San Salvador, Feb. 26th, 2013
Over two hundred Members of the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador, La Mesa, held a rally this morning in front of the Guatemalan Embassy in San Salvador to deliver a letter addressed to Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina to express concerns related to the Cerro Blanco mining project in the border with El Salvador.
The letter delivered by a delegation of five community leaders from Metapan and other regions affected by mining in El Salvador stated that pollution from the mine would have immediate impacts on the health and economic wellbeing of more than 650,000 people living in 45 communities around the Guija Lake. According to the letter, all these communities rely on fishing, farming, cattle ranching, tourism and other forms of economic activity stemming from the lake.
In a speech delivered during the rally, David Pereira, director of the Center for Research on Investment and Commerce-CEICOM, also referred to the potential violations of human rights this project would have on a much larger segment of the Salvadorian population that would be affected if the Lempa River was contaminated. These include violations on the right to life, health, a clean and healthy environment, and the right to free and informed consent. “We demand that that both, the presidents of Guatemala and El Salvador inform the public about the real environmental and health impacts this project will have for our communities” Pereira stated.
In late January 2013, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman of El Salvador released a report outlining the potential human rights violations arising from the development of the Cerro Blanco mine in Guatemala. The report notes the lack of action on the side of the Salvadoran government in addressing concerns raised by affected communities and recommends that the government mobilize state institutions that could play a role in mediating with Guatemala to deal with the impacts from Cerro Blanco.
The flurry of media reports and the public outcry that ensued from the release of the report compelled President Mauricio Funes to announce the creation of an inter-institutional commission to analyze and investigate the levels of contamination of the Guija Lake and the Lempa river. During the same announcement, he stated that the “actions from the Salvadoran government to respond to potential impacts from the Cerro Blanco mine could be varied depending on the results from this investigation.”
The government of Guatemala also responded. On February 14th, the foreign affairs ministry issued a press release declaring that there is no contamination arising from the Cerro Blanco project because it still has not reached its exploitation phase. The release also states that the development of the mine is consistent with Guatemala’s sovereign right to develop its economy and that the country has in place a pollution management strategy based on a system of “compensation for environmental services”.
Following the rally on Feb. 26th, a televised report, broadcasted on El Salvador’s Channel 12 News, shows both presidents making parallel declarations that some action is being taken and that a bi-national commission would be meeting to discuss the project in the near future.
The fact that both presidents have publicly responded to La Mesa’s demand to close the Cerro Blanco project is a testament to the strength of the Salvadorian anti-mining movement and its allies. For members of La Mesa, however, these public declarations are no signs that their demands are going to be met. In a casual conversation during the rally, Bernardo Belloso, a veteran organizer with La Mesa who represents the Association for Cooperation and Development in El Salvador-CORDES, reflects that “we have made our demands very clear”, he pauses and then continues, “we are asking the government of Guatemala to close the Cerro Blanco project and the government of El Salvador to approve legislation to ban metallic mining in our soil” until that happens, “Our communities will continue to organize to defend the right to life and the right to clean water.”