Prohibition of Metal Mining
March 4, 2018, San Salvador
On the 1st anniversary of the prohibition of metallic mining in El Salvador
environmentalists demand that the new Legislative Assembly continue
to reinforce and strengthen the law.
On March 4th, El Salvador voted overwhelmingly right-wing in its local government and legislative assembly, this means that many of the initiatives and laws, like the anti-metallic mining law victoriously won last year could be daily overturned.
Many of the new legislative assembly member are pro-mining, some to the degree of being associated with mining tycoons. These activists, demand that the law not be overturned, ignored or slowly taken apart. The civil society also called on the Catholic church to recommit their support in the face of this apparent threat.
The groups propose that the anti-mining law previously decided upon during the last administration to be ratified, or uphold, in order to ensure the environmental sustainability of El Salvador. They also continue to demand the consideration and ratification of the laws guaranteeing the right to Water and Food Security.
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.
Last Wednesday, October 15th hundreds of people stepped out into a soft rain in San Salvador to celebrate Food Sovereignty Day and World Food Day. Perhaps more than celebrating, marchers were demanding that the Salvadoran government take specific actions so the population can achieve food sovereignty.
Food sovereignty is a fairly straightforward concept articulated first by La Via Campesina in 1996. It simply asserts the right of people to define their own food systems, placing the individuals who produce, distribute, and consume food at the center of the decisions on food systems and policies.
First, marchers want the current Legislative Assembly to ratify an amendment to article 69 of the Constitution recognizing food sovereignty as a basic right enjoyed by all Salvadorans. The previous Legislative Assembly passed the amendment but to complete the process the current Assembly has to ratify it. Similarly, over the past two years, civil society has also lobbied the Legislative Assembly to pass a Law on Food Sovereignty, which would promote the sustainable production of food production and regulate other activities that affect food sovereignty.
The marchers also want the Legislative Assembly and President Sanchez Cerén to ban a long list of toxic agrochemicals. Last year the Legislative Assembly passed a bill banning fifty-three agro-chemicals (the bill amended an existing law that regulates agrochemicals). Instead of signing the bill, President Funes (2009-2014) took out the eleven most common (and harmful) agrochemicals, including Glyphosate, and sent the bill back to the Assembly. When the Legislative Assembly received the Funes’ changes, its members could have ignored them and signed the original bill into Law, or accepted them and signed it into law. Instead, they did nothing. This all occurred during the campaign for the March presidential elections, and the business sector was pressuring on the Funes Administration not to sign the ban. They argued that coffee plantations were combating leaf rust and a ban on agrochemicals would result in a loss of agricultural jobs and harm the economy. Marchers and civil society organizations, however, reject the dependence on agrochemicals and demand that the Legislative Assembly finally ban the use of all harmful agrochemicals in El Salvador.
Another important issue is the Water Law. Eight years ago civil society organizations drafted a law that guarantees all Salvadorans have a right to water. If passed, the Water Law would also ensure that the government could not privatize water resources. Instead of approving the draft law proposed by civil society, the Legislative Assembly began a long process of drafting its own. Unfortunately private interests such as ANEP (National Association of Private Business), and conservative political parties (ARENA and PCN) have been able to stall the process.
Another obstacle to achieving food sovereignty is sugarcane production. In regions like the Bajo Lempa of Usulután, sugarcane producers are buying and leasing large amounts of farmland. For example, two weeks ago Voices’ partners in La Tirana learned that a wealthy landowner that owns the land adjacent to their mangrove forests is leasing 400 manzanas (691 acres) of farmland to a sugarcane producer. United States economic policies are driving the demand for sugarcane. The Central American Free Trade agreement is allowing the U.S. to import more sugarcane at lower prices, and Partnership for Growth is providing incentives for El Salvador to increase exports rather than grow food for local consumption.
While sugarcane will make landowners wealthy, sugarcane production has a large, negative impact on the environment. Sugarcane producers use a lot of chemicals on their crops – fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Just before a crop is ready to harvest, producers apply the herbicide Glyphosate (sugarcane is “Roundup Ready”) in order to ensure all the cane is ready to harvest at the same time. These agrochemicals, which are generally sprayed using a crop-duster, contaminate local water sources and nearby farmland, as well as villages, schools, soccer fields and homes. These chemicals are believed to be contributing to the extremely high rates of renal failure that has claimed tens of thousands of lives in recent years.
Sugarcane production affects food sovereignty in a few ways. First, farmland that could be used to grow food for local consumption is being used to grow sugarcane for export. This means that El Salvador’s dependence on food imports will continue to rise. The environmental impact of sugarcane also makes it harder for small farmers to produce food. Farmers complain that the spraying of agrochemicals contaminates their fields and destroys their crops. The herbicide Glysophate is one of the worst offenders. Upon contact it kills foliage, flowers, fruits, and vegetables that farmers cultivate. And large monoculture crops upset the ecosystems where farmers grow, diminishing bee populations, disrupting forests and animal life, and harming soil structures.
Marchers also demand that the government do more to protect the country’s fragile ecosystems, especially the mangrove forests along the coast. Families in and around the forests often sustain themselves by harvesting the crabs, clams, and fish that live in the mangroves. And an estimated 75% of all commercialized fish in the Pacific off the coast of El Salvador are hatched in the mangrove forests. If developers and sugarcane farmers are allowed to destroy these forests, they will also be destroying the livelihood and food source of tens of thousands of people.
Another threat to food sovereignty is mining. El Salvador currently has a de facto ban on mining. But there is nothing in place to prevent government officials from granting the extraction permits that allow mining companies to mine for gold, silver, uranium, and other minerals. Salvadoran civil society has argued for years that if the government allowed mining it would result in the contamination of the country’s farmland and water resources, greatly diminishing El Salvador’s capacity for food production.
In February 2014, then presidential candidate Sanchez Cerén spoke at an event hosted by MOVIAC to discuss environmental issues. During his comments, Sanchez Cerén said that as president he would sign legislation to ban mining. But five months into his presidency the Legislative Assembly and President Sanchez Cerén have yet to pass a ban. One reason given for the delay is that the legislatures don’t have enough votes. But some annalists say (behind closed doors) that politicians from all political parties give the impression they don’t want to ban mining, and use the lack of votes as an excuse to do nothing.
Again, none of these issues or demands is new, but people are protesting because there has been little to no action. While many celebrate the Sanchez Cerén administration as the second consecutive leftist government elected into power in El Salvador, many in the FMLN’s base are grumbling because they have not seen the kinds of changes they expected. Some have been reluctant to protest against the government officials they voted into power, believing the alternative to be far worse. But others are tired of the perceived inaction on issues related to basic rights such as food sovereignty and access to water, and are speaking up.
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.
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.
Tension in the debate over Pacific Rim’s efforts to mine gold in Cabañas continues, even though the Canadian mining firm has not had a real presence in the region since 2008.
In this latest episode, Pacific Rim has filed a lawsuit against seven anti-mining activists in Cabañas, the province where Pacific Rim’s El Dorado property is located, accusing them of aggravated robbery, damage to private property, and deprivation of liberty.
According to an article buried on page 74 of today’s La Prensa Grafica, the preliminary hearings were to begin today at 10 am in Sensuntepeque. The charges arise out of an incident on November 14, 2006, when Francisco Pineda and six other defendants allegedly stole some screwdrivers and pliers.
Pineda told the Diario Co-Latino, “at no time have we deprived anyone of their liberty; at no time have we robbed.” In La Prensa Grafica he states, “for us the lawsuit is a continuation of the pressure that Pacific Rim has kept on us, a persecution with the objective of diminishing the protests that we have maintained against their exploitation projects.”
Over the years, Pacific Rim has filed or supported a number of petty lawsuits against community members in Cabañas for opposing their activities. Fermin Menjívar, who is named as a defendant in this latest suit, endured a series of lawsuits in 2007, claiming that he had threatened Pacific Rim employees, including Andres Gomes Chicas. All of the fifteen charges filed against Mr. Menjivar were dropped.
In November 2007, Pacific Rim filed a lawsuit against Edelmira Menjívar, Fermin Menjívar’s aunt, claiming that she threatened to kill the husband of one of the community board members. Both Fermin and Edelmira lived with Luciana Vela (Edelmira’s mother and Fermin’s grandmother). Luciana owned a lot of land that Pacific Rim wanted to explore in 2007, but she would not give them permission to enter her property. Pacific Rim geologists visited her property several times pressuring her to sign over the rights to her land, but she refused. During one heated exchange, Luciana suffered a stroke that left her in a vegetative state. Pacific Rim never got to explore her property and that apparently made them mad. The court dismissed all charges against Edelmira.
In 2008, the principal of a school in Guacotecti, a municipality down the road from Pacific Rim’s El Dorado mine, painted the school with Pacific Rim’s colors, a violation of regulations that require public schools to be painted blue and white. A young teacher protested and the Ministry of Education ordered that the principal repaint the school. With the support of Pacific Rim, the principal filed a lawsuit against the teacher. The day of the hearing, Pacific Rim bused in a large number of supporters to attend the hearing. The judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence.
Pacific Rim has filed or threatened to file other lawsuits against other activists who have opposed Pacific Rim, but none of them have resulted in any charges or convictions. One could argue that Pacific Rim’s CAFTA claim currently being arbitrated before an ICSID tribunal is the largest, most egregious of these lawsuits.
We find it difficult to conceive why Pacific Rim would waste their dwindling resources pursuing a lawsuit against seven Salvadorans over some screwdrivers and pliers.
Since 2006, the debate over mining has directly or indirectly led to seven homicides, several other violent attacks and attempted homicides, and a constant barrage of death threats. And Pacific Rim is worried about some screwdrivers and pliers that went missing in 2006?