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Aid, trade and gold mines

*UfMJ is reposting this blog given the imminent decision of the World Bank in the Oceana Gold/Pacific Rim case in El Salvador. Originally posted on Jim's blog: Unwrapping Development

“If you love your cattle more than you love your neighbour, you cannot say that you love God.”

The line is from a song I heard this past February in a town in the northern part of the Cabañas department of El Salvador.

I thought about gold.

A proposal to re-open a gold mine sparked sharp opposition from people concerned about the impact on water in the densely-populated country.

Thanks to solid research and good community-organizing, the government of El Salvador agreed with the communities and refused to issue an exploitation permit to Pacific Rim, a Canadian company. Then two things happened.

  • A U.S. subsidiary of Pacific Rim used investor protection provisions of the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) to sue the Salvadoran government. No final determination yet from the World Bank tribunal where the case is being heard. The suit is an example of how trade deals undermine government capacity to protect ecology and the health of citizens.

  • And since June 2009, at least four ecological activists have been murdered and death threats have become constant in the lives of journalists and development workers in the area.

“Corporate Social Responsibility”

I know about the Cabañas case because one of the organizations directly affected, the Santa Marta Economic and Social Development Association (ADES), is a long-time community development partner of both The United Church of Canada and thePrimate’s World Relief and Development Fund of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Canada has a huge role in the global mining sector. As the government’s trade ministry points out:

“Canadian financial markets in Toronto and Vancouver are the world’s largest source of equity capital for mining companies undertaking exploration and development. Mining and exploration companies based in Canada account for 43 percent of global exploration expenditures. In 2008, over 75 percent of the world’s exploration and mining companies were headquartered in Canada. These 1293 companies had an interest in some 7809 properties in Canada and in over 100 countries around the world.”

But the problems they provoke are legion. Cabañas is but one example: The Toronto Star presents nine more. And Mining Watch Canada monitors more still.

In May, KAIROS brought its Canadian church members together with partners from around the world to share experiences and strategies.

Some mining companies have responded to community-based opposition by engaging in what they call “corporate social responsibility” projects—providing schools, clinics and playgrounds—while avoiding action on water quality, tailings ponds, deforestation and land issues. Some non-governmental organizations work with the mining companies: check out the Devonshire Initiative.

And now, companies can apply for funding for their projects from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

That’s a side of development that needs more unwrapping.

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