*Translated from the original in Spanish at: Nueva Trinidad el municipio que lucha contra la mineria y no contra la inseguridad.
By: Mario Beltrán / March 25, 2015
El Salvador is a small country just over 20,000 square kilometers in size [about the size of Lake Ontario]. The country’s main problems according to the vox populi are the violence and insecurity that now position this small paradise among the most violent in the world.
However, there are municipalities that have for years gone without violent acts. Nueva Trinidad in the province of Chalatenango in northern El Salvador is one of them. A town surrounded by mountains bordering Honduras with pines, paved roads and good weather, it seems like heaven on earth or the place that any Salvadoran dreams to call home.
A village 46.33 square kilometers in size, it has a population of 2,103 inhabitants according to the last census and has seven communities. According to Mayor Matthias Ábrego, there have been two murders in the last six years. There is no police post. "The police are here only occasionally, because they know that here there is no security problem. The nearest police station is in the town of Arcatao, 1 kilometer from here," says the Mayor.
But not everything is rosy. Nueva Trinidad is battling an enemy disguised as employment, development, and gold. Nueva Trinidad, like many other municipalities, has been blessed with natural resources, which today are the largest cause of struggles over who has a right to water, over how environmental vulnerability affects the poorest, and over how foreign companies come to exploit these resources leaving contamination.
There are places in El Salvador rich in minerals and gemstones that cannot be ignored by the international mining industry. So great is the problem that the Salvadoran state is litigating a claim for $301 million imposed by the multinational mining firm Pacific Rim Mining / OceanaGold before the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) at the World Bank.
As a result, and given that in El Salvador there is still no law prohibiting mining, there are two municipalities that have held popular consultations, backed by local laws, to ask their populations if they agree with mining in their municipality or not, and have banned it. San Isidro Labrador and San José Las Flores officially banned mining in their municipalities and Nueva Trinidad will soon be next.
All are municipalities in the province of Chalatenango, an area besieged by [prospective] mining. In fact, Pacific Rim / OceanaGold argued in court that it invested millions in the Cabañas region (still a part of the Salvadoran North), and upon finding a deposit of over 1.3 million ounces of high carat gold and more than 9.4 million ounces of premium silver, the Salvadoran state started placing impediments to granting extraction rights.
On 29 March, Nueva Trinidad will hold elections where the 1,500 registered voters will decide whether or not to allow mining. "Mining companies have visited Nueva Trinidad including Mount Eramón from which the town’s water supplies come, and they have also come to tag some places," says Mayor Ábrego, who also states that if people vote "Yes" to mining, no bylaw will be enacted, and all will continue as is.
The election process will be similar to the process to elect mayors and presidents. In fact there will be residential voting in the seven communities that make up Nueva Trinidad. The work of the National Roundtable on Metallic Mining is present within the logistical support and training for the electoral exercise. "We worked on aspects of awareness, training for poll work, election monitoring, and the reporting process," said Ana Dubón, a member of the Roundtable and of the Coordinator of Rural Communities (CCR).
Dubón says that after this third municipality, it’s expected that the popular consultations on mining will follow in Arcatao and Las Vueltas, also in Chalatenango.
"I agree with this popular consultation process, because this way we stop mining from ruining our land," believes Elías Menjívar, a sexagenarian resident of Nueva Trinidad undergoing training to assist at an election poll.
Don Elías also says that this fight to ban mining has a history since 1976. He further recalls that 10 years ago there was a road blockade to stop mining machinery from entering the town.
The popular consultation is Sunday March 29, and if the results are against mining, a municipal bylaw will be enacted prohibiting this activity in what would be the third municipality that closes its doors to mining.