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: (accessed 26.02.10).
[2] Joel Díaz (2008) ‘Minería verde, una polémica discusión’, ComUnica en Linea, Año 5, No. 7, May 16, available at: (accessed 28.02.10).
[3] Crispaz (2008) ‘Mining in El Salvador: At What Price?’, Crispaz, available at: (accessed 26.02.10).
[4] Izote News (2008) ‘¿Quiénes están detrás de la “minería verde”?’, Izote News, 28.05.08, available at: (accessed 28.02.10).
[5] Ibid..
[6] Hunnapuh (2007) ‘La minería verde “NO EXISTE”’, Hunnapuh – Comentarios, 27 August 2007, available at: (accessed 26.02.10).
[7] Ibid..
[8] Crispaz (2008) ‘Mining in El Salvador: At What Price?’, Crispaz, available at: (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: (accessed 01.03.10).
[11] Ibid..