Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Life and Death in El Salvador

Thank you to everyone who took the time to reply to my question of Canadian cuisine and staples in your kitchen.  I am still compiling the results, so if you want to respond with your list of the 10 things you'd most often find in your kitchen, you still have time to send me an e-mail.  Next week, Holy Week is a week long holiday here.  I am not sure how often I'll be able to check e-mail or if I'll be able to write my blog.  If there is no posting next week don't fret, I'll be back with even more to write about the following week.

Today, as usual, I ate lunch with colleagues from ADES.  One of the people I sat with was Hector and today is his 38th birthday.  In order to help him celebrate many of us gathered this afternoon to eat cake in his honour.  Both lunch and cake were great.  Interestingly Hector has been or will soon be (this is where my Spanish can get rough) by CBC Radio on the impact of Mineral Mining in Central and South America.   Hector has promised me details of the programs airing time and I will of course pass these on to you as soon as I know about them.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to show Hector my blog from last week.  We copied it into Google Translator and he was able to read it in Spanish.  This was a particularly profound opportunity for me because Hector was the man that the Judge had excluded from the Courtroom in last week's blog.  Sadly he concurred that having a Canadian in the audience on the side of the defendants was really important because justice is not impartial here. Hector would know, he is a lawyer himself.  After reading my blog Hector explained to me that I hadn't quite understood two things.  The Judge did not dismiss the charges...rather he stayed them for a year to give the Prosecution the option of bringing new evidence.  The lawyer for the defendants was paid for by the "Mesa" of which ADES is a member, not by ADES directly.

I had the opportunity this week to attend a press conference and a meeting of La Mesa National Frente a la Minera Metalica (Mesa) - The National  Working Group Against Mineral Mining.  I watched Hector at the Press Conference and in many ways was reminded of the work that I did in Canada.  Hector is a knowledgeable and articulate spokesperson for a cause in which he passionately believes.  He does public education events, press conferences and speaks to members of the government about the reasons why he and many others believe that mineral mining is not a good option for El Salvador.  There is one huge difference between Hector's work and mine - Hector lives with the knowledge that his work might one day cause him to be seriously hurt or killed.  Hector received death threats in January, 2011.  See the United Church of Canada website for more information.  In fact most of the people who are members of the Mesa have received threats and 4 members have been murdered in recent years, including the brother of Miguel, another ADES staff.

One of the focuses of the anti-mining work, is in trying to prevent the re-opening of the El Dorado gold mine.  It is owned by a Canadian company called Pacific Rim, which is headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia.  When the company began its exploratory work in a community very near to where I am now living, the residents started to learn about  what it would mean if mine began full operations.  Many community members, organizations and Churches have come to the conclusion that the environmental and social costs are far too great to justify its operation.   The Salvadorian Government has listened and at the moment is refusing to grant operational permits.  This action has resulted in Pacific Rim suing (through its American subsidiary) the Government of El Salvador for 70 million dollars through the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).  This process is on-going.

In March, 2006 about 100 people gathered at a Pacific Rim site to protest.  The protest got out of hand and some machinery was damaged resulting in about $1600 (possibly a lot less) in damages and there was a fight between Salvadorenos employees of Pacific Rim and the protesters.  No one was seriously injured.  As a result, 7 people were charged.  This was the case I observed last week.  In then end, there was no evidence presented to suggest that these 7 people had been the people to damage the machinery or who were in the fight.  However, for the past 5 years they have been the victims of intimidation and threats.

At the centre of it all sits Pacific Rim, a Canadian company.  Pacific Rim denies any involvement in the violence here and in fact denies that there is any connection to the deaths, threats, injuries and intimidation suffered by many anti-mining activists.  There is a very small group of Salvadorenos who will profit immensely from the mine opening.  However, it is very hard to know the source of all of this violence because none of this has been thoroughly investigated by the PNC (Federal Police in El Salvador) or by the appropriate departments in the Government.

For a few years now I have been learning about the mining issues and the violence here.   However, this week it became personal because the stories weren't just about faceless people in country far away.  I don't know if I will ever forget the moment that the pieces fell into place and I realized that "my" Hector was the same person in the action alert issued by the United Church in January.   He is like many other people here, neither naive nor foolish, but rather deeply committed to working on issues vitally important to the health and well-being of the people of El Salvador.  When I told Hector this week that I thought he was brave, he replied in his calm and modest way that the work is important.

Hector and I 


  1. Other readers of this blog might be interested in this October, 2005 report commissioned by ADES and others.

    To summarize, a Canadian company conducting business in a way that would be totally unacceptable/illegal in Canada.

    From Pacific Rim's website:

    I notice the Spanish link to this information is broken.


    Hi Lynn, I wonderd if you had seen this? Great Blog this week, thanks for posting the picture of Hector, it's great to put a face to the name.