The tiny country of El Salvador is caught up in a David vs. Goliath battle as it struggles to defend the human right to water and the public health of its citizens. Metallic mining projects would pose a significant threat to the already taxed water supplies of El Salvador, as well to the environment and public health in this densely populated country.
The civil society organizations and affected communities that make up the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining (the Mesa) have been struggling to stop metallic mining in El Salvador since 2006. The Mesa represents hundreds of communities and thousands of people throughout the country and includes environmental, community-based, research, legal and religious organizations.In 2009, when the Salvadoran government began to put restrictions on the mining industry, as a result of the efforts made by the Mesa and other members of civil society, two multinational mining corporations, Pacific Rim and Commerce Group, responded by filing lawsuits against the government. The companies claim that their rights as investors are being violated. Pacific Rim, a Vancouver based company looking to mine in the department of Cabañas, is claiming losses of up to $100 million. On June 1st, 2012 a panel of three arbitrators hearing the case in a trade tribunal that is part of the World Bank ruled that the case would be allowed to continue.The controversy over Pacific Rim’s mining project in Cabañas has not come without a social cost. To date four environmentalists opposing mining from the region have been murdered, and countless others have suffered from threats, attacks, kidnapping attempts and violence. While the Attorney General’s Office in El Salvador has never done thorough investigations into the intellectual authors of the crimes in Cabañas, local residents say that community divisions and conflict started when Pacific Rim arrived and began promoting their mining projects.
However, because almost of all of El Salvador’s surface water comes from sources outside its borders, mining projects across the border in Guatemala and Honduras could also have dangerous results. Currently, a Gold Corp subsidiary is constructing a gold mine a scarce 14 km from the Guija Lake, the source of the main river in El Salvador. The Mesa is working to build international ties with groups resisting mining in Honduras and Guatemala in order to build a unified Central American resistance that protects all their shared watersheds.
The Mesais fighting back against Pacific Rim and other companies in El Salvador by educating the population around the dangers of mining, carrying out scientific research to support their positions, and pressuring decision makers in El Salvador to protect the environment and public health. For the Mesa the only way to protect El Salvador from the problems caused by metallic mining is complete ban on all metallic mining. As the debate around a mining ban continues in the Legislative Assembly, the communities and social movement continue to organize and struggle against this dangerous industry.