After El Salvador won a decade-long legal battle against mining company OceanaGold on Friday, social organizations and communities pledged to continue fighting to protect the nation’s natural resources.
Friday's success story involved a US$301 million lawsuit and a court battle that first began in 2007, when El Salvador sought to defend its sovereignty by denying OceanaGold, then Pacific Rim, a new permit to extract the nation's gold reserves.
In an exclusive interview with teleSUR, Chico Montes, director of Association of Social Economic Development (ADES), a human rights organization, said the victory gives the Salvadoran grassroots a lot of strength in continuing its fight against exploitative industries.
Along with other rural organizations, they created the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining, which was crucial in achieving the positive ruling in favor of the Central American country.
According to Montes, the ruling is “a reflection of the struggle of the peasant and popular organizations."
“The communities have suffered for opposing these projects. Without their efforts, none of this would be possible.”
The battle now, according to Montes, will be against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and free-trade agreements with Europe and any other region.
Before the lawsuit, the government of El Salvador raised concerns over the failure of the company’s El Dorado gold mine to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment. OceaneGold then sued the small Central American country in the World Bank's International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, which allows corporations to sue states through free trade agreements if future profits are perceived to be infringed upon.
“Such projects put states and governments like ours against the wall, giving priority to the interests of international companies,” said Montes.
After years of legal wrangling, the World Bank court awarded El Salvador's government US$8 million to cover its legal fees and costs. For Pedro Cabezas, also a member of the roundtable and the Association for the Development of El Salvador, CRIPDES, the struggle now continues in the courts.
“We believe it is a claim that should have never proceeded, the only reason it did is because it was done under investment treaties,” Cabezas told teleSUR.
“These demands are against the rights of the people because companies may sue states, but states and people affected can’t sue the companies,” said Cabezas.
According to Cabezas, they have been fighting for over seven years to achieve justice for those communities and organizations affected by the pollution and corporate greed of OceanaGold.
“It is our right to determine our own development, companies cannot come and extort our governments,” said Cabezas.
El Salvador, the most water-stressed country in Central America, has witnessed a long uphill struggle as social movements and progressive politicians face powerful corporate interests over whether water resources are a public or private good.