Institute for Policy Studies Director John Cavanagh spoke at a rally yesterday outside the Vancouver headquarters of the mining company Pacific Rim. Along with about 200 activists from several countries, Cavanagh denounced the firm for suing the government of El Salvador in retaliation for the denial of a mining permit.
The Council of Canadians, headed by longtime IPS partner Maude Barlow, organized the rally as part of a “mining injustice” conference that was long-planned. But the event could not have been more timely. On Friday evening, after more than three years of legal proceedings, a World Bank tribunal accepted jurisdiction in the Pacific Rim case. This sets in motion what could be an even longer and costlier merits phase of the lawsuit.
Cavanagh and the other protestors demanded that Pacific Rim respect El Salvador’s democracy by dropping the lawsuit now. Two successive Salvadoran presidents have opposed the proposed mining project, over fears that it could contaminate the river that is the drinking water source for more than half the country. The Vancouver protestors carried signs saying “Water Yes, PacRim No!”
The news that the lawsuit will go forward in the Washington DC based tribunal is a blow to the Salvadoran faith, environmental, and community groups that have fought hard against Pacific Rim’s proposed project. However, a Salvadoran activist who also spoke at the rally, Vidalina Morales, vowed that the broad-based National Roundtable on Metallic Mining would continue to fight and asked for international solidarity.
Cavanagh reminded the crowd of a victory in a similar case in early mid-2000s. In that instance, U.S.-based Bechtel sued Bolivia over the cancellation of a water privatization contract. In reality, Bechtel had abandoned the project in the face of a citizens uprising over skyrocketing water usage fees. After several years of public pressure and embarrassing media coverage in Bolivia, the United States, and other countries, Bechtel settled the suit for a token sum.
The Bolivian government is currently working to extract itself from international agreements that allow foreign investors to bypass domestic courts and bring such claims to international tribunals.
Since the Vancouver rally took place on a Saturday, there was no sign of life inside Pacific Rim’s headquarters building. But on Monday, the protestors’ demands will still be present. Signs slipped under the building’s front door stated “PacRim Out of El Salvador.”