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Don't Let Oceana Gold Jeopardize El Salvador's Democracy and Drinking Water

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Today, dozens of organizations from Canada, El Salvador and around the world will confront Canadian-Australian mining company Oceana Gold, whose subsidiary is suing El Salvador for $301 million (USD). El Salvador's offence: refusing to a grant a permit to a gold mine that would contaminate 60 per cent of the population's drinking water.

In October 2013, Oceana Gold acquired Canadian-based Pacific Rim Mining, which was in the midst of a lawsuit. After acquiring the company, Oceana Gold upped its lawsuit from $70 million to $301 million (USD).

In anticipation of next week's court case, to be heard on Monday, September 15 at the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington, D.C., the Council of Canadians, the Latin American Solidarity Network, the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network and others will descend on the company's Toronto headquarters to present a letter from people affected by the decision. The letter demands that the company withdraw the lawsuit.

The date of the court case, September 15, coincides with El Salvador's Independence Day, an irony that was not lost on the groups protesting.

"We are asking the company, particularly on the eve of the country's independence day, to give the Salvadoran people their rightful control over their own environment and resources," says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. "We have to hold our fellow Canadians accountable for jeopardizing El Salvador's democracy and its environment. The source of life, water is non-negotiable. El Salvador is just doing what any responsible country would do."

In El Salvador, people have died or lost their drinking water sources because of gold mining, contributing to a rising tide against mining. In 2008, the El Salvador government introduced a de facto moratorium on large-scale mining maintained by President Salvador Sánchez Cerén. Public opinion has categorically opposed industrial mining in El Salvador given the negative impacts of proposed projects on an environmentally stressed country largely dependent on a single watershed.

"It is a rare instance of a national, non-partisan, widely held consensus," says Xenia Marroquin, from El Salvador's Foro del Agua. "The stakes are high for the people of El Salvador. Beyond the financial costs, the ruling will determine whether a foreign tribunal can overrule a democratically elected government and its policies that protect the public interest and the environment."
"Oceana Gold is suing for the right to poison the water in a situation where 90 per cent of the water is already contaminated," added Raul Burbano, Program Director at Common Frontiers.

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Photo: Laura, Flkr Media Commons

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