By Marvin Diaz: Gato Encerrado - Translation: P. Cabezas

Various social organizations in collaboration with the Municipality of Arcatao, Chalatenango, unveiled a plan for the fourth referendum on metal mining to be held on November 8 this year. The consultation aims to get public support to adopt an environmental ordinance that prohibits mining in the municipality.

Jose Avelar, Mayor of Arcatao, spoke about the problems and the deterioration of the environment diverse communities in El Salvador are living due to past mining practices. "We are convinced that San Salvador consumes water from the hills of Chalatenango and if mining becomes a reality in our municipalities, the first affected will surely be the people of San Salvador and our communities," said the mayor.

The official lamented the poor decisions of previous governments that extended permits to Canadian mining companies to exploit these resources. "We are paying for bad decision made by previous governments. If governments had consulted the public before making a decision to authorize exploration permits in the country, we would not have the mining problem, "said Avelar.

Avelar said the residents of 15 communities belonging to the municipality of Arcatao will be voting on the consultation on metal mining. "We need a bit over 1,000 people to vote for the referendum to be legal. But in the last municipal election 1,600 people cast their vote, and we expect everyone in Arcatao to do the same this time," said the mayor.

Bernardo Belloso, the president of Association for the Development of El Salvador (CRIPDES), highlighted the efforts in providing information, awareness and education in communities affected by mining in the municipality. "In the communities we have developed discussion and analysis of environmental issues and particularly on the issue of mining so that at the time people cast their votes and are conscious of their choice" said Belloso.

Ana Dubon, representative of the Association of Communities for Development in Chalatenango (CCR) said they will do everything possible (within the law) to stop metal mining in the area. "While in El Salvador there is no law prohibiting exploration and mining, we will continue strengthening mechanisms to stop mining processes in the region and nationwide.” explained the representative.

To ensure transparency of the referendum, an international delegation of observers will travel to El Salvador representing diverse organizations from five different countries to join local organizations that will verify the voting process in communities.

"We are a group of international observers to accompany the process of consultation, the idea is to be an impartial monitor, that the vote is transparent and it is done conscious and free," said Catie Johnston, an international observer. Johnston noted that democratic participation in referendums on the subject of exploration and exploitation of metallic mining in the country is an innovative approach.

Currently El Salvador is fighting a trial before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) of the World Bank, after being sued by the former Pacific Rim (now Oceana Gold) for more than $ 300 million dollars, claiming that the Salvadoran State prevented the company from mining in some areas of the country.

El Salvador does not have a law that prohibits metallic mining activities, so several municipalities in the areas most affected by mining companies have decided to establish bylaws to prohibit mining in their localities.

The municipalities of San José las Flores, San Isidro Labrador and Nueva Trinidad in Chalatenango have had referenda against mining obtaining results of 99% of the population in favor of banning mining.

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