Reproduced by kind permission of John Perry from an article entitled ‘El Dorado’ in the London Review of Books – LRB Blog, 20 May 2014
John Perry lives in Masaya, Nicaragua where he works on UK housing and migration issues and also works voluntarily with a Nicaraguan NGO. He blogs about Latin America and other issues at http://twoworlds.me/
Last June the G8 agreed a new plan called the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which is supposed to ensure poor countries receive the full benefit of their natural resources. Canada is one of EITI’s stakeholder countries; 60 per cent of the world’s mining companies are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
One of them, Pacific Rim (acquired last year by OceanaGold), owns a mine in El Dorado, El Salvador. It has met massive community opposition over the past five years. This has led to intimidation and assassinations; a 2010 report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature found Pacific Rim partially responsible for the violence. The company meanwhile is suing the El Salvador government for $300 million for cancelling its mining permit. During the arbitration it was accused of using its high-level contacts in a previous government to secure the permits, one of the practices the G8 aims to stop.
In Honduras two years ago, the Canadian company Goldcorp closed the St Martin mine in the Siria valley. The company claims to favour responsible mining, but there are still severe water shortages and many local people have toxic levels of arsenic, lead and mercury in their bodies. Drinking water tested positively for these contaminants in 2007 but the results weren’t released until 2011. The fight for compensation is making slow progress. In the meantime, Canada has helped Honduras put in place a new mining law which removes even the limited controls that existed when Goldcorp began operations. Concessions to mining companies now cover 35 per cent of Honduras territory.
In Costa Rica, Canadian-owned Infinito Gold is attempting to reopen another bitterly fought mining project, Las Crucitas. When its permits were revoked it sued the Costa Rican government for $94 million. The permits contravened a nationwide ban on open-cast mining, and brought corruption allegations against former president Oscar Arias who ruled in favour of the project ‘in the public interest’. The mine is on a tributary of the San Juan river, and risks polluting the wildlife conservation area along the frontier with Nicaragua. On 1 May, demonstrators gathered outside Goldcorp’s Toronto headquarters as its shareholders met to be told its latest profits.
Two weeks earlier in Mataquescuintla, Guatemala, a 16-year-old leader in the fight against Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine, Topacio Reynoso Pacheco, was shot dead and her father badly injured. The mine threatens water supplies to communities where 23,000 people were polled in a referendum last November: more than 98 per cent opposed the mine. Months previously, the government was forced to declare a state of emergency because of the scale of the protests. Goldcorp has a 40 per cent stake in the operation. These and other incidents have been documented by Mining Watch Canada. In March, the Canadian prime minister said that the industry’s brand is ‘pretty good in this world’.