By Jim Hogson*
Vidalina Morales, a member of the board of a United Church partner in El Salvador, is part of the “Water is More Precious Than Gold” cross-Canada speaking tour. On behalf of El Salvador’s “mesa” of community groups, she’s talking about the struggle in her country to ban metals mining.
Vidalina’s group, the Santa Marta Association for Economic and Social Development (ADES), is among several groups in El Salvador’s Cabañas department that were drawn into mining debates when a Canadian company tried to re-open an old gold mine in the area. ADES now finds itself involved in the national struggle for a permanent ban on metals mining in El Salvador.
A conversation about Honduras in El Salvador
I had a chance to visit ADES this past Feb. 1, when staff were also receiving two visitors from Honduras. We combined agendas so that all of us got the same update.
Félix Valentín works with the Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH), the structure that represents the Garifuna (or Afro-Caribbean) population on the Atlantic coast. OFRANEH represents 45 communities in five departments, including the island tourist destination Roatán.
Salvador Zúniga works in the western part of Honduras (across the Lempa River from El Salvador’s Cabañas department) with the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), a coalition of Indigenous and grassroots social movements. His work is primarily among the Lenca Indigenous people. He has been involved in the trinational conversations about the 18,000-km2 Río Lempa basin that is threatened by mining and hydro-electric developments.
Thirty per cent of Honduran territory is now subject to mineral exploration; there are permits in all but two of the 18 departments. Canada’s still-pending free trade deal with Honduras may give Canadian capital an advantage ahead of investors from Taiwan, China, Britain and Italy. There are 70 gold-mining concessions, and four projects underway.
The best-known mine in Honduras, the former Goldcorp San Martín mine in the Valle de Siria, operated from 2000 to 2008. But people say they are still suffering health effects that are linked to water contamination by the mine. The Siria Valley experience is the one to which people in Central America who are concerned about mining always point.
Honduras, governed since a 2009 military coup by business-oriented elites, is creating special development regions (REDs) and “charter cities” (“ciudades modelos”) that essentially suspend Honduran sovereignty for the sake of private investment. Mining royalties, for example would go to the RED, not to the national government or to the Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean communities that would lose their land.
Miguel Rivera, the lead ADES researcher and brother of slain ecological defender Marcelo Rivera, spoke about recent work in El Salvador. He said community groups are concerned about economic development projects in the “trifinio” of countries: Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
The best-known of these trans-border projects is Cerro Blanco, a mine proposed for an area of Guatemala immediately adjacent to El Salvador and in the heart of the Río Lempa headwaters. It’s one of the issues Vidalina is talking about on her tour because any contamination from mine would affect the Lempa River basin, the water source for about 70 per cent of Salvadorans. But there are also 40 other projects proposed for the Honduran part of the Lempa basin. New highways and other infrastructure projects are already being built.
ADES Executive Director Antonio Pacheco spoke of the existing networks among human rights and ecological groups in Central America. The groups are able to draw attention to issues and to the rights of victims, but need to be planning constantly and establishing mechanisms for coordination of work among a diversity of groups (women, Indigenous, Blacks, peasants, youth, ecologists, churches, etc.).
Antonio said groups need to talk about, and then with, China, which like Canada is also investing heavily in resource extraction activities around the world.
El Salvador, he added, still has 73 outstanding requests for mineral exploration and the bill to ban metals mining permanently is still stuck in congress.
The author of this post, Jim Hodgson, is Latin America/Caribbean program coordinator at The United Church of Canada. The United Church has called on Canadians to sign a petition to Parliament in favour of regulation of Canada-based mining companies operating overseas.
* This article was first published in Jim Hogson's blog "Unwrapping Development" http://blogs.united-church.ca/unwrappingdevelopment/