El Dorado, El Salvador
The El Dorado and Santa Rita mines in the department of Cabañas, El Salvador have become a flashpoint for the larger struggle over mineral mining in El Salvador. Opposition to the mines centers around concern over the impact of cyanide use in gold mining on the country’s fragile water system, especially El Salvador’s main river, the Río Lempa. Local communities, resisting the pressure to sell their land, have formed an organized opposition that has drawn attention on the national and international stage.
Pacific Rim took over exploration in 2002 after merging with Dayton Mining, and completed an exploratory drilling program in 2006. However, in 2008, grassroots organizing and government support successfully prevented Pacific Rim from renewing its exploration license. In retaliation, the company moved its subsidiary’s offices to Nevada and filed a case through CAFTA against the government of El Salvador for previous investments and lost profits. The case is being heard in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), a World Bank court. The legal battle has been accompanied by a wave of violence against anti-mining and environmental activists in Cabañas, where the mines are located. Activist and community leader Marcelo Rivera was assassinated in 2009, several months before fellow activist “Alicia” Sorto Recinos. Juan Francisco Duran Ayala, a member of the Comité Ambiental de Cabañas, was found murdered in June 2011. For many, these deaths as well as other accounts of death threats, beatings and general intimidation are commensurate with Pacific Rim’s presence in the region, although none have been officially linked to Pacific Rim (McGee, 2012). However, the violence has not stopped the Comité Ambiental de Cabañas from continuing to organize. Francisco Pineda, an activist from Cabañas and winner of the Goldman Prize, and founder of the Comité, explained in an interview that there won’t be mining in Cabañas, with or without a national law. The people of the communities simply won’t allow it to happen.
El Salvador’s leftist president, Mauricio Funes, has affirmed that no mineral mining will take place in the country during his administration because he refuses to “put the public health of the population at risk in exchange for some additional income that we might receive” (Achtenberg, 2011). There has also been a recent push by civil society groups to pass a bill banning metals mining altogether. The conflict surrounding El Dorado has been closely reported in the media, with a variety of foreign groups keeping track of developments and publicizing mining-related violence in the region.
In April 2013, Pacific Rim increased the damages it sought from the government of El Salvador from $77 M to $315 M. A few months later the company was acquired by Oceana Gold, a New Zealand-based mining company.
Achtenberg, E. (2011). A Mining Ban in El Salvador? NACLA Report on the Americas. https://nacla.org/sites/default/files/A04405005_1.pdf
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McGee, T. (2012.01.01). Canadian mining on trial: Murder, impunity and Pacific Rim in El Salvador. Briarpatch Magazine. http://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/canadian-mining-on-trial
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William Tanaka, T. M., Sam Mah, Alva Kuestermeyer, Nick Michae. (2005.01.21). FINAL Pre-Feasibility Study, El Dorado Project, El Salvador: Pacific Rim. http://www.pacrim-mining.com/i/pdf/2005-01-21_ElDoradoPrefeasibility.pdf.