EL SALVADOR BECOMES FIRST COUNTRY TO BAN METALS MINING
Legislators in El Salvador made history by passing a bill to ban all metallic mining activities in the country.
By Sandra Cuffe
The results of the much-anticipated vote were unanimous: 69 in favour, none against, and no abstentions. Fifteen of the country’s 84 lawmakers did not show up for the vote.
The result “makes tiny El Salvador the unlikely hero in a global movement to put the brakes on a modern day ‘gold rush’,” MiningWatch Canada wrote in a statement. The Central American nation is the first country in the world to ban mining for gold and other metals, according to the industry watchdog group.
“Today’s a historic day, thanks to all the struggle over the years for a ban on metallic mining,” FMLN legislator Guillermo Mata said during the discussion in the legislative assembly on 29 MarchWednesday, shortly before the bill was put to a vote.
Francis Zablah, a legislator from GANA, one of the three main political parties in the country together with the FMLN and ARENA, lauded the multi-partisan commission on the environment and climate change for rising above inter-party political divisions to advance the bill.
“The interests of the country prevailed above all. That should prevail in every commission,” Zablah told his colleagues on the floor before the vote.
On the floor of the legislative assembly, yellow cloth signs reading ‘No To Mining, Yes To Life’ were draped over the front of many lawmakers’ desks. Banners and signs with similar messages were carried by activists gathered inside and outside the legislative assembly in anticipation of the legislated ban.
Communities and NGOs in El Salvador have campaigned for years for an all-out ban on metallic mining in the country, organizing marches, bill proposals, and local actions. Residents of five municipalities in the northern departments of Chalatenango and Cabañas have voted overwhelmingly against mining in municipal referendums, the latest of which was February.
Before their final vote on the bill proposal, members of the commission heard from a delegation from the Philippines, home to OceanaGold’s gold and copper Dipidio mine, located some 167 miles north of Manila in the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino. For years, the same Australian-Canadian mining company has been attempting to get its controversial El Dorado gold mining project off the ground in El Salvador.
Carlos Padilla, governor of the Philippines province of Nueva Vizcaya, and others travelled to El Salvador to support the mining ban and to draw attention to the negative social and environmental impacts they attribute to OceanaGold’s operations. In fact, the government of the Philippines in February ordered the Dipidio mine be suspended, but it continues to operate while legal action takes place.
Padilla begs to differ. “The reality of OceanaGold’s so-called ‘responsible mining’ in the Philippines has been an environmental disaster. Judge it by the reality of its mining operations in my country not by its words or promises,” he said in a statement on 29 March.
Last October, ICSID found in favor of El Salvador and ordered OceanaGold to pay the country $8 million in legal costs. In early March, an OceanaGold spokesperson told Mongabay that the company is committed to due process but was waiting on the outcome of supplementary proceedings filed by El Salvador in December, following the ruling.
OceanaGold did not provide comment on the latest news from ICSID nor on Padilla’s statement, but later sent Mongabay a statement from one of its subsidiaries in El Salvador, Minerales Torogoz.
“Minerales Torogoz acknowledges the outcome of the recent vote by El Salvador’s Congress to approve a law prohibiting metallic mining in the country,” the company wrote in its statement on 30 March.
“The Company is now evaluating its next steps but confirms that the El Dorado project and any opportunity in El Salvador are not part of the business strategy at this time,” according to the Minerales Torogoz statement.
Now that the law banning mining has been passed, the campaign to pressure OceanaGold to pay and leave El Salvador is likely to heat up.
Aside from OceanaGold, the one remaining issue with regard to metallic mining in El Salvador is the fate of small-scale artisanal gold miners, many of whom are operating in unsafe, toxic conditions. The new law grants them a two-year grace period to transition out of mining and establishes that the state will provide them support and technical assistance for that purpose. – Third World Network Features.
About the author: Sandra Cuffe is a freelance journalist based in Central America, where she covers environmental, indigenous, and human rights issues in Central America.
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