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Mining company threatens El Salvador’s water

A new report highlights the tensions between El Salvador’s relationship with foreign investors and a thriving environmental movement

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When El Salvador refused to issue a permit for a gold mine to Vancouver-based Pacific Rim, the corporation decided to sue the government for over 300 million USD by invoking the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Since then, Pacific Rim has been bought by Canadian-Australian firm Oceana Gold, which has taken over the lawsuit. Business investments are coming between citizens of El Salvador and their water, says the the report-Water at the heart of El Salvador’s struggle against neoliberalism. It has been jointly published by Blue Planet Project, that fights for water justice globally and the University of Ottawa. Due to strong public opposition, there is currently no metal mining in El Salvador and no permits have been issued for metal mining. In 2008, Salvadoran President Antonio Saca refused to authorize the company to begin its mining operations in the country over human rights, pollution and water security issues. There is overwhelming public support for a permanent ban as the Salvadoran legislature considers strict new rules to protect the country’s watersheds.

“Environmental coalitions and grassroots organization have been working for the past decade to address the freshwater crisis in one of most water-stressed countries in the world,” said Meera Karunananthan, co-author of the publication and international water campaigner with Blue Planet Project. “The alternatives they have proposed are currently being negotiated within the legislature, but are under threat because they lie in stark contrast to the interests of foreign investors and their political allies within the country.”

El Salvador’s Congress has already voted in favour of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to water, but it must be ratified by a second consecutive legislature. The current legislature has until April 30 to complete the amendment process. In addition a proposed new water law aims to protect watersheds by ensuring that environmental protection and the needs of local communities take precedence in water resource allocation strategies. “What we are seeing in El Salvador is a battle for fresh water that pits foreign multinationals against local communities,” says Susan Spronk, co-author and associate professor in the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa. The company insists that the mining process will adhere to environmental norms, and it will generate jobs for the locals. The issue is politically charged in the country which has led to killing of an activist, Ramiro Rivera Gomez in 2009.

The report, Water at the heart of El Salvador’s struggle against neoliberalism, is available for download in English and Spanish.