Community of San Sebastian still endures Commerce Group’s legacy of contamination.

By Sebastian Rosemont - Photo by: Genia Yatsenko

Little has changed in the community since Commerce Group Corporation (CGC) abandoned mining operations in  El Salvador in 2006 after its mining permits were revoked. Despite losing the permits for failing to meet environmental standards, CGC sued the Government of El Salvador to continue mining in the region. CGC lost its legal disputes against the government with the final ruling handed down in 2013. 


Recently, the Attorney for the Environment from the Office of the Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights (PDDH) visited the community of San Sebastian in the Department of La Union. The visit was a follow up to the PDDH’s 2016 Special Report in which they laid out binding recommendations for the company and government institutions responsible for remediating the   contamination in San Sebastian. Key recommendations were related to cleaning up the contaminated river, providing community health and access to potable water, testing for health impacts on the local population and providing economic alternatives to artisanal mining.

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Commerce Group Mining Corporation required to pay for environmental clean up of the San Sebastian mine.

The Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights released a Special Report on the toxic legacy of the San Sebastian mine and the impacts on the human rights of the affected populations.   

The Special Report, written by an international multidisciplinary team of experts in human rights and international law, hydrology and economics, concludes that the San Sebastian mine has instituted a negative legacy of mining in the broadest sense and recommends a series of actions aimed at remedying the damage to ecosystems,  reparation for affected communities and measures to improve the human rights of people that inhabit the area. It urges the approval of a law prohibiting metal mining permanently in the country and demands that Commerce Group Corporation and its subsidiaries finance part of the cost of prevention and remediation of acid drainage resulting from their activities in the area.

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The Rights Clash

By Danielle Marie Mackey

First published in:

Mining in El Salvador exposes the contradiction between human rights and corporate rights under the international investment regime.

Images by Danielle Marie Mackey

“This is practically an urban country. We’re talking about putting a mine in the middle of a city,” exclaimed Fr. Jose Maria Tojeira from the stage. “Imagine mining in the middle of New York or Paris. That’s what they want to do here in El Salvador. This is… crazy.”

Fr. Tojeira, the ex-rector of one of the leading universities in El Salvador, was giving a presentation during the international “Gold Mining and the Defense of Water in El Salvador” conference that took place in May. The country is embroiled in a battle on the subject: civil society is demanding that the Congress pass a law banning metallic mining, while two North American mining companies are suing the Salvadoran government to defend their right to mine.

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Save the Mining Moritorium

The state of Wisconsin’s mining legislation is some of the strongest in the country and the world.  Their “prove it first” law requires mining companies to show that mining in metallic sulfides has been done safely elsewhere in North America, and since no mining company has been able to prove such a project exists, there have not been any mining projects approved in Wisconsin. 

However, now, that legislation is under attack by WI Governor Scott Walker, supported by mining company representatives.  Environmental, Indian, and community organizations from across the state are organizing and fighting back to keep the regulations that have protect their water and cultural identity. 

Now they need your support.  Below is a call for support from the Wisconsin Resource Protection Council and the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter. 

For more information on:  the WI Mining Moratorium Law, Strip Mine Legislation, the Iron Mining Industry’s Environmental Track Record, and recent press coverage of the issue

See the full text of the letter here. 

Dear Environmental and Conservation Colleagues,

We're writing to ask you to consider signing your organization on to the sign-on letter (below) that will be sent to Wisconsin legislators in both houses by mid-January.  The letter asks the legislators to reject special interest legislation gutting Wisconsin mining law to enable a single destructive iron ore mine.  Similar legislation was defeated by a single vote in 2012.  It also asks the legislators to protect Wisconsin's Mining Moratorium law that simply requires a mining permit applicant to prove that mining in metallic sulfides has been done safely elsewhere in North America.  We wish to communicate this message as early as possible in the new session to both new and returning lawmakers for their education.

We request that you let us know by January 11, 2013 if your organization can sign on to this letter.  Many of you took strong stands in favor of the Moratorium and against AB 426 (the ferrous or iron mining bill) in the past and we hope you will reaffirm these positions via this letter.  Note that nothing you do via this effort limits anything you may wish to do as an organization to fight iron mining legislation or defend the Moratorium; in fact, we hope that you will wish to continue and increase your independent efforts in the new legislative session. 

The letter will be delivered to legislators soon after the deadline and will be accompanied by the three companion briefing papers about the Mining Moratorium Law, proposed Iron Mining legislation and the Environmental Track Record of Taconite (Iron) mining.    The briefing papers will also be posted to the Sierra Club's website at:  Please feel free to post them to your website as a resource for more information or for your own education.  You can also learn more by going to Wisconsin Resources Protection Council's site at:

If your organization can sign on the letter, please reply by January 11, 2013 with your organization's name, address and the name and title of the contact person for your group.  Please contact Elizabeth Ward at the Sierra Club - John Muir Chapter office at 608-256-0565 or with any questions or concerns.

Thank you!

Al Gedicks

Executive Secretary

Wisconsin Resources Protection Council

Dave Blouin

Mining Committee Chair,

Sierra Club - John Muir Chapter

Co-founder and Board Member: Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin and thePenokee Hills Education Project

See the full text of the letter here.


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