Politics of Poverty

Justice delayed, rights denied: The real consequences of the World Bank’s delayed mining decision for Salvadorans

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Protesters stand outside the World Bank in Washington, D.C. on September 15, 2014. Photo: Alex Blair/Oxfam America

A decision on the Oceanagold vs. El Salvador case is a year overdue, and not only is it frustrating, it’s creating serious problems for communities near the mine. Salvadoran activists weigh in.

Sofia Vergara is the Senior Advocacy Advisor for Oxfam America’s Extractives Industries team

Nobody likes to wait – especially when that wait can mean dire consequences for you and your family.

That is the case for thousands of people in El Salvador, who have been waiting for over a year for a decision in the case Oceanagold (formerly PacRim), filed against the Government of El Salvador in 2009 with the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). And as they wait, the faith of El Salvador lies in the hands of the tribunal’s three arbitrators: Prof. Brigitte Stern; Prof. Dr. Guido Santiago Tawil, and V. V. Veeder QC.

Oceanagold is suing El Salvador for $250 million because the government did not grant them a mining permit to operate the El Dorado mine located in the Department of Cabañas, in north central El Salvador. The permit was not granted because the company failed to get government approval for its environmental impact study, did not submit the required feasibility study, and was not even close to meeting the requirement of holding all of the land titles for the area for which it requested a concession.

The people in the communities surrounding the El Dorado mine – those who are most affected by the lack of resolution – want a decision. And they want a decision in the country’s favor. The fact is, the longer they wait, the greater space there is for Oceanagold to put pressure on them, which in the past has proven deadly. This is already a reality for many in El Salvador, and it continues to erode the strong citizen commitment to resisting this project and the national mining ban.

I talked to some of Oxfam’s partners and allies about the case, and here’s what they had to say:

Zenayda Serrano, Member, Unified Movement of Francisco Sanchez 1932 (MUFRAS)

“A year after the last hearing of the case at ICSID and still without a final resolution, we in the Salvadorian communities continue to feel the threat of a decision that will violate the human rights of Salvadorans. As a woman, a mother and an environmental activist, I can see how this wait is affecting our daily life and jeopardizing our hopes for a mining ban in our country”

Hector Berrios, Member, Unified Movement of Francisco Sanchez 1932 (MUFRAS)

“The uncertainty around the decision has not just meant frustration for the communities based in the area of the project though; it has also given OceanaGold space to push its agenda through more informal and sinister means. Now we know that the company has revived ‘Fundacion El Dorado’ and we know they are offering trainings and they have hired dozens of men and women who have been incorporated into administrative areas and others are involved in social programs. Our main concern is that this will cause the return of societal division, violence and impunity in our region and our department, just like what happened in particular between 2009 and 2011 when we suffered from the murder of friends, death threats and more.”

Edgardo Mira, Director, Salvadoran Research Center on Investments and Trade (CEICOM)

“More than 77% of the population participating at a recent survey conducted by the Institute of Public Opinion of the Central American University are in favor of a permanent ban on metallic mining in our country. The population’s strong rejection of mining can be explained by the high awareness of environmental repercussions brought on by mining exploitation, especially those threatening water resources. In El Salvador 90% of the country’s surface water is heavily contaminated and El Salvador is considered to be one of the most environmentally stressed countries in the region. Mining operations would only increase this very serious scenario for all of us”.

Elvis Zabala, Member, Radio Victoria (Community radio station involved in the case)

Marcelo Rivera was killed in 2009 for opposing the presence of the mine on our lands and we are still waiting for a real investigation into this case. In that time, our radio and staff also suffered from threats. Despite this, we won’t stop raising the community voice. In March of this year, two of our members participated in protests in Washington, DC in front of the World Bank and the Australian Embassy. We delivered more than 175,000 signatures urging Oceanagold to leave El Salvador. And in the country, there have been various major events such as three municipal consultations declaring themselves free of metallic mining. We won’t stop our efforts to raise the voices and rights of our communities!”

Sandra Carolina Ascencio, JPIC El Salvador

Pope Francis tells us that environmental degradation, humanity, and ethics are intertwined and it is our responsibility to stop over-exploiting the riches of our mother earth, to hear both the cry of the earth as much as the cry of the poor. We translate this message from the Encyclical into actions by providing more information to people, support meetings and protests and call to our authorities for support. There is widespread anger and uncertainty over the delay in a resolution of the ICSID case. We believe that our voice is clear and we see the urgent necessity of a verdict in favor of humanity and respect of the will of the towns affected; one that allows for an end to this process and guarantees the stability and sovereignty of the Salvadoran people.”

Saul Baños, Responsible for the Area of Human Rights, Foundation for the Studies of the Application of Law, FESPAD

“The wait has been long as the case has lasted over five years. Given the delay of the resolution, uncertainty and suspicion grow to believe that the ICSID is working against El Salvador. Regardless of this fear, hope still remains. This time of waiting has also served as a time to strengthen the community awareness and organization that has served in accumulating a strong resistance. This case’ decision will definitely mark a strong legal precedent for other cases in our region and the world. Fundamental Human Rights are at stake here and this is why over this past summer, more than 215,000 people added their voice to ours in asking the World Bank to decide on this emblematic case. Those signatures were delivered to Meg Kinnear -ICSID Secretary- in Washington DC last month. Regardless of the ICSID resolution, we will not permit mining in El Salvador; that industry is just not viable in our country.”

The people of El Salvador have waited long enough, and Oceanagold is not backing down. Despite the company “explicitly commits to respecting host country laws and regulations in its July 2014 human rights policy, the company has failed to respect the sovereignty of the Salvadoran government regarding its involvement in the El Dorado mining project” (Oxfam America’s Community Consent Index). And the company continues to make money by expanding its activities and projects in countries like New Zealand and the United States, and has explicitly stated in the case of the El Dorado project, that, “notwithstanding the current arbitration, Oceanagold will also continue to seek a negotiated resolution to the El Dorado permitting impasse.”

But the Salvadoran people have spoken loud and clear, and it’s time for Oceanagold and the World Bank’s ICSID Tribunal to listen. Join us as we urge them to do so!

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