Mirian Garcia - Varguardia
Organizations that were key players in the struggle to prohibit metal mining in El Salvador, expressed their concern about the upcoming legislative political balance of power which could jeopardize their victory.
A year has passed since the Law against Metallic Mining was approved. The prohibition is a victory resulting from almost 13 years of struggle led by organizations and civil society. The battle against all forms of metallic mining is not over in El Salvador. The rapidly changing political situation represents a danger for environmental organizations that fought and continue fight to eradicate the mining threat from the national territory.
Member organizations of the Central American Alliance against mining such as ADES, ARPAS, CRIPDES, CCR and UNES expressed their concern about a political shift in the Legislative Assembly that may be interested in repealing or watering down the Law against Metal Mining, approved in 2017.
Bernardo Belloso, from CRIPDES, said that although the approval of the law set a precedent in Latin America, there is still no mechanisms to regulate its implementation. A specific example is the lack support offered to artisanal miners (known as güiriseros) to assist them in transforming their mining activities into more sustainable alternatives.
Along with Belloso, other leaders of organizations and communities expressed their reservations, particularly because of one of the presidential candidates of the right-wing majority party has links with businessmen and magnates who invest in metal mining, such as Frank Giustra, and Pacific Rim / Oceana Gold, a company that sued the Salvadoran State still has subsidiaries in the country.
For his part, Luis González, lawyer and member of the Salvadoran Ecological Unit, UNES, said that there are still companies in the country that could benefit from mining exploitation, such as Torogoz Minerals or the El Dorado Foundation. Both subsidiaries of OceanaGold to influence the population of Cabañas with the idea of "Responsible Mining". But González affirms that there is no socially responsible mining that replaces what is lost in the ecosystems through extractive activity.
Environmentalists also expressed that the issue should be addressed regionally, since important rivers such as the Lempa, the main watershed in the national territory, are shared across the region and can be contaminated from extractive activities in Guatemala or Honduras.
Vidalina Morales, a member of ADES and an anti-mining activist involved in the movement since its beginnings, stressed that the mining industry is harmful at several levels: human health, environmentally and socially. In fact, in the community of Santa Marta, Cabañas, activists who denounced the intrusion of the Pacific Rim / Oceana Gold mining company were killed.
Although the separate murders of 4 activists were attributed to criminal gangs, community members state that the clear link is their involvement in the opposition to the mining company. Similarly, Morales denounced that a "green mining" campaign recently emerged on social media networks is raising the alarm of a possible counter-offensive by the industry to raise the issue again in the public arena and force a debate.
In this context, the organizations demand that the will of the Salvadoran people, who in several occasions expressed their rejection of mining activity, must be respected. A survey presented by the Central American University UCA, published in 2017, indicated that almost 70% of Salvadorans did not agree with mining exploration and exploitation.
The Catholic Church joined the public outcry and played an active and fundamental role in the approval of the law. Monsignor José Luis Escobar Alas, archbishop of San Salvador, said that the law against metallic mining should not be repealed or set back as this would threaten life. The Church is also taking an active role, through a human rights approach, to push the approval of the General Water Law.
Up to this moment, both the position of the future right-wing alliance in the Legislative Assembly or specific proposals on environmental legislation regarding the prohibition of metal mining are unknown. Still, the organizations hope that before the end of the current legislature, this law will be elevated to constitutional rank in order to avoid a setback in a fight that has been fought for over a decade against the mining threat.
Translation: Giada Ferrucci