Groups come together outside World Bank tribunal to defend El Salvador, defeat unfair trade policy

Over 100 people protested today at the World Bank building, as a tribunal housed inside the building decided the fate of El Salvador under the provisions of CAFTA. John Cavanagh, the energetic Director of the Institute for Policy Studies, emceed a rally, joined by labor unions, local Salvadorans, environmental groups, people of faith, and others. Led by Cavanagh, the group delivered an open letter to the World Bank tribunal, called the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). The letter had been signed by more than 240 international civil society groups and was handed to John Garrison, Senior Civil Society Specialist with the World Bank Group. Garrison came down to the front door of the World Bank building in order to receive the letter and deliver it to ICSID personnel. [View the open letter.]

[VIDEO OF TODAY’S PROTEST.]

“The case before the World Bank tribunal is a travesty,” said Cecil Roberts, President of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). “A ruling in favor for Pacific Rim gold mining company would represent a threat to workers rights and the environment.”

The case before the tribunal aims to settle a dispute between Pacific Rim gold mining company and the country of El Salvador. Pacific Rim, a Canadian company, is seeking to exploit gold reserves in El Salvador by opening a mine that could poison the water supply for more than half the nation’s population. They set up a subsidiary in the United States in order to file a lawsuit under the U.S. Central America Free Trade Agreement against the government of El Salvador, which has not approved a permit to mine the gold. In the course of the dispute over these natural resources, four anti-mining activists have been killed.

“What is unique about today is that we have been joined by a large number of labor unions in speaking out against this tribunal,” said Cavanagh. “These unions were at the forefront of the fight against the trade agreement that enshrined these corporate rights, and with their signatures and the presense today, they are making the clear, loud statement that they will fight corporations trying to profit from these agreements, be it in El Salvador or elsewhere.”

Groups signed onto the letter so far include the AFL-CIO; Service Employees International Union (SEIU); United Mine Workers of America (UMWA); United Steelworkers (USW); American Federation of Teachers (AFT); International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM); and Teamsters Union. Together, these organizations represent hundreds of millions of people

Participants stood in the shadow of an 18-foot tall, inflatable “fat cat” puppet, representing the Pacific Rim gold mining company. They held signs that read, “Support Democratic Rights in El Salvador!” “The 99 percent supports El Salvador!” and “Protect El Salvador’s Water!” They chanted, “El pueblo unido hamas sera vencido!” (“The people united will never be defeated!”)

The case will be decided soon by the tribunal, though few know exactly when. A victory for Pacific Rim would send signals to any global corporation that it can override national environmental or labor rights regulations by opening a subsidiary in the United States – a windfall never imagined by even the most ardent free traders.