Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pac Rim v. El Salvador

Pacific Rim v. El Salvador: Civil Society Organizations speak out as CAFTA Jurisdiction Objection Decision is expected May 31, 2012

Jefferson Tyler Francisco                       
May 28, 2012

The International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) of the World Bank will decide if Pacific Rim Mining Corp., a Vancouver-based multinational mining corporation, will be able to proceed with its arbitration claims against the Government of El Salvador May 31, 2012.  After being denied resource exploitation permits, Pacific Rim relocated its Cayman Islands subsidiary Pac Rim Cayman LLC to Nevada and filed a formal CAFTA investment suit.  Pacific Rim seeks at least $77 Million USD from El Salvador, a country in which half of the rural population lives on less than $2 a day.[1]

The environmental and social justice groups Mesa Nacional frente a la Mineria Metalica (National Roundtable Against Metals Mining) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as well as other civil society groups, have opposed mining and environmental and social upheaval at local, national, and international levels. The IUCN and Mesa Nacional have released official statements regarding the environment, violence, national sovereignty, and the upcoming ICSID decision.

Richard Steiner is a conservation specialist and member of IUCN.  He conducted a Rapid Assessment / Fact-finding Mission in El Salvador from January 20 – 28, 2010 at the request of IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic, and Social Policy (CEESP). 

Professor Richard Steiner’s Statement:
The people of El Salvador have spoken -- most clearly do not want metal mining in their country, which carries with it a high environmental, social, and cultural cost.  It is my hope and expectation that the ICSID will do the right thing, and rule in favor of El Salvador on this case.  A sovereign government must retain the sovereign right to self-determination, and that includes deciding who, when, where, if, and under what conditions a particular extractive industry project, such as metal mining, can be permitted.  The government of El Salvador, acting on behalf of the overwhelming majority of its citizens, has decided that the Pacific Rim projects do not meet the nation's self-determined development goals, and this must be upheld by the ICSID.  Granting permission to conduct mineral exploration does not carry with it the implied consent to move forward to production, which seems to be what Pacific Rim asserts.  It would clearly be disastrous if the ICSID were to rule against El Salvador on this issue, as it would alter the balance of power between extractive industry companies and developing nations everywhere, in favor of extractive industries.  The ICSID must rule for El Salvador, in my opinion.[2]  

In 2010, Steiner’s fact-finding mission confirmed serious human rights abuses on the part of groups that supported mining in Cabañas, El Salvador.  Steiner’s fact-finding mission in El Salvador as documented in the IUCN CEESP report “El Salvador – Gold, Guns, and Choice: The El Dorado gold mine, violence in Cabañas, CAFTA claims, and the national effort to ban mining” states that

It is clear from speaking to local citizens in Cabañas (in the towns of San Isidro, Sensuntepeque, Guacotecti, Trinidad, and Victoria), that there currently exists a strategic campaign of violence, threat, and intimidation directed against community leaders and others who oppose the opening of the El Dorado mine. Seven people were murdered in the area last year [2009], most of who were outspoken in their opposition to the mine, and/or otherwise associated with the opposition to the mine.[3]

Steiner’s report also confirms that

Residents of Cabañas report that the violence began and became epidemic just in the past few years, co-incident with the increase in mining exploration activity and the company’s request to move from exploration to development at El Dorado. Many residents and some government officials allege a direct and/or indirect relationship between the mining company and the recent violence. Local residents report that company officials told their employees that local environmental leaders, in particular members of the Environmental Committee of Cabanas, were to blame for their lack of work.[4]
In January of this year, a group of delinquents attempted to kidnap Father Neftalí Ruiz, the secretary of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas (Comité Ambiental de Cabañas).  After the attempted kidnapping of Father Neftalí Ruiz, the Mesa Nacional Frente a la Minería Metalica released a statement concluding:
To the Salvadoran population in general, civil society organizations and the international community that accompany the struggle against metals mining projects in our country, we are stating that our struggle is not a crime: Our cause is for the life, health, environment, and sustainability of our country.  The state, through its institutions, should ensure that this type of industry should never be permitted, and it should also ensure that the citizens’ rejection of these extractive projects do not motivate persecution, threats or death.  We roundly condemn the acts of violence committed against father Neftalí Ruiz and other anti-mining activists, and we say with even more conviction: NO TO METALS MINING IN EL SALVADOR.  YES TO LIFE.
A la población salvadoreña en general, a las organizaciones sociales y a la comunidad internacional que acompaña la lucha contra los proyectos de minería metálica en nuestro país expresamos que nuestra lucha no es ningún crimen: Nuestra causa es por la vida, la salud, el medioambiente y la sustentabilidad de nuestro país. El Estado, a través de sus instituciones debe asegurar que en este país no se permita jamás una industria de este tipo y además debe asegurar que el rechazo ciudadano contra estos proyectos extractivos no sean motivo de persecución, amenaza o muerte. Condenamos rotundamente los actos de violencia cometidos contra el Padre Neftalí Ruiz y contra otros activistas antimineros y decimos con aún mayor convicción: NO A LA MINERÍA METÁLICA EN EL SALVADOR. SÍ A LA VIDA.[5]
Geologists and environmental scientists have warned of the detrimental environmental impacts mining will have in El Salvador.  In 2010 the Ombudsman for the Defense of Human Rights (Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos) issued a statement that cited a study published by the Center for Investigation on Investment and Trade (CEICOM) entitled “Socio-environmental Impacts of Exploitation of Gold and Silver Mines in the Municipality of Sensuntepeque, Department of Cabañas.”
The study shows that the mine will use 2 tons of cyanide per day, and that once the exploitation phase is over available water will have suffered important chemical modifications as a result of the contamination of surface waters around the mine; these changes include higher levels of acidity and heavy metals from hydrocarbons. Moreover, these surface waters will leach into the subterranean water, filtered through cracks in the terrain until reaching the aquifer.[6]
The upcoming ruling by the ICSID will carry with it immense environmental and national sovereignty implications.  Civil society organizations continue to study the local ecology, educate locals on the matter and raise awareness about metals mining around the globe.  May 31, the ICSID will have the chance to determine whether local costs will stand in the way of short-term corporate profits.   

[1] Dirección General de Estadística y Censos, “Encuesta de Hogares de Propósitos Múltiples 2008,” June 2009, Available at:

[2] Richard Steiner, May 25, 2012.
[3] Richard Steiner, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Commission on Environmental Economic, and Social Policy (CEESP), “El Salvador: Gold, Guns, and Choice,” February 2010, 17
[4]Steiner, 17
[5] “La Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería Metalica en El Salvador denuncia nuevas agresiones,” the entire statement can be found at:
[6]Richard Steiner, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Commission on Environmental Economic, and Social Policy (CEESP), “El Salvador: Gold, Guns, and Choice,” February 2010, at 27 citing Center for Investigation on Investment and Trade (CEICOM), “Socio-environmental Impacts of Exploitation of Gold and Silver Mines in the Municipality of Sensuntepeque, Department of Cabañas.” Available at: