Members of Congress urge El Salvador to protect environment and communities from mining

By Oxfam America

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WASHINGTON, DC — International aid and relief organization Oxfam America praised the ten members of Congress who urged the National Assembly of El Salvador to take immediate action to protect the environment and local communities from large-scale metallic mining. In a letter, the Members expressed concerns over recent patterns of violence and threats directed at mining activists, and the potential for mining activity to further degrade El Salvador’s already limited and significantly polluted supplies of clean water.

“In a country that is already experiencing a clean water crisis like El Salvador, there are even more risks associated with mining,” said Ivan Morales, El Salvador Country Director for Oxfam. “It’s important that El Salvador protects the drinking water and health of its people from the environmental impacts of mining. The support from members of Congress for the Salvadoran government is crucial.”

“El Salvador has taken important steps in recent years to recover from its history of political violence and establish democracy and the rule of law,” the Congressional letter reads. “We salute the efforts the Salvadoran Assembly has made in this regard. As friends of El Salvador, we wish to see the country grow and prosper with full respect for human rights and the environment.”

El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Latin America. According to El Salvador’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, 90 percent of surface water is contaminated due to agricultural runoff and deficient sewage processes. Furthermore, according to the World Bank, a fifth of the population living in rural communities does not have access to an improved water resource.  These current conditions limit accessibility to fresh water. The development of large-scale metallic mining would further contribute to the deficiency of fresh water due to its release of acid mine drainage, which has serious effects on the environment.

The country is also being sued in an international trade tribunal by Canadian mining company Pacific Rim for not granting a mining permit since a presidential suspension on mining licenses was adopted in 2009. Currently, El Salvador is considering a bill that would make it the first country to permanently ban metallic mining.

“Large scale mining can cause environmental contamination and contribute to the violation of the rights of local communities to protect their personal security and livelihoods,” continued the letter.  “In recent years, many countries of Latin America have experienced violence and conflict related to mining.”

The Congressional letter, sent to Salvadoran Congressman Francisco Zablah, president of the Commission for the Environment and Climate Change last Thursday, said that it is critical for the Salvadoran Assembly to play a “strong and active role” in oversight of the industry and protecting the voices of potentially affected local communities. “It is essential to ensure a vigorous public debate about the costs and benefits of mining to El Salvador,” the letter stated.

Oxfam America is currently working with local and national partners in El Salvador and other international allies to support the right of Salvadoran communities to determine whether they allow metallic mining in their country.

The letter was signed by Representatives Raul Grijalva, William Clay, John Conyers Jr., Sam Farr, Alcee Hastings, James McGovern, Jim Moran, Mark Pocan, Jan Schakowsky, and Maxine Waters.