Mining projects in El Salvador and impunity, violations of human rights, democracy and national sovereigny

Session 26Human Rights Council

Joint written statement of the CETIM, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)


Access the statement in PDF


The Case of Pacific Rim Mining Corporation against El Salvador2

Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining, recently acquired by the Australian-Canadian firm OceanaGold3, has been trying to access gold deposits in northern El Salvador for close to a decade. In 2009, Pacific Rim launched a multimillion dollar lawsuit against El Salvador at a World Bank arbitration tribunal for not having granted the company the permit to put its El Dorado mine project into operation. OceanaGold, having bailed out Pacific Rim from near bankruptcy in November 2013, aims to strike a deal with the Salvadoran government or to continue with the lawsuit. However, OceanaGold is hedging its bets based on shaky grounds. Pacific Rim never fulfilled the necessary requirements established in El Salvador’s mining law to obtain its exploitation permit. Furthermore, communities in the surrounding department of Cabañas – and most Salvadorans – do not want mining in their country. As the smallest and most densely populated country in Latin America with already stressed water supplies, Salvadorans are unwilling to face the risks industrial metal mining represents. The company’s lawsuit aims at undermining the public debate and at limiting democratic public policy-making.

Violation of the environmental rights and of public consulting in El Salvador

According to the Pacific Rim Company, the water resources in El Salvador will not be affected by its mining operations.4 However, Pacific Rim never undertook adequate studies to understand, much less mitigate, the potential impacts from the El Dorado project. An expert from the United States characterized the company’s environmental assessment as unfit for consideration in the United States or Canada.

Local residents in Cabañas reported negative impacts of Pacific Rim’s exploration activities, including “reduced access to fresh water, polluted water, impacts on livestock and adverse health impacts.”5Rather than provide a serious response to public concerns about cyanide use in gold processing and other impacts from mining, Pacific Rim launched a “green mining6” campaign. As part of this, company representatives held public meetings in Cabañas at which they treated local residents with disrespect, trying to convince them that cyanide was safe enough, including for consumption.7

Water quality, hydrogeology and geochemistry expert Dr. Robert Moran carried out a review of the company’s 2005 Environmental Impact Assessment and found that it would be unacceptable in Canada or the US. In addition, The study found a “near complete lack of baseline water quality and quantity data,” particularly regarding groundwater, and a “lack of transparency in the public consultation process.” 8He also found that the assessment did not include sufficient details to allow for a serious evaluation of what measures would be needed to mitigate the consequences of a possible seismic event in the area. In 2012, Salvadoran researchers 9found concentrations of arsenic in sediments above levels permissible in Canada10 from two rivers near the area in which Pacific Rim operated.

Experiences elsewhere in El Salvador further fuel local skepticism. A now-closed gold mine in eastern El Salvador, most recently owned by the Milwaukee-based Commerce Group Company, caused water pollution from acid mine drainage. High levels of kidney and nervous system diseases have been observed among the local population11. A study12found that the nearby San Sebastian river water contains nine times more cyanide and one thousand times more iron than is safe/recommended for human consumption.13 Instead of taking responsibility; Commerce Group sued the Salvadoran government before the ICSID for suspending its mining permits over these environmental concerns. However, due to lack of liquidity, Commerce Group lost the case.14

Social Response
The environmental and water resource defense of El Salvador has conducted one of the most successful social movements in recent years, being the first country to halt metallic mining.15

Despite this, Pacific Rim accuses some rogue or “anti-development” NGOs of being behind the campaign against mining. In reality, opposition to mining in El Salvador is broad-based, as evidenced by a survey16 and extends to the highest echelons of the Catholic Church. Local opposition emerged in response to the experience of communities from Cabañas with Pacific Rim and gave rise to a national movement 17against mining in El Salvador.

The National Roundtable against Metallic Mining (or “The Mesa” as it is known) involves hundreds of communities and thousands of people throughout El Salvador. The NGOs participating in the Mesa include many respected environmental and grassroots organizations. The Mesa has achieved a strong international recognition.18

Cancellation of the Exploitation Permit by El Salvador’s Government

In 2008 and 2009, both of the Salvadoran presidents, former and current, publicly committed to not approving any mining project during their terms, and to not extend Pacific Rim’s exploitation permit given that Pacific Rim did not fulfill all requirements to obtain a mining permit, it never completed or submitted a feasibility study19, nor did it confirm it had purchased ownership or authorization to work on the land above the proposed mine.20 Neither were the company’s Environmental Impact Assessment and environmental permit, necessary to apply for an exploitation permit21, ever approved.

Violence in Cabañas and attacks against environmental advocates.

Pacific Rim’s activities in Cabañas generated conflict, aggravated social divisions, and raised the stakes around current and potential economic benefits from mining. This has contributed to the raise of threats and violence, which have yet to be fully investigated. The emergence of local opposition to the mine in Cabañas brought local community organizations, priests, and journalists into direct tension with local politicians that supported Pacific Rim.22Conservationist Richard Steiner notes in a report that substantial company funds were provided for “local initiatives aimed at winning local consent for the project.”23

The discord in Cabañas led Steiner to conclude that the company’s activities led to the creation of “corrosive communities,” in which “an intense socio-political polarity has developed between proponents and opponents of mining [that has led] to social tensions, emotional stress, disintegration of civil society, political turmoil and violence.”24

Threats against anti-mining activists are reported to have begun in 2006.25 These culminated in violence in 2009 and again in 2011.26

In June 2009, the body of community leader and vocal anti-mining activist Marcelo Rivera was found in a well with signs of torture, two weeks after he disappeared27. Immediately afterward, threats were issued against local activists such as Father Luis Quintanilla, who was attacked twice in July 2009.28 Reporters at Radio Victoria have received constant threats.29

In December 2009, Ramiro Rivera Gómez, Vice President of the Cabañas Environmental Committee, was shot to death 30followed six days later by the murder of activist Dora Alicia Recinos Sorto and her unborn child.31In late 2010 and early 2011, two gang members with information about Marcelo Rivera’s murder were killed. 32In June 2011, Juan Francisco Durán Ayala, a volunteer at the Cabañas Environmental Committee, was also murdered.33

Shortly after the murders of Ramiro Rivera and Dora Alicia Sorto in 2009, the Sub-Director for the National Police Howard Cotto remarked: “Even if we suggest that the motive of these crimes have to do with mining or not… what is clear is that in all the areas where Pacific Rim began mining exploration, high levels of conflict occurred.”34

The Salvadoran Ombudsman for Human Rights has also stated that the acts of violence “are very probably related to each other, thus enabling us to infer that they are also linked to the victims’ work in defense of the environment.”35Immediately following the murder of Juan Francisco Durán in 2011, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes called for a full investigation and offered, “more security to the environmental movement, because its struggles and demands are just.”36

However, Salvadoran officials responsible for investigating the 2009 murders immediately depoliticized the potential motives for the crimes.37 Six people were convicted in the Marcelo Rivera case, but questions remain about the intellectual authors of the crime. 38Nine have been arrested in the Ramiro Rivera case and others from the community of Trinidad, but a full trial has yet to take place.39 Radio Victoria has not seen results from any investigations into the litany of threats their group has received.40 The rate of impunity for violent crimes in El Salvador is 96%.41

The Pacific Rim vs. El Salvador case at the ICSID

The company Pacific Rim is using the rules of investor-state arbitration to subvert the democratic and national debate on mining in El Salvador, a matter that should not be decided by the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) as demanded by more than 300 organizations globally in a letter to World Bank’s President, Dr. Kim.42

Abusing the procedure designed to attract jurisdiction under the CAFTA -DR, Pacific Rim undertook a “jurisdiction shopping” to sue El Salvador and moved its subsidiary from the Cayman Islands to Nevada, United States. The move failed. However ICSID allowed the company to proceed with the case under the law of Salvadoran investment that allowed companies to resort to international tribunals. Since then, the law was amended to prevent other transnational companies from bypassing the Salvadoran courts and bring cases directly to ICSID.43However, the amendment is not retroactive and the Pacific Rim suit continues; A hearing will take place before the case’s court at ICSID in Washington, beginning on September 15, 2014 and then the court will give the final verdict.

The wide range of Salvadoran organizations opposed to mining in their country does not have a voice in the judicial process of the trial. Arbitrators only consider whether or not the investment protection laws have been violated. The company is demanding 301 million dollars.44 The money already spent by El Salvador on its defense could have had a much better use, and it is the impacts of the activities of the company to date that should be properly compensated. 45

The consortium Oceana Gold, which acquired Pacific Rim and operates mines in New Zealand and the Philippines, bets it will get a verdict in its favor and receive from the Salvadoran Treasury the money which Pacific Rim argues never received for not having been granted the operating license of the El Dorado mine in Cabañas.

Pyramidal structure of transnational mining

This case is also important because Pacific Rim is a “junior” company, which are generally engaged in exploration work. Because they are certain to find gold deposits, the project is often sold to a larger company with more resources and operational capacity, like the Oceana Gold Corporation.46The mining sector is made up of cartels and consortiums that conceal each other, and there is a monopoly and concentration among the largest ones, forming a “divine mining pyramid.”47


1. The activities of Pacific Rim in the department of Cabañas in El Salvador have generated conflicts and aggravated divisions. This has contributed to a number of threats and acts of intimidation and violence that have not yet been fully investigated and the direct and indirect perpetrators of the crimes remain unpunished.

2. An international agreement for transnational companies is necessary in which environmental and social impact assessments are submitted prior to approval of investment projects, and to establish mechanisms to monitor this requirement.

3. The Pacific Rim vs El Salvador case demonstrates the need for a binding agreement on transnational corporations to ensure effective resources to victims of human rights violations and to address the imbalance in the international legal order due the excessive rights that investment treaties give to foreign investors.

1. Esta declaración se ha elaborada en colaboración con Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho (FESPAD).
2. Se usó como insumo principal el documento: Moore, Jen; Broad, Robin; Cavanagh, John; et. al. “Desmintiendo 8 falsedades de la empresa Pacific Rim / Oceana Gold en El Salvador. 2014"
4. De acuerdo con su director ejecutivo, Tom Shrake, “Los ríos y el agua están cargados de químicos. Por qué nos están pidiendo todas estas cosas ambientales, cuando no las tienen en su propia economía. Nuestro proceso finalizaría con agua más limpia… Estas personas pretenden ser ambientalistas, no lo son. Están en contra del desarrollo. No están a favor del ambiente, si lo estuvieran, apoyarían esta mina”, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, edición dominical, Karin Wells, “High Stakes Poker”, enero 11, 2013.
5. Centro Internacional para Leyes Ambientalistas (siglas en inglés CIEL) “Presentación del Informe Amicus Curiae a Pac Rim Cayman LLC versus Republic of El Salvador, ICSID Caso No. ARB /09/12” 20 de mayo, 2011.
6. Jason Wallach, Upsidedownworld, “Pacific Rim Silent in Wake of Violence Against Anti-Mining Protesters in Cabañas, El Salvador”, August 5, 2009.
7. The Nation (La Nación) Robin Broad y John Cavanagh; “Like Water for Gold in El Salvador” (Como agua para el oro en El Salvador) Agosto 1-8 de 2011;
8. Robert Morán, Ph.D “Technical Review of the El Dorado Mine Project Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), El Salvador” (Análisis Técnico de la evaluación del impacto ecológico en el proyecto de la mina El Dorado, El Salvador), octubre de 2005.
9. Del Instituto de Vulcanología de la Universidad de El Salvador, en colaboración con la Asociación de Desarrollo Económico y Social de Santa Marta (ADES).
10. ADES, Ingeniería Sin Fronteras, Agencias Española de Cooperación Internacional (AECID) y Agencia Catalana de Cooperación al Desenvolupament (ACCD) “Sedimentos en el Río Titihuapa”, producido como parte del proyecto “Plan Director de Calidad y Cantidad en la subcuenca del Río Titihuapa” publicado el 28 de julio de 2012
11. Otras experiencias en El Salvador alimentan el escepticismo local. Una mina de oro ahora cerrada, ubicada en el este de El Salvador y cuyo último dueño fue la compañía Commerce Group domiciliada en Milwaukee, generó contaminación en el agua por el drenaje acido de la mina. Altos índices de enfermedades de riñón y del sistema nervioso han sido observados en la población local. Un estudio realizado por el Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales de El Salvador en Julio de 2013 encontró que las aguas del río cercano San Sebastián, contenían nueve veces más cianuro y mil veces más hierro que lo recomendable para el consumo humano. En lugar de asumir responsabilidad, Commerce Group demandó al gobierno Salvadoreño ante el CIADI por suspender sus permisos mineros con base en estas preocupaciones ambientales. Sin embargo, por falta de liquidez, Commerce Group perdió el caso.
12. Según la Presidenta de la junta directiva de Pacific Rim, Catherine McLeod-Seltzer,” unas ONG en contra del desarrollo fomentaron la oposición a la minería esparciendo mentiras. [Estoy hablando de grupos como] OXFAM. Ellos tienen grupos en algunas de estas zonas que son muy anti-desarrolladas. En cuanto a grupos religiosos… no creo que controlen a su gente en el campo. Creo que estos son canallas que se aprovechan de la situación”, CBC, Sunday Edition, January, 2013.
13. En el 2008, la Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) dio a conocer los resultados de una encuesta, en la que 62.4% de la población de las áreas afectadas por la minería, se oponía a la minería. La Conferencia Episcopal Salvadoreña se encuentra entre los actores que se han opuesto públicamente a la minería en El Salvador. De acuerdo con el Monseñor Fernando Sáenz Lacalle (Arzobispo de 1995 a 2008) “No es correcto arriesgar la salud de la población solo para que unos cuantos que no viven acá se puedan llevar el 97% de las jugosas ganancias y dejarnos con el 100% del cianuro”. Sitio Web de la Arquidiócesis de San Salvador:
14. Además de las preocupaciones sobre los impactos en el agua arriba mencionados, durante las perforaciones de exploración empleados de Pacific Rim traspasaron la propiedad privada de pobladores locales. Una gama de encuentros con efectos negativos dieron lugar a que los dueños reusaran vender sus terrenos a la compañía, y contribuyó a que surgiera la oposición local y nacional.
15. En el 2011, más de 260 organizaciones internacionales, incluyendo la Confederación Sindical Internacional (CSI), se unieron al llamado de La Mesa para que el tribunal de comercio del Banco Mundial desestimara los alegato legales de Pacific Rim. ( En el 2011, el activista salvadoreño Francisco Pineda del Comité Ambiental de Cabañas ganó el prestigioso premio medio ambiental Goldman Environmental Prize por haber estado entre los que “lideraron un movimiento ciudadano que logró detener que una mina de oro destruyera las fuentes de agua, un recurso el cada vez más escaso en el país; y los medios de subsistencia de comunidades rurales en todo el país” (.
16. Richard Steiner, “El Salvador, Oro, Pistolas y Decisiones: la mina de oro El Dorado, violencia en Cabañas, demandas del TLCA-RD y el esfuerzo nacional para prohibir la minería”, febrero de 2010.
17. Centro Internacional para Leyes Ambientalistas (siglas en inglés CIEL) “Presentación del Informe Amicus Curiae a Pac Rim Cayman LLC versus Republic of El Salvador, ICSID Caso No. ARB /09/12”.
18. Richard Steiner, Febrero de 2010.
19. Al menos desde el 2006, cuando las amenazas a los defensores ambientales y de derechos humanos comenzaron, el partido de derecha ARENA ha controlado, en su mayoría, a los gobiernos locales en Cabañas. See 2006 election results for the department of Cabañas in which six of nine municipalities were won by the ARENA party:, “Elecciones Alcaldes y Diputados 2006: Mapa Interactivo de Municipios”, http://
20. Richard Steiner, “El Salvador – Gold, Guns, and Choice: the El Dorado gold mine, violence in Cabañas, CAFTA-DR claims, and the national effort to ban mining,” February 2010. En ese reporte se indica que se han realizado varios pagos directamente a varios alcaldes de la región y eran usados para cosas locales tales como “proyectos, fiestas y financiamiento discrecional significativo”. Aún más, los alcaldes locales serían los responsables de administrar las regalías provenientes de la mina, si alguna vez fuese puesta en operación.
21. Richard Steiner, February 2010.
22. 36 Radio Victoria, “Chronology of Threats and Actions,” 2012.
23. Washington Office on Latin America, “Alarming Series of Violent Acts in Cabañas, El Salvador,” February 8, 2011;
24. Hector Berríos, Upsidedownworld, “Ramiro Rivera Shot to Death in Cabañas,” December 21, 2009;
25. Jason Wallach, August 5, 2009.
26. El Mercurio Digital, “El Salvador: Radio comunitaria en la mira,” July 12, 2011;; Hector Berríos, Upsidedownworld, December 21, 2009.
27. Richard Steiner, February 2010.
29. Voices on the Border, “Another Wave of Violence in Cabañas,” January 5, 2011;
30. SHARE Foundation, “President Funes condemns murder of anti-mining activist,” July 7, 2011.
31. Edgardo Ayala, Latin American Press, “Activists Murdered,” February 4, 2010;
32. CIEL, March 12, 2011.
33. SHARE Foundation, July 7, 2011.
34. Edgardo Ayala, Latin American Press, “Activists Murdered,” February 4, 2010;; and Theresa McGee, Briarpatch Magazine, “Canadian mining on trial: Murder, impunity and Pacific Rim in El Salvador,” January 1, 2012;
35. Voices on the Border, “Three Convicted for the Murder of Marcelo Rivera,” September 22, 2010; Cabe señalar que una abogada que trabajaba en la Fiscalía General de la Republica en Cabañas perdió su trabajo después de reclamar que la investigación en torno al asesinato de Marcelo Rivera estaba corrupta y presionó por una investigación independiente. Veáse Theresa McGee, Briarpatch Magazine, January 1, 2012.
36. Voices on the Border, “Preliminary Hearing for 9 Trinidad Murder Suspects Postponed… Again,” August 4, 2011;
37. Email correspondence between MiningWatch Canada and Radio Victoria, December 2013; and Radio Victoria, “Chronology of Threats and Actions,” 2012.
38. Gabriel Labrador and José Luis Sanz, El Faro, “La impunidad en los homicidios alcanza el 96%, según ministro de Seguridad,” February 22, 2012;
40. Erick Cornejo, La Asamblea Legislativa de la República de El Salvador, “Consenso para reformar Solución de Controversias de la Ley de Inversiones,” 9 de julio de 2013;
41. Comunicación entre Meg Kinnear, de ICSID y Robin Broad, 6 de junio de 2011. Ver también:
42. Vidalina Morales, representante de la Mesa, ha señalado, “Dado que Pacific Rim no cumplió con las regulaciones y leyes medioambientales, las actividades de exploración causaron grandes daños ecológicos, pérdidas económicas, conflictos sociales y corrupción. Es decir agraviaron al país; y, por ende, debe ser juzgada. Pero todo lo contrario, es la compañía la que está demandando al estado salvadoreño. Los papeles están revertidos: el agresor demanda a la víctima”. Discurso de aceptación, en nombre de la Mesa Nacional contra la Minería Metálica, del Premio Letelier-Moffit de Derechos Humanos en Washington, D.C. el 17 de octubre de 2009;
43. Por ejemplo, similar situación sucedió en Guatemala: la mina Marlin fue descubierta por Francisco Gold y desarrollada por Glamis Gold, y luego pasó a ser propiedad de Goldcorp Inc., a través de su subsidiaria Montana Exploradora de Guatemala. Otro ejemplo se dio en Ecuador, donde se han registrado más de veinte empresas junior, algunas ya tenían “alianzas estratégicas” con empresas grandes o que ya habían vendido su proyecto a una empresa más grande.
44. Moore, Jennifer. Mitos y realidades de la minería transnacional.

Categories Environmental justice HUMAN RIGHTS Rights of peasants Statements Transnational Corporations
bursa evden eve nakliyat