Gold Fever

Sean Donohue, in an article on the NarcoNews web site titled "Resisting the New Conquistadors" describes the organizing efforts of small communities in Chalatenango department against the arrival of Canadian gold mining companies. Here is an excerpt:
Earlier this year, the Salvadoran government granted two Canadian companies, Au Martinique Silver and Intrepid Minerals,– licenses for gold exploration in the department of Chalatenango, near the Honduran border. Au Martinique's website promises investors that "“El Salvador has the lowest risk profile for investment in all of Central America." But what they haven'’t taken into account is the region'’s strong history of community organizing, and the lengths its people are willing to go to defend their land and their livelihood.

According to Oxfam America, "Gold mining is one of the most destructive activities in the world. The production of one gold ring generates 20 tons of waste." Cyanide, used to separate gold from ore, can be deadly in small doses. It leaches into groundwater and soil where it can persist for years.

Most people in Chalatenango are subsistence farmers, growing what they can in poor soil, and supplementing their meager earnings with money sent by relatives living and working in the U.S. Debt has already driven many families off the land, and with cheap imports from subsidized farms in the U.S. driving crop prices down, many more will have to leave the land in the years to come. Water and soil contamination from gold mining could deal the final blow to communities like Carasque that are already struggling to survive.

Community leaders don't believe the mining companies' promises of jobs and prosperity. Esperanza Ortega, a legendary organizer from the town of Arcatao, says:

They tell us they are going to bring employment to our community, but based on the investigation we'’ve done on the experiences of other communities around, they say that, they give employment to a few people for awhile, and then when they decide it's time to bring machinery in, it'’s just the specialists, the people that can run the machinery, and they kick all the other workers out.

Recently El Faro carried a similar story of how the community of San Jose Las Flores in Chalatenango has organized to keep out gold mining interests. As the price fo gold soars on world markets, the potential for gold mining in El Salvador is likely to be a flash point for protests in the months to come.


Anonymous said…
This is a little man against the giant scenario. A government backed coorporation vs. a handful of villagers. Personally, I'd want the gold diggers to go elsewhere, El Salvador doesn't need any foreign party to come further waste our environment... The goverment/country itself is doing a fine job alone. I did hear that in a few farms people had managed to ward off the predators, but it's to my understanding that mining has already started elsewhere (was it las Cabañas?). I hope the little people manage to stay standing, and I do hope that crooked government stops supporting such corporations, yet I wonder... perhaps someone "influential" in this country is an investor of one of those companies?
Anonymous said…
Then again, Latin America will always be THE Banana Republic.
Anonymous said…
Yes, that ^^^is the Achilles talon of the little people. The prospect of jobs, of a "better life". That is what will drive a lot of the campesinos to finally surrender their land in expectation of a paying job. And who is to blame them? Nowadays people are willing to do anything for susbistence. So the prospect of getting a job is an answer to people's prayers... Though, if what the article says is true (about people only getting jobs temporally to later be "fired" once machinery replacement became available). El Salvador is living in very desperate times, or "migrate" or be content with a temporal job. If not, then crime or beggin are your only "alternatives" or rather said what you'll end up with thanks to the lack of alternatives. Corporations like Martinique will probably find themselves at home in here, thanks to the government. Imo, the Chalatenango villagers will only be able to mantain a temporal stand off. Martinique probably knows this, and meanwhile Chalatenango refuses, they'll just go elsewhere to with their promises of a "better life"...
Anonymous said…
...(about people only getting jobs temporally to later be "fired" once machinery replacement became available)... [Accidentally omitted something]eventually people will end up worst than they were before: no land, no crops.
Anonymous said…
Critics of gold mining and other productive efforts should welcome investment in El Salvador. It is clear that farming alone cannot support the population of this country. People need better opportunities here, or the exodus to the north will only increase. Further, organized efforts to block economic activity will cause outside investors to look elsewhere, and worsen the job situation even more.
Anonymous said…
I would welcome things like maquilas as opposed to things like gold mining, thank you. Or by that matter, I'd welcome any other venture that doesn't require for people to leave their lands, just focuses on the explotation of the resources, has unfortunate enviromental impacts, and in the end only requires only for specialized labor. Things like mining will only increase migration al norte or into the cities. The only people benefitting from this process are in reality the Mining Corporations.
Tim said…
With the problems facing El Salvador, I don't think the country should just automatically turn down the benefits of having a natural resource such as gold. Yes, mining is ugly and a real threat to the environment, but so is poverty, illiteracy and a lack of potable water and adequate healthcare.

Yet I don't think this government has the strength or credibility to regulate gold-mining in a way which will produce benefits to the country while minimizing the environmental and social impacts.

The focus should be on strengthening institutions, eliminating corruption, and adopting environmental laws which might allow El Salvador to profit from its apparent natural resource of gold deposits.

I would guess that many persons favoring the complete absence of gold mining in El Salvador are fans of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Yet Chavez is able to fund his social programs and assist the poor through the profits from the not-environmentally-friendly production of crude oil.
Anonymous said…
of all the places in el salvador, perhaps the northern regions like "chalatenango" have the best chance for resistance. their history of resistance, there large amount of sister cities and sister churches in the USA and canada will help out too. one thing that might be missing is organizations like CISPES (Citizens In Colidarity with the Peoples of El Salvador) and CRISPAS (the Christian organization) putting this issue as a priority and in the forefront. CISPES deals so much with san salvador and the areas around it and with the sweatshops, i wish they would also pay attention to this issue a bit more.

this is not just one or a few people tho. it could blossom. people all over the USA and canada have some sort of ties to el salvador. windsor canada, seattle washington, maine, numerous places in southern california, northern new jersey/new york...etc......
Anonymous said…
tim, if there were a way to extract gold and silver without using arsenic, without leaving tons of waste to extract enough gold to make one gold ring, i would agree with you.

if gold and silver were a necessary mineral (like nickel was in WWII) OK, let't talk.

if the jobs created were going to be more than 5 dollars a day, and people would be guarenteed to be trained on high tech equipment and keep their good jobs (research in el salvador suggests the exact opposite)....then lets talk.

but since none of that is true, and the canadian company will take 96 percent of the profits back with them, (and don't forget the government's take) what poverty will be sqashed?

you mention clean drinking water. just where do you think the arcenic used to separate the old and silver from the rest of the land will go to? there are thousands of people and farms (bean and corn and etc grown there) extremely near, or right on top of the proposed mine site. just where do you think these people will be able to get this food making 5 dollars a day and after they are forced to sell their land to the mine, or after the arsenic poisons their corn crop?

say no to the mines unless these questions can be positivly addressed.
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