El Salvador vs Pacific Rim: The Price of Saying ‘No’ to a Gold Mine

On 15th September, El Salvador marked 194 years since the country broke off the shackles of Spanish colonial rule. Yet, while colourful parades filled the streets of San Salvador and Google decked its front page in the country’s white and blue flag, another important anniversary cast a shadow over the celebrations. The 15th also marked a year from the final hearing in a trial which is quietly threatening the country’s hard-won sovereignty, and that of developing countries all over the world.

A verdict is still pending in the case of El Salvador vs. Pacific Rim, a Canadian mining company (bought by Australian corporation Oceana Gold in 2013), which filed a lawsuit against the Central American state for US$301m in 2009. Pacific Rim claimed El Salvador had unfairly denied its mining permit after it began an exploration process for gold mining, costing them millions of dollars in potential profits. El Salvador’s government claimed the company had failed to deliver the required environmental tests and administrative steps of land acquisition to continue. Yet, there is a more urgent issue lying behind the technicalities on which the case is being argued.

MUFRAS-32 are leading an active campaign against metal mining in El Salvador (Photo courtesy of Movimiento Unificado Francisco Sanchez 1932)

El Salvador is a densely populated country, with 295 people per square kilometre. A startling 97% of its water is currently unsuitable for human consumption and the proposed mining activity, due to take place in the northern San Isidro de Cabañas region, implied risks of contamination to the little water that remains. In 2008 public outrage over the pollution of the San Sebastián river – which was left with a distinctive orange colour after almost a decade of unchecked gold mining projects nearby – prompted then-president Antonio Saca to declare a temporary ban on issuing new mining permits.

It was a decision backed by public support: according to a survey published in July by the Central American University (UCA), just under 80% of Salvadorans continue to oppose mining in their country.

 

Read the full story at The Argentina Independent

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