MAC: Mines and Communities

El Salvador: Legislative Assembly bans all metal mining

Published by MAC on 2017-03-31
Source: MiningWatch Canada, NYT, Catholic News Service...

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.

See also:

2013-10-07 Proposal for new Special Law to Ban Mining in El Salvador

2009-07-07 El Salvador Government Looks to Ban Precious-Metals Mining

El Salvador’s New Law Banning Mining is a Testament to Decades of Struggle

Sandra Cuffe

April 5, 2017
El Salvador is now the first country in the world with an all-out ban on the mining of gold, silver, and other metals. The country’s legislative assembly passed a bill to that effect last week, on March 29.

The historic news quickly made headlines around the world, but much of the coverage has obscured the true protagonists of the story. The tagline used by The New York Times to describe its April 1 editorial makes this crystal clear. “Officials in El Salvador showed exemplary foresight in banning mining of gold and other metals,” according to the embedded line of text that shows up in links to the editorial on the newspaper’s website and on social media.

There was no such exemplary foresight.

For years, communities and groups around the country organized, raised awareness about the issue, took direct action, formed a National Roundtable against Metallic Mining, campaigned for an all-out ban on metals mining, drafted and submitted bill proposals, held marches and protests, reached out to potential allies in the home countries of mining companies, and carried out municipal-level referendums on mining.

And for years, most legislators did nothing.

“Mining is in no way viable for El Salvador,” Vidalina Morales, an outspoken anti-mining activist and president of the Association for the Social and Economic Development of Santa Marta (ADES), told Toward Freedom. “For so many years, our demand of the legislative assembly has been the approval of a law [banning mining].”

The Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front party (FMLN) ended up incorporating the grassroots demand for a ban on metals mining into its platform. Named after the left-wing guerrilla forces it grew out of following the 1992 peace accords that ended a 12-year armed conflict, the FMLN has won the past two presidential elections, but have not held a majority in the legislative assembly. The right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance party (ARENA) and center-right Grand National Alliance party (GANA) were able to block any attempts to advance legislation banning mining.

Most legislators did nothing when community leaders fighting the El Dorado gold mining project were killed. When activist and cultural center director Marcelo Rivera was abducted in June 2009, or when his body was found with signs of torture the following month. When Cabañas Environmental Committee vice president Ramiro Rivera was shot in August 2009, or when he was killed that December. When committee member Dora Recinos Sorto, eight months pregnant at the time, was killed six days later. When others were threatened, attacked, and killed.

At that point, the executive branch had already decreed a moratorium on mining in 2008 and refused to issue any licenses. The El Dorado project had already been denied key permits, and the company behind the project had already filed a claim against El Salvador with the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 2009 that it later upped to $301 million before eventually losing its case last year. During that period, the finality of a legislated ban might have redirected the focus away from the community activists who wound up being killed, but exemplary foresight wasn’t on the agenda, and most legislators did nothing.

Community action, on the other hand, never let up. Deposits of gold and other metals are largely concentrated in the northern half of El Salvador, but geographic location isn’t the only commonality among local grassroots anti-mining struggles. The resistance of many of the communities most involved in the movement against metals mining has been informed by their experiences during and after the 1980 – 1992 armed conflict.

An estimated 75,000 civilians were killed during the conflict and another 8,000 were disappeared. A United Nations Truth Commission reported that, according to the reports and testimonies it had received, more than 85 percent of cases of extrajudicial executions, torture and other abuses were attributed to agents of the state and allied paramilitary groups and death squads. During that same period, the United States provided the Salvadoran government with several billion dollars in economic and military aid.

Because of their experiences, accepting defeat in the struggle against mining was never an option for many Salvadoran communities, according to CRIPDES president Bernardo Belloso.

“Do you know why? Because these lands were never given, nor were they inherited. These lands were conquered as a result of the armed conflict that took place in our country. The blood and dead of many people who are their relatives – their children, their aunts and uncles, their grandparents – are found in these lands. That is to say, for us, it’s sacred land,” he told Toward Freedom earlier this year.

Belloso was in Cinquera to support the municipality’s referendum on mining. The February 26 event was the fifth of its kind in the country and the first to take place in the department of Cabañas. The first four were held in 2014 and 2015 in neighboring Chalatenango.

CRIPDES has accompanied communities in the region since long before the referendums on mining. The organization began as a human rights organization during the repression of the 1980s and later accompanied the return and resettlement of people and entire communities that had been forced to flee to other parts of El Salvador and to refugee camps like Mesa Grande in Honduras.

“A small portion of people returned to their places of origin. Others of course had to find other lands to occupy and then create settlements,” said Belloso. Communities in Cinquera and other nearby municipalities in Cabañas and Chalatenango include a mix of returnees and other resettled refugees, he said.

“It was necessary to take lands from the big landowners at the time in our country to accommodate large numbers of people, and to then fight for the legality of those lands to be able to issue deeds to the different people that had occupied them,” said Belloso. That process, he added, “was of course established through the peace accords.”

When mining companies turned up in the lands of these resettled communities, people already knew what destruction could look like because their lands and villages had been militarized, set ablaze, and bombed. They knew what forced relocation entailed because they had been forced to flee. Perhaps most importantly, they knew how to effectively organize because they had to in order to survive in the mountains and in refugee camps, and later in order to resettle and rebuild communities when they returned.

Canadian and US mining companies were engaged in exploration activities in El Salvador in the early 2000s, but the response on the ground wasn’t the same across the board. In one area, grassroots resistance efforts came together, but did so amid political divisions and varying levels of organizing experience, and a mining company managed to install itself and advance the El Dorado gold mining project. In another region, people mobilized immediately and kicked mining companies out.

Regardless of how they developed in different places, the local struggles against mining in El Salvador have been the driving forces behind the national movement. In fact, the largely uphill battle against El Dorado and the courageous involvement of community residents despite great personal risk, as evidenced by the above-mentioned killings, probably constituted the most important inspiration and reference point for the national movement, and for international attention. But how and why resistance unfolded so differently just 30 miles to the north is worth noting.

In Chalatenango, people mobilized at the first sign of strangers planting stakes in the lands they began resettling towards the tail end of the conflict. As soon as they investigated what the stakes were all about, they took direct action and promptly kicked the mining companies out.

“We defend the territory by any means necessary here,” Ana Dubón of the Association of Communities for the Development of Chalatenango (CCR) told Truthout on the eve of a 2015 municipal referendum on mining in Nueva Trinidad.

It is no coincidence that the first four municipal referendums on mining held in El Salvador also took place in resettled areas of Chalatenango, where local organizing processes are strong. Relative political unity has also meant that the people residents have elected to local governments often share their views and experiences – as massacre survivors, as returned refugees, or as former guerrilla combatants – and represent the collective interests of communities. Regional and national organizations like CCR and CRIPDES have been accompanying and supporting residents’ local organizing processes and initiatives for decades.

The fifth municipality in El Salvador to hold a referendum on mining, Cinquera is located in the department of Cabañas, but its history is similar to that of the Chalatenango communities where the previous referendums took place. The lands residents of all five municipalities have been fighting to protect from mining companies are scattered with blood and bones.

The legislative assembly’s March 29 vote is historic and deserves every bit of attention and celebration it has received. Likewise, the rare moment of unity between legislators from the three major political parties, as well as from other smaller ones, who came together to advance and then pass the bill banning metals mining has rightfully been lauded.

Even so, while legislators may have been the ones casting votes on the floor, they weren’t the ones with exemplary foresight. Beneath the surface, the ban did not become a reality because of them. It became a reality in spite of them.

The victory belongs to the communities that have been engaged in local resistance movements, and to the organizations that have accompanied and supported them for years on the ground. It is a testament to decades of struggle.

El Salvador Votes for Water over Gold

In response to enormous public pressure, lawmakers have rejected appeals by global corporations and voted to protect the country’s people and water supply by banning metallic mining.

Pedro Cabezas

March 30, 2017

The people of El Salvador and their international allies against irresponsible mining are celebrating a historic victory. After a long battle against global mining companies that were determined to plunder the country’s natural resources for short-term profits, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly has voted to ban all metal mining projects.

The new law is aimed at protecting the Central American nation’s environment and natural resources. Approved on March 29 with the support of 69 lawmakers from multiple parties (out of a total of 84), the law blocks all exploration, extraction, and processing of metals, whether in open pits or underground. It also prohibits the use of toxic chemicals like cyanide and mercury.

In the lead-up to the vote, communities in the town of Cinquera had rejected mining through a local referendum and the Catholic Church of El Salvador had called for massive participation in a public protest to demand legislators to start discussions on the prohibition of mining. When the protest arrived at the legislative assembly, on March 9, they were greeted by a multi-party commission that committed to start discussions immediately and have legislation ready before the Easter holidays.

Despite the fact that there is a national consensus among communities, civil society organizations, government institutions, and political parties for a mining prohibition, the Australian-Canadian company OceanaGold and its subsidiaries in El Salvador have consistently attempted to slow the bill’s progress and sought to gain support for their so-called “Responsible Mining” campaign.

The company launched the campaign at a fancy hotel in San Salvador after losing a $250 million lawsuit against El Salvador in October 2016. The company had filed a claim with the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), demanding compensation when the government declined to grant the firm a permit for a gold extraction project that threatened the nation’s water supply. In the face of tremendous opposition from a wide range of groups inside and outside El Salvador, the ICSID tribunal ruled against the company.

When legislators announced that they would begin serious discussion on the mining ban, the company intensified its activities.  Besides publishing paid communiqués in local pro-business newspapers, social organizations reported that OceanaGold representatives met with government officials to lobby against the bill.

On March 23, a pro-mining protest was organized by the El Dorado Foundation (the foundation created and funded by OceanaGold) in front of the Legislative Assembly while the Commission deliberated over the bill.  It was later reported by FMLN Representative Guillermo Mata, President of the Environment and Climate Change Commission, that the busloads of people brought by the foundation from the Department of Cabanas had each been paid $7 plus a free lunch to attend. They were also directed not to talk to the press.  Also on March 23, Luis Parada, the lawyer who led the defense team for El Salvador in the ICSID case, denounced through his twitter account a letter sent by OceanaGold and its subsidiary Pac Rim containing veiled threats of further legal action should El Salvador vote to ban mining.

But the push for a mining prohibition remained strong. To support the anti-mining coalition, Carlos Padilla, Governor of Nueva Vizcaya in the Philippines, visited El Salvador to share his province’s adverse experience with OceanaGold. On March 28, in presentations to El Salvador’s Environment and Climate Change Commission, Padilla reported that the mine had brought no significant economic growth, had violated human rights, and posed a threat to the province’s agricultural activity, the environment, and future generations.

His testimony helped break down the myths of economic growth and responsible, sustainable mining propagated by OceanaGold. After Padilla’s presentation the legislators on the Commission unanimously voted to advance the Law to Ban Metal Mining to the floor of the Legislative Assembly.

Also in advance of the assembly vote, many foreign organizations and individuals wrote to the president of the Legislative Assembly, Guillermo Gallegos, expressing solidarity with the people of El Salvador and support for the law.

By voting in favor of the mining ban, these lawmakers in El Salvador have chosen water over gold, and people and the environment over corporate profits.  And they showed that even a very poor country can stand up to powerful global mining firms.

Pedro Cabezas is based in El Salvador, where he coordinates the International Allies against Metal Mining. Sebastian Rosemont also contributed to this commentary.

Salvadoran legislature votes for water over gold, becoming first nation to ban metals mining worldwide
March 30, 2017 

(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.”


Jen Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada, (613) 569-3439, jen(at)

MiningWatch Canada is a member of the International Allies coalition that acts in solidarity with the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining in El Salvador.

El Salvador, Prizing Water Over Gold, Bans All Metal Mining

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.
Church instrumental in pushing El Salvador to pass metal mining ban

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.
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