Politics of Poverty

Salvadorans do not want mining in their country, but will Oceana Gold listen?

Posted by
Residents of San Isidro (in Cabañas, El Salvador) look out over a valley where a OceanaGold hopes to begin mining gold and silver. Photo: Jeff Deutsch / Oxfam America

Oxfam holds online event from San Salvador to discuss the company’s lawsuit against the El Salvador government.

Sofia Vergara is a senior advocacy advisor on extractive industries at Oxfam America.

“People across El Salvador have said ‘no’ to mining, and their government has listened. Pacific Rim and their Australian-backer Oceana Gold have not though. Effectively with their lawsuit, the company is holding the government of El Salvador ransom in order to secure a mining license.” ~Christina Hill, mining advocacy coordinator from Oxfam Australia

Salvadoran president-elect Sanchez Ceren committed to not exploit metallic mining in the country on February 24th of this year when he was running for office. But as the country prepares for the inauguration of its new president on June 1, the struggle for sustainable development without metallic mining operations continues.

Why is this five year national debate so hot right now? The Pacific Rim/Oceana Gold’s lawsuit filed against the El Salvador government at the International Centre for Settlement of Disputes (ICSID) in 2009 is entering a decisive stage. They are seeking more than $300 million dollars in a World Bank arbitration tribunal for being denied an exploitation permit in El Salvador. A final hearing is expected by September in Washington, DC and a decision should be coming the in the following weeks. Since 2009, Oxfam has accompanied the advocacy and lobbying efforts and mobilized civil society around the legal case.

While president-elect Ceren’s statement was certainly promising, and added to similar statements made by past and present Salvadoran authorities from different political parties, it was not enough for the organizations forming the National Roundtable on Metallic Mining (La Mesa). La Mesa seeks a permanent law that guarantees a Salvador free of threats to their way of life, their access to land, and the little clean water they have left. It is clear that La Mesa is not alone. It has the support of all the organizations that form the Environmental Alliance organizations, academia, the Church, and other non-governmental organizations around the world working on food security, water, and risk reduction also support the right of Salvadorans to determine whether or not they allow mining in their country. They agree that mining is no business for El Salvador – not economically, politically, nor socially.

It is not clear for many why Oceana Gold paid $10.2 million to save Pacific Rim and buy a lawsuit of $301 million. Maybe its shareholders were misinformed or did not have the opportunity to hear the voices of all stakeholders, in particular the voices of the communities in Cabañas living near the mining project. For sure the idea of big economic benefits influenced their decision, but hasn’t the company learned from its past in the Philippines, when Oceana Gold was accused of violating the rights of the indigenous communities living nearby the Didipio Mine?

I’m in El Salvador this week to help carry these discussions further. First, the Center for Research on Investment and Trade (CEICOM) has organized a Forum on Transnational Mining, and Oxfam is preparing a panel to discuss the Pacific Rim lawsuit and its implications for the El Salvador.

Community representatives from Cabañas (represented by the Santa Maria Association for Economic  and Social Development (ADES) and national level organizations like the Foundation for the Study of the Application of Law (FESPAD) will say it again loud and clear: NO Salvadorans want mining in their territories.

This time, will Oceana Gold listen?


Oxfam America cordially invites you to join online a panel entitled, “El Foro Publico Situación Actual e Implicaciones del Caso Pacific Rim (Oceana Gold) Para el Estado Salvadoreño.”

Date: Thursday, May 22, 2014
Time: 10AM-2PM EST
Webcast: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/el-salvador-may-2014

Oxfam.org Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+