Unions and environmentalists have again rallied in Melbourne to support the people of El Salvador in their dispute with Australian-based OceanaGold that has been running for more than a decade.
In 2007, El Salvador denied a permit to Canadian miner Pacific Rim - a wholly owned subsidiary of OceanaGold – due to concerns the mine would not adhere to national standards regulating the industry after the company failed to submit a feasibility study and Environmental Impact Assessment.
The government was at the time particularly concerned about water pollution and scarcity in the country, which has been described as the most water-stressed nation in Central America.
The company then took El Salvador to the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) tribunal in 2009 over what it argued was an infringement on its future profits and attempted to increase the lawsuit against the country to US$301 million — equivalent to three years of El Salvador’s public spending on health, education and public security combined.
2009 is also the year when three anti-mining community leaders and an unborn baby were brutally murdered in northern El Salvador, in the area where OGC’s subsidiary company was conducting its operations.
"Over these past nine years, we have actively supported Salvadorans and their government in their fight to protect the fragile River Lempa watershed, and to uphold their right to say "no" to metals mining,” Water Not Gold campaign spokesperson and former MUA Victoria Branch Secretary Kevin Bracken said.
"We have also strongly denounced this case, which cost the poor country of El Salvador more than $13 million USD in legal fees and related expenses.
"The October 2016 ICSID panel award unanimously stated that OGC’s Pacific Rim Cayman lawsuit did not have any legal merit.
“The Pac Rim Cayman vs El Salvador suit demonstrates the abuse of 'investor-state' settlement provisions of international trade agreements and foreign investment laws.
"This case dragged on for seven years and should never have taken place."
In March 2017, the Archbishop of San Salvador led a march of concerned citizens to the nation’s Legislative Assembly to present legislation and petitions to ban metals mining.
There they were warmly greeted by the leadership teams of all major political parties of both left and right and the national ban was implemented within weeks.
This week, with banners stating “No to Mining – Yes to Life” hanging from the desks of deputies in the Legislative Assembly, the chamber reaffirmed its multi-party commitment to continue the national ban on metals mining.