2017 – Mining Ban in El Salvador

El Salvador, Central America’s smallest nation, became the first country to ban the mining of metals after a long-running dispute with Canadian-Australian company OceanaGold over the proposed El Dorado gold mine in the country’s north. Grassroots organisations, campaigners, academics and the church came together to stop the project, get the law passed and, eventually, celebrate the triumph of ‘water over gold’.

El Salvador – the most densely populated country in Latin America – has plentiful rainfall but an estimated 90% of its surface water is polluted by toxic chemicals, heavy metals and waste. Farming communities first came together in 2004 to oppose the El Dorado mine and the threat it posed to the Lempa River watershed, which provides drinking water for over half the country’s people.

Through the specially created National Roundtable on Metals Mining, grassroots groups and their international allies fought a lawsuit filed against El Salvador by mining company OceanaGold, which claimed it was unfairly refused permission to start digging. The claim was dismissed and the firm was ordered to pay El Salvador US$8m towards legal costs.

The national roundtable also pressed for the national law to ban mining. National polls had consistently shown the vast majority of Salvadorans wanted a ban, and thousands of people took to the streets in support of the bill, which was backed by the Catholic Church, academics and civil society groups. The campaign was supported by an international coalition of anti-mining, environmental and social justice networks.

In March 2017 El Salvador became the first country ever to ban metals mining – a ruling that is sure to be closely watched by activists in other countries in a region where protests over mining projects have sometimes resulted in death.

Jen Moore, the Latin America programme coordinator at MiningWatch Canada, said the victory would encourage other countries to stand up against the muscle of mining giants. “The Salvadoran people and leaders made huge efforts to weigh the short-term benefits with the long-term risks to their water, environment and social wellbeing … and despite the efforts of a company to try to blackmail the country, they showed it is possible to win against significant odds.”