Empowering People and Protecting Rights in El Salvador: Pac Rim Mining

El Salvador has upheld a nationally-supported mining moratorium in the interest of protecting its citizens and already stressed water sources from dangerous toxic byproducts. While performing a strategic environmental impact assessment, the Salvadoran government has refused to grant extraction permits for the Pacific Rim Mining Corporation’s El Dorado metal mine. The refute prompted Canadian-based Pacific Rim to sue El Salvador under the investment chapter of the US-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) for lost profits using investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). El Salvador is now defending its right to democratic decision-making in the public interest.

CIEL joined a number of international allies to support the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador (La Mesa), a coalition of civil society organizations opposed to industrial-scale metal mining in the country and dedicated to raising awareness that Pacific Rim does not have the social license to operate.

Pacific Rim’s activities in Cabanas have generated conflict, aggravated divisions, and put environmental defenders at risk. In 2009, officials found the body of environmental defender Marcelo Rivera with signs of torture, while three journalists received death threats that they will “end up like Marcelo Rivera” if they continued to report on his disappearance and death. Luis Quintanilla, a priest who worked with environmental defenders in the region, was kidnapped. Ramiro Rivera Gómez, a member of the Mesa, and his wife Felicita Echeverría were shot to death despite the presence of two police officers who had been responsible for his protection since a prior attack against him in which he was shot eight times. Lastly, Dora “Alicia” Recinos Sorto, another environmental defender, was assassinated while eight months pregnant and carrying her two-year-old son.

In our ongoing support of La Mesa, CIEL organized a thematic hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2010 on the situation of environmental defenders in Mexico and Central America in the context of mining. In 2011, CIEL filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the National Roundtable on Mining (MESA) to emphasize the environmental harms of mining. CIEL, as part of the International Fact-Finding Verification Delegation visited Cabañas in 2013 to stage a march protesting the proposed Pacific Rim mine site.

The World Bank arbitration panel ruled in 2012 that Pacific Rim could not sue under CAFTA, but that the case could be pursued under Salvadoran national investment law under ICSID. At the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2014, Pacific Rim was presented as an example of transnational corporate impunity, and the Council adopted a resolution that set up a working group to negotiate a treaty on business and human rights. Later that year, CIEL filed a second amicus brief urging ICSID to discredit Pacific Rim’s claims that El Salvador would benefit from mining, among other false claims.