At this moment, unbeknownst to most of the world, the government of El Salvador is in the midst of a decision that could make it the first country in the world to ban gold mining. Corporate eyes are trained on this tiny nation, hoping it will decide that mining revenues are too lucrative to forgo. So too should those of us who believe that people and their ecosystems come first be doing our part to make sure that corporate interests do not determine what should be a democratic decision among Salvadorans.
Earlier this year, we traveled to El Salvador for The Nation to learn more about how the first progressive government (led by the FMLN party) in El Salvador in decades was deliberating over its choices. As part of its 2009 election promises, the government of Mauricio Funes had announced it would grant no new mining permits during its five-year term and that it was considering a permanent ban. Once elected, the Funes government initiated a major “strategic environmental review” to help set longer-term national policy on mining.
So, we found ourselves at the Ministry of the Economy, which along with the Environment Ministry, is leading the review. (Can you imagine the U.S. Treasury Department and EPA joining forces to do a collaborative review of U.S. policy?) With us was the man overseeing the review process from the economy ministry: engineer Carlos Duarte. Duarte explained that the goal was to do a “scientific” analysis, with the help of a Spanish consulting firm.
We pushed further, trying to understand how a technical analysis could capture the two sides of such a high-stakes issue. On one hand, El Salvador is a country of deep poverty, with people desperately in need of jobs. How could it not be tempted by visions of earnings from gold exports, especially now that gold’s price had skyrocketed from under $300 an ounce a decade ago to over $1,500 an ounce at the time of our meeting with Duarte? This view is perhaps best epitomized by former Salvadoran finance minister and mining company economic adviser Manuel Hinds, who said that “renouncing gold mining would be unjustifiable and globally unprecedented.”
On the other hand, there is the environmental cost. Here we quoted to Duarte from Maria Silvia Guillen, the head of the Salvadoran human rights group FESPAD: “El Salvador is a small beach with a big river that runs through it. If the river dies, the entire country dies.”MORE
Oct. 18th, 2011
Gold or Water: The Fight Goes on in El Salvador