El Salvador: Legislative Assembly bans all metal miningPublished by MAC on 2017-03-31
Source: MiningWatch Canada, NYT, Catholic News Service... (2017-04-01)
After more than a decade of social mobilization against it
The Legislative Assembly of El Salvador unanimously approved a Prohibition of Metallic Mining Law, which seeks to eliminate this industry from the soil and subsoil of the country.
The ban on metal mining includes exploration, extraction, exploitation and processing activities, either in the surface or underground; as well as the use of toxics such as cyanide and mercury. No institution, administrative act or resolution may authorize such activities or grant licenses, permits, contracts or concessions.
The law does not apply to quarrying or the mining of coal, salt and other nonmetallic substances. In the case of small-scale artisanal mining for family subsistence, handicraft and güiriseros (artisanal miners), they will have a period of two years to be converted to another productive activity, with the support, advice and technical and financial assistance from the State.
The President of the Republic shall issue the regulation of the law within six months after it takes effect.
(San Salvador/Ottawa) In a startling development driven by a groundswell of opposition to the social and environmental risks that mining poses to this Central American nation, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly voted Wednesday to become the first country to ban mining for gold and other metals, in effect canceling any projects now in the pipeline.
The vote, in which 69 of the country’s 84 legislators cast ballots to prohibit the mining of metals, makes tiny El Salvador the unlikely hero in a global movement to put the brakes on a modern day 'gold rush'; for much of the past few decades, companies have been scouring the earth for every last deposit of gold and other metals. A run of mining projects in El Salvador and other Latin American countries, and a legacy of contamination from old ones, has made the region and its highlands, farms, forests and waterways a focal point in the fight.
“Mission accomplished!” tweeted Deputy Dr. Guillermo Mata, a lawmaker from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and head of the Commission on the Environment and Climate Change. Mata, a pediatrician by training, has been leading the charge in the legislature for the mining ban. "Hailing the legislation, which is signed into law will make El Salvador the first country in the world to ban mining," Mata said. “We have heard the clamour of the people.”
Dozens of lawmakers and advocates inside and outside the chamber cheered enthusiastically after the vote in the chamber, where desks were decked in yellow signs emblazoned “No to Mining, Yes to Life.”
The vote is the culmination of more than a decade of intense protest over projects that foreign mining companies have sought to exploit in El Salvador’s highly vulnerable environment. Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén is expected to endorse the legislation.
The country has the second-worst deforestation in the hemisphere, after Haiti, and 96 percent of its surface water is contaminated. Salvadorans fear that the Rio Lempa, the country’s lifeline, would be deeply impacted from mining were it allowed to proceed.
Over the past decade, communities in El Salvador have learned from the experiences of affected groups in Honduras and Guatemala about the long-term social and environmental impacts from mining, as well as from the legacy of mining contamination in their own country.
A similar exchange took place this week, but the lessons came from half-way around the world.
On the eve of the legislative vote, a government official from the Philippines traveled to El Salvador to warn political leaders of the adverse social and environmental impacts of mining in his country, in particular the gold and copper mine of Canadian-Australian company OceanaGold, which has sought unsuccessfully to mine in northern El Salvador.
On the topic of water—a crucial matter in this parched Central American nation—Provincial Governor Carlos Padilla said that OceanaGold’s open-pit mine in his home province of Nueva Vizcaya has put a critical watershed at risk, and exhausted wells and rice irrigation reservoirs, harming in particular communities closest to the mine.
"I congratulate the people of El Salvador, including the government, for this victory in passing this bill to ban metallic mining in this country,” said Governor Padilla, following Wednesday’s vote. “I admire the efforts of all of those in and out of government - and especially in Congress - who made this historic victory possible."
“While I rejoice for this victory,” the governor added, “I grieve that we in the Philippines have still to wait for the day when we are able to reach this same achievement.”
"El Salvador has had to stand up to considerable pressure from transnational mining companies,” according to Jen Moore with MiningWatch Canada. In one case, the government has been involved in a costly, seven-year arbitration suit, which was originally brought against it in 2009 by Canadian firm Pacific Rim Mining, then carried on by OceanaGold, when it acquired Pacific Rim in 2013.
The company claimed that the government of El Salvador must issue it a mining permit for the El Dorado project in northern El Salvador. The community and the national government disagreed.
The US$250 million suit, which cost the government of El Salvador an estimated US$13 million, was finally decided in October 2016, when the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) of the World Bank Group ruled against the company, finding that it had not met mining law requirements and owes El Salvador US$8 million. The company has still not paid, but the tribunal ruled this week that the company must begin paying interest on what it owes.
“It is clear that the Salvadorans have opted for water over gold,” Moore said. “And now, OceanaGold must pay the $8 million to El Salvador and should immediately put a halt to all efforts to mine in the country out of respect for this decision."
MiningWatch Canada and many other organizations worldwide who have supported El Salvador in its long struggle said the decision offers inspiration to the many communities, organizations and governments seeking to resist the long-term harms from mining on lands of Indigenous peoples and other affected communities worldwide.
“It is amazing what this small country has achieved against tremendous odds,” said Manuel Pérez Rocha for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C., part of the International Allies coalition with the National Roundtable against Metal Mining in El Salvador.
“It is an inspiration for countries throughout the region," he added. "So many people made this happen; they include local communities, environmental and social justice organizations, the Catholic Church, the human rights ombudsman’s office and government entities, among others. It has been a truly remarkable effort.”
MiningWatch Canada is a member of the International Allies coalition that acts in solidarity with the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining in El Salvador.
Gene Palumbo and Elisabeth Malkin
29 March 2017
SAN SALVADOR — Lawmakers in El Salvador voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to prohibit all mining for gold and other metals, making the country the first in the world to impose a nationwide ban on metal mining, environmental activists said.
Declaring that El Salvador’s fragile environment could not sustain metal mining operations, legislators across the political spectrum approved the ban, which had broad support, particularly from the influential Roman Catholic Church.
Supporters said the law was needed to protect the country’s dwindling supply of clean water.
“Today in El Salvador, water won out over gold,” Johnny Wright Sol, a legislator from the center-right Arena party, wrote on Twitter.
The vote in the Legislative Assembly turned a decade-old moratorium on mining into law, halting efforts by international companies to tap the gold belt running across the northern provinces of El Salvador.
“It’s a wonderful moment for the first country to evaluate the costs and benefits of metallic mining and say no,” said Andrés McKinley, a mining and water specialist at Central American University in San Salvador.
The law does not apply to quarrying or the mining of coal, salt and other nonmetallic substances.
Other countries are unlikely to follow El Salvador’s national ban, mining watchdog groups say. But the law sets a powerful example to communities that oppose large mining projects and bolsters the case against mining in environmentally delicate areas.
“Globally there is a growing questioning of mining as an economic development engine,” said Keith Slack, the global program director for extractive industries at Oxfam America in Washington. “I think it definitely strengthens the voice of communities that are raising the questions.”
Around the world, scattered bans on the use of cyanide to extract gold from low-grade ore, commonly used in open-pit mining, are in place, including in Montana, according to Jamie Kneen, a spokesman for Mining Watch Canada. Costa Rica has a national ban on open-pit gold mining.
Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Turkey and several Argentine provinces have cyanide bans. In the Philippines, the government ordered more than half the mines to shut down or be suspended.
The risks of mining in El Salvador, however, are especially acute. The tiny country is densely populated and the second-most environmentally degraded country in the Americas, after Haiti, according to the United Nations.
“Mining is an industry whose primary and first victim is water,” said Mr. McKinley, who added that El Salvador faced a significant scarcity. “We are talking about an issue that is a life-or-death issue for the country.”
Mr. Wright, the legislator who worked to persuade his business-friendly party to support the law, said that climate change was already having an impact on El Salvador. “More than a theory or an uncertain science that it might have been 10 years ago, today for Salvadorans, it is a reality,” he said.
Unlike mining in neighboring Central American countries, mining in El Salvador has been limited to small-scale operations. The civil war of the 1980s deterred efforts to develop large-scale mines. International mining companies did not begin exploring until the 2000s.
Opposition to one of those companies eventually grew into a social movement against mining. The company, Pac Rim Cayman, sought a license to open a mine in the impoverished northern province of Cabañas but was rejected in 2005 because it had not met all the legal requirements.
As opposition mounted, clashes around the proposed mine led to the deaths of several anti-mining activists.
The de facto moratorium on permits that began under a government led by the Arena Party continued under the two successive governments led by the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.
Last October, El Salvador won an international dispute that had been filed by Pac Rim and continued by the Canadian-Australian company, OceanaGold, that acquired it. An international arbitration panel rejected OceanaGold’s claims for compensation.
Catholic News Service
March 31, 2017
At the urging of Catholic leaders, El Salvador has passed a law banning metal mining nationwide, making the small Central American country the first in the world to outlaw the industry.
The new law, approved overwhelmingly by El Salvador's congress March 29, orders the Economy Ministry to close existing mines while prohibiting the government from issuing new mining licenses. It gives small-scale and artisanal miners a two-year period to phase out production.
Mining had become highly contentious in the country of 6.3 million, as environmental groups protested the effects on water sources and soil contamination. Anti-mining groups have claimed that at least four people had died in mining conflicts.
"Mission accomplished," said Congressman Guillermo Mata of the ruling party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, on his Twitter account. "As a political party, we were the drivers, but the hard work was done by the social movements, the NGOs and the church.''
Previous initiatives to ban the practice were defeated by conservative factions of congress. But momentum shifted last year, when the government won a $300 million lawsuit brought against it by Pac Rim Cayman, a unit of Canadian-Australian mining giant Oceana Gold, which has operations in New Zealand and the Philippines. The government had denied permits for a gold mining project in northern El Salvador that the company was trying to establish. It sued for unrealized profits.
The legal win prompted a diverse set of organizations to push for a new mining law. The push was led by Catholic bishops, who in February called on congress to pass an outright ban. Demonstrations and a petition signed by 30,000 residents furthered the push for a ban.
"We have to defend the rights of all people; as a church, we will always defend the right to life,'' Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador said at the time.
Although it is the first nationwide metal mining ban, other countries already ban some mining processes, like the use of cyanide to extract gold.
Anti-mining groups praised the Salvadoran vote.
"It is amazing what this small country has achieved against tremendous odds," said Manuel Perez-Rocha of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. The institute, part of the International Allies coalition with the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador, sees the law as "an inspiration for countries throughout the region,'' he said.