Environmental Victory in El Salvador; Environmental Leader Killed in Brazil
October 18, 2016
teleSURtv & Nika Knight / Common Dreams
A little-known World Bank tribunal has ruled against corporate power, rejecting Canadian-Australian gold mining giant OceanaGold's claim that El Salvador interfered with its profits when it pulled the plug on a proposed gold mine. Meanwhile, Latin America remains the most dangerous region in the world for land defenders and environmentalists. The latest victim: Brazilian activist Luiz Araujo, well known for his aggressive enforcement of deforestation laws in the Amazon.
El Salvador Beats Mining Giant
OceanaGold at World Bank Court
(October 14, 2016) -- OceanaGold sued El Salvador for hampering its future potential profits -- an increasingly common phenomenon through free trade agreements. A little-known but controversial World Bank tribunal actually ruled against corporate power Friday, rejecting Canadian-Australian gold mining giant OceanaGold's claim that El Salvador interfered with its profits when the government pulled the plug on a proposed gold mine.
The seven-year, multi-million dollar, largely secretive court battle had pitted mining-affected Salvadoran communities -- supported by human rights organizations in North America, Australia, and the Philippines -- against the deep pockets of OceanaGold, formerly Pacific Rim, in an international trade tribunal that has been criticized as a "kangaroo court." However, the court, in the end, awarded El Salvador's government $8 million to cover legal fees and costs.
The conflict sparking the $301 million lawsuit dates back to 2007, when El Salvador took a stand for national sovereignty and clean water by denying OceanaGold, then Pacific Rim, a new permit to extract gold in the Central American country.
The government raised concerns over the failure of the company's El Dorado gold mine to live up to national standards regulating the industry, including the fact that it dodged submitting a feasibility study and Environmental Impact Assessment for the project. But the corporation saw the decision as an assault on its profits and retaliated.
In 2009, Pacific Rim leveled a $77 million lawsuit against El Salvador in the World Bank's investor-state tribunal, the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, that allows corporations to sue companies through free trade agreements for perceived infringement on their future profits. The mining giant later upped the price tag on the suit to a whopping $301 million -- equivalent to three years of El Salvador's public spending on health, education, and public security combined.
The government primarily rejected OceanaGold's proposed mine over fears of water pollution and scarcity in the country, the most water-stressed in Central America. Water quality is a major problem in El Salvador, where some 90 percent of surface water resources are considered unsafe to drink by international standards. Metal mining has been a big offender in fomenting the contamination crisis.
"By allowing transnational companies to blackmail governments to try to force them to adopt policies that favor corporations, investor-state arbitration undermines democracy in El Salvador and around the world," said Marcos Orellana of the Center for International Environmental Law. "Regardless of the outcome, the arbitration has had a chilling effect on the development and implementation of public policy necessary to protect the environment and the human right to water."
Not only is the gold mining industry notorious for toxic metals into surface and groundwater systems through its cyanide-intensive extraction process, but it is also sucks up staggering amounts of water on a daily basis. OceanaGold proposed mine would have used thousands of tons of cyanide and hundreds of thousands of liters of water every day it operated in the parched country.
In 2009, the same year OceanaGold filed the lawsuit against El Salvador, the newly-elected left-wing government tried to institutionalize an official moratorium on mining mining concessions. Though the law has not been passed, the government has continued to uphold a ban on new mining projects.
Meanwhile, local water defenders have fought for years -- together with the governing FMLN party -- to pressure lawmakers to enshrine the human right to water in the constitution and force corporations to play their part in preserving the precious resource. To date, the conservative-dominated Congress has opted to continue shielding private profits instead of introducing industry regulation to protect human rights.
Despite the outcome of this shocking ruling, El Salvador's fight to protect water, the environment and human rights is far from over as corporate globalization and free trade creates the conditions for corporations to do business with impunity across the globe.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Environmental Official Shot Dead in Brazil as
Attacks on Land Defenders Rise in Latin America
Nika Knight / Common Dreams
(October 16, 2016) -- An environmental official well-known for his aggressive enforcement of deforestation laws in his city in the Brazilian Amazon was gunned down in front of his family late Thursday, city officials reported Friday.
Two men shot the official, Luiz Araujo, seven times as he drove up to his home, local police told the Associated Press.
"[T]wo men fled on a motorcycle without taking anything, leading to speculation that they were paid assassins," the Los Angeles Times reports.
AP notes that Araujo, environmental secretary for the small northern city of Altamara, had reportedly received death threats before.
The killing appears to have been carried out in retaliation for Araujo's staunch defense of the rainforest.
The Los Angeles Times observes that the conflict between industry and environmental regulations as resulted in bloodshed in the past:
Altamira is located the northern Amazonian state of Para, where environmental crime continues to be a major problem, with landowners often employing violence to silence threats to their business. Journalists, activists, and locals who collaborate with environmental authorities have been killed.
"The government of Altimara has lost a dedicated servant and important figure in the fight for better environmental policies in the region," read a statement released by Altamira City Hall, the LA Times reports. "Since 2014, he has performed his duties with brilliance and enormous competence and intelligence. He was admired by all."
Araujo's killing comes only weeks after an assault that hospitalized Goldman-Prize-winning environmental activist Maxima Acuna de Chaupe in Peru. She was attacked on her own land by the security forces of Minera Yanacocha, a subsidiary of Denver-based Newmont Mining, whose gold mine Acuna de Chaupe has long opposed.
And as the murder of Honduran land defender Berta Caceres earlier this year remains unsolved, violence against Indigenous and environmental activists continues to rise in Latin America as undeveloped land is more and more threatened by industry.
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