The Global Fight Against Corporate Rule | The Nation


The Global Fight Against Corporate Rule

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Mining protester

A protester holds a sign that reads in Spanish “No to mining” at a protest against Canada’s gold and silver mining operations in northern El Salvador, outside Canada’s Consulate office in San Salvador. (AP Photo/Luis Romero)

But the victory has come at a cost. Pro-mining forces, including conservative local politicians in Cabañas, have fought back. At least four anti-mining activists have been assassinated since 2009. Marcelo Rivera’s mangled body was found at the bottom of a well; he had been tortured. 

Pacific Rim acted quickly once it became clear that it would not be granted a mining “exploitation” license. The firm filed suit at the World Bank–based International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, charging that the Salvadoran government had violated the investor-rights provisions of its domestic investment law and a regional trade agreement, both modeled on NAFTA. (According to a study by Sarah Anderson and Manuel Perez-Rocha of the Institute for Policy Studies, cases related to oil, mining and gas make up more than a third of the docket at the ICSID, the most frequently used tribunal for such investor lawsuits. More than half of these are directed at Latin American countries, a region where several governments have asserted national interests over those of their corporate interlopers.) 

The Salvadoran government and the Roundtable have had to put significant time and resources into fighting the suit. Joining them has been International Allies Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador, a coalition of US and Canadian groups that held weekly protests outside the World Bank in 2012 and coordinated with the Roundtable protests in San Salvador. Many legal experts are aghast at the suit, but the ICSID has allowed the case to proceed. A decision is not likely before 2015. 

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By late 2012, Pacific Rim seemed to be running out of money for its ICSID suit. To its rescue came a Canadian-Australian mining firm, OceanaGold. The firm’s infusion of cash granted it a one-fifth stake in Pacific Rim, and in November 2013 shareholders approved an outright purchase of the company. As a result, Pacific Rim has become a wholly owned subsidiary of OceanaGold, with more money to pursue the case at the tribunal.

Like Pacific Rim, OceanaGold claims to mine “responsibly,” using the latest environmentally sustainable techniques. To see if OceanaGold’s record matched its claims, we traveled to the firm’s Philippine gold and copper mine this past August. During the twelve-hour drive into the remote gold-laced mountains northeast of Manila, leaders of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement told us about the long community struggle against OceanaGold’s pursuit of a mother lode of gold and copper that sits under a mountain where hundreds of farming families lived. They showed us before and after photos in which the green mountainside turned into an open-pit mine. 

But nothing prepared us for the destruction and the noise and the anguish. In the community of Didipio, we spent time with farmers who had formed an organization to oppose OceanaGold as it moved in. With great emotion, they described the barricades they set up in 2008 and 2009 after the company demolished the homes of those who refused to sell out. But the Didipio Mine became operational in December 2012. Our hosts told us of “dirty water” downstream from the mine, dead fish washing up on the shores and other environmental problems the mine had caused. 

We met with Carmen Ananayo, a leader of the efforts to close the mine. Her voice breaking and eyes tearing, she quietly shared the story of the 2012 murder of her daughter, Cheryl. Killed along with another community member, Cheryl was the mother of two very young children. It is an eerie parallel to El Salvador, where one of the assassinated was a pregnant woman who had been holding her toddler in her arms. No one suggested that the mining company shot Cheryl. But, as in El Salvador, the key variable is the mining company’s presence, which brought conflict and death to this previously peaceful municipality. 

Carmen also told us that many of the mine’s workers—often hired as irregulars to avoid giving them the minimum wage and benefits—put in a grueling twelve-hour shift while earning less than $1.20 an hour. It would take these workers many lifetimes to approach the $1.3 million compensation package that OceanaGold CEO Michael Wilkes received in 2012. 

What we witnessed in this remote community in the Philippines is plunder, pure and simple. OceanaGold’s bailout of Pacific Rim reminds us that the global brotherhood of mining companies can ensure that corporate lawsuits against recalcitrant governments will be well funded for years to come. Farmers in Didipio told us that they want to end the mining, to have their community and clean rivers back, to be able to farm in peace and build a better tomorrow for their children. They are proud to be producers in the northern Philippines’ “fruit and vegetable bowl,” and they want to keep it that way. The community has support in the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, which filed a motion in 2011 against OceanaGold for this mine. The motion recommended the revocation of the company’s mining license, citing forcible and illegal demolitions, the harassment of residents, and the indigenous community’s right to preserve its own culture. In August, the head of the commission told us unequivocally that it continues to be concerned about these violations at OceanaGold’s mine. 

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