Gloria Silvia Orellana - Diario CoLatino

"My mother was the daughter of miners and when I told her everything that happened here (in El Salvador) she told me that when her father finished working (in a mining project) the area was left deserted and the damaged, and the impacts are similar in any country of the world" said Teresa Garcia, a religious of the Assumption, who has worked for 31 years with the community in San José Las Flores, Chalatenango.


In the community of Los Prados, in the municipality of La Laguna, Chalatenango, CRIPDES held a forum on "Cross border mining in El Salvador".  The topic was discussed with members of different communities while discussing economic alternatives and social alliances facing the threat of extractive industries in countries with shared borders.

Sister Teresa outlined in her speech the importance of social factors that were strategic to unite the villagers in the defense of the territory: awareness of the mining problem, resistance based on solidarity with other communities, the full participation of the community, unity and the accompaniment of the Catholic Church.

"We have been accompanying the community for 31 years. When companies attempted to enter the territory, the local government with the entire population represented a strong opposition factor and we all did it together for the defense of the life. This is something essential, if we want to build the Kingdom of God, then faith demands the defense of life," She said.

When the mining company arrived to the municipality of Las Flores, in 2005, the workers came to set up signs, measure land and to open ditches that alarmed the population. But according to Sister Teresa, the decision of the local community development association to ban mining, and the support from the local government were important to stop them.

"Community, children and adults, began to resist by combing the land and removing the signs that the workers of the mining company had left behind, after, workers of the mining companies were prevented from entering the territory, and later, community members set up roadblocks and told the workers to leave."

"The mining officials came later to talk with ADESCO members, to tell them what mining exploitation would bring. At the meeting the company  workers were told that they community was not interested in the form of development that ultimately brought death, but they continued insisting with different offers of employment, trips, and the reconstruction of the town, but we refused, " she said.

"For us this is sacred territory,  in the land surrounding San José Las Flores, so many compañeros and compañeras lost their lives, their bones are buried there, everything is significant as a community, and it was ludicrous to rebuild a town when we had already done it with so much love and with solidarity from other countries. It was like telling a mother, we are going to kill your son who has just been born," she argued.

Another fundamental element highlighted by Sister Teresa was solidarity and communication with other municipalities. "Everyone joined from Arcatao to Guarjila, people left their houses and they were preventing the passage of vehicles, saying they did not want mining. It was not violent action, but it was a very firm resistance, it was a beautiful experience of organization and solidarity that later spread through the department of Chalatenango".

"Cross Border Mining" is not a foreign concept to Rodolfo Calles, of CRIPDES, who argues that the struggle that ended with a prohibition would not be enough to protect the country's natural assets.

"Because our mining prohibition law is useless, if we have the threat of cross-border mining from two countries (Guatemala and Honduras),  this implies that people must know the law to defend themselves and must especially understand the communities that live in border areas where the threat is latent. We should organize more, to avoid pollution and seek support with the State," he said.

The social struggle, said Calles, should be built with support from various communities, from neighboring countries, as well the support from international organizations to ensure that multilateral initiatives such as the human right to water, and bilateral agreements are used to minimize the damages to the towns in border territories.

"El Salvador has already demonstrated that organization and social struggle can obtain good results, but the problem that exists with Honduras and Guatemala is that the mining companies are already exploiting mines, in that case, we must fight to minimize the influence of these companies in the region," he said.

As for the rivers that are often natural borders between the three countries, Calles considered that work needs to be done put the issue in the public agenda. The protection of the Sumpul River that divides El Salvador from Honduras (Chalatenango) is an example, despite having a short distance is considered one of the less polluted.

"The principle of prevention and protection which sates that when there is no certainty that an activity will not be harmful, the best thing is to avoid it, and we know mining threatens our water sources. The work of international organizations on the human right to water and international treaties on shared water is at stake here. The Central American Integration System, SICA, and the Central American parliament, PARLACEN, should put this issue on the table, so that the countries that integrate it put people interest is before commercial interest" he reaffirmed.