Most Canadians probably haven’t heard about the murder of Dora Alicia Recinos Sorto in El Salvador on December 26. Sorto was pregnant at the time. Or the assassination of Ramiro Rivera Gomez less than a week before, on December 20, as well as the slaying of Marcelo Rivera Moreno last June.
The three victims were all Salvadoran antimining activists opposed to the presence of Vancouver-based company Pacific Rim Mining Corp. in their country. Pacific Rim has estimated that there are gold deposits of 1.4 million ounces at its El Dorado exploration site in Cabañas, 65 kilometres east of the capital city of San Salvador.
For SFU undergraduate student Ana Linares, there are things more important than gold at stake in the fight against the mining company. “There’s a fear that if Pacific Rim wins the right to mine in El Salvador, it will set a precedent for other mining companies to go and do the same thing,” Linares told the Georgia Straight. “The problem is that El Salvador is a very, very small country. It’s very densely populated, and so the people feel that the mining is not sustainable, especially with the water resources. There are water shortages in El Salvador. The biggest river in the country—the Lempa River—is highly endangered. There’s fear that the mining will also further damage an already vulnerable river ecosystem.”
Linares, who is of Salvadoran descent, has joined the campaign to raise public awareness in Vancouver of the activities of Pacific Rim. At the age of six, Linares arrived in Canada with her family in the mid 1980s as a bloody civil war raged in El Salvador.
“Canadians are well-known about [respect for] human rights,” she said. “But when we have Canadian mining companies”¦developing projects in Third World countries, it’s important for us to know the consequences of those projects, what is happening to the social and the cultural fabric of the people who oppose these mining projects.”
Pacific Rim has strongly denied any involvement in the killings. In a phone interview with the Straight, its Vancouver-based vice president for investor relations, Barbara Henderson, claimed that the company has enjoyed “overwhelming” community backing since it began operations in Cabañas in 2002. “Our experience working there has been overall extremely positive,” she said.
According to Henderson, the company stopped exploration activity at its El Dorado site in July 2008 following inaction by the Salvadoran government on its application for an environmental permit.
Last spring, through a Nevada-based subsidiary, Pacific Rim initiated arbitration proceedings against the government of El Salvador under the Central America–United States–Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement. It claimed to have invested $77 million in the project. It will be seeking “damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars”, according to a company news release.
Vancouver resident Jose Angel is the coordinator of the Solidarity Coalition for a United Latin America. Like Linares and her family, he left El Salvador years before a United Nations–brokered peace agreement in 1992 ended the civil war. “What we want here in Canada to accomplish is for the government to accept Bill C-300, which talks about the respect of human rights, the respect of the environment when they [companies] are doing mining,” Angel told the Straight.
Angel was referring to Liberal MP John McKay’s private member’s bill, which passed second reading last spring. It seeks to require mining and oil-and-gas companies to act in a manner consistent with international human-rights standards in order to qualify for assistance from Export Development Canada, a Crown corporation. The bill also aims to prohibit the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board from investing in mining and oil-and-gas companies that don’t respect human rights.
“The river we have [in El Salvador] is just a creek compared to the Fraser River here in Vancouver,” Angel said.
Angel is organizing a candlelight vigil in memory of the murdered mining activists today (January 7) at 625 Howe Street, outside Pacific Rim’s headquarters. The event will begin at 4:30 p.m.