The fight for the environment in El Salvador gets recognition in Los Angeles

Francisco Coto - La Opinion

For 13 years, Vidalina Morales and other environmental activists, led constant fight against a Canadian/Australian mining company which threatened the north of El Salvador.

It is an activism that has brought both death threats and triumphs to Morales, who arrived this week in Los Angeles to receive the Environmental Justice award from the organisation CARECEN in representation of the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining.

It was in 2004 when the communities of the Departments of Chalatenango and Cabañas – where Morales lives – realized that the works Pacific Rim/Oceana Gold was doing to  explore the terrain for minerals would damage the rivers and the land.

That motivated Morales to join the cause, eventually becoming president of the Santa Marta Social Economic Development Association that is part of the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining in El Salvador.

"El Salvador is a country with serious environmental problems. It is the most deforested country after Haiti in Latin America, "says Morales.

So facing the mining company - which was already installed in the country and just waiting for permission to start operations - was pressing.

At the same time, these departments faced two mega projects that threatened their communities: an incineration plant for hospital waste and a landfill where 22 municipalities were going to deposit their garbage very close to a river.

"The issue of mining was a totally unknown issue," said Morales, who added that she had to "raise awareness among the population" about the threats it posed.

All this fight for the environment represented threats and - according to her - even death.

Three community leaders who pressed against these projects were murdered in 2009: Marcelo Rivera, Ramiro Rivera and Dora Alicia Sorto.

Law against mining

However, perseverance was fruitful.

The government stopped the mining project, but the company sued the state in international courts. The case lasted seven years and cost the Salvadoran government $13 million dollars, but the ruling was favourable and the company had to refund $8 million dollars in legal costs.

More importantly, in March of this year, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador approved a law prohibiting metal mining in the country.

However, the fight continues.

"The company is still present in our department, despite the government's decision. It is a very serious situation for us that we have denounced on many occasions. They have no reason to be in our country, "denounced Morales, who says they also stand firm against metallic mining in El Salvador.

Translated by Giada Ferrucci