Salvadorans and allies protest $300 million mining lawsuit on Independence Day
On September 15, as Central American nations celebrated Independence Day, the Salvadoran community in Washington, DC hit the streets outside the World Bank to protest the OceanaGold mining corporation’s $301 million lawsuit against the government of El Salvador (Check out news coverage here from the Washington Post and Inter-Press Service). In 2009, the Pacific Rim mining company (which was rescued in 2013 from the edge of bankruptcy by Australia-based OceanaGold) filed a suit against the government of El Salvador for its decision not to approve permits for the company to mine gold in the northern region of Cabañas. For the past five years, El Salvador’s lawyers have been facing off against Pacific Rim’s in a private hearing room deep inside the headquarters of the World Bank. But a determined and passionate coalition of international allies have rallied tremendous public support outside the building each and every time – and September 15 was no exception. Flanked by a giant inflatable fat cat, leaders from labor organizations, including the AFL-CIO, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and trade justice organizations like Public Citizen, spoke out against the trade deals and investment treaties that give corporations the right to to sue national governments for decisions to protect the health and safety of workers, agricultural lands and livelihoods, or the basic human right to clean water. Environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth, underscored the tremendous environmental risk that metallic mining would pose to El Salvador, where it’s estimated that over 90% of the surface water is already contaminated, while religious leaders lifted up a vision of a society in which our precious natural resources are equitably shared by all. But the stars of the show were perhaps the local Salvadoran community leaders like Lindolfo Carballo, from CASA, who led the crowd in a rousing rounds of “El Pueblo Unido, Jamás Será Vencido” (The people, united, will never be defeated!). As he said, “The people of El Salvador have been in the struggle for our sovereignty for over 500 years. Today, our countries may be celebrating 193 years of independence from Spain, but we have to remember – after that came the United States. And then its corporations!” Alexis Stoumbelis of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) also paid tribute to this indomitable spirit. “We may be gathered here today to protest a grave injustice happening inside the World Bank," she said. "But we’re also here to celebrate – to show our support for the courage and the resistance the Salvadoran people have shown in the face of this threat and their refusal to back down.” Closing out the rally, Sofia Vergara of Oxfam read the letter that the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining in El Salvador has sent to OceanaGold, demanding that the company drop the suit and cease any attempts to mine in the country. Over 165,000 people have joined them in their petition – please add your voice today by signing here. It’s safe to say that it’s not every day that World Bank employees are bombarded with leaflets, news cameras and infectious rap beats from youth in El Salvador being carried over loud speakers. But there’s no doubt this crowd will be back – for as long as the case may last and as long as it takes for El Salvador to win back its legal rights to put people over profits.