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The government had withdrawn the company’s concession to exploit gold deposits in the area of Cabañas and it was the efforts of MUFRAS-32 which had done so much to expose the damage and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

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

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 Law

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.


Amanda Kistler, CIEL – 202 742-5832
Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada – 613 569 3439
Manuel Perez Rocha, IPS – 1 240 838 6623
Laura Rusu, Oxfam America, +1 202 459 3739
Robin Broad, American University, 1 202 885 1478
Kevin Bracken, Maritime Union of Australia –
Sean Cleary, Edmund Rice Centre –, +  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:

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.

CIEL (Headquarters)
1350 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite #1100
Washington DC, 20036
Phone: (202) 785-8700
Fax: (202) 785-8701

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Australian mining company Oceana Gold finally pays $8 million compensation to the state of El Salvador

Reported by Voz [1]

The Australian mining company Oceana Gold has finally paid compensation of $8 million to the state of El Salvador, complying with the ruling in favour of El Salvador by the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)

In October 2016, after seven years of a multi-million dollar dispute promoted by the mining company, ICSID adjudged in favour of El Salvador and ordered the company to compensate the country to the tune of $8 million for the costs incurred in the litigation.

Minerales Torogoz, an intermediary, gave notice that it had arrived at a “friendly settlement with the Republic of El Salvador” and paid “$8.97 million to the Republic’s Office of the Attorney General. This represents the full payment of the tribunal’s decision.”

Héctor Berríos

The mining company confirmed that the Attorney General’s Office was committed to “cease immediately all work associated with the execution of the tribunal’s decision. Additionally, the Attorney General is committed to reverse any actions carried out to date”, referring to recovery of payment actions undertaken by the Attorney General.

Oceana Gold also committed itself not to seek the annulment of the tribunal’s decision once the Attorney General’s Office had complied with its commitment. Moreover, it confirmed that it has no plans to continue with mining activity and the land in San Isidro may therefore be used for agricultural projects, other enterprises and for sustainable living.

In the department of Cabañas it is still demanded that the El Dorado Foundation and Minerales Torogoz withdraw from the lands of the affected communities, particularly from the Municipality of San Isidro. Héctor Berríos[2] (shown here) of MUFRAS-32 said that it seemed suspicious that after announcing the “friendly settlement” the Company also announced that it won’t be withdrawing from the territory where it had generated so many negative impacts such as rupturing the social fabric, drying up the sources of water that supply the communities with this vital liquid, etc..

According to Berríos, the anti-mining struggle must not let its guard down; he felt sure that this might be another of the company’s strategy. The social and environmental activist stated that the company could be killing time until the 2018 elections in the hope of a favourable outcome in the Legislative Assembly, in which a majority of right-wing legislators might be achieved; this could reverse the Law of Prohibition of Mining approved in March 2017.

Voz is an application that allows NGOs and social movements to publish reports, photos and videos on a geospatial database accessible at a global level. It is managed by Doug Specht who also manages this website.

[2]  Héctor Berríos is featured in the El Salvador interview section of this website.

La minera australiana Oceana Gold finalmente pagó la compensación de $8 millones al Estado salvadoreño

Reportado por Voz [1]

Recientemente la minera australiana Oceana Gold finalmente pagó la compensación de $8 millones al Estado salvadoreño, dando cumplimiento al fallo a favor de El Salvador, emitido por el Centro Internacional de Arreglo de Diferencias Relativas a Inversiones (CIADI), del Banco Mundial. En octubre de 2016, tras siete años de dirimir esta millonaria disputa promovida por la minera, el CIADI le dio la razón a El Salvador y ordenó a la compañía compensar al país con $8 millones por los gastos que incurrió en este litigio.

A través de un comunicado, Minerales Torogoz, informó que llegó “a un arreglo amistoso con la República de El Salvador” y pagó “$8 millones 97mil  a la Fiscalía General de la República. Esto representa el pago pleno y total del laudo arbitral.

La minera afirmó que la Fiscalia General de la República se comprometió a “cesar inmediatamente todos los esfuerzos destinados a la ejecución del mencionado laudo. Adicionalmente, la Fiscalía General se compromete a revertir cualesquiera acciones realizadas hasta la fecha”, refiriéndose a las acciones de cobro que emprendió la Fiscalía.

Héctor Berríos

OceanaGold también se comprometió a no solicitar la nulidad del laudo arbitral, una vez la FGR haya cumplido su parte. Además, aseguró que no tiene planes de continuar con las actividades mineras y el terreno en San Isidro se utilizará para proyectos agrícolas, de emprendimiento y vida sostenible. En el departamento de Cabañas se mantiene la exigencia para que la Fundación El Dorado y Minerales Torogoz se retiren de los territorios de las comunidades, particularmente del municipio de San Isidro.

Héctor Berríos[2] (en la foto) de MUFRAS-32, dijo que le parece sospechosa la actitud de la empresa que luego de anunciar un “arreglo amistoso” también anuncie que no se va a retirar de los territorios en donde ha generado afectaciones negativas como rompimiento al tejido social, secó fuentes de agua que abastecía a las comunidades del vital líquido, etc.

De acuerdo con Berríos, no se debe bajar la guardia en la lucha anti-minera; pues asegura que esta podría ser otra estrategia de la empresa. El activista social y ambiental afirma que la empresa pudiera estar haciendo tiempo, de cara a las elecciones del 2018, a la espera de correlación favorable en la Asamblea Legislativa, en donde si se logra mayoría de legisladores de derecha; se pudiera revertir la Ley que Prohíbe la Minera aprobada en marzo 2017.

[1]  VOZ es una aplicación mutliplataforma que permite a ONGs y movimientos sociales publicar informes, fotografías y videos en una base de datos geospacial accesible a nivel global. Se adminstra por Doug Specht que también administra este sitio web.

[2]  Héctor Berríos se aparece en la sub-sección ‘Entrevistas, El Salvador’ de este sitio web.

El Salvador’s mining ban under threat

In December 2021 the International Allies Against Mining (IAAM) bulletin suggested that under President Bukele the country’s metal mining ban is coming under threat which represents bad news for the Salvadoran environment. Extracts from the IAAM’s bulleting are provided below.

Key words: metal mining ban; President Nayib Bukele; Office for Energy, Mines and Hydrocarbons; Canadian government; water privatization.


Since the assassination of the 4 anti-mining activists in Cabañas in 2009, the country of El Salvador had managed to escape the conflicting relationship of its neighbouring countries that often appear in the list of the most dangerous for human rights defenders. On the contrary, the government of the FMLN made shy efforts to improve access to information, access to justice and to have minimal mechanisms of dialogue and consultation with social and environmental movements that pushed for a robust agenda of sustainability for the environmentally beleaguered country.

This amicable relationship changed with the government of Nayib Bukele, who took office in 2019. Since then, the president, who has managed to monopolize control of all the branches of government, has waged a nasty war against political opponents and has recently led a frontal attack against journalists and environmental activists.

  • This year has registered serious losses for the environmental agenda in the country:
  • environmental permits have been issued without proper environmental impact studies;
  • court decisions protecting ancient heritage sites have been reversed;
  • communities affected by the monoculture of sugarcane have denounced a rapid increase of death by kidney failure due to the indiscriminate use of pesticides;
  • and for the first time in a decade 4 water defenders have been arbitrarily arrested for protesting the digging of an illegal well by a property developer.

‍Of particular interest to activists is the creation of the Office for Energy, Mines and Hydrocarbons which will ensure the low cost production of thermal energy, mostly for the mining of bitcoin, Bukele´s pet project, regulate fossil fuels and exploit the mineral resources of the country.

Shortly after the creation of this office, the ministry of the environment announced a wide consultation led by the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, a non-profit agency financed by the Canadian government to promote responsible mining around the world. This has raised the alarm of environmentalists, who quickly organised a press conference to denounce the government’s intentions to repeal the mining ban.

Coupled with the threat of mining, the Salvadoran legislative assembly voted on December 22 [2021] to approve a General Law on Water Resources that environmentalists denounced as a privatizing law which favours public-private partnerships to the detriment of the human rights perspective and the focus on priority for accessible domestic use.



Assassinations and other human rights violations of anti-mining activists

June 2009 Marcelo Rivera tortured and murdered
June 2009 Radio Victoria received death threats
July 2009 Father Luis Quintanilla (after speaking on Radio Victoria) kidnapped but escaped
August 2009 Ramiro Rivera shot 8 times; survived
December 2009 Ramiro Rivera murdered
December 2009 Felícita Echeverría murdered
December 2009 Dora Alicia Sorto Recinos murdered
December 2010 1 youth involved in the murder of Marcelo Rivera was himself killed.
July 2010 CEICOM employees kidnapped, robbed and left tied up in Guatemala
January 2011 Abrego León, a witness in the trial of the murderers of Marcelo Rivera, killed
January 2011 Radio Victoria receives more death threats
January 2011 Hector Berrios receives death threats
June 2011 Juan Francisco Durán Ayala killed

When mining firms sue

John Perry 15 September 2014 [Reproduced by kind permission]

Last week a fracking company was refused permission to drill in the South Downs National Park. Celtique Energie is considering an appeal to Eric Pickles to overrule the decision. He might be reluctant to cause a furore in West Sussex, but would he feel the same if aggrieved companies could sue the government for lost profits? This can happen if foreign firms have access to an investor-state dispute settlement, as provided for in the new trade agreements being finalised by the EU with Canada and the US. Ministers reassure us that the provisions are nothing new, without mentioning that US companies are the world leaders in making ISDS claims. The two main ISDS tribunals, run by the World Bank and the UN, operate behind closed doors, with private attorneys who rotate between being judges and advocates, and have no appeals mechanisms.

North American mining companies appear to find making claims against foreign states almost as profitable as prospecting for minerals. Lone Pine Resources, registered in Delaware, is using an ISDS to bring a $250 million suit against Canada for not allowing it to frack under the St Lawrence River. Big money is already being made by suing poor countries in Latin America that have signed trade agreements with ISDS clauses and struggle to meet the legal bills (typically $8 million per case). Peru is being sued for $800 million by Renco for ordering a pollution clean-up that allegedly forced the company into bankruptcy; Costa Rica for $94 million by Infinito Gold. In October 2012, in the biggest ever ISDS award, Occidental Petroleum was granted $1.7 billion (plus interest) for a terminated contract in Ecuador.

Pacific Rim is suing the El Salvador government for $301 million for refusing a gold mining permit. To make the original claim in 2009, it shifted its HQ from the Cayman Islands to benefit from the ISDS clause in a US trade agreement. When this was rejected, it moved the claim to the World Bank’s tribunal, which begins its secret hearing of the case today. According to El Salvador’s rejoinder, Pacific Rim never complied with the requirements for a mining permit in the first place, preferring to rely on lobbying of government ministers. It didn’t own all the land involved or have permission from landowners. Activists have been threatened or killed and water supplies polluted during exploration.

Canadian mining firms are looking forward to the ‘remarkable agreement’ that could soon be signed between the EU and Canada. Like the TTIP between the EU and US, the CETA hasn’t been published, but both agreements are believed to include sweeping ISDS clauses. France’s moratorium on fracking since 2011, defended twice in domestic courts, could be especially vulnerable to ISDS claims from the US or Canada. In Britain, where George Osborne thinks there is a broad consensus in favour of fracking, local prohibitions or regulations to control it could be threatened under the treaties. Fortunately, Germany seems to be having last-minute doubts about signing them.

In 2008 El Salvador imposed a moratorium on all new mining operations. Pacific Rim’s suit is the first challenge against it, and defending it cost the government $5 million before the case even went to court. If the claim succeeds in full, El Salvador will have to pay the mining company the equivalent of half its national health budget. Today is El Salvador’s independence day. As the country celebrates 193 years of freedom from Spanish rule, its sovereignty is under threat from a private company, pressing its claim behind closed doors at the World Bank.

[John Perry lives in Masaya, Nicaragua, where, perplexingly, he writes and edits books on British housing and social policy. The London Review of Books has stood up for the tradition of the literary and intellectual essay in English since 1979.]

Fears of and complaints against the El Dorado Mine, El Salvador

Water shortages – The separation of gold from the earth in which it is found requires huge quantities of water and all of the 24 sites identified by Pacific Rim as potentially exploitable are found on or near to the Río Lempa which provides the drinking water supply consumed by two million inhabitants of the capital city San Salvador as well as much of the rest of the country. Within Latin America, only Haiti is ranked higher than El Salvador in water scarcity. In 2008, ranchers in Cabañas noticed that the springs used for irrigation and water supply were drying up. “Upon investigation, ranchers found … [that] the exploratory drill holes utilised by Pacific Rim to estimate gold deposits were re-channelling underground streams and drastically impacting the aquifer.”[1]

Water contamination – The process of cyanide heap leaching in gold mining can contaminate water sources through leakages. This can be so even where the used solution is stored in a tailings pond, many of which have been known to spring fissures and leaks.

Soil contamination – The fear of soil contamination is founded on the belief that chemical residues will seep into the soil from a tailings pond and/or from spillages. Toxic contamination of soils could potentially find its way into the food chain if land was returned to farming uses after mine closure.

Atmospheric contamination – Mining industry proponents are always quick to point out that cyanide evaporates relatively rapidly so that cyanide content in water can reduce at a fast rate. What they do not draw attention to is the fact that the evaporate then becomes a cause of acid rain. Whilst this can spread over a wide area, acid rain can also be concentrated and is likely to affect the land and water onto which it falls as well as the atmosphere from which it falls.[2]

Increased corruption – The Centre of Research into Investment and Commerce (CEICOM) has accused Pacific Rim of corruption to further its ends: “it provoked community conflicts and bought off mayors, deputies, etc.”[3] Similarly, Jason Wallach has suggested that “Pacific Rim attempted to buy public support – or at least quell resistance with PR campaign touting the virtues of Minería Verde’ or ‘green mining’”.[4]

Violence and social divisions – An important part of Pacific Rim’s public relations strategy in the communities affected by the El Dorado mine has been payments to local influential people such as mayors for their approval of mining operations. This tends to divide communities into those who support the mine and those who oppose it. In the second half of 2009, after the submission of Pacific Rim’s lawsuit against the state of El Salvador, four anti-mining activists (Marcelo Rivera, Ramiro Rivera Gómez, Felicíta Echeverría and Dora Sorto Recinos – see Appendix 1 for more details) were assassinated in Cabañas. It has to be stated that there is no direct evidence to link Pacific Rim with the assassinations, but the common feature of all these murders and of the death threats and other threats received by journalists, priests and others is that all the victims oppose mining. The company has remained curiously silent about the murders and has failed to denounce violence against anti-mining activists. As Miguel Rivera, the brother of Marcelo who was assassinated, said, “we want to know who is behind all this … and we have serious suspicions that it has been the Pacific Rim mining company that is financing these activities to terrorise those who are opposed [to mining].”[5]

[1] Jason Wallach (2009) ‘Pacific Rim Silent in Wake of Violence Against Anti-Mining Protesters in Cabañas, El Salvador’, (5August 2009) Upside Down World, (accessed 21.09.09).
[2] Florian Erzinger (2008) ‘60% del Suministro de Agua de El Salvador Está en Riesgo por Proyectos Mineros’, Revista Ecotopia 218, UNES, San Salvador.
[3] CEICOM (2009) ‘Ejemplo a Seguir’, CEICOM, 5 November 2009, (accessed 20.11.09).
[4] See Note 1 (above).
[5] Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) ‘Subject: Anti-mining activists demand justice, denounce wave of political violence, death squad resurgence’. (Available at:; – accessed 26.08.09)

Pacific Rim’s version of its work in El Salvador

The following claims are extracted from a range of sources including the website of the Pacific Rim Mining Corporation – – which includes sections on ‘Social Responsibility’ and ‘Environmental Leadership’. In these website sections it devotes considerable space to its environmental programmes of reforestation, recycling, water protection measures and environmental monitoring programmes and to its social and community programmes relating to employment, education, health and the environment. It also reports on a national poll in El Salvador which directly contradicts the results of other polls and which shows a majority of Salvadorans in favour of mining.

“The Company exclusively explores for high grade, environmentally low-impact deposits that offer the potential for high margins. Our exploration is conducted with the utmost respect for local communities, their culture, health and the environment.”[1]

The corporation claims that it would detoxify any water used for mining, leaving local water sources cleaner than they were previously. “You could basically stick a cup in the water and drink it,” Pacific Rim’s Barbara Henderson recently boasted to the Miami Herald.[2]

Pacific Rim contends that the mining project would ultimately benefit Salvadoran citizens, becoming the country’s greatest source of tax revenue and generating thousands of jobs. … the company’s CEO, Tom Shrake, claimed that only 25% of El Salvador’s population opposed the mining, and accused the opposition of a misinformation campaign. According to Shrake, “The idea that this type of mining is catastrophic to the environment is pure fiction invented by politically-minded international NGOs who hide behind environmental protection in their anti-development activities.”[3]

Pacific Rim’s CEO Tom Shrake says the mine will give a much-needed boost to the local economy, estimating the project will bring a total of 2,000 jobs. Shrake adds the mine will also generate revenue for the government which is entitled to a 3% tax on the mine’s gross sales.[4]

In response [to the anti-mining campaign], Pacific Rim attempted to buy public support – or at least quell resistance with a PR campaign touting the virtues of ‘minería verde’ or ‘green mining’ [which] touted the benefits of mining projects on local development.[5]

Tom Shrake … stated, “Sadly, it is not just Pacific Rim whose rights are being compromised, but the rights of all Salvadorans and foreign investors. Local communities and social and environmental agencies are being denied the benefits of our community programmes.”[6]

In a conference call explaining the details of the Notice of Intent, Shrake blamed non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in El Salvador for the Salvadoran government’s refusal to grant Pacific Rim mining extraction permits. Specifically, Shrake named Oxfam America as “the most active organisation in the country” supporting anti-mining efforts. Shrake claimed NGOs “just try to scare the heck out of everybody involved” in mining.[7]

[1] Pacific Rim Mining Corporation website (2010) ‘Overview’, (accessed 05.02.10).
[2] Michael Busch (2009) ‘El Salvador’s Gold Fight’, Foreign Policy in Focus, 16 July 2009, (accessed 17.02.10).
[3] Lisa Skeen (2010) ‘Salvadoran Anti-Mining Activists Risk Their Lives by Taking On ‘Free Trade’’, NACLA Reports, 1 February 2010, (accessed 05.02.10).
[4] Zach Dyer (2009) ‘El Salvador Faces CAFTA Suit Over Mine Project’, NACLA Report, 6 February 2009, (accessed 17.03.09).
[5] Jason Wallach (2009) ‘Pacific Rim Silent in Wake of Violence Against Anti-Mining Protesters in Cabañas, El Salvador’, Upside Down World, 5 August 2009, (accessed 21.09.09).
[6] Tom Shrake cited by Michelle Petrotta (2009) ‘Pacific Rim Corp. Files Suit Against Salvadoran Government’, El Salvador Solidarity, January 2009, (accessed 08.01.10)
[7] Ibid.