Bill Clinton Leads Sinister Business Alliance in El Salvador

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On Monday, November 9, El Salvador was host to an unusual meeting of some of the continent’s wealthiest and most influential players: former US President Bill Clinton, notorious Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim, and Canadian businessman Frank Giustra, who has made a career out of major investments worldwide in mining, from gold and diamonds to uranium, among other industries.

The visit was ostensibly to promote a local project of the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (CGEP), which both Giustra and Slim finance with $100 million donations. In El Salvador, the CGEP supports the so-called sustainable development work of a key local figure: Carlos Callejas, owner of the Super Selectos grocery store chain who is widely rumored to be pursuing the 2019 presidential nomination for the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party. Clinton, Slim and Guistra’s visit to El Salvador was effectively an early campaign boost for Callejas, providing enormous publicity for the Callejas Foundation, a recipient of CGEP funding, and the Super Selectos chain, while bolstering Callejas’ image for a 2019 presidential bid. 

While much media attention was devoted to Clinton’s philanthropic exploits, less was paid to the troubling implications of Giustra’s visit to El Salvador, a country currently awaiting the verdict of a $300 million law suit filed by Canadian mining company Pacific Rim (now owned by OceanaGold) against the Salvadoran State for denying the company mining permits in 2007. “The National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador considers that this visit has other motives than those made public…the International Center for Settlement of Investor Disputes should have presented its resolution in the Pacific Rim/Oceana Gold v. El Salvador [case] in March 2015; nevertheless, they still have not made it public,” said the organization in a statement to the media that raised concerns that Giustra’s visit sought to “smooth the path” for a decision that favors extractive industries.

For his ties to the industry that generated devastating environmental damage and violent social conflict in El Salvador, the Roundtable deemed that, “the visit of Mr. Giustra is a slight to the dignity of the people of the communities and to the people of El Salvador in general,” and declared him persona non grata.

Slim's presence in the country also raises concerns considering he owns two of El Salvador’s principal telecom operators (Claro and Digicel), which are leading the charge against a recently-approved communications tax that would fund violence prevention and security programs. Furthermore, in 2011 he pressured El Salvador’s Ministry of Labor to dissolve the union at an AVX-Kyocera plant that manufactures SIM cards for his phone companies. Workers had formed the union to address unsafe and illegal work conditions in the factory.

Whatever the motives, the Clinton-Slim-Giustra-Callejas alliance in El Salvador offers a sobering glimpse into the multi-million-dollar ties between extractive industries, corporate philanthropy and global politics, in which community interests are sacrificed for the financial and political gain of an elite few.

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