With the coming start of a new presidential administration in El Salvador, the anti-mining movement is renewing its demands that the current ad hoc moratorium on metallic mining in the country be enacted into law. As Edgar Ayala at IPS explains:
Two years ago, environmental organisations grouped in the Mesa Nacional contra la Minería – a national umbrella group against mining – presented a proposed bill in Congress to prohibit mining because of the negative effects on health and the environment.
If it is approved, El Salvador would be following the lead of Costa Rica, which passed a law banning open pit mining in 2010. Panama approved a similar ban two years later, but only on indigenous lands in the western provinces of Bocas del Toro, Chiriquí and Veraguas.
Social organisations believe another bill, presented in 2012 by El Salvador’s Environment Ministry, falls short because it would merely suspend mining activity.
“We don’t support the idea of a moratorium, because it leaves the issue hanging, and gives companies time to prepare, whereas we want to just bring it to a halt once and for all,” said Héctor Berríos, a leader of the Movimiento Unificado Francisco Sánchez 1932 (MUFRAS 32) movement. For years, the San Salvador-based organisation has been supporting communities in the province of Cabañas in their fight against the mining industry.
But neither the bill for a suspension of mining activity nor the one for a total ban have found support in the 84-member single-chamber legislature, where the right-wing parties, which have a majority, are opposed to both initiatives. Sánchez Cerén’s left-wing former rebel Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) has only 31 lawmakers, and is unlikely to drum up enough support to reach the 43 votes needed to move forward with the bill that would declare a moratorium on mining.Meanwhile the movement is also expanding its focus beyond the borders of El Salvador. An article titled Environmental Movement Launches Central American Alliance Against Transborder Mining, by J. Alejandro Artiga-Purcell discusses recent initatives by the environmental movement to confront mining interest on a regional level across national borders:
But the Salvadoran environmental movement’s success is offset by the dangers posed by international mining interests in neighboring Guatemala and Honduras, and the growing repression against the anti-mining movement.
In a region as small and densely populated as Central America, the impacts from mining—especially the contamination of water sources—are rarely restricted to one nation. This is especially true of El Salvador (a country roughly the size of the US state of New Jersey), which is completely dependent on Guatemala and Honduras for its fresh water.
The Lempa River—Central America’s largest river and El Salvador’s main source of fresh water—runs through Guatemala and Honduras before ending in El Salvador. While El Salvador has successfully fought to preserve the integrity of its water supply, it has little control or authority over the decisions made in Honduras and Guatemalan notwithstanding the direct threats these decisions pose to El Salvador.