Mining Weekly reports that, "A hearing began on Monday in an arbitration case brought by (Vancouver-based) Pacific Rim Mining against the government of El Salvador, the company reported. The hearing, on the preliminary objection filed by the government in relation to the action brought by Pacific Rim, is scheduled to conclude on Tuesday. A decision on the matter is expected by September, the firm said. The hearing is taking place at the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington, DC." Last week, Grist reported that, "The World Bank will decide if the mining giant can pursue its greedy demands for payment under an industry-friendly trade rule that would force El Salvador to pay a huge penalty ($700 million) for blocking the project." THE THREAT TO WATER BY MINING OPERATIONS The Council of Canadians has been tracking this case for more than two years. As we noted in a December 30, 2009 campaign blog, since 2005, many residents of Cabañas have been trying to stop the El Dorado gold mine. They are concerned the mine will threaten local water supplies and ruin their ability to grow crops. An article in NotiCen: Central American and Caribbean Affairs states, "In Cabanas, the Asociacion de Desarrollo Economico Social (ADES), together with other organizations, has concluded that mining in the Canton San Francisco El Dorado 'will provoke an unprecedented environmental catastrophe,' contaminating the land, the rivers, and the aquifers. ADES points especially to the extraction methods that utilize cyanide and lead that will leave residues of these products as well as other heavy metals, even if detoxification methods are efficient. The Copinolapa, Los Pueblos, San Francisco, San Isidro, Titihuapa, and Lempa rivers, some of which are used for drinking water, are especially vulnerable. The organization said the basic industries of the region, agriculture, cattle, and fishing, are all at risk." Rodolfo Calles, a coordinator for the church-funded organization Caritas, says, “El Salvador is very small and all mining projects are near the Lempa River, which is the country’s main water source.” A Miami Herald article further explains that, “The 320-kilometer Lempa is one of Central America’s longest, snaking through Guatemala and Honduras before flowing into El Salvador’s Pacific. With a basin that covers half of El Salvador, the river irrigates the country’s farming industry and supplies drinking water to more than half of residents in greater San Salvador.” A February 2008, Inter Press Service article also reports that, “Peasant farmers from the northern Salvadoran province of Cabañas fear that mining operations planned for the region will consume 30,000 litres of water a day, drawn from the same sources that currently provide local residents with water only once a week.” CAFTA CHALLENGE Acknowledging the environmental concerns, the Ministry of Environment in El Salvador denied Pacific Rim the permits for the mine in 2007. The company (through its US-based subsidiary) responded in 2008 with a $77 million challenge against the government under CAFTA, the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement. The Miami Herald reports that, “The case is among the first international investment disputes under the Central American Free-Trade Agreement…” Grist reports that, "The situation deteriorated into mayhem when three anti-mining activists were murdered between June and December 2009, allegedly at the behest of Pacific Rim managers. Local anti-mining activist Marcelo Rivera was apparently tortured prior to being killed. Ramiro Rivera, the vice president of the Environmental Committee of Cabanas, was assassinated in front of his daughter, along with Environmental Committee member Dora Alicia Sorto Recinos, who was eight months pregnant and carrying her 2-year-old child when she was struck down." Alexis Stoumbelis of the Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador summed up the challenge when she asked on Democracy Now!, “Does El Salvador, do the other countries in Central America, have the right to enforce their own environmental laws, or do transnational corporations get to rule?” FURTHER INFORMATION To see our May 9, 2008 ‘ACTION ALERT: Stop Pacific Rim gold mining in San Isidro-Cabanas’, please go to http://canadians.org/action/2008/09-May-08.html. To read the 27-page environmental impact assessment by independent hydrogeologist Robert Moran on the El Dorado project, go to the MiningWatch Canada website at http://www.miningwatch.ca/updir/Technical_Review_El_Dorado_EIA.pdf.
Dora Alicia Sorto Recinos