FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

El Salvador Makes History: First Nation to Ban Metal Mining

El Salvador made history last week by becoming the first country ever to ban metal mining.

The success of this decades long struggle is proof that people can take on corporate interests and win.

This is the story of how the people of El Salvador took on mining giants.

Mining has a dark history in El Salvador. Years of unregulated, pro-investor policies coupled with rapid industrialization has led to the widespread contamination of rivers and surface water, poisoning people and destroying farm lands.

Even boiling or filtering the water does not always make it safe to drink. An environmental study showed that the proposed Pacific Rim mine would use 10.4 liters per second, enough to provide water for thousands people.

The dream that failed: mining-led development

Mining was imposed on the Salvadoran people as a dream industry that would aid development, create jobs and taxes to pay for much needed school and hospitals.

The government developed a range of mining friendly policies together with the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) between Central American countries and the US. Signed by El Salvador in 2004, the agreement allowed transnational corporations such as Holcim, Monsanto and Pacific Rim to intensify their operations in the country.

Supported by local ruling elites, these companies began extracting El Salvador’s natural resources for export. Foreign investment increased from US$30 million in 1992 to US$5.9 billion in 2008. Much of this investment was in mining, despite fierce opposition from communities.

El Salvador is a small and densely populated country. Yet by 2012 the government had 22 requests for gold exploration, allowing gold mines to monopolize 4.23% of the land. The appropriation of land for mining often takes the form of land grabbing, with no proper consultation or compensation.

From the start local communities resisted through protests, court cases, meetings and land occupation. A number of communities marched across the country to the presidential palace to demand their rights.

Friends of the Earth El Salvador / CESTA supported community resistance. In 2008 alone, 60 community leaders learned about the impacts of mining and strategies for resistance at CESTA’s Political Ecology School. People started challenging corporate power.

The mining companies respond with violence and murder

Tragically companies responded with violence. The President of Friends of San Isidro Cabañas (ASIC), a hub of anti mining resistance, was murdered, followed by 3 more anti-mining activists, and many more were threatened and harassed. Their families are still demanding justice today.

‘Water is more precious than gold’ became a powerful unifying slogan as the struggle continued. Grassroots coalitions such as the Movement of People affected by Climate Change and Corporations (MOVIAC) and the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining raised the issue of mining to a national level.

Solidarity and shared learnings from movements in Costa Rica, Argentina and Colombia, where partial mining bans have been implemented, were crucial. Friends of the Earth took the El Salvador mining case to the United Nations, in the call for an international treaty on corporations and human rights.

In 2008 the president, Antonio Saca, rejected the Pacific Rim mining project. The project would have led to the use of toxic chemicals including cyanide within 65km of the capital.

Pacific Rim’s response was to sue the government of El Salvador US$301m in a secret trade tribunal. The Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism enabled Pacific Rim to do this, on the basis that they felt their profits were negatively affected by the rejection of their mining application.

Victory is possible!

Yet in this instance, corporate bullying backfired. It garnered wide support against the mining industry. Even politicians with little environmental interest were outraged by this extortionate figure in a country struggling with poverty. El Salvador received a favorable judgment in the case, yet it still had to pay millions in legal fees.

The Catholic Church, an important institution in El Salvador, began actively advocating for a ban on mining. At Sunday masses across the country priests preached the need to protect the natural world and collected signatures petitioning the government.

When the vote came to parliament last week, except for a few abstentions the vote was unanimous: El Salvador voted for a total ban metal mining to protect its people and environment.

As El Salvador celebrates, the fight for a more just and sustainable world is not over. But we can move forwards with hope, in the knowledge that ordinary people working together can change the world.

This article originally appeared on The Ecologist.

Ricardo Navarro is a Goldman prize winner from Friends of the Earth El Salvador/CESTA. Sam Cossar is a coordinator of Friends of the Earth International Economic Justice-Resisting Neoliberal program.

November 14, 2018
Sam Bahour
Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take
Cesar Chelala
How a Bad Environment Impacts Children’s Health
George Ochenski
What Tester’s Win Means
Louisa Willcox
Saving Romania’s Brown Bears, Sharing Lessons About Coxistence, Conservation
George Wuerthner
Alternatives to Wilderness?
Robert Fisk
Izzeldin Abuelaish’s Three Daughters were Killed in Gaza, But He Still Clings to Hope for the Middle East
Dennis Morgan
For What?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Government is Our Teacher
Bill Martin
The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend
Rivera Sun
After the Vote: An Essay of the Man from the North
Jamie McConnell
Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing
Thomas Knapp
Talkin’ Jim Acosta Hard Pass Blues: Is White House Press Access a Constitutional Right?
Bill Glahn
Snow Day
November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
Ed Meek
The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext
Binoy Kampmark
Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power
November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
Patrick Howlett-Martin
A Note on the Paris Peace Forum
Joseph G. Ramsey
Does America Have a “Gun Problem”…Or a White Supremacy Capitalist Empire Problem?
Weekend Edition
November 09, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Louis Proyect
Why Democrats Are So Okay With Losing
Andrew Levine
What Now?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Chuck and Nancy’s House of Cards
Brian Cloughley
The Malevolent Hypocrisy of Selective Sanctions
Marc Levy
Welcome, Class of ‘70
David Archuleta Jr.
Facebook Allows Governments to Decide What to Censor
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Zika Scare: a Political and Commercial Maneuver of the Chemical Poisons Industry
Nick Pemberton
When It Comes To Stone Throwing, Democrats Live In A Glass House
Ron Jacobs
Impeach!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail