Click to go to the Subscriber Log In Page
Go to menu with buttons for all pages on BC
Click here to go to the Home Page
Est. April 5, 2002
April 13, 2017 - Issue 694

El Salvador
Takes a Giant Step
Protecting its People


"The culprit was OceanaGold, an
Australian-Canadian corporation and
the fight the big boys put up was a
classic.  They tried everything to thwart
Salvadorans in their fight to protect
their water, which was threatened
with pollution of a very toxic nature and
gold mining is especially toxic."

El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly has passed a law that bans all metal mining projects and, by doing so, has saved the nation’s water that is vital to the survival of its people.

It’s one of the few instances in many years that shows that persistence in opposing the power of money and military might can win. In the case of El Salvador, the culprit was OceanaGold, an Australian-Canadian corporation and the fight the big boys put up was a classic. They tried everything to thwart Salvadorans in their fight to protect their water, which was threatened with pollution of a very toxic nature and gold mining is especially toxic. At the same time, the Legislative Assembly banned use of toxic chemicals like cyanide and mercury.

The participants of the movement against the mining company got support from other groups of ordinary people from nation’s and environmental groups from around the world. But, the mining company used the big weapon that it always pulls out, money. They arranged “communiques” in business-friendly papers that promoted mining, they lobbied legislators, the government, and groups that would bolster their cause and even organized a pro-mining demonstration. According to Pedro Cabezas of Foreign Policy in Focus, on March 23, the company’s Salvadoran subsidiary’s El Dorado Foundation, gathered people in front of the Legislative Assembly by the busload and every participant was paid $7 and provided a free lunch. But, they were instructed not to talk to the press.

A bright spot (that is, in addition to the new law) is that OceanaGold lost a $250 million lawsuit against the nation, before the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, which body last October found in favor of the people and not the corporations. There were likely many who were surprised, if not astounded, when the decision came down, because most of this type of “conflict resolution” bodies are formed by corporations, which expect to be upheld in their depredations against the people, especially peasant peoples and indigenous peoples.

It means that there is some hope in other nations for justice for those who live on the land and in the forest land, in the case of indigenous people. The people of Ecuador, for example, fought the Chevron case for some 22 years, charging that the giant oil exploration corporation was responsible for the pollution of an area of about 1,700 square miles. The battle was against Chevron, which took over Texaco’s operation in Ecuador, including its debts and liabilities. But Chevron tried to escape responsibility for the clean-up. Chevron did everything in its arsenal of legal weapons against the people of Ecuador, seeking to blame the original corporate bandit for what they said amounted to a pre-existing condition (caused by Texaco) to abandon all responsibility for its dumping of toxic waste into the waters of the nation. It took more than two decades for Ecuador to win a just decision in that case, but that outcome never was a sure thing, given the propensity of courts in the U.S. to generally find in favor of corporations, not people.

Indeed, when Chevron brought a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) suit against the Ecuadorian people who protested the defilement of their land and home for such a long period, the company was quoted in 2014 by Rolling Stone magazine, that Chevron has sworn to fight the rain forest dwellers and their supporters to the ends of the earth, which so far includes court systems and foreign offices on three continents. The magazine reported: “When it runs out of battlefield in this world, Chevron vows combat in the next — ‘until Hell freezes over, and then we'll fight it out on the ice,’ a company spokesperson said in 2009.” The RICO law is primarily used to combat organized crime like the mafia, not a band of indigenous people who simply want to live their lives in their own way, free from the toxins generated by transnational corporations. 

That fight against one of the biggest corporations in the world will go on, because Chevron didn’t just threaten, they intend to carry it out, if for nothing else than to warn other indigenous or peasant cultures or developing countries. This, they say, is what will happen to you, if you try to cross us or attempt to stop us from plundering your land and your resources…we will bankrupt you with endless lawsuits. It happens in Ecuador, it happens in El Salvador, just as it happens in the U.S. The rule is the same: if you have money, you can fight the power of transnational corporations or the governments behind them; if you don’t have unlimited money, you lose.

In 2013, the Ecuadorians thought they had a victory, when the high court in their country found in their favor, but Chevron was not done. “This is an extraordinary, unprecedented triumph for indigenous and local communities over one of the world's worst polluters,” said Donald Moncayo, a representative from the Amazon Defense Coalition for 30,000 Ecuadorian rainforest villagers and plaintiffs, who was in New York to testify in a retaliatory lawsuit filed by Chevron against lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Ecuador case. That’s when the RICO case against them was heard.

True to form, observers of the court proceedings reported that Judge Lewis Kaplan “repeatedly assisted Chevron in intimidating and attacking key Ecuadorian witnesses and the defendant’s legal team,” according to AmazonWatch which added, “In the retaliatory RICO lawsuit, Moncayo was subjected to a lengthy cross-examination by Chevron, after which Judge Kaplan ordered him to turn over a copy of his hard drive to the court.

Christopher Gowen, a legal ethics professor at American University Washington College of Law, was present in court and commented, “Watching an American judge threaten a foreigner in an American court with criminal penalties without the advice of counsel on a highly questionable court order defies everything our justice system stands for.”

One of the most recent such moves to crush dissent in the U.S. is the Keystone XL pipeline that will transport oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, through America’s heartland, to the Gulf Coast, where it would be refined for sale in other countries. It is one of the dirtiest and most polluting of operations to take it from the ground, send it through a pressurized pipeline and on to the coast refineries. According to Physicians for Social Responsibility, which organization opposed the pipeline’s construction as too dangerous to environment and “not in the national interest,” declared that Keystone XL and the oil it would carry are a great threat to pure waters.

The Standing Rock Sioux had a victory after many months of protest in 2016, suffering the cold and freezing temperatures (they were sprayed with powerful hoses in sub-freezing weather), shot with rubber bullets, threatened by law enforcement and politicians, some were beaten and, finally, all were ordered to leave the area or face arrest. They were strongly supported by dozens of other Indian nations and non-Indian supporters, including a large group of military veterans who were willing to stand between the water protectors and the armed opposition. When the Obama Administration declared the pipeline finished, the Standing Rock Sioux thought they could rest, but what a difference a few months make. As soon as Donald Trump occupied the White House, everything changed: The Keystone XL pipeline would be finished and oil flows through it now, and every environmental protection (clean water, air, soil, and food) has come under relentless fire and Trump has said that he would do whatever necessary to free corporations from the regulations that protect the people and the planet.

Such is the power of the transnational corporations. That’s what “globalization” is about, not just necessarily the expression of military and economic power around the world by a government, the U.S. What the “global economy” is setting up the people for is subjugation by those corporations and, when they can’t get their way on the ground, they will call upon their government to bolster their position with military force and economic pressure, including the devastation of sanctions.

The action taken by the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly is an indication that the people can win, if they stand in solidarity with one another. It is a start. In the U.S., it is also possible for the people to win. For example, there have been shorter pipelines that have been stopped in their construction, by massed citizen organizing and the same thing was what caused hydro-fracturing for oil and gas to be banned in all of New York State. In the scheme of things, however, these are small battles that have been won (hard fought though they are) and a more cohesive global movement of the people needs to be formed. Otherwise, the battles always will be small and a little progress will be made, but the bigger project, which is global, will be territory that is controlled by corporations.

The people involved in the struggle might well remember that all corporations, just like Chevron, will fight the people “until Hell freezes over,” and then they will fight the battle and the war “on the ice.” Corporations have money and the power structure and politicians. The people have themselves, and they are much more powerful…in solidarity. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

Perry NoName: A Journal From A Federal Prison-book 1
Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion by Jamala Rogers