El Salvador Has to Fight Local Water-Polluting Gold Mine in International Court


Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize

The New York Times had a good story this weekend explaining how a Canadian mining company is using CAFTA (the Central American Free Trade Agreement from 2005) to sue El Salvador—essentially attacking the nation's sovereignty—for refusing to issue the final gold-mining permit without adequate environmental regulation in place. Communities in El Salvador are worried about the environmental consequences of mining, which uses loads of cyanide and mercury and has raised concerns for Salvadorans about their local water supply. I interviewed Francisco Pineda a couple months ago, a Salvadoran activist who won the Goldman Prize this year for his fight against the mining project and who now has police protection out of fear for his life. He compared the lawsuit to telling a friend: "I'm going to steal everything from you. But if you don't let me steal everything, I'm going to sue you."

The suit is taking place in a court you've probably never heard of: the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes. Canada is not actually party to the CAFTA agreement, but Pacific Rim used an American subsidiary to file a $100 million lawsuit under CAFTA against El Salvador.

The Times quotes a lawyer for the Washington-based Center for International Environmental Law, Marcos Orellana: "They are using the tribunal to dictate El Salvador's environmental policies."

Pineda explained the bottom line of the communities' concerns:

They want to set [the mining operations] up where the Rio Lempa gets its water from. And the Lempa River provides life for four million inhabitants. What they will do to the river is destroy it completely. That means it will kill us all. We have sufficient scientific evidence that show mining operations in the country are not viable.

He talked about concern for the impact of mining on the country's water and air, clean supplies of which are necessary for the community to survive.

He said, "We consider this a struggle for life."

More on gold mining
Goldman Prize Winner Francisco Pineda Risks His Life to Battle Gold Mining Operation
Will California Rush to Mine Gold Again?
Conflict Minerals 101: Coltan, the Congo Act, and How You Can Help
All That Glitters? 5 Ways to Look Closer at Gold

Tags: El Salvador | Latin America | Rivers | Water Conservation