Salvadoran Court Drops Mining Company's Charges Against Cabañas Environmentalist

Pacific Rim Mining accused environmentalists of
“kidnapping”, “aggravated robbery,” and “aggravated threats

On November 25, 2010, a district judge in Cabañas, El Salvador, dropped serious charges against seven local environmentalists who were accused by Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining of “kidnapping”, “aggravated robbery,” and “aggravated threats” among others. All seven were members of the Cabañas Environmental Committee for the Defense of Water and Culture (CAC); charges of property destruction were referred to a different court.  The charges come four years after 2006 protests at the Santa Rita mine site on the Cerro Limón hill, located in the rural community of Trinidad in Cabañas, which successfully halted activity at the mine.  Read more on the background of the case and the CISPES press release on the trial outcome.

Hearing Begins for Second CAFTA Lawsuit Against El Salvador

On Monday, November 15, proceedings began in the second lawsuit filed by a mining company against the government of El Salvador.  Milwaukee-based Commerce Group is following the lead of Vancouver-based Pacific Rim by suing El Salvador for $100 million in the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), for lost investments and anticipated lost profits based in Chapter 10 of the US-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).  Commerce Group filed suit after the Salvadoran government revoked the company’s mining permits on environmental grounds for polluting the San Sebastián River with poisonous heavy metals in the department of La Unión. This first hearing shall determine whether El Salvador's preliminary objections to the lawsuit are valid, particularly that Commerce Group's appeal in the local Salvadoran courts for its revoked permits was not completed until after the company filed its CAFTA lawsuit. One of the requirements for filing a Chapter 10 CAFTA lawsuit is that the company has completed and terminated all domestic court cases. The tribunal will make a decision by January 13, 2011.

Contamination at the Commerce Group San Sebastian gold mine in El Salvador
In response to the lawsuit, over 70 organizations - including CISPES - signed a letter demanding that Commerce Group drop the lawsuit, clean up the contamination the mining operations have caused and pay reparations to local victims of the contamination.  The Midwest Coalition Against Lethal Mining (MCALM), who sponsored the letter, is beginning a broader campaign to fight the lawsuit.

The National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador (the Mesa), in addition to denouncing the legitimacy of such lawsuits and calling on the Funes Administration to confront them head-on, has expressed concern for the dangerous precedent being set that could lead to a series of copy-cat “lost profit” CAFTA lawsuits from other mining companies.  According to the Ministry of the Environment, there are 73 requests for mining permits currently in limbo following Funes’ public refusal to authorize permits.  The Mesa has called on the Legislative Assembly to approve a law to prohibit metallic mining, a priority for the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) legislative deputies in the Climate Change and Environment Commission.

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