Thursday, June 01, 2006

Colorado Protest Against Mining in El Salvador

Activists near Denver working with U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities are planning a demonstration outside the June 9 Annual Meeting of Au Martinique Silver to protest potentially devastating plans for gold mining in El Salvador.

The Denver Post ran a short article today on the upcoming demonstration.

The group's press release follows:

U.S - El Salvador Sister Cities Supports Community Resistance to Cyanide Gold Mining by Au Martinique Silver, Inc.

Contact: Dennis Chinoy, (207 ) 945-5827PICA (Peace through Interamerican Community Action)Emily Carpenter, (514) 843-9880U.S. El Salvador Sister Cities

"We declare our total and energetic rejection to the introduction of mining projects in our region, declaring that these lands are the fruit that has been left us after twelve years of war suffered in El Salvador...If the company continues insisting, ignoring our decision, we reserve the right to take the necessary measures to defend our lands and natural resources, our right to life and the right to life of our future generations. "

-- Public Statement from the Affected Communities about the Danger of Mineral Exploitation in the North of the Department of Chalatenango, El Salvador, March 2006.

Au Martinique Silver, Inc. is a Canadian exploration company that has generated widespread public opposition to its proposed cyanide gold mine in the Department of Chalatenango in El Salvador. The company has its headquarters in Denver and has its annual shareholders meeting in nearby Morrison, Colorado on June 9. Organizers with the U.S. - El Salvador Sister Cities, which has had ongoing relationships with several communities in Chalatenango since the 1980s, will be peacefully protesting outside the meeting. " Since the company has not informed its shareholders about the local opposition, we have decided to bring the Chalatenango anti-mining campaign directly to the directors and shareholders of this company" says Dennis Chinoy, a member of U.S. El Salvador Sister Cities. "Investors need to be aware that this is a very risky project and that we will continue our campaign until the company has respected the wishes of the local communities and withdrawn its investment."

The partnerships organized by U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities began as a citizen-based response to U.S. intervention in El Salvador's civil war in the mid 1980s. There are now twenty-five sister cities across the United States which are paired with Salvadoran communities in 6 of El Salvador's 14 provinces. The U.S. Sister Cities provides political and moral solidarity to their Salvadoran counterparts by raising awareness in the United States about issues like unwanted cyanide gold mining.

Organizers of the protest believe that financing may be the Achilles heel of this project. Au Martinique is not a mining company; it's a mine promotion company. They speculate on new mining properties, do feasibility studies, and then sell the property to a large mining company. The CEO and Chairman of the Board is Mr. Jeffrey Klenda who began his career as a stockbroker specializing in venture capital offerings. Currently, Mr. Klenda is President of Security First Financial, a company which provides consultation to corporations seeking investment management and early stage funding.

Au Martinique likes to assure potential investors that "the Republic of El Salvador has one of the lowest risk profiles for investment in all of Latin America." While the company has acquired licenses from the Salvadoran government to explore for gold in the Department of Chalatenango they never consulted local property owners before entering the community, as required by law. Nevertheless, the company has promoted itself as "committed to become a global leader among exploration juniors on community initiatives." They even started a "Good Neighbor Program" to advance their activities "hand-in-hand with the local communities to assure a partnership in economic development and good environmental stewardship."

The only problem with this rosy picture is that the company has no community support. The subsistence farmers in Chalatenango are well aware of the track record of the gold mining industry. Local farmers fear that the large quantities of waste left over from mining will pollute local water supplies with arsenic and cyanide, and devastate local agriculture and fisheries.

In October, 2005, 300 residents from Guarjila, San Jose Las Flores and Nueva Trinidad joined together and formed a human chain to block representatives from Au Martinique from entering their communities. After the expulsion, community members systematically collected survey markers the company had placed on the hillsides, used to identify potential mineral veins. The opposition soon spread to fifteen mayors and virtually all the parish priests in Chalatenango.

Chalatenango was a stronghold of the FMLN, the guerrilla movement active during the civil war from 1980-1992. The government regarded most residents in northeast Chalatenango as guerrilla sympathizers and targeted them with scorched-earth military campaigns and wholesale massacres. Many residents have only recently returned to these communities after twelve years of civil war. The decision to re-populate these villages was a collective decision made despite the threat of the very same military reprisals that had impelled them to leave. The level of community cohesion is extremely high. They do not want to be uprooted again. And they do not want to see their communities militarized, as has happened in parallel situations in neighboring Guatemala and Honduras, where security forces were called in to repress mining opposition.

According to Santiago Serrano, a representative of the Association of Communities for the Development of Chalatenango (CCR), "And so we're warning them that we've put the whole province on alert. If they try to come again, then the whole province is going to move against them, at least everywhere we work. That's 22 municipalities, 100 different communities..."

In November 2005, the mobilization against mining projects in El Salvador reached the national level. On November 16, thousands of Salvadorans took over principal highways, intersections and bridges at strategic locations across the country to protest the imposition of infrastructure projects (hydroelectric dams) in their communities without their consent. Of particular concern is the proposed diversion of the Sumpul river which provides water to northeastern Chalatenango, to generate electricity for factories in Honduras and Nicaragua as part of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Social movement organizations are also working with attorneys and legislators to introduce legislation to put a moratorium on exploration until co mmunities have had an opportunity to express community sentiment through local referenda on mining.

Now the campaign has been brought from the El Salvadoran countryside to the headquarters of Au Martinique in Denver. The time when Canadian exploration companies could proceed with mining projects despite widespread local opposition has long passed. The organized communities in the Department of Chalatenango have defined these proposed gold mining projects as the most serious threat to their survival. These communities are not going to back down. One of the most prominent critics of the company is Esperanza Ortega, an organizer from the town of Arcatao and a nominee for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize: "I think it is important to talk to the investors, talk to the people funding this project and tell them if they come into this zone they are goi ng to have a lot of problems, because remember we are dealing with people from these communities who survived the war, and there are some of us, when we lose control, we don't even know what we can do."

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