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Public statement of the Local Governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, members of the Lempa River Trinational Border Association, regarding the “Cerro Blanco” mining project, developed by the Canadian company Bluestone Resources.

INTERCAMBIO DE EXPERIENCIAS “EN MANEJO INTEGRAL DE DESECHOS SÓLIDOS” |  Mancomunidad Trinacional Fronteriza Rio LempaThe Governments and Local Authorities of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, represented hereby are members of the Lempa River Trinational Border Association, and also the "Trinational Network for the Rescue of the Lempa River", are gathered today in response to the threat represented by metal mining exploitation and especially the "Cerro Blanco" mining project, located in the municipality of Asunción Mita, Department of Jutiapa, Republic of Guatemala, to issue the following public statement before the national and international public opinion:

 

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MIRIAN MIRANDA: There is a genocidal plan against the Garífuna people

Thelma Gómez Durán | Mongabay

mirina miranda* As of the 2009 coup, Honduras became a perfect political laboratory to destroy the institutions, says Miriam Miranda, coordinator of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (also known as Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña, OFRANEH). This organization works to vindicate the cultural, political, and territorial rights of the Garifuna people.

* For its work defending the rights of the Garífuna people, OFRANEH received the Letelier-Moffitt Prize for Human Rights from the Institute for Political Studies (IPS).

* The territory of the Garífuna people in Honduras has been facing the expansion of palm plantations, tourist developments, mining, drug trafficking, and the government project known as the Economic Development Zones (Zonas de Desarrollo Económico ZEDE).

Miriam Miranda grew up in a Garifuna family that migrated from their community in Santa Fe, Colón, to live and work in a banana field. In those plantations, she saw how people were treated like slaves: the end of the month came and the workers were paid almost nothing because a large part of their salary was owed to the stores that belonged to the same company that hired them.

It was in these plantations that Miriam Miranda became who she is today. Since she was a teenager, Miranda participated in student and social movements; a passionate reader that was a member of the Visitación Padilla Women's Movement, and she was involved in the struggle of indigenous and black peoples. This is how she became one of the founders of the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (the Confederación de Pueblos Autóctonos de Honduras, CONPAH) and the current coordinator of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH).

Miriam Miranda - recipient of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Human Rights Award in 2019 - has been one of the voices that have warned about what is happening in Honduras: the dispossession of the ancestral territories of indigenous peoples and what she considers to be the genocide of the Garifuna people.

In the last five years alone, more than 50 Garífuna men and women have been killed; 30 have been jailed and 32 have a court order, prosecuted for the alleged usurpation of their own ancestral territories.

In addition, several Garífuna communities are experiencing forced displacement. One of them is Triunfo de la Cruz, where 400 families left the community in 2019, and in July 2020, during an operative by the Police Investigation Directorate (Dirección Policial de Investigaciones, DPI), four young people, including the president of the community board of trustees, were kidnapped and are still missing.

OFRANEH has denounced the situation that the Garífuna people of Honduras are experiencing before various international bodies. In 2015, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) declared Honduras responsible for the violation of the right to collective property to the prejudice of the Garífuna communities of Punta Piedra and Triunfo de la Cruz. So far, the Honduran State has not complied with the ruling.

For its work in defense of the Garífuna people, OFRANEH received the Letelier-Moffitt Award for Human Rights from the Institute for Political Studies (IPS), an organization based in Washington D.C. in the United States, which for almost six decades has been conducting research and supporting progressive social movements and leaders.

In an interview with Mongabay Latam, Miriam Miranda highlights that the award to OFRANEH comes at a time when pressure from the Honduran government is increasing to deprive indigenous and black peoples of their territories; a moment in which there is a humanitarian crisis that is creating the notion that “everyone wants to leave this country”.

OFRANEH was born in the late seventies. At that time, OFRANEH concentrated its fight against the racism suffered by the black population working in the banana plantations in Honduras. How has the organization evolved?

OFRANEH emerged in 1979 and since then it has been mutating. In the last 15 years, at least, we have fought to vindicate the cultural, political, spiritual, and territorial rights of our Garífuna people. We are a people that arises from a mixture, from an indigenous composition — from the Arawaks of the Caribbean — with Africans. We are a people that have a culture, an identity and that is why, even, our language, music, and dance were declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

What moment is Honduras living today?

As of the 2009 coup, Honduras became a perfect political laboratory to destroy institutions. In reality, there have been three coups d'état in Honduras: in 2009, 2012, and the electoral coup of 2017. Those three coups made it possible to create a country that today is submerged in one of the deepest crises that can exist in the modern era.

Honduras has several crises. First of all, we have migrant caravans. Honduras is also the most violent and insecure country for human rights defenders; it became a narco-government, where the president´s brother has been tried and sentenced in the United States for drug trafficking. Honduras is a country where there are no constitutional or institutional guarantees for those of us who defend life. That is the product of the comprehensive strategy to destroy the institutionality.

It is a country where, even today, this Machiavellian project called Special Economic Development Zones (ZEDE) can be installed, small states within a state (a government project to create areas subject to a special regime, where investors would be in charge of tax policy, security and conflict resolution). They are actually monarchies because we are talking about the territories being given to people who have money.

How does the ZEDE project affect the Garífuna people?

In recent years we have been facing such strong pressure. The “Ciudades Modelo”, (Charter Cities as the ZEDE have also been called) have become the death blow to make us disappear as a people. As such, we promoted several cases before the Inter-American Human Rights System. We have to protect ourselves because if they displace the communities of the Garífuna people, they will disappear. And that is the goal of this government.

One of the big impacts on the Garífuna people is forced displacement, but also the violation of human rights because we have compañeras in the Bay of Trujillo that have been criminalized. In the last five years, 30 Garífunas men and women have been imprisoned or criminalized; 32 have a court order. They are being persecuted for allegedly usurping their own ancestral territories.

In Honduras, an important boost has been given to the cultivation of African palm and tourist developments; at the same time, it is a country that is already suffering the consequences of the climate crisis ...

Today, more than ever, we have to understand that this model of consumption, that this model of "development" is destroying natural resources and the entire web of life. It is a model that is causing great pressure in the territories where there are still natural resources. All these conflicts in our territories have to do with the control of the few remaining resources.

We witness how national investors want to be partners with foreign investors and exert pressure on the territories of our people. These investors also have the absolute support of the justice system of our countries. Proof of this is the case of our Guapinol brothers (eight defenders of the Guapinol river, in northern Honduras, who have been in jail since August 2019, after they were arrested in a protest against mining activities of a Honduran company). It is not possible that people who defend water have been deprived of liberty for more than two years when we have legislators who are not being punished for embezzlement.

What we are facing is a machinery against the peoples, because we are involved in the fight and in defense of resources, of life. We have a system that responds to the logic of death, with a form of "development" that is making our planet sick and killing it.

We are there fighting, while the system has created the conditions for its entire structure to be against human rights defenders. And not only in Honduras, but we are talking about regions all over the world. That is why it becomes a crime for us to fight for water, for us to fight for the forest, for us to fight for nature; it becomes a crime because there is a political and economic class that is struggling to own the few resources left.

And do you have hope that this panorama will change?

Yes, I have a hope in the sense that the earth will not withstand it. The planet is not resisting and that attracts attention of people. It seems serious to me that, even with this scenario, they still think about solving the issue of the (climate) crisis with money or false solutions. They say: "we are going to invest here, we are going to invest here", but they do not want to invest in behavioral changes, in changing the consumption patterns, in letting the earth rest. We, as an indigenous people, have the fallow system; we do not use pesticides to produce yucca, we let the earth rest.

Today the climate crisis is reflected not only in Latin America, we are also seeing it in the north, in Germany, in the United States. I harbor the hope that it will helps things change.

It is necessary to connect the extractivist industries with all that is happening (with the climate); it must be connected to a model that is not working, that is putting humanity at risk because the earth regenerates, but we humans are all going to disappear. And nobody wants to understand it.

How did the murder of Berta Cáceres, in March 2016, impact the work of women defenders of the environment and the territories in Honduras?

Berta's murder showed us that in this country you are not safe even in your own home. The fact that they came to kill her at home was a very clear message for the defenders, it was to tell them: "you are not safe in your own home."

But that did not stop us from demanding justice. We, together with the Defenders Network and other organizations, set up the Feminist Camp "Viva Berta" for three and a half months (in the trial against David Castillo, who was identified as a co-author of the murder of Berta Cáceres), in front of the Supreme Court of Justice. It has been shown and continues to be shown, that women have a lot of inventiveness and capacity to join in our struggles.

It was also shown that international pressure, the permanent accompaniment, the insistence is important for a trial like the one that took place; it would not have reached as far as it did if international pressure had not existed. The problem is that those who gave the order (for Berta's murder) have not yet been brought to trial.

Berta's murder did not stop women defenders in Honduras ...

Berta's legacy is great. Children from the fields, people from anywhere say: "Berta, Berta." That chorus of Berta multiplied makes her present, many people know her. She is a woman who was murdered, but could not be silenced.

That is why, in 2019, a decade after the coup d'état, the Assembly of Women Fighters of Honduras Asamblea de Mujeres Luchadoras de Honduras) was held in Garífuna territory, where more than 1,500 women and more than 300 girls and boys gathered. That was an event where we said: women have to speak and take the floor, but we also have to give ourselves the opportunity to change this country, to build alternatives. Representatives from 16 of the 18 departments in Honduras attended. That gives us a lot of hope that women unite their word and their action. We have been able to keep Berta's memory alive in each corner of the country. Her word keeps walking.

I spent 25 years of my life with Berta; strategizing together about what we could do for this country, for the future of our daughters and sons. Because to fight is to think about your daughters and your sons, your own and those of others.

Women not only give birth to daughters and sons, but we also give birth to ideas, thoughts, constructions and we have to be able and intelligent so as not to build and perpetuate the same thing that, for centuries, men have been doing. We must be able to transcend that, we have to be able to build something else. And we need to build it from our passion, from our heart, from our identity. We have to be convinced that that grain of sand that we are contributing is building a whole mountain of sand that is going to be strong.

In the Garífuna people, women have a leading role ...

The Garífuna people are matrilineal people. The power of women is great, it is part of our culture and identity. In Garífuna communities, women can be left alone and the community will always continue to function.

In practice, the Garífuna people do exercise and work under a motto that we have now coined: "You for me, I for you." This is the theme of communality.

And is OFRANEH´s fight being materialized in Vallecito? How was this project born and what does it consist of?

Vallecito is a life project: a proposal for autonomy, food sovereignty, building local power, and a real power. In the sense that we can, as a community, make our own decisions, protect our territory, and also build a life for the future. Because one cannot be alone shouting: "I don't want this, I don't want the other." We also have to build emancipatory processes little by little, knowing that they are long-term processes.

Vallecito was created thinking about that, about that life project, about building something different.

The recovery of this territory began in 1991 but was later taken over by drug traffickers for ten years. And in 2011 is when we began to make the new reoccupation. Today it has about 1,200 hectares and some 30 to 50 Garífuna families live there. It is a communal territory. A territory that could receive the environmentally displaced.

Vallecito is an area where we have fought against narco trafficking; we are surrounded by organized crime. We are there, however, promoting a project of life and food sovereignty. We are looking to have a coconut production to rebuild the diet of the Garífuna people. Next year we want to set up a factory to extract coconut products.

In addition, we hope that the first indigenous university with holistic perspective can be installed there, where we will work on the themes of health, nutrition, and everything that has to do with generating well-being.

With the pandemic, we realized that we have to work, more than ever, on the health issue and envision it in a comprehensive way. The pandemic has revealed to us how sick and ill we are from what we eat, from what we breathe, from what we drink.

For this reason, in 2020, OFRANEH promoted the ancestral health houses initiative to be able to work on strengthening the immune system of people. We knew that with such a poor health system, like the one we have in Honduras, we had to look for a way to save lives. And the only way was to work with the communities.

What does this award that OFRANEH received from the Institute for Political Studies represent?

This award comes when the Honduran state does not want to comply with the rulings of the Inter-American Human Rights System and has intensified the criminalization, repression, and prosecution of the Garífuna people. Human rights defenders have been assassinated and four young people have disappeared.

Given the lack of application of justice in the country, we created the Garífuna Committee for the Forced Investigation of Youth (Comité Garífuna de Investigación Forzada de los Jóvenes). At OFRANEH, we are promoting this committee as a space that allows us to find the truth, demand justice over the disappearance of our young people. This committee is very important, although the State does not want to recognize it.

It is very clear that at this moment the Honduran State is going to do everything possible to deprive the Garífuna community of its territory to hand it over to investors. That is why we reaffirm that there is a genocidal plan against the Garífuna people.

And that is why we are calling to monitor what is happening in Honduras. People have left the country en masse and continue to leave. The Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris´ reaction was to say “don't come.” However, the United States continues to support corrupt governments like ours, governments that violate human rights.

We all have the right to migrate, but we also have the right to stay in the country and live well. Because this is a country where we could live and ensure our well-being, except that Honduras has been captured by a mafia that does not let us live.

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Translated by Giada Ferrucci

Translated from: https://es.mongabay.com/2021/10/honduras-amenazas-pueblo-garifuna-entrevista-premio/?fbclid=IwAR1wATvkB6NLTwlkrYy3qSc7I69wrm8_jsx59HJNCXuXsvDr2ex9_7C7ijU

PRESS RELESE: Environmental Organizations Dennounce Privatization of Water in El Salvador

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THE GENERAL LAW ON WATER RESOURCES APPROVED BY THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY LEGALIZES WATER INJUSTICE, PROMOTES THE THEFT AND DISPOSSESSION OF WATER IN THE TERRITORIES

San Salvador, December 22, 2021. On December 21 of this year, the ruling party of the Legislative Assembly approved the General Law on Water Resources. Following the approval, environmental organizations such as the Water Forum, the National Alliance against the Privatization of Water, the Roundtable of Churches in El Salvador and the Central American University state the following:

The Law continues to harm the rural and urban Community Water Systems. It maintains the privatizing spirit in which it was presented last June by the President of the Republic. It is a Law that deepens water injustice as it includes mechanisms that will generate more injustice, such as the collection of the taxes from community water systems, and the use of water supply systems that don’t consider access for the population's domestic consumption a priority.

In El Salvador, there are more than 2,500 rural and community water systems that supply almost 25% of the Salvadoran population. The absence of the State that has historically neglected its responsibility has forced local communities to assume water supply by themselves, with the support of NGOs and international aid.

Although the Law recognizes community water systems in a nominal way, it does not provide a mechanism to recognize their non-profit social function and the exemption from paying taxes. By not incorporating this mechanism, community water systems will be obliged to pay taxes and increase service rates of their users, who are often the most impoverished communities in the country.

Although the Law regulates domestic use and human consumption as a priority, it does not regulate how water should be supplied to populations. The first two meet the basic family needs for food, personal hygiene, cleaning, including raising domestic animals that do not constitute a commercial or lucrative activity; but the supply systems for populations should be collective, not for profit and capable of providing water in sufficient quantity and quality for the communities. The community water systems are a good example of these systems. Consequently, by not incorporating a regulation for water supply as priority for domestic use in the article 63, the law would generate a conflict between the supply for the general population and the supply for industrial use, risking that supply systems prioritize the latter.

The law does not solve the injustice generated by the agreements signed between ANDA and construction companies.  Another mechanism that generates water injustice, and favors theft and dispossession, are the private agreements between ANDA (National Association for the Management of Sewers and Aqueducts) and the oligarchies of the construction industry. This Government continues to sign agreements between ANDA and the construction oligarchies, providing them with water extraction concessions to supply their urban development projects, thereby generating scarcity in impoverished populations; two emblematic cases of these practices are the Agreements signed between ANDA and the Dueñas and Poma families, which unconstitutionally allocate more than 25 million liters of water per day. With this amount of water ANDA could supply half a million people, ending shortages and injustice in impoverished municipalities of Apopa, Tonacatepeque, Cuscatancingo, Soyapango, Ilopango and San Martín.

This Law does not resolve these injustices, because its content does not regulate ANDA´s operations, it does not oblige them to review the current cooperation agreements with construction companies, and it  does not make it subordinate to the ASA (Salvadorean Water Authority) established in the law. Considering that the ASA will be in charge of reviewing such permits and will be the competent authority to process new authorizations for exploitation in accordance with the respective regulations; the use of water for large urban projects should be considered as industrial and commercial projects, due to their lucrative purpose, as such they should be expressly regulated so that their permits are not prioritized as priority needs, as it has been done to date.

The Law does not solve the injustice that is generated in the coastal marine territory of the country. The illegal exploitation carried out by the sugar agribusiness in the coastal zone, who hide behind the structural weaknesses of the MAG (Ministry of Agriculture), entity in charge of regulating the use of water for agricultural irrigation, benefits the sugar oligarchy (headed by the Regalado and Wright Families) who freely use all the surface and groundwater of the coastal territories, often times without permits and paying a pittance for its use. This Law, however, does not seek to strengthen the institutional framework of the MAG.

The Law denies citizen participation. This Law creates a bureaucratic, vertical and centralized institutional framework that continues to deny citizen participation by not recognizing the territorial watershed committee structure proposed by social organizations.

This Law is generic as it does not try to resolve the crisis situation in the country. It does not develop a sustainable watershed management system at the national level, nor it establishes measures aimed at the protection and conservation of the Lempa River. Despite the fact that is the most important strategic aquifer reserve in the country and that it is currently in crisis, it does not grant a Special Administration Regime, nor does it address in detail a Water Planning System, nor the cross-border threats that may impact its basin.

It is a law that will privatize water in El Salvador. According to Article 71 of the law, the ASA will authorize the use of water to private sectors in quantities equal to or greater than 365,000 cubic meters of water per year for 15 renewable years, with no upper limit on the quantity of water concessions for commercial purposes, compromising the priorities for domestic human consumption and creating conditions for the violation of the human right to water of the population, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable.

As social organizations, we will continue to demand a General Water Law that guarantees sustainability and the human rights of the population, above the interests of any oligarchic group in the country.

Water is not for sale, it is cared for and defended!

Water is a right, not a commodity!

Communique: Community organizations fear the return of metal mining in El Salvador

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Communique: Community organizations fear the return of metal mining El Salvador

San Salvador December 16, 2021 - Only four years have passed since El Salvador banned metal mining in all its forms. The struggle led by communities affected by the threat of mining lasted more than twelve years, and this struggle was joined by different sectors of Salvadoran society and the international community that were aware of the impacts that mining exploitation would have on water and the environment in general.

In recent days we have learned that the Salvadoran government has approached specialists from the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Development (IGF), an organization of Canadian origin that promotes best practices of mining in its member countries. According to policy statements of this institution, "the objectives of the Forum are to improve and promote the contribution of the mining, minerals and metals sector to sustainable development and poverty reduction."

Some representatives of this organization visited our country a couple of weeks ago and held meetings with different government institutions such as the Ministries of the Environment; Economy, through its Hydrocarbons and Mines Directorate; Public Works; Foreign Relations and Finance; as well as the Central Reserve Bank, Some municipalities, FOVIAL; and with some institutions in the private sector and academia.

According to the Ministry of the Environment, MARN, the visit of the Forum specialists was aimed at determining the viability of quarrying to obtain raw materials for the construction industry. MARN also stated that "at the end of the visit of the IGF consultants, they expected to have a diagnostic of the mining industry in El Salvador and to know the real situation of the resources in order to evaluate the social, economic, legal and environmental aspects"

According to MARN, “El Salvador recently joined this Forum, which includes 78 countries around the world and which provides a series of services to its members, such as sector evaluations; capacity building and individualized technical assistance; orientation documents and conferences that explore best practices and offer an opportunity to engage with industry and civil society, among others”. In other words, it is the organization in charge of exchanging “mirrors for gold” on behalf of the mining industry.

Similarly, it draws out attention the introduction legislation creating the General Directorate of Energy, Hydrocarbons and Mines, approved by the Legislative Assembly on October 26. The objectives of this new Directorate are to authorize, regulate and supervise the operation of those who participate in mining activities, without distinguishing between metallic and non-metallic mining. It also proposes obtaining mining resources as a "duty of the State" and establishes among the powers of the new Directorate, the capacity to establish, maintain and promote cooperative relations with foreign and multilateral institutions or organizations "linked to the mining sector; put out to tender for the exploration of special areas where deposits with proven economic potential are located; and coordinate with the Ministry of the Environment the evaluation procedures for mining and quarry exploration proposals.

These latest events cause alarm because they seem aimed at allowing activities related to metal mining in the country. In addition, these actions of the government disregard the anti-mining struggle that the country experienced for more than twelve years and for which at least four environmentalists from Cabañas who offered their lives so that Canadian mining companies such as Pacific Rim would not settle in the country.

The communities, social organizations, churches, universities and other sectors of Salvadoran society who fought for the ban on metallic mining remain convinced that the country is not prepared for the repeal of the Law of Prohibition of Metallic Mining. It is clear that the ecological conditions why metallic mining was banned have not been overcome in the country and, on the contrary, the environmental and water crisis continues to worsen day by day.

In this sense, as civil society organizations that at that time fought for the prohibition of metallic mining, we call on the Salvadoran population to be attentive to the proposals that the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Development (IGF ) will present to the Government, since a potential reversal of the Law for the Prohibition of Metallic Mining would generate possible conflicts between communities and mining companies, exacerbate the country's water and environmental crisis and foster even more conflicts over land and water.

In the same way, we demand that the Executive Branch and the Legislative Assembly refrain from repealing the prohibition law and we demand that the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Development be publicly transparent when presenting the results of their visit to El Salvador.  

Finally, we demand that the Legislative Assembly accelerate the ratification of the human right to water in the Constitution and expedite the approval of a general water law that guarantees, as a priority, water for domestic consumption, which is economically accessible and sufficient in quality and quantity for our communities.

El Salvador: Metallic Mining Threatens Again

*ANDRES MCKINLEY - El Faro

articulo andres mOn March 29, 2017, the Salvadoran population celebrated with joy, hope and pride the approval of a law prohibiting metallic mining in all of its forms at the national level. This historic victory of a country known primarily for its worrisome levels of social violence, overpopulation, migration and environmental deterioration, rendered El Salvador the first nation in the world to responsibly analyze the high costs of metallic mining and exercise its right to say “No". Nevertheless, despite El Salvador's environmental vulnerability, the clear threat posed by metal mining and the strong and clear public rejection of this industry, there are worrying signs that suggest that the government of Nayib Bukele, with its puppet Legislative Assembly, are considering opening the door to metal exploration and exploitation again.

The government has shown little interest to date in environmental issues, and its policies and practices confirm the absence of an environmental conscience. Faced with the country's financial crisis, the current administration views metal mining as a potential source of income for a deeply indebted State, and it is widely known that the president maintains close relationships with large investors in this industry.

Instead of complying with the current law prohibiting metallic mining, the government, in May of this year, joined an international network of over 50 countries promoting mining called the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Metals and Sustainable Development and based in Ottawa, Canada.  Two participants in the Forum, and members of the board of directors of the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM), were recently in the country to “promote debate on mining for sustainable development”, revealing a clear intention that threatens the interests of the Salvadoran people.

Even more worrisome is recent legislation creating the General Directorate of Energy, Hydrocarbons and Mines, approved by the Legislative Assembly on October 26 of this year with the objective of authorizing, regulating and supervising the operations of mining activities.  The new law does not distinguish between metallic and non-metallic mining but refers only to mineral mining and establishes the promotion of mineral mining as a "duty of the State".  It assigns the new Directorate with responsibility for establishing, maintaining and promoting cooperative relations with foreign and multilateral institutions or organizations "linked to the mining sector”; promoting the exploration of special areas where deposits with confirmed economic potential are located; and coordinating with the Ministry of the Environment in the assessment of mining and quarry exploration proposals.

The new law mentions only once the existing Law of Prohibition of Metallic Mining, stating that “the regulations, instructions, resolutions, standards, agreements and other general provisions […] will remain in force […] while they are not expressly repealed or modified”. This ambiguity clearly opens the door to renewed debate on metallic mining in El Salvador and threatens the guarantee of rights achieved with the ban of this industry in 2017.

The central issue in the debate on metallic mining in El Salvador has always been water, with the slogan "Yes to life, no to mining." It is widely recognized that El Salvador suffers from a water crisis of enormous proportions in terms of quantity, quality and access. According to experts, rivers are drying up, the water levels of the nation's most strategic aquifers are falling more than one meter per year, more than 90% of lakes and rivers are polluted and communities without access to this vital liquid, the source of all life, are taking to the streets.

Metal mining is a threat to water due to enormous consumption and contamination with toxic materials, such as cyanide (a chemical that can kill a human being in quantities less than a grain of rice), mercury, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, lead, arsenic, cadmium, magnesium and other substances. According to an Oxfam America study, Dirty Metals, "When it comes to toxic emissions, metal mining is one of the leading industries."

Given this reality, broad based social coalitions, together with the Catholic Church, Protestant churches, the Office of the Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights, affected communities, environmental organizations, academic institutions, organizations of indigenous peoples and women and other important sectors of the population supported a bill presented on February 6, 2017 to ban metallic mining in the country. A survey conducted in 2015 by the Central American University, UCA, showed that 79.5% of participants considered El Salvador to be an inappropriate country for mining metals. In the same survey, 76% of those surveyed were opposed to the opening of mining projects in their municipalities; 77% believed that the Salvadoran State should definitively ban metallic mining in the country and, despite the critical situation of unemployment in the surveyed communities, 86% indicated that they had no interest in working in a mine.

Mining companies, to win hearts and minds, speak of new technologies for metallic mining more in harmony with the environment, using terms like "green mining," "modern mining," and "responsible mining." But the experience with metallic mining in Central America, and globally, teaches us that there is nothing new under the sun. Central American mines use more than a million liters of water daily. The Marlin mine in San Miguel Ixtlahuacán in Guatemala, considered by the World Bank as the most modern mine in Central America, used more than six million liters of water daily, the equivalent usage of a peasant family over a period of 30 years. A nickel mine on the shores of Lake Izabal in the same country uses thirteen times the amount of water required for the nearby town of El Estor daily. According to the residents of Valle de Syria in Honduras, the San Martín mine, in nine years of operations, dried up 19 of the 23 original rivers in the area. And in El Salvador, the Canadian mining company, Pacific Rim, in the exploration phase alone of its El Dorado project in San Isidro, Cabañas, dried up more than 20 historical community water holes.

Instead of acknowledging the depth of the water crisis and seeking lasting solutions, such as the approval of a General Water Law to assure good governance and a constitutional reform that recognizes water as a basic human right, the current administration continues to prioritize the interests of large companies over the interests of poor communities, approving projects that threaten sites for the recharging of strategic aquifers while water defenders in localities like Valle de Ángel in Apopa, the La Labor community in Ahuachapán and many others are accused of terrorism, persecuted and imprisoned.

Faced with all these worrisome realities, we are once again called to resist the advance of policies and practices, rejected in the past, that endanger the viability of our nation and the very life of our citizens.

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* ANDRES MCKINLEY: Has more than 50 years of experience working for sustainable development in Africa and El Salvador. He has a Masters degree in Health from the University of Florida, US and he currently works for the Central American University in El Salvador.  

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Translated from : https://elfaro.net/es/202112/columnas/25886/%C2%BFEstamos-frente-al-silencioso-regreso-de-la-miner%C3%ADa-met%C3%A1lica-en-El-Salvador.htm

La Mesa releases a memoir of their collective struggle to ban mining in El Salvador

portada mesaCLICK THE PHOTO TO DOWNLOAD REPORT IN SPANISHOn the fourth anniversary of the historic ban on metal mining in El Salvador, the National Roundtable Against metallic mining of El Salvador released a report that documents the events and strategies that led to the historic ban on metal mining in El Salvador.  

Seen from the perspective of the activists who let the local struggle against mining, the document starts with a historical background of mining companies in El Salvador, the resistance against a series of mining projects that began operating unannounced in communities in the early 2000s, the resistance of the communities that led to the acts of violence and assassination of 5 environmentalists in Cabañas and the strategies these communities utilized to forge a robust national and international movement against metal mining in the country.

After learning that metal mining in neighboring countries had caused environmental degradation, the loss of biodiversity and sources of water, and more importantly, damages to human health, organizations in the country sought to build national alliances with universities, NGOs and the church to counter the deceit (jobs and development) that companies were utilizing to sell their projects. The struggle took international dimensions when two companies, Commerce Group and Pacific Rim (later acquired by OceanaGold), decided to sue the government of El Salvador at the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes ICSID.  The support of international organizations helped find technical deficiencies in the arguments of mining companies, and also helped bridge the active participation of members of the MNFM in the presentation of an Amicus Curiae at the ICSID and in numerous international solidarity actions across the world. When the struggle took a violent turn, it was international organizations who helped members of la mesa navigate the international human rights system and helped to echo the calls for justice to the international public opinion.     

Despite of the success of the campaign and the fact that the mining prohibition has been in force for the last four years, La Mesa affirms that there has been no commitment on the part of the Salvadoran State to implement the law. In particular, the report points to a government´s debt with communities affected by mining: they still face the impacts of acid drainage in abandoned mines, there has not been an effort to provide incentives for artisanal miners to convert to more sustainable occupations, reparations for families that were victims of mining violence have not been issued, no efforts  have been made to conduct environmental remediation to 15 abandoned mines classified as “environmental passives”, and no steps have been taken to protect local watersheds from cross border mining projects.   

The report closes demanding that the current government of Nayib Bukele guarantee that the mining prohibition will not be reversed and that the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), and the Ministry of Economy (MINEC) develop regulations to implement the decision of the Salvadoran people not to allow the metal mining industry in the country.