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Communique: Community organizations fear the return of metal mining El Salvador

San Salvador December 16, 2021 - Only four years have passed since El Salvador banned metal mining in all its forms. The struggle led by communities affected by the threat of mining lasted more than twelve years, and this struggle was joined by different sectors of Salvadoran society and the international community that were aware of the impacts that mining exploitation would have on water and the environment in general.

In recent days we have learned that the Salvadoran government has approached specialists from the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Development (IGF), an organization of Canadian origin that promotes best practices of mining in its member countries. According to policy statements of this institution, "the objectives of the Forum are to improve and promote the contribution of the mining, minerals and metals sector to sustainable development and poverty reduction."

Some representatives of this organization visited our country a couple of weeks ago and held meetings with different government institutions such as the Ministries of the Environment; Economy, through its Hydrocarbons and Mines Directorate; Public Works; Foreign Relations and Finance; as well as the Central Reserve Bank, Some municipalities, FOVIAL; and with some institutions in the private sector and academia.

According to the Ministry of the Environment, MARN, the visit of the Forum specialists was aimed at determining the viability of quarrying to obtain raw materials for the construction industry. MARN also stated that "at the end of the visit of the IGF consultants, they expected to have a diagnostic of the mining industry in El Salvador and to know the real situation of the resources in order to evaluate the social, economic, legal and environmental aspects"

According to MARN, “El Salvador recently joined this Forum, which includes 78 countries around the world and which provides a series of services to its members, such as sector evaluations; capacity building and individualized technical assistance; orientation documents and conferences that explore best practices and offer an opportunity to engage with industry and civil society, among others”. In other words, it is the organization in charge of exchanging “mirrors for gold” on behalf of the mining industry.

Similarly, it draws out attention the introduction legislation creating the General Directorate of Energy, Hydrocarbons and Mines, approved by the Legislative Assembly on October 26. The objectives of this new Directorate are to authorize, regulate and supervise the operation of those who participate in mining activities, without distinguishing between metallic and non-metallic mining. It also proposes obtaining mining resources as a "duty of the State" and establishes among the powers of the new Directorate, the capacity to establish, maintain and promote cooperative relations with foreign and multilateral institutions or organizations "linked to the mining sector; put out to tender for the exploration of special areas where deposits with proven economic potential are located; and coordinate with the Ministry of the Environment the evaluation procedures for mining and quarry exploration proposals.

These latest events cause alarm because they seem aimed at allowing activities related to metal mining in the country. In addition, these actions of the government disregard the anti-mining struggle that the country experienced for more than twelve years and for which at least four environmentalists from Cabañas who offered their lives so that Canadian mining companies such as Pacific Rim would not settle in the country.

The communities, social organizations, churches, universities and other sectors of Salvadoran society who fought for the ban on metallic mining remain convinced that the country is not prepared for the repeal of the Law of Prohibition of Metallic Mining. It is clear that the ecological conditions why metallic mining was banned have not been overcome in the country and, on the contrary, the environmental and water crisis continues to worsen day by day.

In this sense, as civil society organizations that at that time fought for the prohibition of metallic mining, we call on the Salvadoran population to be attentive to the proposals that the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Development (IGF ) will present to the Government, since a potential reversal of the Law for the Prohibition of Metallic Mining would generate possible conflicts between communities and mining companies, exacerbate the country's water and environmental crisis and foster even more conflicts over land and water.

In the same way, we demand that the Executive Branch and the Legislative Assembly refrain from repealing the prohibition law and we demand that the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Development be publicly transparent when presenting the results of their visit to El Salvador.  

Finally, we demand that the Legislative Assembly accelerate the ratification of the human right to water in the Constitution and expedite the approval of a general water law that guarantees, as a priority, water for domestic consumption, which is economically accessible and sufficient in quality and quantity for our communities.