Yesterday I helped deliver a letter to the Canadian Embassy here in Washington, DC, about the lawsuit against the Central American country of El Salvador, by Pacific Rim Mining Corporation. The letter was coordinated by the Institute for Policy Studies and signed by Friends of the Earth, Center for International Environmental Law, Public Citizen, Sierra Club Greenpeace, Earth Island Institute and Foundation Earth (along with Earthworks).
Pacific Rim is a Canadian mining company exploring for gold in the mineral rich mountains of El Salvador. It is no surprise to geologists that Pacific Rim believes they can strike it rich there. Billions of dollars rich.
However, the communities in the area aren’t so quick to get on board. A 2007 poll showed that two thirds of the country opposed gold mining.
The proposed mine would put the Lempa River at risk, the water source for more than half the population of El Salvador, over 3 million people. And as we know, there is no price high enough for clean water, even gold.
As a result, the people elected President Mauricio Funes who promised not to allow any new mines during his five-year term, and has thus far kept his promise.
Pacific Rim however feels it has been wronged. They were issued an exploration permit (via which they spent millions of dollars) and not the permits to start operation, so they are suing El Salvador for hundreds of millions dollars to recoup their costs.
To put that number into context, $100 million would be more than 1% of El Salvador’s entire GDP.
How can a company sue a country for upholding its own laws you ask?
Well, Pacific Rim set up a subsidiary in the United States so that it could sue El Salvador through CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement). By signing CAFTA, Pacific Rim is arguing that El Salvador can no longer deny mining operations based on public safety or environmental protection.
This lawsuit has implications beyond the case of El Salvador, it could set a precedent for other international mining corporations looking to bully government and communities.
Our message to the Canadian government is clear: protect Canada's good name abroad and ask Pacific Rim to withdraw their case against El Salvador.