Nicaraguan environmental defenders harassed and criminalised – Mina la India

The CIEL (Centre for International Environmental Law based in Washington DC) has sent news about reprisals taken against environmental defenders who protest against the Santa Cruz de la India mine. This brief article occurs almost one year after the article about Mina la India from April 2019 listed above this one in the website. The more recent one supports doubts about the claims made for the environmental and social practices of the mine by the British owned Condor Gold mining company and the Nicaraguan government. This more recent report from CIEL suggests that the mine continues to be associated with a pattern of repression.

CIEL denounces reprisals aimed at Nicaraguan defenders for publicly noting IFC divestment from controversial mine project

January 2020

CIEL

Washington, DC — The Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) denounces an ongoing wave of intimidation, retaliation, and criminalisation targeting Nicaraguan environmental defenders and community leaders who have publicly opposed plans for a controversial gold mining project in Santa Cruz de la India, Nicaragua.

On December 18, 2019, a group of approximately 15 police in full riot gear raided the home of Olmán Salazar, a leader of the Community Movement of Santa Cruz de la India, which has organised in opposition to the La India gold mine project of UK-based company Condor Gold. The police handcuffed, interrogated, and physically and verbally assaulted Sr Salazar and family members present at his home.  Police also confiscated Sr Salazar’s computer, telephone, and other personal possessions, which they have retained to carry out an investigation. Sr Salazar fears additional criminalisation may result from this investigation.

Notably, this incident occurred just days after Sr Salazar presented a public statement regarding the 2019 divestment from Condor Gold by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) at a press conference held by the Movimiento Nacional Ambiental Frente a la Minería Industrial (MONAFMI). To CIEL’s knowledge, this statement issued to the Nicaraguan press represented the first public announcement made in Nicaragua about the IFC’s divestment.

For several years, defenders and community leaders had called for the IFC’s divestment from the mining project due to the project’s major impacts on water sources and the environment. They hail the IFC’s decision to divest as a victory for the movement.

The MONAFMI statement in Spanish, as well as an English translation, are available below:

CIEL has worked with affected community members and partners in Nicaragua to raise awareness about previous acts of police intimidation and harassment against community members for their opposition to the project.

CIEL:  www.ciel.org

The Peaceful Resistance of La Puya fights for the right to water

The following article about the long-running resistance to the El Tambor gold mine in Guatemala is from May 2019, several months before its inclusion in this website. But given that we have included other articles in the website on La Puya and that gold mining in Central America is a major cause of conflict with local communities, we think that the timeline included in the article is helpful to those who use this website as a source of information and as a research tool. We are grateful to Brent Patterson and to RABBLE.co (a Canadian blog site) for their permission to include the article here.

Published: Friday, 03 May 2019

Brent Patterson – RABBLE

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Original article link: https://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/brent-patterson/2019/04/peaceful-resistance-la-puya-fights-right-water

Key words: La Puya, Guatemala; El Tambor gold mine; peaceful resistance; water scarcity; International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID); protective accompaniment; Peace Brigades International (PBI); free trade agreements.

Residents from the communities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc — an area known as La Puya — have been fighting against the Progreso VII Derivada-El Tambor gold mine located just north of Guatemala City since March 2010.

The Peaceful Resistance of La Puya, which is made up of members from these communities, has stated, “[The environmental impact assessment] shows that the gold and silver are contained in arsenopyrite rock, which contains high levels of arsenic. Levels of arsenic in the water increased considerably during the time the mine was in operation.”

They have also expressed concern about the massive amount of water the mine would use in their water-scarce region.

Their struggle to defend water has seen a blockade of the mine site, repression and criminalization, a win at the Guatemalan Supreme Court, and now a challenge at the Washington, D.C.–based World Bank Group’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

A timeline may be the clearest way to convey the narrative of this struggle:

2010 — Exploraciones Mineras de Guatemala S.A (Exmingua) presents its environmental impact assessment for the proposed mine to the Guatemalan government.

March 2, 2012 — Hundreds of community members set up the La Puya encampment, a peaceful blockade at the site of the mine.

June 2012 — An assassination attempt is made on resistance leader Yolanda Oquelí by unknown assailants on her way home from the roadblock.

August 2012 — Vancouver-based mining company Radius Gold sells its shares in Exmingua to the Reno, Nevada–based mining company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA). That said, the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) has noted, “The company’s 2013 audited financial statements state that three quarters of the cost of the sale transaction will be paid to Radius once gold shipments commence from the property and that Radius also anticipates quarterly payments from KCA based on gold production.”

November 2012 — Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project begins providing protective accompaniment to the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya.

December 2012 — Security guards hired by Exmingua intimidate journalists at the roadblock.

May 22, 2014 — Hydrogeology expert Robert Moran states that the company’s environmental impact assessment on the mine was the worst he had seen in 42 years of experience.

May 23, 2014 — Hundreds of police used tear gas and flash bombs to remove the women who formed the front line of the resistance at the blockade. PBI-Guatemala Project has noted, “PBI observed a disproportionate use of force by the police during that eviction.”

May 2014 — Nine leaders of the resistance are accused of making threats and assaulting employees at the mine. They were cleared of those charges in March 2015.

July 1, 2014 — Two PBI-Guatemala Project field volunteers who had witnessed the police action are told by Guatemalan officials that they have to leave the country within 10 days.

May 26, 2015 — Two hundred riot police use excessive force to remove members of the resistance when they block vehicles from entering the mine to mark the one-year anniversary of their eviction and a lack of response to their request for a dialogue.

July 15, 2015 — A constitutional court rules against the mine and directs the company to hold community consultations with those who are impacted by the mine. The court orders that the mine stop its operations within 15 days, but the company continues its operations and appeals the ruling.

February 2016 — The Guatemalan Supreme Court rules to provisionally suspend the mining licence due to lack of prior consultation. Operations at the mine are suspended.

May 2018 — KCA submits its notice of intent to file arbitration under the Free Trade Agreement between the Dominican Republic, Central America and the United States (DR-CAFTA). The company cites the community protests and unjust treatment by the state.

December 11, 2018 — KCA files a $300 million claim with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a World Bank arbitration mechanism.

February 1, 2019 — Ten organisations, including the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network, the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN) and MiningWatch Canada, release a statement in solidarity with the resistance and in opposition to the investment challenge.

This community struggle continues and international solidarity remains an essential component in their fight to fully realize their right to water and respect for community consultation and consent as pre-conditions for investment, as well as the broader campaign against the corporate-friendly investor-rights provisions in ‘free trade’ agreements.

Supporting the implementation of the mining ban in El Salvador

A new organisation, International Allies Coalition Against Mining in El Salvador, often just referred to just as International Allies, has issued a statement in support of El Salvador’s mining ban.

Key words: Mining ban; Pacific Rim/Oceana Gold; ICSID (International Court for the Settlement of Investment Disputes); National Roundtable Against Metal Mining; National Alliance Against the Privatization of Water.

In October 2019, it will be three years since the government of El Salvador successfully defended itself against Pacific Rim/OceanaGold, a transnational mining company that sued the small nation under the ICSID [International Court for the Settlement of Investment Disputes] for a sum of US$250 million dollars for not granting a mining exploitation permit. The company had never met regulatory requirements to obtain a mining permit and ultimately lost the suit. This was an important turning point in a twelve-year struggle, led by a wide coalition of communities, social organisations, faith groups, academics and political parties that demanded a nationwide prohibition on all metal mining in the small country. In March 2017, El Salvador made history as its legislative assembly passed a unanimous law to prohibit mining. Our International Allies coalition played an important supporting role with Salvadoran mining-affected communities and local organisations to also challenge trade agreements and arbitration tribunals that facilitate the exploitation of people and natural resources, and give corporations powerful tools to impose their interests at great cost to people and the environment.

We have continued to support the activities of member organisations of the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining, a grassroots coalition that led a local movement to prohibit mining in March 2017. Since the mining prohibition, local organisations have continued to advocate with government authorities measures to ensure a proper implementation of the prohibition laws. The environmental movement has now formed the National Alliance against the Privatization of Water to fight attempts by the Legislative Assembly to privatize the management and distribution of water resources as the new government of president Nayib Bukele moves the country towards a more business friendly environment. 

More information

Water is not for sale, we care for it and defend it

Human rights award for Hector Berrios in El Salvador

Key words: Human rights; mining harms; death threats; Pacific Rim/Oceana Gold; Hector Berrios; MUFRAS-32; National Roundtable Against Metal Mining.

For several years the two protagonists of The Violence of Development website, Martin Mowforth and Doug Specht, have worked with and supported the anti-mining group MUFRAS-32 based in the department of Cabañas in El Salvador. MUFRAS-32 is headed by Hector Berrios and his partner Zenayda Serrano, both of whom have worked tirelessly over the last decade to prevent the contamination of their environment and society by invading transnational mining companies, mostly from Canada and the USA.

Hector was the driving force behind the pressure exerted by the National Roundtable Against Metal Mining on the Salvadoran government to instigate and implement a ban on metal mining in the country. This was the first ban of its kind in the world.

But Hector’s work to show that metal mining can be constrained has come at a cost. He has received various death threats and threats of violence to his family, his partner Zenayda and their two daughters Maya and Kiara.

In December 2018 Hector was awarded the prize of Defender of Human Rights and the Culture of Peace by the country’s Human Rights Ombudsman. The prize is awarded for distinguished work in the promotion and defence of human rights. Hector dedicated the prize to all the women and men in the communities which accompany the efforts of MUFRAS-32.

The Canadian Pacific Rim mining company (which later was taken over by Oceana Gold) lost its lawsuit against the government of El Salvador at the International Court for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) as reported in various articles in this section of the website.

The government had withdrawn the company’s concession to exploit gold deposits in the area of Cabañas and it was the efforts of MUFRAS-32 which had done so much to expose the damage and contamination caused by the company’s exploration processes.

It is interesting to note, however, that the company (now Oceana Gold) kept open an office in the country in the hope that a change of government may bring about a change of approach to the mining industry. The government has just changed, and we are yet to see how the government of President Nayib Bukele will address the issue of metal mining.

We send our belated congratulations to Hector and will continue to support MUFRAS-32 in its efforts to bring together the different groupings in Cabañas to discuss the harms that mining causes and alternative activities to metal mining for the people of the area.

Mina la India, Nicaragua, and the British Condor Gold Mining Company

Report by ENCA member James Watson

April 2019

Key words: Mina La India; Condor Gold; anti-mining activism;

The Nicaraguan mining project in the district of La India, a concession by the Nicaraguan government to the British Condor Gold mining company, covers some 313 km2, in a mixture of underground and opencast work.

The Nicaraguan government’s newsletter Informe Pastrán quotes Condor Gold’s Nicaraguan manager, engineer Aiser Sarria Sirias. He explains that this project will be an example for the modern mining industry, in full understanding and compliance with international standards in terms of environmental protection and sustainability, risk prevention and safety.

A report from the Communal Movement of Mina La India, however, refutes these claims. The Movement has filed a claim within the World Bank’s ombudsman system, stating that the project violates both national and international laws, with a resurgence of repression of local activists. Members of the community are concerned about the depletion of groundwater resources, access, impact on the ecosystem, possible seismic activity risk, and involuntary displacement.

They report that on November 15th (2018), Canta Cruz de la India was occupied by riot police to interfere with local opposition organising. Houses have been searched and anti-mining activists interrogated without legal grounds, they claim. Olmán Onel Salazar, a member of the community and the National Movement against Industrial Mining, MONFAMI, is currently in hiding from this persecution.

Nicaragua is regrettably no exception to the regional pattern of local communities fighting against the well-known impacts of mining, while the government and international mining industry try hard to suggest that their projects will be the exception and escape such downfalls – despite the enormity of their impact.

The Valley of Despair

In April this year [2018] Rights Action published an article entitled ‘Goldcorp’s Valley of Death in Honduras’. The article was written by Martin Calix under the heading ‘The Valley of Despair’ for ContraCorriente, a digital media for journalism in Honduras producing in-depth articles on the reality of life in Honduras and in the region. The original article in Spanish can be accessed at: https://contracorriente.red/2017/10/05/el-valle-de-la-esperanza/

Martin Calix is a Honduran writer and author of several books such as ‘Partiendo a la locura’ (2011), ‘45’ (2013), ‘Lecciones para monstruos’ (2014) and ‘El año del armadillo’ (2016).

For Rights Action the article was translated by Lori Berenson.

The article relates to the legacy of Goldcorp’s mining in the Siria Valley, Honduras. For myself and ‘The Violence of Development’ website, the article brought back memories of a short interview I conducted in 2009 with Purificación Hernández of ASONOG about changes to the Law of Mining in Honduras at that time. This has relevance to the contamination caused by Goldcorp’s mining activities in the Siria Valley of Honduras which is the subject of the article, but for some reason it had not been uploaded onto the website at an earlier date. So, this month’s additions to the website include the Spanish version of the 2009 interview and the English translation – rather belatedly.

The much more recent article by Martin Calix follows. I am grateful to ContraCorriente for permission to reproduce the article here.


The Valley of Despair

By Martin Calix, Published 4 April 2018

Acid rain is not a myth. The inhabitants of the Valley of Syria, located about 120 kilometers from Tegucigalpa, know it well. The communities of Cedros, El Porvenir, and San Ignacio – three municipalities in the easternmost part of the Francisco Morazán department – were affected by the Canadian mining company Goldcorp Inc.’s open pit mining, another variant of the extractivist model. With the contamination of the waters of their rivers, the rain had to fall at some point, like a biblical prophecy.

The voraciousness of an extractivist model that is causing poverty and sickness for generations has led to an imminent moral collapse. The idea that mining companies are merciful and bring economic development is as easily demystified as a straight line of domino pieces must fall.

Cristi lives here. She is eighteen months old. She doesn’t know that she is sick, she doesn’t know that her hair is falling out. She is completely unaware that a future filled with uncertainty awaits her.

Aneli is Cristi’s mother. At 18 years of age, she is also losing her hair. Their health problems began at birth. Both were born ill, they were born with the brand of mining companies within their bodies, a brand that came to the valley at the beginning of 2000 and installed itself in the waters of the rivers and water sources that the valley communities have always used. They used the waters from these rivers well before Goldcorp Inc. arrived. They used the water during the eight years of mining exploitation at Goldcorp’s San Martin Mine, and they continue to use it during the seven years following the mine’s closure.

This closure was regarded as highly irregular by many human rights organisations such as OXFAM, the Honduran Centre for the Promotion of Community Development (CEHPRODEC) and the Institute of Environmental Rights of Honduras – and by affected communities.

In 2002, the “Minerales Entre Mares de Honduras” mining company (subsidiary of Goldcorp Inc.) extracted 129,435 ounces of gold which meant the removal of approximately 2.5 million tons of earth in just 12 months. Multiply this by their 8 years of operations.

Taking into account that in 2002, the price of one ounce of gold was 310 dollars – it is presently more than $1,200 –, the company’s income in that year (2002) is estimated in 40.1 million dollars, with a payroll that covered fewer than 200 employees.

According to Honduras’s Mining Law, mining companies only pay 6% of their total exports in taxes, an amount that does not suffice to repair the environmental damages caused by this activity.

The Goldcorp mining company, which also has projects in Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Canada and the United States, exploited fourteen thousand one hundred hectares in the Siria Valley area, and although the company declared the closure of the San Martin mine in 2008, they have other concessions approved for exploitation for a total of four thousand four hundred hectares in the municipalities of Mapulaca, Lempira (1,700), Distrito Central, Francisco Morazán (1,400), and Marcovia, Choluteca (1,300), according to information revealed by the Observatory of Natural Assets and Human Rights.

–Have you taken her to the doctor?

–No, and she stops speaking. Aneli doesn’t talk much, just one syllable responses. She says “no” and returns to her self-absorbed state – perhaps provoked by the camera, or perhaps provoked by having to respond to an outsider – and her loving gaze focuses on her daughter’s face.

Oneida, the mother of Aneli and grandmother of Cristi, might be sick too. She doesn’t say so, there’s no need. Her children were born sick because she consumed the water that had been contaminated by heavy metals. She seems to be more interested in understanding my family origins, where my last name is from, since there are people in her home town, Pedernal, with the last name Cálix. She hides from my questions and the camera. I don’t try harder. I know that I have invaded the fragile daily lives for her and her family.

The women from the Siria valley were always invisible. They were never included in any statistical charts, none, except maybe for the electoral census. Women like Oneida, or Aneli, have been relegated to fulfilling their eternal roles: caring for children, doing housework, being devoted housewives who take care of their husbands. Their husbands and sons, campesinos transformed in workers-miners with the advent of mining in the area, became the fundamental building block of a company that would convert their communities into lands inhabited by desolation.

The exact same thing happened in San Ignacio. Other women would say the same thing. That the only things that multiplied in their lives were severe illnesses. In San Ignacio, the case of five women affected by contamination has been documented. Some of these women had been involved in cleaning and cooking for the company, and others doing the same in their homes. Five women who had to face surgery to have their uteruses removed. It was that or death.

–What did they tell you?

–Nothing. They just removed it.

Sulay is 52 years old. She has a deep gaze and an evasive smile. She is one of the five. Her body was contaminated by lead, arsenic and thallium she says, because she washes the clothes of her husband who used to work in the mine. Miguel, her husband, arrives on horseback. It’s a good day – he was able to ride “Clown”, a white horse that is a cross between a Spanish horse and a Peruvian mare – after having spent four months unable to do so, due to a problem in his spinal column. “Clown” dances, follows him wherever he goes, and pretends to sleep. The horse seems to enjoy this relationship as much as Miguel does, which I observe but fail to understand from afar.

Miguel is one of the thirty-five former Goldcorp Inc. (Entre Mares) workers who joined together in 2009, after the San Martin mine closed its operations. They came together to ask for compensation from the Honduran government for their health problems, since Goldcorp failed to give it to them. Now they are suffering illnesses that have deteriorated their bodies due to exposure to contamination during the gold and silver extraction process. Spinal columns with arthritis or displaced discs, and different types of cancer are part of the general clinical picture narrated by these former miners, who also report that others have already died.

It is hard to calculate the number of cases of women who had miscarriages due to contamination – said the former miners and their partners. They say they were seen by the Honduran Social Security Institution but they lost their files there. They were then seen in the Viera Clinics, where their records were changed, to make it seem that they were healthy. Other analyses were done by an Italian scientist they told me about, but they do not show me any medical results, as if it were enough to give an oral version in a country where we only believe what we see – and what we see is a deep abyss.

Miguel had operated heavy machinery, those huge dump-trucks and back loaders that you see in magazines, in National Geographic programmes and on the Internet. And he shows me one of his fellow workers in a photo he found through google on his cell phone. They laugh, and it’s not clear why they laugh. They don’t know it, but in some ways, they had learned to be miners. They liked it. It gave them dreams. It gave them the hope of getting their families out of poverty.

Rolando puts away the cellphone with the pictures of the dump truck. He says that almost the same thing is happening to him. His spinal column has weakened with time, and at 47, there are days in which his body does not function, and he must stay in bed.

– My blood pressure is always at the point of giving me a heart attack, and he inhales his cigarette and answers a phone call that distances him from the conversation.

Marilu is Rolando’s wife and she is also ill. She has headaches and her back hurts. She explains that her daughters have respiratory illnesses that can’t be cured. They say that these are the types of illnesses that the doctors don’t explain much of anything about.

In the community of San José de Palo Ralo, a few kilometers from the urban center of San Ignacio – although “urbanity” is more of a euphemism to describe a couple of paved streets — is where two women, two sisters live: Maritza who is 28 and Maria who is 41. Both are single mothers. While pregnant, both consumed contaminated water from a well built by the mining company with the authorization of the Secretary of Natural Resources, on the property where their entire extended family lives, a family with many women and small children. There are older men, and some young people, but most have decided to put their bets on the American dream, and they have left already, years ago they started to leave.

Maritza and Maria are the mothers of children who were born sick. Jefferson, Maritza’s son, has respiratory problems. Maria’s son Anthony has a growth problem, a problem speaking – I don’t understand it well but his mother gets lost in a labyrinth trying to understand his speech—and he was also born with physical disabilities that don’t allow him to walk, although Maria is hopeful that it can be resolved with an operation.

Anthony and Jefferson –both age six—stopped going to the doctor. They lost access to their doctors’ appointments because their mothers couldn’t handle the cost of traveling to Tegucigalpa from their community in a small hamlet of San Ignacio. Maritza couldn’t keep paying the one thousand two hundred Lempiras ($50) in transportation costs so that her son could be cared for in the Teaching Hospital.

–The Valley means life for us, but for some organisations it means coming, taking some pictures, because that’s the possibility of justifying some budgets. People are tired – someone tells me, explaining that I can put on paper what they said but not give names. I promise that person, that I won’t tell, but by their expression I understand that they don’t believe me.

The women in the Siria Valley were always invisible. They were never included on any statistical chart. Goldcorp Inc. only hired a few of them to take care of domestic chores for the company’s foreign executives. To wash their clothes. To cook for them. To maintain clean the lodging house that has now been transformed in the San Martin Tourism Centre, that costs forty five dollars a night, and no guest, for any reason, can bring a camera to take photos or videos.

–It is prohibited to take pictures.

–And what is fun about the place?

–I don’t know. I just know that they don’t let you take pictures.

  • Goldcorp video (3 minutes): “Goldcorp’s San Martin Mine Reclamation in Honduras”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M633xeOOvlI&feature=youtu.be
  • Rights Action comment: Please watch this corporate propaganda film that contrasts grotesquely with the reality on the ground, as documented in this article, film, and elsewhere.

At some point, because nobody remembers dates well in a shared history with much greater implications than the notion of time, the Environmental Committee of Siria Valley denounced water contamination in the rivers that cross through the valley, justifying the accusation in testing done on the water.

In 2009, the Catholic Agency for Oversees Development (CAFOD) carried out two investigations, under the responsibility of Dr. Adam Jarvis and Dr. Jaime Amezega, of the University of Newcastle, about the levels of acidity in the tributaries in the valley area. The studies showed that the water had a pH of 2.5 to 3 as well as high levels of cadmium, copper and iron. These results are included in the document “Records of Negative Effects of Mining in Central America: San Martin” published by CEICOM.

Environmentalists explained that Goldcorp Inc. responded by putting up Tilapia nurseries. They said that the waters weren’t contaminated, however later they had to hire workers with machinery from the San Ignacio municipality so that they could do them the favour of burying the fish, to hide all remains.

Prior to Goldcorp’s arrival the valley’s economy was principally agriculture. But livestock started to die. The corn wouldn’t grow anymore. Now they grow cane as pasture for the livestock. The only thing you can see down the long dirt roads that link together the valley’s communities are starving animals, living on large extensions of infertile land where even weeds have a hard time growing. There is an imposing, looming wall that the heap leach mining left behind. There are rivers whose waters are suspected to drag down gold, but also the metals that have sickened the life of the communities.

The banners of political parties that are now in electoral campaign wave on the electrical posts of the new local energy system. They show the smiling faces of candidates who offer the same promises they’ve been incapable of fulfilling for more than 20 years. A bridge – or more exactly, the idea of one – destroyed by the growth of the ferocious river over which it lays, and whose official approximate cost was close to the rash amount of six million lempiras. Small whitewashed mud houses are a home to numerous, anonymous families, that resist the idea of dying or leaving, because life in the valley is the only thing they know of, even though the valley doesn’t have much to offer its inhabitants.

–Young people are a lost case. They only know how to drink and take drugs –says the motorcycle-taxi driver who transported me.

–What drugs?

–Marijuana, cocaine…

–And where do they get it from?

–This is now a drug corridor. And those who don’t take the drugs go to the United States.

–But the boys have other options, they play sports, play soccer -and the girls?

–They get pregnant, take care of the house, drink and take drugs. Here there are thirteen year-old girls who are pregnant.

This thirty-two year old has been in the United States six times, and has spent several years driving a motorcycle taxi to feed his family. He has three children, with different women, he tells me. The first one he fathered when he was thirteen and then he wasn’t prepared, he didn’t know what to do. Now he is thinking of trying to go north again. There is no work. There is no health. And as usually occurs when misfortune comes as a package, educational opportunities are also scarce.

The person with a good understanding of educational problems in the valley is Teacher Jesus. She has worked as a teacher since 1987. She teaches 21 boys and girls in first grade in the José Trinidad Cabañas school. The school has a population of approximately 350 boys and girls from the El Pedernal community in the municipality of El Porvenir.

Teacher Jesus is fifty-three years old and suffers from dermatological problems since 2009, the year in which Goldcorp Inc. said they closed down their operations. But she no longer treats the allergy and lacerations that grow during the hot season; nobody knows what time of the year this season will occur because the climate has changed drastically in the valley area. She and her students are sick. She knows it. But she also knows that there is little to be done now. Although her gaze is firm, her eyes get watery when she says things that I barely understand. Perhaps the sadness of knowing she lives in a community that barely stands a chance.

The current new challenge facing the valley’s communities is that of avoiding the increased advance of the extractivist model that threatens the only water sources that remain uncontaminated: its thermal waters. To install a thermal energy generating company, eight thousand hectares of the valley have been given in concession to the “12 tribe” company and whose concessionary company is the Israeli Ormat Technologies.

After going to the valley, I realize that these people have given me a lot by telling me their stories, and I haven’t left them anything, just this text that will be published digitally, therefore the possibility that they’ll read it is remote. However, the truth that weighs more than all of the gold and silver of the mines that surround the valley is that the Honduran government has an enormous, even unpayable debt in moral reparations to these Siria Valley communities. Here, where the motto of “better life” is just an empty box.

The notion of ‘green mining’

A section entitled ‘The notion of green mining’ appears in the book, but this section is included here as it is slightly fuller than the edited version in the book.

Salvadorans had never heard the term ‘green mining’ before 2007, but towards the end of the year they found themselves exposed to the idea through a series of radio and television advertisements. Essentially ‘green mining’ presents the mining of minerals “as a source of development without any secondary adverse effects on the environment or on peoples’ health.”[1]

Green mining is a notion that was developed by a group of companies which were looking to expand their operations in El Salvador and which called themselves the National Roundtable for Green Mining.[2] As the organisation Crispaz (Christians for Peace in El Salvador) explains, “El Salvador’s radio stations [were] bombarded by anonymous Minería Verde or Green Mining propaganda for a year.”[3]

The Roundtable does not have a website and the people responsible for “the millionaire publicity crusade” which “flooded the majority of Salvadoran radio stations and TV channels”[4] prefer to remain anonymous. It is widely believed, especially within the membership of the opposing roundtable, the National Roundtable Against Metal Mining in El Salvador, that having failed to persuade the government, and especially the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), to grant it permits for mining, Pacific Rim changed its strategy from the lobbying of government to an aggressive publicity campaign about ‘green mining’.

As Izote News reported, for this campaign, Pacific Rim … hired as activists for the mining companies the economist Manuel Enrique Hinds, the lawyer Fidel Chávez Mena and an ex-employee of the MARN Luis Trejo. … Hinds made a ‘study’ which emphasised the economic ‘benefits’ of mining focusing on the growth in GDP and exports. Chávez Mena wrote a draft for a new mining law, attempting to overcome the ‘obstacles’ which Pacific Rim had encountered with the current Law of Mining. And Trejo came up with the phrase ‘green mining’, which existed nowhere in the scientific world.[5]

Coincidentally with the publicity campaign, Pacific Rim took a group of about 40 people from the department of Santa Ana in the west of the country to the department of Cabañas where the company was trying to get permits for a number of gold mines including the El Dorado mine. Their specific purpose was to talk to the people of the communities affected in Cabañas about the benefits of mining. As one blogger on the Hunnapuh site said, “all this propaganda is nothing more than a publicity stunt by the Pacific Rim company”; and as another on the same site stated, “it is important to expose the propaganda in favour of green mining.” [6]

It has to be added that such blog sites also include comments in favour of mining. One blogger (Carlos) on the same Hunnapuh site talks of the way in which environmentalists – specifically he mentions Greenpeace – are cheating the people of Third World countries by persuading them that they should not develop in the same way as have the First World countries. He says that cyanide is used in many industries and that in mining it does less harm and is more tightly regulated than in other activities. He ends with an appeal to local people to “Wake up, you are being deceived by the permanent campaign of capitalist countries to prevent development in the Third World.”[7]

This debate has clearly polarised the country, involving all sectors of society in the debate. The Episcopal Conference of El Salvador (CEDES by its Spanish initials), composed of Catholic Bishops in the country, is forthright in its opposition to mining operations in the country on the grounds that it puts “human life at risk.”[8] A group called Movement Pro Green Mining protested outside the cathedral in San Salvador against the anti-mining stance of CEDES and Archbishop Monsignor Sáenz Lacalle. Whilst accepting their right to protest, the Archbishop pointed out that they were paid a salary to protest in favour of mining and that green mining is nothing more than a concept of propaganda.[9]

Following the green mining campaign in El Salvador, Infinito Gold S.A. in Costa Rica began to deploy the same tactic in response to the increasingly prominent public profile of and public support for opponents of the Las Crucitas mine in 2009 and 2010. The company promoted a publicity campaign for green mining which was shown every few minutes on the passenger advertisement screens of the many buses which have screens in the capital city San José. To anybody who has seen the minute-long film it could not appear as anything other than biased propaganda, but its drip-drip effect is likely to have some effect over time.

Perhaps the final word on green mining should be given to Juan Marco Álvarez, former director of Salvanatura, a Salvadoran conservation and environmental organisation which depends heavily for its funding on sponsorship from transnational companies. Like the organisation which he used to head, he is a positive and dynamic environmentalist, but unlike most environmentalists he is supportive of rather than critical of transnational companies and the neoliberal economic development which they pursue and promote. Despite that, Álvarez has declared that “there is no such thing as green mining. … the term green mining is used to whitewash the image of the industry.”[10] He recognises that mining has a high environmental impact and that “all mining pollutes to a greater or lesser degree.” He also suggests that it should not be possible that the mining companies leave only 2 per cent of their earnings in El Salvador, and that the law should be changed to rectify this. But he also believes that with appropriate planning, environmental conditions and a framework of full participation (“not just the mayors and town halls, but also community leaders”) and transparency, it could be possible for mining to function.[11]


[1] Salvadoran Ministry of Education publicly accessible miPortal website: www.miportal.edu.sv/sitios/operacionred2008/OR08052739/ (accessed 26.02.10).
[2] Joel Díaz (2008) ‘Minería verde, una polémica discusión’, ComUnica en Linea, Año 5, No. 7, May 16, available at: http://168.243.1.4/virtual/comunica/archivo/may162008/notas/nota18.htm (accessed 28.02.10).
[3] Crispaz (2008) ‘Mining in El Salvador: At What Price?’, Crispaz, available at: www.crispaz.org/news/list/2008/0611.html (accessed 26.02.10).
[4] Izote News (2008) ‘¿Quiénes están detrás de la “minería verde”?’, Izote News, 28.05.08, available at: http://izotenews.blogspot.com/2008/05/quines-estn-detrs-de-la-minera-verde.html (accessed 28.02.10).
[5] Ibid..
[6] Hunnapuh (2007) ‘La minería verde “NO EXISTE”’, Hunnapuh – Comentarios, 27 August 2007, available at: http://hunnapuh.blogcindario.com/2007/08/01965-la-mineria-verde-no-existe.html (accessed 26.02.10).
[7] Ibid..
[8] Crispaz (2008) ‘Mining in El Salvador: At What Price?’, Crispaz, available at: www.crispaz.org/news/list/2008/0611.html (accessed 26.02.10).
[9] Ibid..
[10] Rodrigo Baires, Daniel Valencia, Diego Murcia y Mauro Arias (2008) ‘Pláticas en la Ventana: entrevista con Juan Marco Álvarez’, El Faro, 2 June 2008, available at: http://archivo.elfaro.net/Secciones/platicas/20080602/Platicas1_20080602.asp (accessed 01.03.10).
[11] Ibid..

The reality of death threats to anti-mining activists in El Salvador

Letter from Hector Berríos, 24 January 2011

Dear Colleagues,

By this media I wish to inform you and to denounce the death threats that I received today by telephone. From Saturday 22nd January 2011 we began to receive telephone calls at the house from 10 pm, calls made to both the fixed line at the house and to my cell phone. As soon as I answered, they hung up. And that was the same on Sunday 23rd January until 20 minutes past noon, when the number of the house fixed line rang again. On answering the caller asked for Hector, and when I replied by asking who was calling him, he replied “Ricardo, a friend of his.” On asking where he was calling from, he said Mejicanos [a large suburb of San Salvador]. On asking what he wanted to talk about, he said to me, “You are Hector.” I told him no, and he asked where Hector is. I told him that he wasn’t living here any longer, but if he wanted he could leave a message which I could give to him. Then he told me to give him his cell phone number, but I replied that he had said he was a friend of Hector’s and so he must have his cell phone number and can call him. Less than a minute had passed before my cell phone rang. When I replied, this was the conversation:

HB: Hello.

Caller: Hello Hector, Ricardo here.

HB: How can I help you?

Caller: I’m talking about something that is happening.

HB: OK, I’m listening.

Caller: I’ve been paid a lot of money to kill you.

HB: Tell me who has paid you to assassinate me.

Caller: It’s a man and a woman who asked us to assassinate you – that’s you or one of your family – and we’ve been observing you in San Isidro and Mejicanos. We’re close to you. Look, we know you work for the people and we get bad vibes about killing you, so I want to talk with you so that we can reach some agreement.

HB: OK, we can talk. Just give me a name and we’ll carry on talking.

Caller: We need to get some arrangement/agreement; we’ll give you the name and you look out for your people, and you’ll withdraw [from your activities].

HB: Tell me a name or we stop talking this shit.

Caller: They’ve already paid us for you. We don’t give a shit.

HB: So, because you’re not doing it, I’m not going to make an arrangement with people I don’t know.

 

Then the telephone line went dead.

I want to tell you that this January I’ve been denouncing a series of assassinations which have been carried out in Cabañas. There have been assassinations of youths who took part into the assassination of Marcelo Rivera. One was of a crucial witness and another was of a young person who had been identified as the direct author of the assassination. Likewise, I denounced the attempted homicide of Mr William Iraheta who lives in San Isidro, Cabañas, who was shot. Nine bullets hit him as he was entering his house. In his denunciation he gave the name and surname [of his assassins] because it was the second time that they had tried to assassinate him after he had broken off relations with the Mayor of San Isidro.

Likewise, I have warned different institutions at both the national and international levels about a series of threats to environmentalists in the last week. The lack of will of these institutions, like the FGR and the PNC, concerns me. They see these violent deeds in the Department of Cabañas and reduce it all to “common delinquency”. In reality, there exists the possibility that it is indeed gang members who are hired to do these things, but they are only the ones who are the material perpetrators. I see no will to try to expose who hires them, who provides the money or the weapons, whose cell phones they use. The simple deed of stating that the leadership of these institutions has the will means nothing when you can’t see any concrete actions that will enable them to guarantee the security and physical integrity of people.

In the first place, that happens by assigning the logistical resources and technical personnel who can investigate the different hypotheses which explain the phenomenon of violence against human rights defenders in Cabañas. The will [to investigate these things genuinely] manifests itself in assigning a group of investigators and attorneys who can determine the causes of this violence, who are allocated vehicles and arms, because victims and witnesses are not given vehicles or arms appropriate for the rural zone where we have to work. For the latest acts of violence, we asked the victims if they had been interviewed or if any inspections had been carried out of the crime scenes, and they replied that they had not been interviewed and they had not been given any information about who might have been responsible for the attacks against them.

In my case, as in the cases of other colleagues, there are supposed to be measures of protection as ordered by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (CIDH) which urged the Salvadoran state to adopt our necessary cautionary measures to guarantee the life and physical integrity. On behalf of the victims, I demand that those institutions charged with carrying out and monitoring the CIDH resolution, comply with the order without further delay. Indeed, I hold these same people responsible if they allow any violent act against my life or my physical integrity or that of my family to take place.

Hector Berríos

ICSID Tribunal Finds in Favour of Government of El Salvador in Arbitration Process

Reproduced by kind permission of CIELCentre for International Environmental Lawhttp://www.ciel.org

There are No Winners in Pacific Rim Mining Company vs El Salvador

Investor-State Arbitration Subverts Democracy

October 14, 2016

Cabañas, El Salvador / Washington DC / Ottawa / Melbourne

Civil society groups worldwide that have allied with Salvadoran communities and organisations working on mining and environmental issues reacted to today’s decision by the controversial International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) on the seven-year old case of Pac Rim Cayman vs. El Salvador, stating that “there are no winners” in this case.  On Friday, October 14, the tribunal announced their decision that Pac Rim’s lawsuit was without merit and hence that El Salvador will not have to pay the company the $250 million that it sought.

In 2009, Pac Rim Cayman LLC brought an “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) case against El Salvador at the World Bank Group’s arbitration venue, ICSID.  The company, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Canadian-Australian company OceanaGold, sued El Salvador for alleged losses of potential profits as a result of not being granted a mining concession for a gold project. The government of El Salvador did not issue the concession because the company failed to meet key regulatory requirements.

“The fact that Pac Rim – now OceanaGold – could sue El Salvador when it has never had a license to operate, is an abuse of process,” says Manuel Pérez-Rocha of the Institute for Policy Studies. “That these suits take place far from any transparent, independent court system demonstrates why we are opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other so called free trade agreements.”

This case is part of what led the Government of El Salvador to decide not to issue new mining permits.  That decision has widespread support in El Salvador; a recent poll of the University of Central America (UCA) indicates that 79.5% of Salvadorans are against any gold mining.

The civil society groups from the four countries, which came together in 2009 as International Allies, praised the communities in El Salvador that have opposed the mining company and have rallied the Salvadoran public and government to oppose new mining projects despite heavy pressure from the mining company.  They expressed disgust that El Salvador had to pay over $12 million to fund its defense in a case where the mining company never fulfilled all the legal or environmental requirements for a mining license.

“Irrevocable damage has already been done to communities in El Salvador,” says the Salvadoran Roundtable against Metallic Mining (La Mesa).  “Pac Rim’s presence in El Salvador has fomented local conflict, which has led to threats, attacks, and assassinations. We want OceanaGold, and all the misery it has caused, out of El Salvador, and for the government to enact a prohibition on any metal mining.”

“By allowing transnational companies to blackmail governments to try to force them to adopt policies that favour corporations, investor-state arbitration undermines democracy in El Salvador and around the world,” says Marcos Orellana of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “Regardless of the outcome, the arbitration has had a chilling effect on the development and implementation of public policy necessary to protect the environment and the human right to water.”

“This is one of now far too many examples of Canadian mining companies making use of international arbitration to bully governments when their mine projects lack community consent and have not met legal or regulatory requirements. In contrast, communities have no effective means to hold these same companies to account for the systematic and serious harms resulting from their operations”, says Jen Moore of MiningWatch Canada.

“What we have now is a clear example of what is wrong with investor-state-dispute-settlement clauses, whether they are inserted in domestic laws or bilateral or multilateral investment agreements. El Salvador’s experience confirms the threats to human rights and the environment that occur when corporations bring a suit to tribunals like ICSID,” explained Robin Broad, professor at the American University.

“A mining company that calls itself responsible should not be using mechanisms like ICSID to force governments to do its bidding.  Countries like El Salvador have a right to say no to mining without fear of a massive lawsuit”, said Keith Slack of Oxfam America.

“At a time of water scarcity, it is unconscionable for the global trade and investment regime to deny governments of water-stressed countries like El Salvador the policy space to protect local watersheds and ensure the realization of the human right to water,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

“It was morally reprehensible for Oceana Gold to demand $250 million USD from the Salvadoran people. This is a staggering amount for a cash-strapped country that could be much better used for education, health care, or other social services. This amount would fund the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources of El Salvador for more than one decade. The legal costs alone are enough to pay for over 2 years of adult literacy classes for 140,000 people,” says Emeritus Catholic Bishop Hilton Deakin of Melbourne, Australia.

“Let us be clear: El Salvador has lost a lot during all this arbitration. El Salvador had to pay more than $12 million,  just to defend itself. These legal costs are enough to pay for over 2 years of adult literacy classes for 140,000 people. At a minimum, OceanaGold should reimburse El Salvador for the costs of this suit, which never should have taken place. And it should also be responsible for the social and environmental damage left in its wake,” says Alexis Stoumbelis of CISPES.

“This is a yet another case of corporate power being exercised against a democratic Government decision. If Australia ratifies the TTP there will be more of this to come” said Ged Kearney President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

“ISDS is part of a trade model that puts the needs of corporations before the needs of workers and the planet. The Salvadoran government did what a responsive democratic system is supposed to do: it listened to the desires and priorities of its constituents and acted accordingly” said Cathy Feingold, International Director of the AFL-CIO.

-//-

Contacts:
Amanda Kistler, CIEL – akistler@ciel.org+1 202 742-5832
Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada – jen@miningwatch.ca+1 613 569 3439
Manuel Perez Rocha, IPS – manuel@ips-dc.org+ 1 240 838 6623
Laura Rusu, Oxfam America, laura.rusu@oxfam.org +1 202 459 3739
Robin Broad, American University, rbroad@american.edu+ 1 202 885 1478
Kevin Bracken, Maritime Union of Australia – kevin.bracken57@gmail.com
Sean Cleary, Edmund Rice Centre – sendwine@gmail.com, +  07-3376-8448

The International Allies against Mining in El Salvador are made up of organisations from Australia, Canada and the United States that support the Salvadoran people as they demand sovereignty, the right to water, healthy communities and a clean environment. Each of the organisations that make up the Allies has a history of solidarity work with El Salvador. More information is available at: www.stopesmining.org

Watch: Press conference as El Salvador explains the verdict (in Spanish)

Since 1989, the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has used the power of law to protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society.

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Marlin Mine closes 2017

Statement by FREDEMI and PLURIJUR

FREDEMI – San Miguel Ixtahuacán Defense Front

PLURIJUR – Pluricultural Justice Association of Guatemala
July 4, 2017

Government and company repression feared at community protest against harms and losses caused by Goldcorp’s “Marlin” mine, from 2004-2017

FREDEMI (San Miguel Ixtahuacán Defense Front), representing communities in resistance to Goldcorp’ Marlin mine, and PLURIJUR (Pluricultural Justice Association of Guatemala) denounce that Goldcorp has, after 13 years of operations, left a legacy of health and environmental harms, family and community divisions and violence, against the collective rights and well-being of the Mayan Mam people of San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Mayan Sipakapan people of Sipakapa.

One of the Goldcorp mine entrance blockades
Photo @ FREDEMI, July 1, 2017.

We are happy that as of May 30, 2017, mining operations ended, including the use of explosives that so harmed and terrified our communities and children.  Moreover, the explosives kept on causing structural damages to our homes and buildings.

But, since the suspension of mining, Goldcorp has refused to pay for harms and losses it has caused since 2005, as corroborated by a Verification Commission set up by the Mayor’s office.  In April of this year, we formally presented over 200 personal and community files, documenting the harms and losses.  Three times – April 5, May 11, June 4-5 – we had meetings, and each time Goldcorp refused to accept any responsibility. Thus, on June 26, 2017, we began a peaceful blockade of the entrances to the mine, demanding that the Guatemalan government and Goldcorp engage in serious discussions about how to repair the harms and losses they caused.

We have been subject to threats and acts of intimidation by private security hired by Goldcorp and the National Civilian Police, including an incident when a police officer put his pistol to the head of one of our community members.  We fear a violent reaction in any moment.
We call on national and international solidarity to support us as we protest peacefully in favour of the complete reparation of all harms and losses caused by Goldcorp, from 2004-2017.

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