El Salvador makes history as first nation to ban all metal mining

Environmental campaigners, including Friends of the Earth El Salvador, are celebrating after El Salvador has become the first country to ban metal mining.

Government lawmakers approved the law forbidding metal mining – following a 10-year struggle by Salvadoran environmental groups and organised communities.

Led by organisations such as the Movement of Victims Affected by the Climate and Corporations (MOVIAC), campaigners spent years spreading awareness of the dangerous impact of metal mining.

But despite the campaign’s eventual success, the fight was a bitter and bloody one, with some environmentalists losing their lives, reminded MOVIAC representative Guillermo Mata.

“This law is bathed in blood,” he said. “Our posthumous thanks to the people who gave their lives in the fight against mining.”

Campaigners called for "Water not gold"

Ricardo Navarro, from Friends of the Earth El Salvador, added: “This new law assures the life of the entire country by denying entry to a voracious and highly polluting industry.

“With so much public support behind the campaign, politicians had no choice but to approve the law against metal mining.”

The people of El Salvador demanded "Water not Gold" as they fought to protect their country’s diminishing water supply.

In February thousands of people – backed by the Catholic Church, civil society groups and academics – took to the streets to support a legal ban.

Campaign for a safer climate

Although the country – one of Latin America’s most densely populated nations – gets plenty of rainfall, it struggles to keep hold of it due to unsustainable farming practices and a lack of proper industrial regulations that have led to widespread deforestation and soil erosion.

It is thought that as much as 90% of the country’s surface waters are polluted by chemicals, waste products and metals.

In a letter to the Legislative Assembly in November 2016, MOVIAC wrote: “Where there is mining there is no agriculture, there is no livestock, there is no tourism, there is no health, there are no peaceful or free communities.”

El Salvador law bans mining and use of toxic chemicals

MOVIAC’s letter requested a law that would definitively ban metal mining in the country.

And on Wednesday 29 March, that demand was met, when the legislative branch of the government approved the law with 70 votes in favour and none against.

The new law bans metallic mining in the soil and subsoil of the territory of the Republic, including exploration, extraction, exploitation and processing activities whether open or underground.

It also forbids the use of toxic chemicals such as cyanide, mercury and others used in metal mining processes.

In addition, the law is retroactive, meaning permits or requests that have been granted for mining exploration and exploitation are now suspended. 

Oceana Gold case thrown out

Mining company Oceana Gold campaigned hard to block the law’s approval.

Last year the multinational went to an international tribunal to try and force the Salvadoran government to pay them millions in compensation for refusing to let them dig for gold at its El Dorado mine.

But the case was dismissed and the firm ordered to pay the government $8 million in legal costs.

Campaign for a safer climate

Polluted water in El Salvador