Home » Salvadoran Activists Face Trial for Defending Water and Mining Ban

Salvadoran Activists Face Trial for Defending Water and Mining Ban

Human rights groups demand justice for the 'Santa Marta 5' who fought against metal mining in El Salvador

by Victor Adetimilehin

A group of Salvadoran water defenders known as the ‘Santa Marta 5’ are facing trial for a crime they allegedly committed 30 years ago, during the country’s civil war. A single witness who admitted he had no direct knowledge of the incident accused the activists of kidnapping, torturing, and murdering a woman in 1989.

The ‘Santa Marta 5’ are members of the Association of Economic and Social Development (ADES), a grassroots organization that played a key role in the campaign that led to the historic ban on metal mining in El Salvador in 2017. The ban was enacted to protect the country’s scarce water resources from pollution and depletion by mining companies.

Under a state of emergency declared by President Nayib Bukele, The Salvadoran authorities arrested the activists in January 2023.

International organizations, academics, and lawyers have expressed their support for the ‘Santa Marta 5’ and urged the Salvadoran government to respect and enforce their human rights. They have also raised concerns about the possible reversal of the mining ban by the Bukele administration, which has shown signs of interest in reopening the mining sector to foreign investment.


A Historic Victory for Environmental Justice

The ban on metal mining in El Salvador was the result of a decade-long struggle by social movements, environmental groups, religious leaders, and local communities. They opposed the exploitation of gold and silver deposits by transnational corporations, such as the Canadian company Pacific Rim (now OceanaGold), which sued the Salvadoran government for $250 million after its mining permit was denied.

The opponents of mining argued that the extraction of metals would require large amounts of water and chemicals, such as cyanide and mercury, that would contaminate the soil, rivers, and aquifers. El Salvador is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, with over 90% of its surface water polluted and more than half of its population lacking access to safe drinking water.

The ban on metal mining was a historic victory for environmental justice and the right to water in El Salvador. It was the first of its kind in the world and inspired other countries in the region, such as Costa Rica and Guatemala, to adopt similar measures.


A Threat to Democracy and Human Rights

However, the ban on metal mining is now under threat by the Bukele administration, which has shown a disregard for democracy and human rights.

In February 2020, Bukele stormed the parliament with armed soldiers to pressure lawmakers to approve a loan for security equipment. He orchestrated the removal of the attorney general and five Supreme Court judges, sparking a constitutional crisis and international condemnation, in May 2021.

In March 2022, Bukele declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which he has used to suspend civil liberties and arrest and detain people without due process. According to human rights groups, more than 70,000 people have been imprisoned under the state of emergency, many of whom are innocent but have not been given the opportunity to defend themselves.

Bukele has also taken steps to reopen the mining sector, despite the legal prohibition. He has created a new directorate of hydrocarbons, energy, and mines, allocated funds to modernize the mining and energy laws, and engaged in secret negotiations with China that may include mining projects. He has also joined the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, funded by the Canadian government, and requested an evaluation of the Salvadoran mining sector.


A Call for Solidarity and Action

The case of the ‘Santa Marta 5’ is emblematic of the repression and intimidation that the Bukele administration has unleashed against its critics and opponents, especially those who defend the environment and human rights. 

The international community has expressed its solidarity and support for the ‘Santa Marta 5’ and demanded their immediate release and the dropping of the charges against them. They have also called on the Bukele administration to respect and uphold the mining ban and the human rights of all Salvadorans.

The trial of the ‘Santa Marta 5’ is expected to take place later this year. Their fate will not only affect their lives and families but also the future of democracy and environmental justice in El Salvador.


Source: Mining.com

You may also like

Leave a Comment

The African Miner is the vanguard of the mining industry, delivering world-class insight and news.

Latest Stories

© 2024 The African Miner. All Rights Reserved.