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.

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Mining, violence

Anti-Mining Activist Ramiro Rivera Killed In Cabañas

It is with heavy hearts that we report the assassination of Ramiro Rivera yesterday in Cabanas.  Though we have few details, he was apparently en route to his rural village, Trinidad, the Canton outside of Ilobasco, Cabañas, when he was gunned down.  There are also reports that 2 others were killed and that a 14-year old girl was injured in the attack.  While the motive for the killing is unknown, many in the community believe that is leadership role in the anti-mining movement made him a target.

This was not the first attack on Rivera or others in Cabañas.  On August 7 a would-be assassin shot Rivera 8 times in the back and legs, but he survived. Earlier in the summer, Marcelo Rivera – also a leader in the anti-mining movement – was disappeared, tortured, and killed. And employees at Radio Victoria, which has provided communities in Cabañas with a platform to speak out against mining and other issues, have also received numerous death threats, including an attack on the station itself.

Despite the attacks and threats, the police and attorney general’s office have yet to conduct a proper investigation, other than to write Marcelo Rivera’s murder off as gang related, a claim his family and friends vociferously argue is false.

We at Voices join our friends at Radio Victoria and others in demanding that the Salvadoran government conduct a thorough investigation of this and all other attacks in Cabañas.

Economy, International Relations, Mining

Proposed Trade Act of 2009 May Lead to Change in Arbitration Provisions in CAFTA and Other Trade Agreements

Congressman Michael Michaud (D-ME) and 106 other members of Congress recently introduced the TRADE (Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment) Act of 2009, which calls for a reevaluation of international trade agreements.  The bill would in part require existing and future trade agreements to include a ban on investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms, providing for state-to-state dispute resolution instead. Currently, Chapter 10 Section B of CAFTA-DR permits investors to sue a government if their investment has been undermined in a manner that amounts to expropriation, or violation of the national treatment or the most-favored-nation treatment standards outlined in Section A of Chapter 10.

Currently, Pacific Rim Mining Corporation is pursuing arbitration over its mining investment in Cabanas, claiming that the Salvadoran government violated its rights under Chapter 10 of CAFTA, Section A when they denied the mining company exploitation permits. Prior to CAFTA-DR, Pacific Rim would have had to take its complaint to their own government, and asked them to seek arbitration on their behalf – state to state. In fact, state-to-state dispute resolution remains a principle of international law, and only signatories to CAFTA, NAFTA and other trade agreements are subject to a claim by a non-state actor.

Provisions such as those found in Chapter 10 of CAFTA and other agreements give non-state investors unprecedented rights and influence over the domestic affairs in a foreign country.  For centuries, international and domestic law has embraced the principal that foreign affairs are best handled by states, and in the case of the U.S. the executive branch. Giving non-state investors the right to sue a sovereign state not only undermines a government’s ability to care for the needs of its people, but can also undermine the foreign policy and national interests of the investors’ native country.

Civil society organizations in the U.S. and Latin America have expressed their support for the bill, joining the Obama Administration, the U.S. State Department Subcommittee on Investment, and others who believe that non-state investors should not have the right to sue a foreign government.  President Obama has stated in the past, “with regards to provisions in several [Free Trade Agreements] that give foreign investors the right to sue governments directly in foreign tribunals [he would] ensure that foreign investor rights are strictly limited.”  The State Department Subcommittee on Investment of the Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy Regarding the Model Bilateral Investment Treaty recommends the change to state-to-state dispute resolution mechanisms proposed in the TRADE Act, because it would require investors to first exhaust domestic remedies and allow governments to prevent frivolous or harmful claims.

The need to protect foreign investors from expropriation and enforce national treatment and most-favored-nation standards are very legitimate. However, even under the state-to-state dispute resolution system, Pacific Rim would still be able to seek restitution, but they would have to first convince either the Canadian or U.S. government (they have registered corporations in both countries) to negotiate a settlement or seek arbitration on their behalf.  If their claim was legitimate, either government should have been more than willing to advocate on their behalf.  As it is, Pacific Rim has successfully divided the country of El Salvador, and caused the government to invest valuable resources into defending itself against lawsuit that will likely turn out to have little merit.

If passed, Congressman Michaud’s TRADE Act of 2009 would be the first step in restoring balance and order to the international community and prevent the interests of a few corporations to trump those of sovereign nations.