Social organizations in El Salvador have denounced the disappearance of Gustavo Marcelo Rivera, a well-known anti-mining leader from the town of San Isidro, Cabañas department. Rivera is a local leader of the FMLN, the director of the San Isidro Community Center, and the legal representative of Amigos de San Isidro Cabañas (ASIC). He is a vocal opponent of El Dorado gold mine, a project of the Pacific Rim mining company that has been stalled due to disputes over permits. Pacific Rim recently sued El Salvador for $77 million under the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) after the government refused to grant a permit to open the mine.
In addition to helping organize opposition to El Dorado mine, Rivera played a key role in January when the results of the municipal elections in San Isidro were challenged due to fraud. Social organizations believe that his disappearance is politically motivated and have called on the National Civilian Police, the Prosecutor General’s office and the Human Rights ombudsman to investigate. Local leaders have met with new Public Security Minister Manuel Melgar about the case, but have continued to protest the lack of action on the part of the local police and Prosecutor General’s office. The leadership of the office remains in limbo due to a refusal by the right-wing bloc in the Legislative Assembly, led by the ARENA party, to hold an election for a new Prosecutor General.
Mining corporations attack FMLN government
On March 16, the Commerce Group Corporation and San Sebastian Gold Mines, both US-based companies, filed a Notice of Intent to open legal proceedings against the government of El Salvador in a special tribunal established by CAFTA. The companies allege that the government has illegally refused to issue mining permits. The Notice of Intent begins a 90-day period in which El Salvador and the companies can resolve the issue. If the issue is not resolved, Commerce Group and San Sebastian Gold Mines can then sue El Salvador for lost investments. The two companies are demanding $100 million compensation, or the immediate issuance of the mining permits. This is the second demand made against El Salvador under CAFTA laws by mining companies. In April, Pacific Rim Mining demanded approximately $77 million in lost investments from the government.
The mining of precious metals in El Salvador is opposed by a broad coalition of social movement groups that make up the National Roundtable on Metallic Mining, which was recently awarded the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. The resistance movement contends that the proposed mines would cause major destruction to the already fragile environment in El Salvador and contaminate the few sources of clean drinking water that remain.
The Center for Studies on Investment and Trade (CEICOM) in El Salvador has called on President Mauricio Funes to refuse to pay the Pacific Rim demand. William Castillo of CEICOM has encouraged the Funes administration to work with the social movements opposed to mining and make use of their evidence and arguments against issuing permits in his refusal to pay the demands. “There is sufficient documentation to defeat this demand,” said Castillo.
The FMLN faction in the Legislative Assembly recently introduced legislation to reform El Salvador’s Mining Law by halting all metallic mining exploration and operations and giving companies currently operating in the country six months to close operations. FMLN legislative deputy Lourdes Palacios said the proposed legislation seeks to “give tools to the new government to avoid mining exploration and exploitation in the country.” (CISPES, June 30)