El Salvador’s Water Defenders and the Fight Against Toxic Mining


John Gibler

Screen Shot 2021 05 11 at 01.31.50In 2017, El Salvador became the first country in the world to ban metal mining. Robin Broad and John Cavanagh present the story of the social struggles and legal battles behind that ban in The Water Defenders (Beacon Press, 2021).

Broad and Cavanagh spent over a decade collaborating with the international solidarity movement supporting the Salvadorans’ fight against a proposed Pacific Rim gold mine. Their account is rife with valuable detail about the mobilizations, negotiations, alliance building, international campaigns, and legal maneuvers that stopped the Pacific Rim mining concession and led to the national ban.

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What Salvadoran Activists Can Teach Us About Building Coalitions

The Nation

Robin Broad and John Cavanagh

Broad Cavanagh El Salvador getty imgIn March 2017, people from poorer communities across El Salvador stood up to corporate power and convinced their legislature to make their country the first in the world to ban mining to save its precious rivers. Their battle cries: “Water, not gold” and “Water for life.” In the process of their 13-year fight, these water defenders organized a national coalition that came to be known as La Mesa.

This essay is adapted from Robin Broad and John Cavanagh’s The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved a Country From Corporate Greed.

During those years, Marcelo Rivera and three other defenders were brutally assassinated. But Marcelo’s brother Miguel, their friend Vidalina Morales, and the members of La Mesa never gave up. They linked up with international allies to defeat a lawsuit by OceanaGold, a multinational firm that argued the Salvadoran government did not have the right to prohibit mining.

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Families complain about big SC gold mine, citing danger and community disruption

The State


Screen Shot 2021 05 07 at 12.48.37The reality of living near a gold mine is a worrisome thing, says Angel Estridge, whose family owns property less than a mile from a pond full of nasty mining waste.

She fears that leaks from the waste disposal pond could pollute well water, as well as a creek that runs by her family’s home, particularly since the mine has broken environmental laws multiple times. For now, she’s dealing with loud noises from the mine that keep people up at night, Estridge said.

“We’re on land that has been owned by our family for over 100 years in this area, and we were here first,’’ she said, calling the mine’s presence “really aggravating..’’

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Gold mine expansion could produce $2.5 billion. But environmental problems linger

The State


Screen Shot 2021 05 07 at 12.45.06A gold mine that is seeking to expand in Lancaster County has again drawn state scrutiny for violating environmental rules, this time over excessive discharges of cyanide, a potentially deadly chemical used in the mining process.

The Haile Gold Mine, which stands to produce more than $2 billion in gold and silver from the mine expansion, has broken a federal wastewater law twice since late 2020 at the site between Columbia and Charlotte, state and federal records show.

The 2020 wastewater discharge violations, disclosed this week by the Department of Health and Environmental Control, are the latest in a series of environmental troubles to surface about the mining operation.

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Robin Broad, John Cavanagh

lempa river el salvador water gold miningFrom West Texas to Jackson, Mississippi, tens of millions of people struggled through late winter storms that froze pipes, broke water mains, and cut off electricity. They froze without showers, toilets, or washing machines — let alone drinking water — for days or even weeks.

The irony that Texas, the state built on fossil fuels, was completely unprepared for extreme weather disasters shouldn’t be lost on anyone.

Fossil fuel and utility firms have long plied state officials with money. In turn, officials failed to regulate utilities, weatherize their grid, or create programs to weatherize homes — much less upgrade the state’s decaying water infrastructure.

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An unlikely eco-alliance in postwar El Salvador

The World


the water defenders coverA new book describes how environmental activists in El Salvador brought conservatives and progressives together to institute a nationwide ban on metal mining in 2017.

The World’s Marco Werman spoke with attorney Luis Parada, who led El Salvador’s defense team in a mining lawsuit at the World Bank, and Robin Broad, a co-author of the book, "The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved A Country from Corporate Greed."

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