Water is more precious than gold

Vidalina Morales

Communities in El Salvador have long opposed mining in the small and densely populated country. Since early 2000 multinational mining corporations have sought to extract gold and other minerals buried under the northern mountains of El Salvador which provide the main source of clean water and local agricultural production for the country.

Communities, civil society and church organisations have repeatedly raised concerns over the use of excessive amounts of water, environmental degradation, public health impacts, as well as the social division that can often result from the mining industry.

Much of El Salvador’s surface water is polluted, and in rural areas few people have access to clean water. A few years ago local farmers were outraged to discover pumps draining clean water from their local river to construct the Pacific Rim ‘El Dorado’ gold mine.

Community members opposing mining have faced death threats, intimidation and harassment. At least four environmental activists have been killed in recent years, quite likely because of their involvement in the struggle against the mines.

Despite these threats, communities have mounted a successful campaign in defense of a clean, healthy and safe environment. The campaign has been lead by the National Roundtable Against Metal Mining (La Mesa).

After widespread community protest in 2009, the government in El Salvador suspended mining licences for environmental and public health reasons.

One company wanting to pursue gold mining, Canadian-based Pacific Rim, is now using investor-state dispute settlement in a trade agreement to sue the government because this legislation.

“Instead of a law allowing Pacific Rim to sue our government, they should be sued. The company should be made to pay for all the damage they’ve caused to our environment and our community” says Vidalina Morales from La Mesa.

An Australian company, OceaniaGold, has recently announced that it will acquire Pacific Rim Mining.

Oxfam has long standing concerns about OceanaGold’s Didipio gold mine in the Philippines. Our work has revealed deep opposition to the Didipio gold mine – many of the community’s concerns in Didipio mirror the concerns held by people of El Salvador.

The fact that OceanaGold has a record of human rights violations in the Philippines is of extreme concern to La Mesa.

Vidalina Morales, who is also a small scale farmer and a mother of five, will be in Australia in November. Vidalina will be speaking in Sydney on 13 November and Melbourne on 14 November (7 pm) at the Victorian Trades Hall Council Building. More information about the tour can be found online via ‘Water not gold.’

Christina Hill
Mining Advocacy Coordinator