Governments standing up to trade agreements that violate their national sovereignty? Refusing to bow down to international pressure? Governments refusing short-term economic gain to protect their natural resources and their waters? Yes. They exist. They are few – but they exist. The question becomes how can we learn from these countries, support them, and emulate them.
El Salvador stopped issuing gold mining permits half a decade ago. “The Salvadoran government did so despite sky-high gold prices and the argument that exporting gold was one of the country’s few chances to boost aggregate economic growth (in the short-term, at least). They did so largely because the majority of Salvadorans get water from one large river system, and gold mining invariably pollutes nearby rivers and watersheds. Hence, this decision to say no to gold mining has widespread support in El Salvador, even in the local communities that might have gotten some mining jobs.
“The government of Costa Rica has said no to open-pit mining. (While open-pit mining is only one method of mining, it is among the most environmentally destructive.) … As in El Salvador, this “no new mining” policy reflected the majority wishes of constituents both in affected communities and on a broader national level. In El Salvador, more than 60 percent of the population has indicated opposition to mining; a 2010 poll showed more than 85 percent of Costa Ricans were against Infinito’s proposed mine.”
Note that when these governments, as representatives of their people, seek to protect their environment, they are threatened with legal action and fines!
“Global mining companies are trying to ensure that no government is allowed to say no. These corporations are making their cases based on a controversial Central America “free trade” agreement with the United States, and on El Salvador’s former investment law (written with the help of the World Bank), which opened the door for mining firms to sue governments for policies that impeded future profits. Canadian-Australian gold mining corporation Pacific Rim/OceanaGold claims its so-called “investor rights” are being trampled by the ban, and that El Salvador must give it a license to mine (or compensate it for what it claims is $301 million in expenditures and in profits foregone). But the Salvadoran government is serious that no means no—and it has already spent $5 million (an amount likely to more than double or triple) to defend itself against this suit at the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). So too the Costa Rican government, which is finding itself having to defend its right to say no. In February 2014, Infinito announced that, rather than accept the Supreme Court rejection of its appeal, it was also initiating an investor-state case against the Costa Rican government at the World Bank’s ICSID. Infinito is suing Costa Rica for the $94 million it claims to have invested so far.”
Meanwhile, in Guatemala, anti-mining resistance is celebrating two years of their struggle
Do read that inspiring article in full. Here’s an excerpt:
“La Puya started, as many great movements do, with a single act of civil disobedience. A woman, concerned by the sudden arrival of a gold mining operation in her community, decided to park her car sidewise across a dusty, rural road in order to stop a convoy of massive mining machinery in its tracks. Others quickly joined her, taking a stand in defense of their water supply, farmland, health, and environment. This impromptu roadside gathering of community members became, essentially, a human roadblock, preventing tractors, dump trucks and other equipment from entering the Tambor mine site. Over time, the roadblock grew into the resistance movement known as “La Puya.” La Puya – against all odds – celebrated its second anniversary on March 2.
Yuri Melini, director of the environmental group CALAS, reminded the families of La Puya that they have “the right to be informed and consulted” about any mining project that affects them. He finished by sending a clear message to the government and the transnational corporations: “when the communities say ‘no’ to mining, ‘NO’ means ‘NO’!”
The power of this message became clear when P&F Contractors, a Guatemalan company that rents out dump trucks, excavators, and other heavy machinery, decided to withdraw their equipment from the Tambor mine site, stating that Exmingua (and parent company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates) hadn’t paid them since October 2013. In a letter to La Puya, owner José Ricardo Pinetta Chacón, stated that P&F “has no intention or interest in continuing to offer our services” to the mining company and that P&F “respects the point of view of the communities affected by the mining in the area.” On February 26 and 27, just days before the second anniversary celebration, the company arrived to withdraw the machinery. The entire operation was carried out without incident, and the atmosphere in La Puya became more festive as the hours passed and the long parade of massive mining equipment was permanently removed from the mine. Nothing remains on the mining company land – another victory for the families at La Puya.
While there is much to celebrate, the struggle at the Puya isn’t over. Addressing the communities from the stage during the anniversary event, Daniel Pascual, of the Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC), congratulated them on “the victory of this peaceful resistance,” but warned them to stay vigilant because “greater repression awaits us all.” Indeed, as a new tactic, the leadership of la Puya has been accused of “illegal detention, threats, and coercion.” Just days after the anniversary celebration, a judge decided not to drop these trumped-up charges against three members of La Puya. Instead, he set a trial date for March 18. Another ten leaders, including Yolanda Oquelí, have been dragged into the process and have their hearing on April 2. Meanwhile, the U.S. parent company, Kappes, Cassiday & Associates, has shown no sign of withdrawing. The men, women and children of the resistance aren’t giving up, though. They’re at La Puya now. And they’ll be there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—and have vowed to maintain their peaceful struggle as long as it takes.”