How to save your country from metal mining

Saúl Baños, March 23, 2018

Puede leer este blog en español aquí.

For El Salvador it was not easy. In the process, five people were killed and one of them tortured. Community leaders lived under threat for years. However, a few weeks ago, our country became the first in Latin America to put a ban on metal mining in all its forms. For a nation as small and impoverished as ours, to make this sovereign decision against the interests of a powerful transnational company is an unprecedented event that we consider a triumph of community work.

*FESPAD, the organization where I work as director, is one of eleven that since 2004 makes up the National Board Against Metal Mining (MNFM), a platform that has fought for 13 years against the exploitative attempts of metal mining companies in El Salvador. How were we able take this step? What measures could other countries take in similar circumstances? The advice below is not a formula, but it does present an experience that we hope will motivate other nations to take the big step.

Work with allies

By working in a coalition of small and large defense organizations, we were able to win the lawsuit initiated by Pacific Rim / Oceana Gold mining company, forcing it to pay the country more than 8 million dollars. This eventually led to the passage of a new law, ‘Prohibition of Metal Mining in El Salvador’.

Contribute what you have

We all have something to give. FESPAD’s contribution, for example, involved legal matters. We helped create and fine-tune the new law and facilitated counseling processes, the prosecution of homicide cases and threats to environmentalists, as well as helping the community to organize, among others.

Demand and resist

We were not silent in the face of threats, torture, or murders. We actively participated in two amicus curiae. With the help of friends, we collected thousands of signatures in several countries, and these were presented to the World Bank. We campaigned and protested outside the World Bank headquarters in Washington and El Salvador.

Have patience

These opposition and denunciation efforts lasted for more than 10 years. In June 2009, Pacific Rim / Oceana Gold sued the Salvadoran State before the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), claiming more than 300 million dollars. They lost and ended up owing the country 8 million dollars, and now they can no longer exploit our resources because …. the new law forbids them to do so!

Follow through

Our work is not yet finished. Pacific Rim / Oceana Gold has not yet shown signs of withdrawing from the country, nor has it has paid the $8 million; it keeps the El Dorado Foundation active (its social arm in the communities), and has said that it will keep its workers until August 2017. In addition, it has created other smaller internal subsidiaries as representatives. We believe there is even a possibility that it could file a lawsuit and claim the new law is unconstitutional, so we have to be prepared for this. In fact, we find it very strange that Pacific Rim / Oceana Gold has not closed its operations immediately, given the forcefulness of the law prohibiting metal mining in the country.

Pass on your knowledge

Inform everyone involved and share all the knowledge you have. We continue to work at the grassroots level because we are convinced that local communities have been the main players in this process and therefore should understand the results of their work. We are conducting processes in order for people to reflect upon the law as it is written, which, although brief, contains technical and legal terms that do not make it readily understandable for the population.

Pass on the power

We believe that our grassroots work seeks to turn communities into defenders of a right that has been won. We trust and believe that by working together and using all this knowledge, the communities of our country (and all countries) can become natural defenders of resources, and thus ensure a long and dignified life for us and for future generations.

Photo: Flickr: Graela

Read this blog post in Spanish.

*FESPAD is one of the 21 partner organizations of our human rights program Nexos.