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.