After Seven Years and Millions of Dollars, Decision Announced in Pac Rim Mining Company vs. El Salvador

International Allies against Mining in El SalvadorFor Release October 14, 2016

Cabañas, El Salvador / Washington DC / Ottawa / Melbourne – Civil society groups worldwide that have allied with Salvadoran communities and organizations working on mining and environmental issues reacted to today’s decision by the controversial International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) on the seven-year old case of Pac Rim Cayman vs. El Salvador, stating that “there are no winners” in this case.  On Friday, October 14, the tribunal announced their decision that Pac Rim’s lawsuit was without merit and hence that El Salvador will not have to pay the company the $ 250 million that it sought.

In 2009, Pac Rim Cayman LLC brought an “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) case against El Salvador at the World Bank Group’s arbitration venue, ICSID.  The company, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Canadian-Australian company OceanaGold, sued El Salvador for alleged losses of potential profits as a result of not being granted a mining concession for a gold project. The government of El Salvador did not issue the concession because the company failed to meet key regulatory requirements.

“The fact that Pac Rim – now OceanaGold – could sue El Salvador when it has never had a license to operate, is an abuse of process,” says Manuel Pérez-Rocha of the Institute for Policy Studies. “That these suits take place far from any transparent, independent court system demonstrates why we are opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other so called free trade agreements.”

This case is part of what led the Government of El Salvador to decide not to issue new mining permits.  That decision has widespread support in El Salvador; a recent poll of the University of Central America (UCA) indicates that 79.5% of Salvadorans are against any gold mining.

The civil society groups from the four countries, which came together in 2009 as International Allies, praised the communities in El Salvador that have opposed the mining company and have rallied the Salvadoran public and government to oppose new mining projects despite heavy pressure from the mining company.  They expressed disgust that El Salvador had to pay over $ 12 million to fund its defense in a case where the mining company never fulfilled all the legal or environmental requirements for a mining license.

“Irrevocable damage has already been done to communities in El Salvador,” says the Salvadoran Roundtable against Metallic Mining (La Mesa).  “Pac Rim’s presence in El Salvador has fomented local conflict, which has led to threats, attacks, and assassinations. We want OceanaGold, and all the misery it has caused, out of El Salvador, and for the government to enact a prohibition on any metal mining.”

“By allowing transnational companies to blackmail governments to try to force them to adopt policies that favor corporations, investor-state arbitration undermines democracy in El Salvador and around the world,” says Marcos Orellana of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “Regardless of the outcome, the arbitration has had a chilling effect on the development and implementation of public policy necessary to protect the environment and the human right to water.”

“This is one of now far too many examples of Canadian mining companies making use of international arbitration to bully governments when their mine projects lack community consent and have not met legal or regulatory requirements. In contrast, communities have no effective means to hold these same companies to account for the systematic and serious harms resulting from their operations”, says Jen Moore of MiningWatch Canada.

“What we have now is a clear example of what is wrong with investor-state-dispute-settlement clauses, whether they are inserted in domestic laws or bilateral or multilateral investment agreements. El Salvador’s experience confirms the threats to human rights and the environment that occur when corporations bring a suit to tribunals like ICSID,” explained Robin Broad, professor at the American University.

“A mining company that calls itself responsible should not be using mechanisms like ICSID to force governments to do its bidding.  Countries like El Salvador have a right to say no to mining without fear of a massive lawsuit”, said Keith Slack of Oxfam America.

“At a time of water scarcity, it is unconscionable for the global trade and investment regime to deny governments of water-stressed countries like El Salvador the policy space to protect local watersheds and ensure the realization of the human right to water,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

“It was morally reprehensible for Oceana Gold to demand $ 250 million USD from the Salvadoran people. This is a staggering amount for a cash-strapped country that could be much better used for education, health care, or other social services. This amount would fund the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources of El Salvador for more than one decade. The legal costs alone are enough to pay for over 2 years of adult literacy classes for 140,000 people,” says Emeritus Catholic Bishop Hilton Deakin of Melbourne, Australia.

“Let us be clear: El Salvador has lost a lot during all this arbitration. El Salvador had to pay more than $ 12 million, just to defend itself. These legal costs are enough to pay for over 2 years of adult literacy classes for 140,000 people. At a minimum, OceanaGold should reimburse El Salvador for the costs of this suit, which never should have taken place. And it should also be responsible for the social and environmental damage left in its wake,” says Alexis Stoumbelis of CISPES.

“This is a yet another case of corporate power being exercised against a democratic Government decision. If Australia ratifies the TTP there will be more of this to come” said Ged Kearney President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

“ISDS is part of a trade model that puts the needs of corporations before the needs of workers and the planet. The Salvadoran government did what a responsive democratic system is supposed to do: it listened to the desires and priorities of its constituents and acted accordingly” said Cathy Feingold, International Director of the AFL-CIO.

Media Contacts:
Manuel Perez Rocha, IPS – manuel@ips-dc.org, + 1 240 838 6623
John Cavanagh, IPS – johnc@ips-dc.org, +1 202 234 9382
Amanda Kistler, CIEL – akistler@ciel.org, +1 202 742-5832
Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada – jen@miningwatch.ca, +1 613 569 3439
Laura Rusu, Oxfam America – laura.rusu@oxfam.org, +1 202 459 3739
Robin Broad, American University – rbroad@american.edu, + 1 202 885 1478
Kevin Bracken, Maritime Union of Australia – kevin.bracken57@gmail.com
Sean Cleary, Edmund Rice Centre – sendwine@gmail.com, +  07-3376-8448

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The International Allies against Mining in El Salvador are made up of organizations from Australia, Canada and the United States that support the Salvadoran people as they demand sovereignty, the right to water, healthy communities and a clean environment. Each of the organizations that make up the Allies has a history of solidarity work with El Salvador. More information is available at: www.stopesmining.org

The post After Seven Years and Millions of Dollars, Decision Announced in Pac Rim Mining Company vs. El Salvador appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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Berta Cáceres Lives On, And So Does Violence By Honduran Government and Dam Company

honoring-berta-caceres

(Photo: Flickr /
Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos)

Fifteen hundred people from at least 22 countries convened in Honduras from April 13-15, 2016 for the “Peoples of ¡Berta Vive!” International Gathering. They came to honor slain global movement leader Berta Cáceres and to commit themselves to keeping her legacy alive.

Members of the international gathering also experienced the violence of the Honduran government and Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. – DESA, the foreign-backed company illegally constructing a dam on the indigenous ancestral Gualcarque River – which shadowed Berta throughout her final years and ended her life this past March 2.

Berta Cáceres’ “Emancipatory Vision”

The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), the group Berta founded in 1993 and ran until her assassination, and two other Honduran organizations hosted the gathering. The final declaration gave the context of the meeting.

In this land which has struggled for more than 500 years, with the sound of the free-running rivers, the strength of the mountains, the neighborhoods and communities; with the fury and tenderness of the beings of nature; with the spirit of the ancestors, and the hope and pain of men, children, and women [who are] all people of Berta… We are convened here for her memory and her rebellious life.

The forum combined presentations by COPINH leaders and members of Berta’s family; workshops on extraction and its prerequisite, militarization, on human rights, and on women’s power; a cultural presentation by the Afro-indigenous Garifuna; a videotaped message from Gustavo Castro Soto, Berta’s Mexican counterpart in environmental defense and the sole witness to her murder; and much more. A march through the capital of Tegucigalpa was loud, long, and invigorated.

The overarching message of the gathering was two-fold justice for Berta. This includes, first, the fair investigation and prosecution of Berta’s killers, both intellectual authors and paid hitmen. (Toward this end, COPINH and Berta’s family are requesting that the Honduran government allow the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights actively contribute to the legal process.) Second, justice for Berta means the fulfillment of what she lived and died for. In the short term, this is the cancellation of the dam project on the Gualcarque River. In the longer term, it means a liberatory transformation toward a human- and earth-centered economics, politics, and society in Honduras and around the world.

The Declaration of the International Peoples of “Berta Vive” characterized her contribution toward that transformation as her:

…ethics and practice… and her commitment to the peoples of the world. Her proposal for life was sustained by the radicality and honesty of her words; the profundity of her decolonized thoughts; her profound knowledge and great confidence in people who struggle; and the international horizon of her emancipatory vision.

Assault by Machetes and Rocks

The third day of the gathering, March 15, consisted of a procession to the Gualcarque River. Numerous busloads of farmers, environmentalists, anarchists, human rights observers, children, and others from throughout the Americas and Europe, including many Hondurans, traveled to the village of San Ramón, municipality of San Francisco Ojuera. This villages abuts the river from the north side, from which DESA is now constructing the dam. The internationally financed company moved operations after protests by the COPINH community of Rio Blanco, on the south side of the river, forced construction to a standstill.

During five years of dam-building operations in Rio Blanco, five people have been killed and four have been injured by DESA’s hired guns. Despite this non-prosecuted violence, DESA could not quash the opposition from the highly organized community. The dam construction is in violation of both the Honduran constitution and Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, which grants free, prior, and informed consent before development or extraction may occur on indigenous lands.

San Francisco Ojuera, alternatively, is composed of campesinos/as who are not organized through COPINH. They do not identify as indigenous, and have not chosen to resist.

This past Friday, after having been arbitrarily stopped by police twice, and passing several phalanxes of soldiers in anti-riot gear, the caravan of vehicles parked and the crowd began the 45-or-so minute walk to the river. As the crowd approached a bend in the road, 20 or so goons – protected by about an equal number of Honduran national police – shook their machetes in the air. Some held rifles, sticks, and rocks. They voiced vicious statements about Black people and COPINH.

Among the group were individuals who had several times threatened Berta and other members of COPINH with death, according to a communique of April 16, 2016 by COPINH and the other conference organizers. The men and a few women called out that the “fly” had been killed, though she left behind a “plague.”

This was reminiscent of an attempted visit to the river by about 100 COPINH members, including Berta, on March 20. Then, police, soldiers, anti-riot special forces called the Tigres (created and funded by the US), and armed men in civilian clothes blocked their route and assaulted them.

According to testimony given to COPINH by contracted criminals, DESA pays 200 lempiras, or US$ 8.87, for a day’s work of violence and harassment of dam opponents. On this recent march, a well-known red truck belonging to DESA was parked next to police cars along the road to the river.

The hundreds of Honduran and international delegates continued down to the dam-threatened Gualcarque River despite the threat. There, some swam and others participated in a ceremony, led by Guatemalan Mayans, for Berta’s spirit and strength and for protection of the new COPINH leaders. Some of the armed men followed, filming the faces of delegation members.

As the visitors began to return from the river valley in late afternoon, the operatives became even more wild, lunging and screaming and thrusting their machetes. The police, who had been standing in front of the group to protect them,  now moved aside to let them loose. The men, some of whom were clearly drunk, began throwing rocks at delegation members’ heads, using their fists to beat others, and throwing still others on the ground and kicking them. One assailant slashed a delegation member’s wrist with his machete. Two men, within moments of each other, drew their machetes sharply to the top of the head of this writer, but halted inches above their target. Another attacker tried to slash his machete down on the arm of a Spanish activist, but one of the COPINH team was able to wrest the machete away.

Human rights reporters, after subsequent investigation, put the number of those wounded at 8 or 10. Throughout it all, COPINH members remained completely nonviolent and called for calm.

The policemen stood by all this while, doing nothing to stop the attacks. Then at a certain point, they began aggressively trying to push all those who had returned from the river back down the road to the buses.

However, many refused to leave because a group of delegation members still remained at the river. This included Tomas García, Berta’s successor as COPINH coordinator, whom the goons had been shouting that they wanted to attack. Dusk was approaching.

After some negotiation with caravan members, the police agreed to go collect the remainder at the river in their truck. They refused, though, to allow representatives of the delegation to ride along with them. This would have left the same police who had threatened and arrested Tomas in the past to have free access to him and other COPINH members. Pressure from the visitors finally prevailed, and they were allowed to ride along in the trucks. Everyone was shuttled up to the village safely.

There the safety ended. The police then actively joined the paid attackers. They shoved people and pointed their rifles at them, shouted and cursed them. On foot and in their trucks, policemen pushed the delegation down the road, driving so closely as to almost hit some of the retreating group.

Adelante, Forward

A favorite expression of Berta’s was, “They fear us because we are fearless.” COPINH is not retreating in the face of this or countless earlier attacks.

The final declaration of the international gathering reflects this spirit. It says:

To all the peoples, men and women, we invite you with energy and ethical unity to strengthen the struggle. We will never give up hope. We will live toward a future of utopia with justice, liberty, and autonomy… on this land.

The post Berta Cáceres Lives On, And So Does Violence By Honduran Government and Dam Company appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Beverly Bell is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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