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, http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/2037/74/ (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, www.ceicom.org/index.php (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: http://www.facebook.com/l/;cispes.org – accessed 26.08.09)