On Wednesday we posted about Pacific Rim Mining Company’s newest lawsuit, which targets seven Salvadoran anti-mining activists over an incident that took place on November, 14 2006. Despite having threatened a lawsuit at the time and having had four years to prepare their case, when Pacific Rim arrived in the Sensuntepeque Court on Wednesday morning they asked the judge to postpone the hearing so they could have more time to prepare.
Pacific Rim accuses the defendants of aggravated robbery, destruction of property, and deprivation of liberty. These claims arise out of the November protests in Cerro Limon, a small, rural neighborhood in Canton Trinidad where Pacific Rim’s Santa Rita mine is located. The La Prensa Grafica article that we cited in our first post mentioned that the case revolved around stolen pliers and screwdrivers. Over the past couple days, we’ve called people familiar with those protests and read some old articles to figure out if there is more to it than that.
The events themselves were quite significant – it was the first time protestors successfully shutdown Pacific Rim’s exploration activities. We did not, however, have any luck getting information about specific events that would lead to the seemingly serious charges that Pacific Rim is now pursuing.
A Diario Co-Latino article from November 2006 called the protests the “first victory against the metallic mining projects.” They report that community members from Trinidad had been asking that Pacific Rim stop exploration activities at the Santa Rita mine, which had only begun on November 9, 2006. Their requests went unanswered. On Monday, November 13, protestors went to the top of Cerro Limon and tried unsuccessfully to block access to the Santa Rita mine. The next day, November 14, the protestors returned to Cerro Limon and demanded that Pacific Rim dismantle their machines. The Diario Co-Latino article quotes Miguel Fuentes saying openly that they “threatened to throw the machines over a cliff and burn them,” if Pacific Rim did not dismantle them first. During a half-hour conversation with the protestors, Pacific Rim employees realized that the protestors were serious and agreed to stop operations and take apart their machines. They began dismantling the machines that day, but when night fell, the protestors agreed that they could finish the next day, which they did.
In December 2006, Pacific Rim mentioned the incident and the escalating tension in their monthly report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. They state, “since the commencement of its drill program on November 9, 2006 small, intermediate and localized protests have taken place at Santa Rita.” They also state, “In order to prevent further escalation of these protests, the Company has initiated a temporary suspension of its Santa Rita drill program so that a peaceful resolution can be reached between all parties.” In the same filing, they also reported that they had filed criminal complaints under Salvadoran law against the key instigators of the protests.
This incident was also significant in that it led to an agreement brokered between the protestors and Pacific Rim, in which Pacific Rim “agreed to suspend its Santa Rita drill program until such time as the NGOs environmental and social concerns could be addressed” and the protestors would stop protesting the site. The very public shutdown of the exploration activities and the negotiated settlement (no matter that it didn’t hold) between the protesters and the Pacific Rim allowed the anti-mining movement to develop broad domestic and international support.
A source who was at the protests over those few days said that though threats were made to destroy the equipment, there was no violence and no one was ever deprived of their liberty. And in the past week, Francisco Pineda has stated on a few occasions that they did not steal anything. Sources also report that representatives from the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights (PDDH, in Spanish) and the police were at the protests to make sure that it did not turn violent, and they witnessed the entire event.
Even if protestors made off with a couple pliers and screwdrivers, which does not seem the case, that was not Pacific Rim’s greatest loss that day. Pacific Rim had just opened the Santa Rita mine 5 days before. The protests and closing of the mine stalled their momentum and progress, and boosted the morale and support of the communities.
We can understand why Pacific Rim would not look back favorably on those events, but to replay them in court four years later over some tools seems bizarre. Maybe they have evidence and information that proves that other more serious issues are at stake – we’ll find out in the weeks to come. We don’t at all dismiss this case as a trivial matter; the opposite is true. This appears to be another in a long series of efforts to harass anti-mining activists.