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Arabica Robusta

Like Water for Gold in El Salvador | The Nation - 0 views

  • ADES (the Social and Economic Development Association), where local people talked with us late into the night about how they had come to oppose mining. ADES organizer Vidalina Morales acknowledged that “initially, we thought mining was good and it was going to help us out of poverty…through jobs and development.”
  • He talked about watching the river near his farm dry up: “This was very strange, as it had never done this before. So we walked up the river to see why…. And then I found a pump from Pacific Rim that was pumping water for exploratory wells. All of us began to wonder, if they are using this much water in the exploration stage, how much will they use if they actually start mining?”
  • As the anti-mining coalition strengthened with support from leaders in the Catholic Church, small businesses and the general public (a 2007 national poll showed that 62.4 percent opposed mining), tensions within Cabañas grew.
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  • Three people recounted how a Pacific Rim official boasted that cyanide was so safe that the official was willing to drink a glass of a favorite local beverage laced with the chemical. The official, we were told, backed down when community members insisted on authentication of the cyanide. “The company thought we’re just ignorant farmers with big hats who don’t know what we’re doing,” Miguel said. “But they’re the ones who are lying.”
  • Along one wall is the Salvadoran version of the US Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in this case etched with the names of about 30,000 of the roughly 75,000 killed in the civil war. Thousands of them, including the dozens killed in the Lempa River massacre of 1981, were victims of massacres perpetrated by the US-backed—often US-trained—government forces and the death squads associated with them.
  • Anti-mining sentiment was already so strong in 2009 that both the reigning ARENA president and the successful FMLN candidate, Mauricio Funes, came out against mining during the campaign.
  • We pushed further, trying to understand how a technical analysis could decide a matter with such high stakes. On the one hand, we posed to Duarte, gold’s price has skyrocketed from less than $300 an ounce a decade ago to more than $1,500 an ounce today, increasing the temptation in a nation of deep poverty to consider mining. We quoted former Salvadoran finance minister and Pacific Rim economic adviser Manuel Hinds, who said, “Renouncing gold mining would be unjustifiable and globally unprecedented.” On the other hand, we quoted the head of the human rights group and Roundtable member FESPAD, Maria Silvia Guillen: “El Salvador is a small beach with a big river that runs through it. If the river dies, the entire country dies.”
  • While he hoped this process would produce a consensus, Duarte admitted it was more likely the government and the firm would have to lay out “the interests of the majority,” after which the two ministries would then make their policy recommendation.
  • Oscar Luna, a former law professor and fierce defender of human rights—for which he too has received death threats. We asked Luna if he agreed with allegations that the killings in Cabañas were “assassinations organized and protected by economic and social powers.” Luna replied with his own phrasing: “There is still a climate of impunity in this country that we are trying to end.” He is pressing El Salvador’s attorney general to conduct investigations into the “intellectual” authors of the killings.
  • Our interactions in Cabañas and San Salvador left us appreciative of the new democratic space that strong citizen movements and a progressive presidential victory have opened up, yet aware of the fragility and complexities that abound. The government faces an epic decision about mining, amid deep divisions and with institutions of democracy that are still quite young. As Vidalina reminded us when we parted, the “complications” are even greater than what we found in Cabañas or in San Salvador, because even if the ban’s proponents eventually win, “these decisions could still get trumped in Washington.”
  • The brief methodically lays out how Canada-headquartered Pacific Rim first incorporated in the Cayman Islands to escape taxes, then brazenly lobbied Salvadoran officials to shape policies to benefit the firm, and only after that failed, in 2007 reincorporated one of its subsidiaries in the United States to use CAFTA to sue El Salvador.
  • Dozens of human rights, environmental and fair-trade groups across North America, from U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities and the Committee in Solidarity With the People of El Salvador (CISPES) to Oxfam, Public Citizen, Mining Watch and the Institute for Policy Studies, are pressuring Pacific Rim to withdraw the case.
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