IPS news reports protestors rallied in front of World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, “hoping to persuade a tribunal housed there to dismiss a case brought by Pacific Rim Mining Corporation against the government of El Salvador.” Pacific Rim is a Canadian firm which used its incorporation in Nevada to use an investor-state dispute clause in the DR-CAFTA (more below) to sue El Salvador for the government’s refusal to approve a cyanide-leech gold mine on the Lempa River.
“The case before the World Bank tribunal is a travesty,” says Cecil W. Roberts, president of United Mine Workers of America, in the IPS article. “A ruling in favour of the Pacific Rim gold mining company would represent a threat to workers’ rights and the environment.”
Also in the rally, according to the article, were members of AFL-CIO, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Farm Labour Organizing Committee, the Communications Workers of America, the Steelworkers, the International Longshoremen’s Association and CISPES (the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.)
The Council of Canadians has been following Pacific Rim’s activities in El Salvador and the subsequent investor-state dispute for several years. You can read more about the case, and the many others where Canadian mining in Latin America is impacting the rights of communities and their access to water, on our website here.
According to the IPS article:
When initial explorations begun by Pacific Rim in 2002 turned up a promising vein of ore, the pro-business Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) government encouraged it to apply for a mining license.
But a grassroots movement of farmers and activists argued that such a project posed serious environmental and public health threats, setting off a major national debate. It is a discussion that should be left to that nation and its people, said the project’s critics.
Pacific Rim, which has long insisted that it would use the most up-to-date environmental technology and methods to ensure the integrity and health of the river, brought its suit under an “investor-state” provision of the 2005 Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA).
That provision allows corporations to sue governments over actions that allegedly reduce the value of their investments. The provision and others like it were first crafted for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and are now included in dozens of U.S. trade and investment treaties.
The Bank-based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) grew from these provisions and is the tribunal that is deciding the Pacific Rim case.
“This tribunal is illegitimate and it shouldn’t exist,” said John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies and a rally organizer. “It’s an attack on democracy.”
The Council of Canadians was among the 243 organizations mentioned above which endorsed an open letter that states:
Pacific Rim is using ICSID and the investor-state rules in a free trade agreement to subvert a democratic nationwide debate over mining and sustainability in El Salvador. These matters should not be decided by an ICSID arbitration tribunal. In the course of Pacific Rim’s intervention in the political affairs of El Salvador, four anti-mining activists have been murdered in the project area.
The letter concludes, “We stand with these communities and the government of El Salvador in their demand that their domestic governance processes and national sovereignty be respected, and thus that this case be dismissed. We stand on the side of democracy.”
The IPS article about yesterday’s protest describes the human cost of resisting the mine among the affected communities:
Since 2009, four anti-mining activists have been murdered in the project area, the last one a student who was distributing flyers when he disappeared.
The Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA) added its own statement to the broader open letter. Calling the murders “an intolerable outcome,” the church said, “We measure the impact of globalization by how it affects people and the creation.”
The decision by ICSID whether to allow the Pacific Rim case to continue is expected very soon. We’ll let you know when it does.