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Oxfam hailed today’s passing of a law banning metallic mining by the Salvadoran government. The law comes after years of violence and social tensions around mining in the country and strong opposition to mining from local communities, civil society organizations, the Catholic Church and more than 77% of the country’s population, according to a recent poll.
Oxfam’s El Salvador Country Director Ivan Morales said: “This is an historic day for El Salvador and our right to decide our future. The voice of the people has been heard. Mining is not an appropriate way to reduce poverty and inequality in this country. It would only exacerbate the social conflict and level of water contamination we already have.”
El Salvador is Central America’s smallest and most densely populated country. Ninety percent of its surface water is polluted, according to the country’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. For these reasons local activists called on the government to ban mining as it can further intensify water and land pollution.
In October 2016, the government won a favorable ruling after seven years of litigation over a claim against it by Australian mining company OceanaGold, which sought over $300 million for the government’s refusal to approve the company’s mining permit because it failed to meet all requirements. That ruling validated the government’s decision to withhold a mining permit and paved the way for today’s action by the Salvadoran congress, so that El Salvador never again has to face such lawsuits for exercising its right to protect its population from adverse impacts of mining.
Tensions around the development of mining in the country have resulted in threats, violence and even murder, with three anti-mining activists killed in recent years. Oxfam has supported Salvadoran civil society organizations and has worked to raise awareness of the OceanaGold case with members of the US Congress, who have expressed concerns about mining’s potential impacts in the country.
“This is an important precedent for communities around the world that are impacted by mining,” said Keith Slack, Oxfam’s Extractive Industries Global Program Director. “Governments and the mining industry need to recognize that mining is not inevitable and that the costs and benefits need to be weighed carefully.”
Oxfam is calling on mining companies operating in El Salvador, including OceanaGold, to withdraw from the country, and avoid any action that might incite violence.
“It’s important now that companies accept this decision and act responsibly. International donors, in particular the US, should deepen their support for El Salvador’s efforts to develop sustainable economic alternatives to mining," added Vicki Gass, Oxfam’s Senior Policy Advisor for Central America.