Que Viva la Democracia! Moving forward on Mining Ban
The municipality of San Jose Las Flores in Chalatenango, one of El Salvador’s northern departments bordering Honduras, historically has found itself in struggles for rights to resources located in the region. Up until September 21st, 2014, this narrative prevailed. The citizens of San Jose Las Flores decided to put Salvadoran democracy to the test. Last Saturday, the municipality held a community consultation regarding foreign mineral mining on their land, an act that would contaminate local and national water sources and force them to relocate. 67% of those eligible to vote, an impressive turnout, arrived at the various voting centers within the municipality to let their voices be heard. A resounding 99% voted down the mining proposition. According to Salvadoran municipal code and national law, this consultation is legally binding. San Jose Las Flores became the first town to completely ban mining. This area, as long as the law is upheld, is the only municipality in El Salvador to protect its natural resources in this manner.
This community consultation not only legitimizes Salvadoran democracy in Chalatenango but it also gives hope to the rest of the country. Currently, the government of El Salvador is being sued in a World Bank tribunal for not allowing Canadian/Austrialian mining company, PacificRim/OceanaGold to operate in El Salvador. The company filed the case on the grounds that El Salvador acted against the free market agreements between North and Central America. OceanaGold identifies northern El Salvador as a lucrative gold production site. However, the Salvadoran government denied their request for permits in recognition of the environmental, health, and social implications of gold mining. If the company wins, the government will be forced to either allow OceanaGold to mine or to pay the company a fine amounting in hundreds of millions of dollars. There is no speculation when it comes to assessing the environmental and societal impacts on El Salvador if PacificRim/OceanaGold wins the case. Neighboring Honduras allows mining extraction, which has since left the rivers toxic, complicating access to clean water sources, and introducing hundreds of cases of skin disease. National borders don’t keep polluted waters from flowing in to the next country. Mining in Honduras (not to mention if mining begins in the northern region of El Salvador), has provoked great concern over cyanide entering the Lempa River watershed. This particular watershed provides over half the Salvadoran population with water for cooking, cleaning, washing, and drinking, including the majority of the population in San Salvador.
There are also social implications attributed to mining in Honduras. The mining issue pits family members and neighbors against each other. On one side, there are those whose livelihoods depend on the jobs provided by the mining industry. However, there are others raising awareness of the environmental and health repercussions caused by mining exploitation. This same issue already burdens Salvadoran society.
As people in solidarity with El Salvador, we cannot let that happen. We want to see more large scale action like that in San Jose Las Flores. Let your voice be heard today and sign this petition demanding that OceanaGold drop the case and get out of El Salvador!