Mario Beltrán - Contrapunto

Environmental NGOs fear that the approaching electoral season might advance the company´s goals at the expense of the environment.

Environmental organizations are worried about the promotion and education on mining that the El Dorado Foundation (face of "Corporate Social Responsibility" of OceanaGold, formerly Pacific Rim) is doing in Cabañas, a department in the north of El Salvador.

According to these organizations, the foundation is promoting a political rapprochement aimed at achieving a legislative balance of power that will enable, in the future, the repeal of the Law against Metallic Mining that was approved last March.

 “Our main goal is to continue lobbying governmental institutions and in the Legislative Assembly. We have to avoid the possible repeal of the Law that prohibits mining. If that would occur, it would be at the detriment of our future, the environment of our country as well our communities”, said Bernardo Belloso, member of the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining and President of CRIPDES (Association for the development of El Salvador)

OceanaGold, an Australian company, bought shares valued $10.2 millions of dollars from Pacific Rim, a Canadian based company. The shares were bought on October 2013 after Pacific Rim’s failed to raise funds to continue a law suit against El Salvador. The Canadian company had begun mining exploration in Cabañas.

Explorations were unofficially suspended in 2008 by the Administration of the ex-president of El Salvador Elias Antonio Saca. That suspension resulted in a demand of more than $300 million against the Salvadoran government. OceanaGold resumed the claim, but the company lost the case in October 2016.

According to the members of CRIPDES, the "El Dorado" foundation has changed its statutes. Currently, it is conducting education and promotion campaigns about mining. In El Salvador, mining is an industrial activity prohibited by law since March of this year.

The NGOs add that OceanaGold, prior the prohibition of mining exploration, had promised between 400-700 jobs to communities of Cabañas. Moreover, Oceana Gold had also promised to invest, between $20 to $25 million dollars yearly for a period of 20 years. The company would haveinvested in the community through salaries, outsourcing and local businesses.

"A new election is approaching and we are afraid that the company could use that political moment of the country in its favor" said Belloso.

Also, concerns were expressed about the presence of acid drainage in the San Sebastián River in Santa Rosa de Lima, department of La Unión (in the east of El Salvador). This contamination is the outcome of the past mineral extraction.

The members of CRIPDES point out that Commerce Group, the company responsible for the acid drainage, "has disappeared". Thus, it is impossible to take legal action against the company directly responsible for this damage.  

“The most sensible thing would be for the State to expropriate the land from Commerce Group. A project for the recovery of these lands should be then put in place in order to foster the development of the affected communities”, concluded Bernardo Belloso.

The concerns above, are in addition to concerns expressed a few days ago by the members of the National Roundtable against Mining. There is a concern the recent visit of Frank Giustra, the Canadian industry captain linked to problematic mining projects.

Giustra came to El Salvador in 2015, to invest in the Calleja Foundation and in its program "Cultivating opportunities".

This investment helped Carlos Calleja, the president of the Calleja Foundation, become part of the political map of El Salvador, just two years before he launched his pre-candidacy for the presidency of the country. Calleja is the leading candidate for the right-wing party ARENA.

Nonetheless, Giustra's investment embodies a copy of models that have been used in other countries where corporate social responsibility initiatives have been used to promote mining exploitation. 

Translated by: Giada Ferrucci