Politics of Poverty

5 reasons why metallic mining in El Salvador is not economically viable

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A banner used by the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador, saying "We demand a law prohibiting metals mining in El Salvador." Photo: http://bit.ly/1ovX8XU

People in El Salvador will not just choose a president, but which path to development they will pursue.

A version of this blog by Juliana Edith Turqui, Program Coordinator for Extractive Industries in Central America, first appeared in Spanish on Oxfam’s Latin America and Caribbean blog.


Juliana Edith Turqui is the Oxfam Program Coordinator of Extractive Industries in Central America.

With the El Salvador presidential election on February 2nd, and the run-off election scheduled for March 9th, the debate on the prohibition of mining in El Salvador has greatly intensified in the past few days.

Even though there has been no debate in the legislative assembly that could lead to the creation of an anti-mining law, many of us in the Salvadorian civil society and social sector[1] have agreed: We will keep organizing and insisting that this debate occur in El Salvador, especially as Pacific Rim prepares to operate under a new president and political setting.

Here’s why the law for prohibiting mining has been impeded so far:

  • There is not yet a legislative coalition of proponents of an anti-mining bill in the National Assembly. Some political parties are in favor of prohibition and high-level authorities of the current government have the political will. Yet they don’t have the majority of the necessary votes, and their capacity to negotiate is scarce.
  • Pacific Rim brought an international lawsuit against the Salvadorian State, due to the suspension of their mining operations in Cabañas. Though a resolution to the lawsuit is still uncertain, there is no doubt will set a precedent for companies’ behavior, not only in El Salvador, but the entire region.
  • Debates are ongoing about alternative developmental strategies for El Salvador, especially in a globalized world where Central American countries’ resources are scare and population density is high. Costa Rica, for example, has already made a decision to base their developmental model on maximizing biodiversity and leveraging tourism.

Mining is not viable model for development in El Salvador due to the country’s environmental vulnerability, especially with regards to scare water resources for human consumption.

Additionally, here are five economic arguments that do not support mining as a viable model for El Salvador’s development:

  1. It generates few jobs. In most of the cases in Latin America, the jobs that the mining companies generate are highly qualified and technical, which leads to the majority of them given to foreign workers.
  2. It generates health risks. Regardless of whether companies using cyanide or not, the detonations alone affect the surrounding population. Resulting respiratory problems have a high economic cost in terms of lost productivity and health expenses that are overlooked.
  3. Governments rarely exert enough control over royalties. In the Central American experience so far, national institutions’ regulations are too weak to manage taxation and monitor the gold, silver, or any other metals that are extracted and leave the country. Many times the companies are registered in ways that allow them to avoid paying taxes and companies are left to report what they’ve taken.
  4. No evidence exists showing that the municipalities where the mining projects are established have benefitted from revenue increases that companies have paid to the governments. To the contrary, the Honduras’ San Martin mine in the Siria Valley is an example. Even the human development index of the area decreased during the years of the mining activity.
  5. No evidence exists of any Central American community living near a mining project that has benefitted economically from it.

This last point is especially important because El Salvador’s main resource is its people. We have to listen to what Salvadorians want, and consider how every economic decision has an environmental impact. In El Salvador, the opposition to mining is strong, and no mining project will result in development without the support of the people.

Salvadorians have an opportunity to decide what developmental model to use. So think and decide! #PiensayDecide

[1] Local and international allies against mining in El Salvador include La Mesa, the Catholic Church, environmentalists, human rights attorneys, universities, Breaking the Silence, Sister Cities, Mining Watch, the Center for International Environmental Law, the Institute for Policy Studies, and members of the US Congress.
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