Pacific Rim Mining’s charges against Salvadoran environmentalists fall flat

[Source – CISPES]

*** For immediate release***
Contact: Alexis Stoumbelis, CISPES 202-521-2510

Sensuntepeque, Cabañas, El Salvador—On November 25, 2010, a district judge in Cabañas, El Salvador, dropped serious charges against seven local environmentalists who were accused by Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining of “kidnapping”, “aggravated robbery,” and “aggravated threats” among others. All seven were members of the Cabañas Environmental Committee for the Defense of Water and Culture (CAC); charges of property destruction were referred to a different court.  The charges come four years after 2006 protests at the Santa Rita mine site on the Cerro Limón hill, located in the rural community of Trinidad in Cabañas, which successfully halted activity at the mine.

According to members of the CAC, representatives and employees of Pacific Rim were not present during Thursday’s hearing, while outside of the courthouse, 150 community members had gathered to support the accused. “Apparently the company’s employees did not want to show their face in front of all the people gathered outside to support us,” said the Cabañas Environmental Committee in a Friday, Nov 26 press release.

“It seems as though Pacific Rim only brought these charges in an attempt to intimidate people who continue to oppose the mines,” said Lisa Fuller, program director for CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, a U.S. organization that is working with the communities threatened by Pacific Rim’s proposed activities. “Otherwise, why would they bother with a case that they knew they couldn’t win, particularly since the 2006 protests were such a setback for them?”

In November 2006, protestors successfully shut down Pacific Rim’s exploration activities at the Santa Rita site, which was reported at the time in the Diario CoLatino as a “victory against metallic mining.” After several days of protest, which was observed by police and by the Human Rights Ombudsman, Pacific Rim was forced to stop operations and dismantled the drilling equipment.  As stated in December 2006 filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Pacific Rim “agreed to suspend its Santa Rita drill program until such time as the NGOs environmental and social concerns could be addressed.”

However, grave concerns about the environmental damage caused by gold mining and the behavior of Pacific Rim Corporation have only increased since then, rising to international attention following the murders of three environmental activists in 2009, two of whom – Ramiro Rivera Gómez and Dora Alica Sorto Recinos – were residents of the same community of Trinidad and members of the Cabañas Environmental Committee; Ramiro Rivera was one of the 2006 protest leaders. Also since 2006, the government has committed not to allow mining due to environmental risks; in a recent interview on November 18, President Mauricio Funes stated, “the Government hasn’t lost its resolve to not authorize any mining exploration or exploitation project in this country.”

Pacific Rim CEO Thomas Shrake and Chair of the Board Catherine McLeod-Seltzer, continue to paint themselves as the victims in hearings before the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes at the World Bank, where they are suing El Salvador for at least $77 million dollars years after the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources denied their application to exploit gold at the El Dorado mine, also in Cabañas. The next hearing is slated for early spring, where the Government of El Salvador is expected to raise objections to Pacific Rim’s change of nationality from Vancouver, B.C. to the state of Nevada in order to exploit the foreign investor provisions in the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement.