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Canadian-Australian mining firm OceanaGold is suing El Salvador for an amount equivalent to 5% of its gross domestic product for not having granted it a permit to put a gold mine into operation, despite its project not having met regulatory requirements. This sign calls for a law banning metal mining in El Salvador. (Photo: laura/flickr/cc)

Canadian Mining Companies Banned in Three Salvadorian Municipalities

Juan Carlos Jimenez


On March 29, Nueva Trinidad became the third municipality in El Salvador to officially declare itself a "territory free of mining" through a historic popular community consultation.

Canadian mining companies have had a brutal presence in El Salvador. Communities in the departments of Chalatenango and Cabañas have organized to prevent the entry of mining corporations into the municipalities.

The new strategy is a way to bring the current mining conflict against OceanaGold Mining Corporation (formerly Pacific Rim Mining Corporation) away from judicial courts and back to the grassroots communities.

Now, in response to a law suit that could force El Salvador to pay OceanaGold $301 million, a Salvadoran delegation will visit Canada this week to discuss how "an investor-state arbitration threatens democratic decision-making, public health and the environment," according to a press release from Mining Watch Canada.

How the historic vote was won

Since September 21, 2014, three municipalities in the department of Chalatenango have used a municipal code to host popular community consultations around the issue of mining in their territories.

On the day of the consultation, 61 per cent of the voting population voted at seven polling stations in the township and its surrounding villages. The results were that 99.25 per cent of voters declared "no" to all mining activities in their territory, including exploration and exploitation.

Using this vote, the three municipal governments will create municipal bylaws to ban all permits for metallic mining exploration and exploitation in the municipality. The three municipalities; San Jose Las Flores, San Isidrio Labrador, and Nueva Trinidad, are situated near the Sumpul river in the Eastern region of Chalatenango.

In the past 10 years, the three municipalities, including the municipality of Arcatao and Guarjila, have organized against a Canadian mining corporation's proposed exploration project in these territories. When walking down the streets of Nueva Trinidad and its surrounding villages, art murals that condemn environmental destruction by Canadian companies keep Canada and its foreign investment in the minds and lips of rural communities.

Canadian mining companies brutal presence in El Salvador

When Canadian mining companies first arrived in the territory of Chalatenango, the company didn't realize the extent of the social organization and political conscious of the population. The North Eastern regions of Chalatenango have historically been strong holds for the FMLN guerrillas who fought against the Salvadorian government and military during the civil war of the 1980s.

Chalatenango remains a strong hold of the FMLN political party, and communities continue the tradition of community organizing and civil participation in social movements that demand self determination in their territories.

Tensions between the Canadian mining corporation and members of the community rose as the company pushed with their exploration project.

In 2006, in an act of peaceful civil disobedience against the Canadian company, community members and leaders organized teams of five to eight volunteers to walk through the areas that the mining corporation tagged for exploration, and remove markers, equipment, and destroyed storage tents and other material that belonged to the corporation. In one testimony, an anti mining organizer recalled how they placed a beehive in a storage tent to fend off the mining company's staff through non-violent strategies.

Chalatenango is not the only department that has been affected by Canadian mining corporations.

There are currently two lawsuits against El Salvador for denying an exploitation permit for two corporations. Pacific Rim, a Canadian mining corporation that is now owned by Australian mining company Oceana Gold, is suing El Salvador for $301 million in a World Bank arbitration tribunal for being denied an exploitation permit after having done preliminary exploration in the department of Cabañas. 

In Cabañas, the struggle against Pacific Rim Mining Corporation began in 2004, when the initial preliminary studies done in the municipalities of San Isidrio and Trinidad caused suspicion from community leaders in the area. Through support from the Association for Development of El Salvador (ADES), community members began an education campaign around the issue of mining and mineral extraction in the community.

Local leaders were provided with videos and photos from other mining sites in Honduras and Guatemala, and some leaders were able to visit Honduras in the Valle de Siria mine to see firsthand the effects of mining.

Anti-mining activists press for ban

After learning about the first hand effects of mining, community leaders were staunchly opposed to the Canadian mining project.

As the movement grew in momentum, however, three anti-mining activists were killed in 2009. Marcelo Rivera, Ramiro Rivera, and Dora Alicia Sorto (eight months pregnant at the time) were shot and killed in their community, and two other anti-mining activists survived attempted murders. While the physical murders of Marcelo Rivera were caught and tried with murder, the intellectual authors of the crime remain unidentified.

The government of El Salvador passed a de facto moratorium on mining, disallowing future projects from being implemented in the country.

However, the Salvadorian government refuses to establish an official ban on mining, which has become a primal focus of the National Roundtable against Metallica Mining in El Salvador (La Mesa), a network of communities and organizations resisting mining projects in El Salvador.

As such, La Mesa has opted to pressure for laws that prohibit large scale mining. Community consultations have fallen under this strategy, as a way to create laws to prevent future mining conflicts, and as a way to bring the current mining conflict against Oceana Gold Mining Corporation (formerly Pacific Rim Mining Corporation) away from judicial courts and back to the grassroots communities.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Juan Carlos Jimenez

Juan Carlos Jimenez is a Salvadorian-Canadian based in Nicaragua working in Global Education and community development. Juan Carlos has organized with anti mining solidarity and Latin American solidarity movements in Toronto, as well as migrant justice, popular education, anti poverty, and indigenous sovereignty organizations. A U of T graduate, JC is also a Capoierista, futbolista, writer, dreamer, and poet.

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