Salvadorans vote to exclude mining from town

Election officials validate ballots in the village of Las Limas, in San Jose Las Flores, El Salvador. Photo: Chris Hufstader / Oxfam America

In an historic poll, overwhelming vote against allowing mining in San Jose Las Flores.

In a special vote, citizens in a small town in the highlands of Chalatenango, El Salvador, have called on their town council to ban mining. The municipality held the vote on September 22.

The consulta popular or public consultation vote consisted of one question: “Do you support the establishment of metals mining, exploration, and exploitation in San Jose Las Flores?” Of the 975 registered voters in the 1,200-person district, 803 voted “No.”

When delivering the results of the vote before a small crowd in the town’s central plaza, Mayor Felipe Tobar said his instructions are now clear: “We have a mandate: to draft a municipal ordinance to declare San Jose Las Flores free of mining.”

People attending the early evening announcement shouted “Si a la vida! No a la mina!” (Yes to life! No to mining!) as the mayor was speaking.

The votes comes at a time when El Salvador is debating whether to ban mining in the country altogether. A national coalition supported by Oxfam called the Mesa Nacional Frente la Mineria (Roundtable Against Mining) has proposed legislation that would not allow mining for metals in El Salvador, citing environmental risks in a country already suffering from widespread water pollution. 

Pedro Cabezas, coordinator for International Allies Against Mining in El Salvador, says the vote in San Jose Las Flores is historic. “It’s the first vote of its kind based on the municipal code, and specifically follows that process,” he said on the night of the vote. “We’ll see what the government response will be.”

Mayor Tobar also said that in addition to leading towns in El Salvador to hold such consultations, he hopes that referenda such as the one in San Jose Las Flores become a normal means to help citizens everywhere to defend their right to be consulted about whether they will allow mining. “I hope town councils around the world will replicate what we have done here,” he said to loud applause in the town plaza. “Let’s do what the people want.”

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