Tag Archives: model of development

Exxon Mobil tops list of Australia’s top 10 tax dodgers

Exxon Mobil have topped the list of Australia’s biggest tax dodgers and has ‘dudded the poor people of Papua New Guinea’

Michael West | The New Daily | March 20, 2019

Whether it is misleading the Parliament of Australia, cutting its workers’ wages, paying zero tax while racking up $33 billion in income, sending gas prices into the stratosphere or dudding the poor people of Papua New Guinea, Exxon has flair.

It is also a master of intrigue. You won’t find the financial reports for ExxonMobil Australia on its website, you won’t even find the name of its directors, despite the size of this operation. You certainly won’t find their photographs without Googling madly and paying for company searches.

You absolutely won’t find mention of 585 entities Exxon has in the Bahamas, or for that matter, any breakdown of related tax-haven associations.

How is it that this, the biggest of the US oil majors, a corporation that has been making fabulous profits in Australia for 50 years, can pay zero income tax? How does it skin its taxable income in this country back to zero?

In fact, ExxonMobil (under the trading name ‘Esso’) drilled Australia’s first offshore well through a joint venture with BHP Billiton, when it discovered the Barracouta gas field in the Bass Strait in 1965.

Two years later Kingfish was found, the first offshore oil field, which to this day remains the largest oil field discovered in Australia.

How is it that with record, eye-watering gas prices, Exxon pays no income tax?

Its financial statements provide a few clues: Massive “debt-loading” – its Australian companies borrow billions of dollars from other Exxon companies overseas and funnel hundreds of millions of dollars out via interest payments on the loans.

And finally it has been pinged for it. Its 2018 financial report discloses the Australian Tax Office has been investigating Exxon’s related-party loans and has busted it for being slippery, issuing amended income tax assessments for 2010 and 2011.

Exxon brazenly notes it might sue the tax office, or settle, as it continues to “negotiate” over what it claims is fair pricing. These fighting words are typical of a bullying multinational oil giant.

Yet. it also notes the fight with the ATO has implications for 2012 to 2017 and Exxon is acutely aware of what befell its peer, Chevron, which muscled up to the ATO and lost an historic case, for pretty much the same practice – aggressive “transfer pricing of money”.

Post the four-year ATO tax transparency figures, Exxon’s latest financial statements show more of the same – thanks to spiking gas prices, cashflow jumped from $8.2 billion to $11.3 billion. Profits were wiped out by massive related-party debt.

Tax rose from $341 million to $508 million. But guess what? Not in Australia. This tax booked in the Australian entity, although the accounts don’t specify it, and although Exxon executives refused to be interviewed about it, represents tax paid in other countries, namely Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

Further, they have lobbed in petroleum resource rent tax (PRRT) as income tax, when it has the quality of a royalty for extracting non-renewable resources from the seabed.

And then there’s the monster debt, the monster weapon of tax avoidance: Some $1.8 billion in finance charges over the past two years on Exxon’s eye-watering debt of $17.6 billion – debt owed to itself, offshore, debt to suck the profits out of Australia along with the gas.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Financial returns, Papua New Guinea

Resource extraction responsible for half world’s carbon emissions

Massive dump trucks by the Syncrude upgrader plant, Canada. The tar sands are the largest industrial project on the planet, and the world’s most environmentally destructive. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Extraction also causes 80% of biodiversity loss, according to comprehensive UN study

Jonathan Watts | The Guardian | 12 March 2019 

Extraction industries are responsible for half of the world’s carbon emissions and more than 80% of biodiversity loss, according to the most comprehensive environmental tally undertaken of mining and farming.

While this is crucial for food, fuel and minerals, the study by UN Environment warns the increasing material weight of the world’s economies is putting a more dangerous level of stress on the climate and natural life-support systems than previously thought.

Resources are being extracted from the planet three times faster than in 1970, even though the population has only doubled in that time, according to the Global Resources Outlook, which was released in Nairobi on Tuesday.

Each year, the world consumes more than 92b tonnes of materials – biomass (mostly food), metals, fossil fuels and minerals – and this figure is growing at the rate of 3.2% per year.

Since 1970, extraction of of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) has increased from 6bn tonnes to 15bn tonnes, metals have risen by 2.7% a year, other minerals (particularly sand and gravel for concrete) have surged nearly fivefold from 9bn to 44bn tonnes, and biomass harvests have gone up from 9bn to 24bn tonnes.

Up until 2000, this was a huge boost to the global economy, but since then there has been a diminishing rate of return as resources become more expensive to extract and the environmental costs become harder to ignore.

“The global economy has focused on improvements in labour productivity at the cost of material and energy productivity. This was justifiable in a world where labour was the limiting factor of production. We have moved into a world where natural resources and environmental impacts have become the limiting factor of production and shifts are required to focus on resource productivity,” says the study.

The economic benefits and environmental costs are broken down by sector. Land use change – mostly for agriculture – accounts for over 80% of biodiversity loss and 85% of water stress as forests and swamps are cleared for cropland that needs irrigation. Extraction and primary processing of metals and other minerals is responsible for 20% of health impacts from air pollution and 26% of global carbon emissions.

The biggest surprise to the authors was the huge climate impact of pulling materials out of the ground and preparing them for use. All the sectors combined together accounted for 53% of the world’s carbon emissions – even before accounting for any fuel that is burned.

“I would never have expected that half of climate impacts can be attributed to resource extraction and processing,” said Stefanie Hellweg, one of the authors of the paper. “It showed how resources are hiding behind products. By focusing on them, their tremendous impact became apparent.”

The paper highlights growing inequalities. In rich countries, people consume an average of 9.8 tonnes of resources a year, the weight of two elephants. This is 13 times higher than low incomes groups. Much of this is unseen because huge amounts of materials are often needed for a small end product, such as a mobile phone.

Izabella Teixeira, former environment minister of Brazil, said the report highlighted how rich consumer nations have exported environmental to poor producing countries. With this model now hitting climate and biodiversity boundaries that affect everyone on the planet, she said it was time for change. “Currently decisions are being based on the past but we need to base them on the future. That means leadership.”

Where leadership could come from is difficult to see in the current political environment. The US and Brazil are slashing existing environmental regulations. China has moved ahead on renewables and pollution, but its growth is even more material-intensive than developed nations. According to the report, Asia is driving the fastest demand for minerals among upper-middle income countries, which now – because of their big populations – have a greater combined material weight than wealthy nations.

The authors said it was essential to decouple economic growth from material consumption. Without change, they said resource demand would more than double to 190bn tonnes a year, greenhouse gases would rise by 40% and demand for land would increase by 20%.

However, they said this dire scenario could be avoided if there is a faster transition towards renewables, smarter urban planning to reduce the demand for concrete, dietary changes to lower the need for grazing pastures and cut levels of waste (currently a third of all food), and a greater focus on creating a cyclical economy that re-uses more materials. They also called for a switch of taxation policies away from income and towards carbon and resource extraction.

“It is possible to grow in a different way with fewer side-effects. This report is clear proof that it is possible and with higher growth,” said Janez Potočnik, co-chair of International Resource Panel and former environment commissioner for the European Union. “It’s not an easy job to do, but believe me the alternative is much worse.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Environmental impact

Impact of Industrial & Economic Development on the Environment

 

“We do not inherit the earth from our parents; we borrow it from our children”….North American Indian proverb.

Pope Francis once said: “Destroying the Earth is Sin”. 

“Safeguard Creation,” he said, “because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!”

“Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude,”

Leo Nainoka | Social Empowerment & Education Program (SEEP) | 25 October 2018

The over-riding concerns of the Church and certain NGOs like SEEP has been centered on the inequitable distribution of the Earth’s resources.

We would like to focus our attention on the greatest victim of unjust decisions – the rural communities.

One of the themes of Social Justice is “Stewardship of Creation” and it is very important to take note of what Pope Francis said “Creation is a gift that God has given us so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all.”

There are still so many proposed extractions, gravel extraction on rivers and logging being planned in Fiji.

There are so many in the tenement list and maps by the mineral resources department. There is a plan to mine bauxite in Wainunu, Bua. There is magnetite mining earmarked for Sigatoka river by Dome and Gusunituba river in Votua, Ba by Amex. There is ongoing bauxite mining in Dreketi.

There is also plan to mine Namosi of Gold and copper but the Tikina Namosi landowners Committee are holding up well and of cause there is a plan to mine gold in Tuvatu, Sabeto.

Before every mine plan is given the green light there needs to be proper EIA – Environment Impact Assessment process conducted by independent consultants and Fisheries Impact Assessment for gravel extraction and harvesting code of practice for logging

We must first of all examine our ideas on development. Those who are proposing these kinds of development must first of all understand the meaning of development. What really does development mean to us?

Women of Votua selling crabs

While it is true to say that buildings, equipment and money are useful and necessary for development purposes we must be really careful to remind ourselves that development must focus on human beings and not things like infrastructure and so forth. The core of development has to be people centered.

Early French Philosopher, writer and historian – Francois Marie Arouet, well known as Voltaire once said “Don’t think money does everything, or you are going to end up doing everything for money”

In a Globalized world that we are living in, there is more hunger for more money instead of focusing more on human beings.

The focus of every development initiative should be people. Sustainable development is development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future generation’s.

The village of Votua, Ba are not really happy on how their “qoliqoli” will be used to extract black sand or magnetite.

In the Fiji Times of 9th July, 2018 it was reported that “Villagers are still in the dark on black sand extraction”. It went on to say that “some villagers of Votua in Ba claim they have been in the dark regarding black sand extraction in Ba River which according to locals the real name of the river is “Gusunituba

The village of Votua has three clans – Yavusa Narai , Yavusa Nadua and Yavusa Balavu. The heads of these three clans told us, Social Empowerment & Education Program – SEEP that “they said yes only to exploration” not extraction.

The location of the extraction site is a food bank and livelihood for the people of Votua, Ba. It has contributed to their daily sustenance, education for their children, their community hall, their church and their school.

Proposed extraction site

The three heads of clans are asking the Government to put a stop to this project for the sake of their people, not only for themselves but for their future generation as well.

Awareness raising and community education are extremely important in relation to conservation of fresh water and sea water resources.

This topic also warrants attention in school curricula and adult education programs, including health awareness programs. Again the Churches should play a leading role in encouraging understanding and commitment.

There were no proper due diligence conducted with the people of Votua, Nawaqarua and nearby settlements. There was no free, prior and informed consent.

Free Prior and Informed  Consent is an extraction of UNDRIP for all Indigenous peoples of the world and the right of all Indigenous peoples to be fully informed and to reject or give their consent based on their own collective decision making process to any project that concerns them.

All facts must be shared to the communities where they can base their decision and agreement by the people is without force or manipulation by outside parties or the State.

The indigenous people have their right to their land and their resources and must be free from hazardous materials. They have the right to redress.

According to the people of Votua Village, their Marine resources are very important to their daily needs.

They also said that if these extraction project is given the green light it will drastically threatened their livelihood and very disruptive to coral reefs nearby. Several saltwater and freshwater species are endangered by this unsustainable practice. According to experts extraction causes profound effects on biodiversity.

Makereta Ranadi and Mikaele Seru – looking for crabs to sell

Mangroves are largely found on both sides of the river bank in Gusunituba, Votua, Ba. If these mangroves are lost or if there are mangrove canopies, this will result in diminishing the values of subsistence and commercial fishing by the community of Votua, Nawaqarua and nearby settlements.

Fish, crabs, land crabs, reef fish, prawns, mud crabs, turtles, ark shell, freshwater mussels and other varieties of resources from the river and the seafront can all be threatened if this project is given the green light to go ahead. The environment and the economy are two sides of the same coin.

Most local communities all over the world are resisting environmental destruction of their local habitats and communities but it will be good for the Government and companies to engage with communities like Votua, Ba and provide awareness and bring them on board to understand the effects of this project on their culture, their social lives, the degradation to their environment and their livelihood and how it will have an impact on our weather patterns.

The Social Empowerment & Education Program – SEEP together with communities of Votua, Nawaqarua and nearby settlements believes and hope that good sense and wisdom will prevail, allow for proper consultation and let the communities understand the effects on their environments, their social lives, culture and give them the space to properly discuss these and make their own decision whether to mine or not to mine.

Leave a comment

Filed under Environmental impact, Fiji, Human rights

Bougainville: To mine or not to mine?

Jubilee Australia | 12 September 2018

As Bougainville plans for its long-awaited inde­pendence referendum scheduled for the middle of next year, the Panguna mine – which was once one of the largest copper-gold mines in the world until the Bougainville civil war forced its closure in 1989 – remains at the forefront of debates about Bougainville’s economic future.  

Jubilee Australia’s report Growing Bougainville’s Futureexamines the choice facing the people of Bougainville and asks the question of ‘to mine or not to mine’?  

The political consensus that large-scale mining offers the only feasible developmental path for Bougainville has led to a scenario in which there has been an insufficient analysis of potential alternative eco­nomic strategies. Jubilee Australia aims to redress this imbalance.  

The report reflects on the possibilities and realities of an extrac­tives-led development path for Bougainville and examines the availability and viability of an alternative path. In short, we conclude that alter­natives to large-scale mining do exist and that many Bougainvilleans are already participating in and developing these alternatives.  

Some of the conclusions in ‘Growing Bougainville’s future’ are:

  • Land is of central importance to Bougain­villeans, and along with Bougainvillean’s history, knowledge, social institutions, cultural assets and traditional economy, can provide a vital foundation on which Bougainville’s future can be built.
  • Land supports a way of life that most rural Bougainvilleans are already living. Land allows people to operate within a mixed economy that blends the non-cash contributions of the traditional economy with cash earned from small-scale income generating activities.
  • Agriculture is the single most important source of livelihoods for Bougainvilleans, and an economy based on agriculture has the potential to benefit all Bougainvilleans – both women and men – and not just a small minority
  • The Panguna mine is unlikely to be a significant source of government revenues, at least in the short to medium term.
  • An over-reliance on the mining oil and gas sector is likely to distort Bougainville’s economymaking it harder for non-resource sector exports – particularly in agriculture – to bring in revenues, as is the case in Papua New Guinea.

This report is being published along with a short film, Bougainville: Long Han Blong Yumi (Bougainville: It’s In Our Hands). The film has been made for a Bougainvillean audience and explores many of the same issues explored in the report.

Dr Ruth Saovana-Spriggs, from the Bougainville People’s Research Centre said:

“Re-opening the Panguna mine is not the solution. The people of Bougainville are hungry for alternative and sustainable development paths, and an informed and balanced debate about Bougainville’s future.”

Christina Hill, Acting Executive Director of Jubilee Australia said:

“Properly supported, innovative approach­es that build on what is already done have the potential to support inclusive economic growth in Bougainville and with it increase government reve­nues.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

Alluvial Gold, Silver Production Up

Benny Geteng | Post Courier | August 15, 2018

The alluvial gold and silver production for the year 2017 achieved the second highest revenue figure of K356 million since the records were reviewed this year.

Mining Minister Johnson Tuke said this placed the alluvial sector in 5th place by revenue when compared to major mines operating within PNG.

“This is evidence of both the status and potential for the alluvial sector within PNG.”

Mr Tuke spoke to delegates during the 4th Alluvial Convention and Trade Show in Lae yesterday stressing that while it was unfortunate that the price of gold is ever reactive to world events, trade, and political influences such as the prospect of a full blown international trade war currently has dropped off its highs of the first six months of 2018.

“Despite this, production in the alluvial sector was recorded as 93,080 ounces of gold and will be exceeded and revenue forecasts suggest revenue over K400 million in a calendar year.”

Mr Tuke said last month the Mineral Resources Authority Act 2017 was gazetted.

He said amongst other policy changes this revised legislation has raised alluvial levy to 0.5 per cent from 0.25 per cent.

“The additional levy funds will enable further policy development within the sector and a wider reach for the small scale mining training.

“Every alluvial mining operation is a small or medium enterprise whether it be a simple panning and sluicing operation or a more complex and sophisticated mechanised development supported by an alluvial mining lease for alluvial purposes and a tribute agreement,” Mr Tuke said.

He further highlighted MRA shares his desire to see the mining SMEs grow and prosper and develop into productive business.

Mr Tuke said the mining advisory council at its last meeting in 2017 approved a trial of a newly established alluvial lease and tributer monitoring committee.

“This committee with additional funding available is to assist failing tenement holder and tributer joint venture arrangements to re-establish trust and confidence, provide fiscal advise and facilitate resolution of disputes.”

He said the outcome is hoped to be successful ventures which in turn lead to transparent, well managed, and productive operations with profits available for distribution in the communities supporting the alluvial venture.

“Furthermore the proposal for development and tribute agreement templates developed by MRA to assist alluvial miners to lodge an application have been reviewed this year.”

The process he said was undertaken to capture common issues faced by applicants and to give them greater control of their mining operation and fairer and more transparent commercial terms.

Leave a comment

Filed under Financial returns, Papua New Guinea

Community Organizations of Northern Haiti Reject Mining

‘YES TO LIFE, NO TO MINING’ 

Centre for Human Rights and Justice | May 17, 2018

Today, residents of Morne Pele in the North of Haiti and members of the Kolektif Jistis Min (Mining Justice Collective or KJM) held a press conference to share their message, Wi ak Lavi, NON ak eksplwatasyon min (yes to life, no to mining). Last month, thirteen community organizations from Morne Pele signed an open letter to local and national government authorities. The organizations represent a broad cross-section of society, including the local health center, religious groups, schools, government authorities, workers’ rights organizations, and farmers’ groups. Morne Pele, also called Morne Bossa, is the site of one of three gold mining exploitation permits in Haiti.

The letter, available below in English, Kreyòl, and Spanish, states that agriculture is fundamental to the livelihood of Haitian people, and that the proposed gold mining project in Morne Pele threatens agriculture and the environment as a whole. The letter states that mining for gold may violate Haiti’s Constitution, which provides special protections for the degraded environment and guarantees the right to access to information. To date, mining projects have been characterized by a total lack of transparency or, as Haitian leaders have often said, an “information blackout.”

The signatory organizations request agricultural reform, education, reforestation, and potable water. The letter concludes: “In order for us to win this struggle, we seek national and international solidarity, with people who believe that life is more meaningful than making money.”

Read the letter in EnglishKreyòl, and Spanish.

Morne Pele is the site of the right to water study that the Clinic is conducting with KJM and scientists from Penn State University.  For more on the study, see our March 22, 2018 press release.

1 Comment

Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns

How El Salvador Won on Mining

An inspiring story of how a people and a nation stood up against the lies and destruction of the international mining companies and threw them out of their country…

Esty Dinur* | The Progressive | April 1, 2018

In March 2017, El Salvador, a country with deposits of gold and silver, became the first and only country in the world to ban all metallic mining.

The process took twelve years, according to Pedro Cabezas, who runs the mining and human rights program of CRIPDES, the largest rural organization in the country and a leader in the Salvadoran social movement. It is a story of popular organizing, which American and other activists might want to pay attention to and learn from. It is also a tale of collaborations across causes, sectors, geographic areas, and national borders.

El Salvador has a history of small artisanal mines, including a small mine in San Sebastián which was started some 100 years ago by local people. However, mining wasn’t an important part of the economy until the 1970s, when Commerce Group Corp. of Waukesha, Wisconsin, started operating the mine, turning the San Sebastián River waters orange from the chemicals, including cyanide, arsenic, and mercury, that seeped into it. Local people can’t use the water for drinking, washing, or watering their crops, and there are numerous cases of cancer and respiratory diseases in the area. Most mining stopped during the civil war that raged from 1980 to 1992.

After the war ended, Cabezas says, the rightwing ARENA government, in collaboration with international mining concerns, drafted an economic plan for the northern part of the country, with thirty-three areas of mining interests, a highway, and twelve hydroelectric dams. It started building the highway and granted twenty-eight exploration licenses to ten companies from the United States, Canada, and Australia, without consultation with the residents. These developments faced immediate popular resistance.

Two of the most affected areas were the departments of Chalatenango and Cabañas, highly organized communities where land had been granted to the residents after the civil war. The first confrontation happened in Chalatenango where the Canadian Au Martinique Silver corporation started prospecting in 2005. The corporation promised jobs, economic growth, schools, community centers, and clinics. Excitement turned to irritation when staff started entering private land, cutting fences, and exploring.

Community leaders, highly politicized from the war years, traveled to mining communities in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras, where gold had been exploited for ten years. They saw destroyed forests, contaminated water, and dried streams. The communities they met were poor and people were left without jobs, many of them suffering from cancer and respiratory diseases.

That, Cabezas says, was a wake-up call for the Salvadoran leaders:

“They stopped the workers from coming, did a lot of education, blocked the streets. They simply didn’t allow the company to come in.”

Some community leaders continued to promote the mine but most people had made up their minds against it.

Marc Rosenthal, a founding member of the Madison Arcatao Sister City Project, an organization based in Madison, Wisconsin, was in Guarjila, Chalatenango, at the time. There he attended a meeting where local people came with surveying stakes they had found on their properties. U.S. activists proposed a campaign to send the stakes back to the company by mail. Militant campesinosstarted blockading the sites and challenging Au Martinique staff.

“They were forced to stop the project,” Rosenthal says. “It was a very real victory.”

In Cabañas, the Canadian company Pacific Rim in 2002 acquired the El Dorado gold mine near the rural town of San Isidro, and started exploring. El Dorado was located in the Lempa River basin, whose watershed covers almost half the country and is the water source for about three million people.

The mine would have used large amounts of water, mixed with cyanide to separate gold from ore. Activists and a community radio station led the resistance against the mine and its potentially disastrous use of the chemical.

Marixela Ramos has worked for the Radio Victoria news team in Santa Marta for more than ten years. When Pacific Rim started exploring, she says, the company’s staff told local residents, who were not familiar with mining, that El Dorado would bring great advancements. The news team didn’t buy it. They consulted with environmental organizations and took courses, then broadcast what they learned, using simple language. They invited people impacted by mines onto the radio to discuss their experiences.

In response, the company conducted a “green mining” campaign and started sowing divisions in the community by offering gifts to the mayor and other people in power. A gang known as the Extermination Group started sending threats to Radio Victoria staff. “We’d get the emails and didn’t know who they came from,” says Ramos, “but the language was so vulgar we knew it came from the gangs. And they wouldn’t be doing this unless they were paid.”

The community continued resisting the mine, and the threats increased. Three activists were murdered, including a pregnant woman. One activist was brutally tortured. The murders prompted an international outcry and a resolution from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, but the intimidation continued. Ramos spent a few months in Ecuador due to the threats on her family, including her three-year-old daughter’s life. But the radio station continued its campaign.

“It was such a hard time,” she says, “but instead of people shutting up in fear, they raised their voices in opposition.”

Cristina Starr (left) and Marixela Ramos of Radio Victoria.

Cristina Starr, one of the station’s founders, remembers a day when the entire community was away for a soccer game. María Isabel Gámez, the news director at the time, was alone at the station when she received a phone call from a man who said, “So you’re alone, baby. I’m coming to kill you.” She called community members as well as the police, who told her they couldn’t come right away. By the time law enforcement arrived, residents were standing guard in front of the station, machetes in hand. They then created twelve groups which protected the radio each night for many months.

“We created a communication of resistance, an activist communication,” Ramos says. “The company never imagined that a community radio would have the power to go against them and stop them.”

In 2005, the various local anti-mining groups formed the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining. They were joined by a mix of other national organizations and eventually came to a consensus that mining is not acceptable for El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America, where the majority of people live in the countryside, where active volcanoes generate a lot of seismic activity.

They presented draft legislation to the government to prohibit mining. Other powerful institutions joined in, including the Catholic Church, which counts about 60 percent of the country’s citizens among its ranks. In 2007, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of El Salvador asked the government to prohibit mining. The leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party, which was then in the opposition, adopted the same position. The draft legislation was a binding resolution, forcing the government to respond.

In the lead up to the next presidential election, El Salvador’s rightwing, pro-business president, Antonio Saca, succumbed to popular pressure and declared that he wouldn’t issue any additional mining exploitation permits. The FMLN candidate, Mauricio Funes, promised that if he came to power, he would prohibit mining. The FMLN won in March 2009, and Funes issued a moratorium on mining while the government conducted a strategic evaluation.

In response, a pair of international mining companies, Pacific Rim and the Commerce Group, sued the government of El Salvador for $400 million in unrealized profits. The cases were heard by the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, an international arbitration organization.

Al Gedicks, emeritus professor of environmental sociology at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse and a founder of the Midwest Coalition Against Lethal Mining (MCALM), had previously worked with Native American tribes in Wisconsin against proposed mines. He was invited to Arcatao, which was one of several communities targeted for potential gold mining projects.

Upon returning to the United States, Gedicks and other members of MCALM met with directors of the Commerce Group and asked them to withdraw their lawsuit. When they refused, MCALM organized a letter-writing and phone campaign to pressure the company to withdraw from the lawsuit.

A delegation from El Salvador participated in a demonstration outside the Commerce Group’s corporate offices in Milwaukee, where they spilled orange salad dressing, symbolizing the mine’s acid drainage. The company, says Gedicks, was financially shaky and the campaign put additional strains on its resources.

“It may have been a minor cost in terms of dollar amounts, but it was an additional burden that they weren’t able to deal with,” he says.

Pacific Rim was acquired in 2013 by the Australian OceanaGold for just $10 million. The International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes dismissed the company’s lawsuit and ordered it to pay $8 million to the Salvadoran government to cover its legal costs.

The ruling, says Cabezas, “was a great surprise for all of us. It was over a technicality—the government put up a good defense and the company made a lot of mistakes—but for us it was an issue of democracy.”

These developments added momentum to the national movement to pressure the government to prohibit mining. The legislative assembly was ruled by two rightwing parties with no interest in passing a ban. However, following much popular pressure, the archbishop of San Salvador, in an unprecedented move, went to the assembly and presented a proposal to prohibit mining.

Two weeks later, in March 2017, more than 30,000 people from all over the country, including many clergy, participated in a massive march led by the archbishop. The ban passed unanimously on March 29, 2017. “Many of us still don’t believe it happened,” Cabezas says. “We were ready for a long battle and a lot of pressure from multinational corporations not to pass this.”

What lessons can international activists learn from this stunning development? Cabezas lists a few.

While there were differences between the many organizations involved in this long struggle, “we maintained one unified message: that mining wasn’t feasible for El Salvador. No one strayed from it.” The Catholic Church, cattle ranchers, and the traditional oligarchy joined campesinos in this message.

The Roundtable developed a strategy of local referenda: Villages and towns voted against mining in their area and the debate eventually reached the national level. International solidarity played an important role, too, with the message that corporations are impacting people throughout the world. “We’re fighting the same system,” Cabezas says. “We need to work collectively to be able to counteract the power of these companies.”

Aurora Conley, vice-chair of the Anishinaabe Environmental Protection Alliance and a litigation support specialist for the Bad River tribe in northern Wisconsin, joined a delegation to El Salvador in 2014. There she witnessed the devastation that the San Sebastián mine wreaked on the people and environment, and participated as an international observer in the first local mining referendum, in San José Las Flores. An overwhelming majority voted against a proposed mine.

Being there, she says, “was like stepping into a larger indigenous world. I can’t even explain the overwhelming sense that it was a great movement. It felt like a victory and showed that there are foundations to fight. It felt almost like they were in war—in a different one than the civil war, but still fighting for their lives. Their resiliency was so amazing, to have to deal with these environmental issues and effects after the civil war was more than inspiring.”

Marc Rosenthal envisions this same sort of mobilization taking place in the United States. “Imagine Bad River coming to support Planned Parenthood and vice versa,” he says. Imagine teachers, farmers, environmentalists, health workers, all working together. “That’s how they got the ban. There’s a lot of gold in El Salvador, so there’s a lot of pressure to mine but the social movement brought everybody together and it started with popular education.”

* Esty Dinur writes about issues that matter and hosts the Friday A Public A air call-in show on WORT, 89.9 FM in Madison, Wisconsin. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Environmental impact, Human rights