Today a long-lost sense of value, of passion, and of good in the world, reared it’s gorgeous head. That old drive that few have, and that those who do frequently loose somewhere in early midlife, amid the shuffle of practical needs and the darker shadow of wisdom (we call it “acceptance” sometimes).
I get very happy when I speak with driven people. Since my Sunday morning conversation with an activist missionary, I dont know everything about the topics we discussed, but I can say I cannot stop smiling because there is still passion in the world. The do-gooders are still in the fight. The fight is still in the do-gooders. We are still free to abandon everything and hurl ourselves into the fray.
In our talk about her work in Cabanas, where the Canadian mining company Pacific Rim is attempting to push through a gold mining project, I learned some new things. I have been reading about the controversy for many months. I was aware, more or less of the following.
1) The Canadian mining company Pacific Rim made some explorations of the Cabanas area and discovered there is Gold in them thar hills. They spent millions of dollars investigating the areas potential for exploitation but got mad when the Salvadoran government declined to grant them permits.
2) Pacific Rim is now suing El Salvador under CAFTA. Apparently CAFTA specifies that the government must allow foreign companies to conduct business on their soil if the project is economically viable (or something like that).
3) Pacific Rim argues that they will provide local jobs, and revenue to both the municipality and the Salvadoran government. They say they will clean up after themselves, letting the cyanide they generate degrade in pools. They sell the project as an economic benefit to the El Salvador and to the region as a whole.
4) Opponents of the project argue the project will cause permanent environmental damage to a region which currently produces little beyond agricultural products, that the project will result in similar health projects to those shown in other Central American mining regions (liver failure and cancers known to be associated with chemicals used or produced by the mining process), and that after the six year project ends (They will leave as soon as the mountain has been dug up) the economic benefits will be erased, creating a ghost town of shuttered businesses, and an economic vacuum.
5) International pressure to investigate assassinations of activists has yielded minimal results and death threats against organizers and media covering the controversy are common and credible.
6) Pacific Rim blames the homicides on local men desperate for jobs. They are killing the activists to save their own economic future. International human rights organizations consider the string of activist and witness (in criminal cases) homicides to appear organized, systematic and unlikely (as in impossible) to be the work of angry laborers.
What an interesting topic for me. I have always thought that the government of a country could make it’s own choice about raping the countryside. I thought they could refuse to issue permits for projects that are provably destructive. Today I learned that is not the case. I learned the following
1) Pacific rim purchased a dead US company, and bought itself, in order to exploit the advantages of CAFTA (a treaty of which Canada is not a part). If Pacific Rim can portray themselves incourt as a US company they will likely win the lawsuit, because the terms of CAFTA are in their favor. El Salvador could owe Pacific Rim approxiately a gazillion dollars in that case.
2) I learned the Salvadoran government will receive a whopping 2% of the profits if the project goes forward.
I threw up a little when she said that. It will be a large amount of money. But it is Salvadoran gold. And it is Salvadoran land that will be destroyed by the extractors who will leave six years later to go live someplace that wont give them cancer, If they ever even set foot here in the first place. It is El Salvador that will have to deal with the medical bills, the permanent damage and the economic vacuum of a vanished temporary economy.
I learned the municipality and Salvadoran government will split the 2%. The municipality currently has a budget lower than an American household income. 1% of the profits to a tiny town? So about those murders …….
3) I learned it will be two tons of cyanide per day, over that six year project, that will be put off, and that UV rays falling on open pools is supposed to take care of all that poison. The process will take place in open pools in country known for earthquakes and floods. Pacific Rim says they will totally clean up before they leave. It will work out. They pinky swear.
You may be able to tell my opinion. I am all for business. The residents of Cabanas need jobs. They need desperately to produce something of value, and sell it both inside and outside their own area to bring cash in. Wouldn’t it be cool it people from Cabanas both owned and worked business that produced exportable products and employed local people, who fully participated in the economic benefits?
With regard to this gold mine, I question if the people in Cabanas will see the money generated. Historically how have the communities around mines fared long term? How was the distribution of wealth? How was the distrubtion of shared costs from the destruction of a common resource? Are Salvadoran tax payers going to subsidize celaning up after this Canadian company?
When I think of mines owned by foreign companies I think about African Diamond mines. I think of Guatemalan mines, where the region seems more like a portal to hell than a boom town. In my crystal ball, I see this project ending well for about twenty guys. That is what my crystal ball says.
My crystal ball also says the company is Canadian, so things will start off good. They will build a community center and stuff to be nice. Maybe even a trade school too. The economy in the area will benefit in the short term. There will be like three new Pollo Camperos, better roads and off-shoot jobs as a result of the income. Guys will be working at the mine for incredibly low wages, but they are wages and that is more than they get now. The Canadian government will sponsor a free medical clinic. but that will not be around six years later, when the real illnesses resulting from the mine are in full swing. The Salvadoran government will pick up the tab, out of their 1%.
Working in partnership with foreign companies can be an excellent choice for small countries. Inviting profitable business is not a bad idea. It should be by choice. I think. And with reasonable terms.
I am open to the idea that my view is not fully informed. I am willing to acknowledge the need for cash. I am open to the idea that CAFTA may have some benefits. I am not open to the idea that a sovereign government should be obligated to allow foreign exploitation of their natural resources. I also believe companies take on risks when they spend money to investigate a market. That risk taken by choice and nobody owes it back to them when things don´t work out.
I am open to the idea that a mine can be run well, but suspect it is unlikely in the best of circumstances, and unreasonable to expect when the financial stakeholders have nothing to do with the region they affect.
After talking with this activist I walked away thinking I liked what she does better than what I do. It remains to be seen what happens, and also who is right or wrong in the argument. But I love all those irritating, pot stirring, tree hugging, problem causing hippies. You GO Girl
In my midlife haze the world has become so very practical.