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Sunday, July 13, 2014

The struggle against Canadian Mining Companies in El Salvador

Yesterday we visited ADES, a group heavily involved in the on-going struggle against Canadian mining companies here in El Salvador.  This is an incredible story that all Canadians really need to know about.

Canadian mining companies are active throughout Latin America causing significant pollution problems and a high level of strife within communities.  In Guatemala and Honduras there are many examples of environmental degradation caused by mining operations.  In Guatemala, HudBay employees have been accused of sexually assaulting women in one of the communities they operate in.  As a result, a civil suit has been filed in Canada against Hudbay.

In El Salvador, there are over 25 permits pending to start mining operations in this country.  Over 25 permits to mine in a country with a population density of 300 people per square kilometer.  A country where only 3% of the water is drinkable and 90% of the forests have been cut down.

The main Canadian company here has been Pacific Rim.  It has conducted environmental assessments in a variety of locations throughout the country.  They used an American company for these assessments, a company that has misrepresented information in its reports in the past.

Starting in 2004, communities and NGOs in El Salvador started to organize against these companies. They worried that mining operations would pollute the water and land and displace people from the meager holdings they possessed.

The struggle has continued since this time.  In the intervening years, the Church and even the right-wing ARENA government of the time sided with the communities against the Canadians.

Pacific Rim tried a number of tactics to gain the support of the community.  They first tried to bribe community leaders, offering up to a million dollars for ‘development projects’ in their jurisdictions.  ADES, now leading the opposition to these projects always said no to these offers.

Next they tried intimidation tactics including death threats.  In 2009 they went even further.  Marcello Rivera, one of the main activists against Canadian mining was kidnapped, tortured and killed.  He was found 12 days after his capture at the bottom of a 30-meter well.  Later the same year, two other activists were killed – one a woman 8 months pregnant.

part of the mural commerating the work of Marcello Rivera in St. Isodor

That same year, Pacific Rim began an intimidation campaign against the government and people of El Salvador.  They filed a lawsuit demanding $77 million from the Salvadoran Government.  No one understands where this figure came from.  It is estimated that in the 10 years Pacific Rim had been doing explorations they had spent only $13 million.

More recently, Pacific Rim has been sold to the Australian mining company, Oceana Gold.  Oceana is now suing the Salvadoran Government for over $400 million.  There is no logical reason why this amount has been increased from $77 million.

The case will be heard starting September 15.

Why has this been allowed to continue?  This is not something that could happen in Canada, why do we allow Canadian companies to act in such a way in other countries?

Canada is clearly not the good guy in this story.  We are the bully doing all we can to secure profits for a few shareholders.  Canadians need to know this story and pressure their government to do something about these 21st century robber barons. 

Just when El Salvador is finally getting the opportunity to build up its physical and social infrastructure Canadian companies are trying their best to destroy it. 

This should be stopped, we should all be in solidarity with the Salvadoran people.

Our group met with ADES for most of the morning earlier this week

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