In March I joined a delegation to raise awareness of the mine’s threat to water, agriculture, and government transparency in El Salvador. We met with Hector Barrios, attorney and activist in San Isidro, a small town in Cabañas, 10 miles from the El Dorado mine, also the poorest province of El Salvador. People in Cabañas make their living on small farms, and they can’t do that without water. In just the exploratory stage of the El Dorado mine, Pacific Rim’s test wells depleted the water in local hand-dug wells that families depend upon.
By Pacific Rim’s own estimates, the El Dorado mine will use about 73 million gallons of water each year, or about 237,000 gallons a day, and excessive quantities of cyanide to dissolve the ore.1 The mine site sits high in the Rio Lempa watershed, which irrigates about 45 percent of the nation’s arable land. A threat to water there is a threat to El Salvador’s farming, ranching, and fishing. Pacific Rim estimates that for every ounce of gold extracted, one ton of rock must be “removed.” With a potential 25 million ounces of gold, the El Dorado mine would earn fortunes for its investors but would devastate the region within a decade.2
For area residents and journalists, pushing back against the mine is more than dangerous. The San Isidro community center bears a mural of Marcelo Rivera, a schoolteacher who was active in opposing the mine. Rivera was “disappeared”—tortured and strangled in June 2009.3
In May, El Salvador’s Federal Attorney for Human Rights, David Morales, reported a rise in violence in towns around Pacific Rim’s mine. But threats haven’t deterred local people who use every method to raise awareness of the mine’s threat to water, painting murals conveying their concern for the region’s water, and helping young musicians record songs on the issue.
The Salvadoran Catholic Bishops’ Conference in 1997 stated simply, “metallic mining is not viable in the country…no material benefit can compare with the value of human life.” Caritas El Salvador, the human development agency of the Salvadoran Catholic Church, has joined local groups in educating about the mine’s potential threats, assisting Salvadorans who make their opposition to the mine known to the government. Their message is summed up in a popular poster seen around the country: “We can live without gold. We cannot live without water.”
1 It would be hard to overstate the danger of the numerous toxic chemicals involved in gold mining. Lax regulations lower the cost of extraction in countries without environmental protections. For more information, visit: http://www.earthworksaction.org.
2 Editor’s note: International “free” trade agreements including CAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership now before the US Congress offer multinational corporations the chance to seek damages from nations who resist development. Nations that receive International Monetary funds or World Bank loans are at risk of corporate reprisals for deciding to defend their natural resources. Link for more info: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/08/19/pandoras-box-of-corporate-power/
3 The author recommends that readers view the short documentary on YouTube, “The Mysterious Death of Marcelo Rivera” by Jamie Moffat, to gain further insight into the story. Here’s the link: http://youtu.be/yvXm52BhSHQ
Caption (not necessary online): Image from “The Mysterious Death of Marcelo Rivera”—See footnote #3.