El Salvador made history on March 29, 2017, becoming the first country in the world to prohibit open-pit, underground, and artisanal metal mining. A clear declaration that water and the environment outweigh any commercial value, the legislation will protect the country’s water resources and the environment for all inhabitants and for future generations. The saying “water won out over gold”, repeated by legislators from all parties, will go down as the iconic quote of the day.
It was a hard won struggle, fought over 10 years by the local communities, social movement organizations, churches, international allies, the academic sector, and the media, who raised their voices against metals mining in the country. Many gave their lives, including Marcelo Rivera, Dora Sorto (pregnant at the time of her murder), Ramiro Rivera and Juan Duran. Oxfam accompanied this struggle throughout the decade, supporting the communities and arguing that mining was not a sustainable option for reducing the high levels of poverty and inequality endemic to the country.
Our work collectively demonstrates that active citizens engaged at local, national, and global levels are capable of changing power relations and influencing decision-makers to establish legal frameworks centered on the human rights of the majority.
The next fight: water
Up next is an opportunity for the timely passage of El Salvador's General Water Law -- dormant in the legislature these last 12 years due to staunch opposition from a few sectors. This changed on March 29, 2017 with the new anti-mining law and the commitments publicly expressed by the legislators to defend water as our most precious public resource.
In El Salvador, water is the most important public good and ensuring appropriate quality and access to it is a strategic precondition for reducing inequality and poverty, and promoting economic development. Oxfam has accompanied this struggle and we are committed to continuing to enshrine the human right to water and food in the Salvadoran Constitution by approving the proposed reforms to Article 69 (see the video below), and passing the general water law.
The new law to prohibit metals mining is also an important step toward slowing the advance of an economic model based on the extraction of natural resources that only concentrates wealth and generates inequality and social conflict. We hope that these decisions set in motion an irreversible march toward sustainable and just development for all people in El Salvador and the world.
This entry posted by Ivan Morales, Oxfam Country Director, El Salvador, on 4 April 2017.