As promised in a post a couple months ago (click here to catch up quick), it is time for an update on Arcatao’s mining consultation.
After months of prep-work, the people of the municipality of Arcatao went to the polls on November 8th to vote “yes” or “no” on allowing mining in their region. Over one thousand people voted “no.” There were three “yes” votes and one null, meaning over 99.9% of voters voted against allowing mining exploration and exploitation in their municipality. With a 53% voter turnout (including people who have immigrated to the U.S. as eligible voters, so realistically the turnout is much higher), Arcatao is an example of political participation we can all learn from.
The Delegation: A Super Brief Summary
Our team of reporters, professors, and activists met in San Salvador on Tuesday to embark on a journey through the past and present of mining in El Salvador. Our group had representatives from Canada, Germany, France, and the U.S., and observers from Denmark, Italy, Guatemala and Norway joined us on the day of the consultation.
The adventure began in San Sebastian, a municipality that had a strong mining presence throughout the twentieth century. From 1904 to 1968, thirty-two tons of gold were extracted from the hills from the U.S. based Commerce Group. These riches went outward, but contaminated water, illness, and cyanide tanks stayed.
The San Sebastian river runs through town and was its water source. Now, all drinking water must be brought into the town on truck. They have to rely on rain to water their crops, or risk contaminating them with irrigation. With less and less rain due to drought, this becomes increasingly difficult.
The next day, we went to La Maraña, a community impacted by the El Dorado mining project and the Pacific Rim/Oceana Gold lawsuit. We sat 1.5 kilometers from the project with various community leaders and discussed what they noticed in the surrounding area. They said they have been successful in keeping the mine out of their community, but at a cost. When the mining company first made its presence in La Maraña, the people didn’t know what the mine was and were told it would provide jobs and a better life for their children. They soon realized, however, that the wealth would go outward and they would be left with destroyed natural resources which their livelihoods depended on.
With the help of the local group ADES, international support, and organization within the community, the people were able to take a stand against the mine. When the company learned people were against it, however, there were multiple reported murders in the area and even more threats. Don Alejandro, one of the leaders who spoke with us, told us they continue to receive threats by phone, and once he and his thirteen-year-old daughter were shot at. She was hit with 21 pellets and is still recovering two years later. The Attorney General found the material persecutor of the crime, but not the intellectual planner behind it.
Emotionally drained, but still in hopeful spirits, the group loaded the microbus and headed to Arcatao, which Katie and I now call home. We spent the night with host families and got ready for a hike and observer training the following day.
Our morning started with a trek up Cerro Patacon. We munched some pineapple on top while we learned the historic and environmental significance of the dirt under our feet–where there was also gold.
Sunday, Arcatao went to the polls and we stood by as observers, ready to support whatever outcome the community decided. We were there to lend validity to the process, and to note any anomalies which we will eventually turn into a report.
As stated above, Arcatao overwhelmingly said, “No,” to the mine and is now the fourth municipality to do so. Working community by community, El Salvador can be an example of how to make a country free of mining.
“They are so brave,” I told Coordinator Catie as we watched people in line to vote. “Even if El Salvador becomes free of mining, Guatemala and Honduras can mine and contaminated water can enter watersheds in El Salvador anyway.”
“True,” she said, “but they can also be an example to follow of how a country in Central America can fight exploitation and ban mining.”
El Salvador can also be an example of how an informed community in the United States can make a difference nationally, too.