On Wednesday, Nov. 1, environmental activist Vidalina Morales visited the DU community to speak about the work she and her team, La Mesa Nacional Frente a la Minería Metálica (National Table Against Metallic Mining), did in accomplishing the banning of metal mining in El Salvador.
The lecture took place at Craig Hall where students, professors and faculty came together to listen to Morales recollection of her over ten-year battle with a transnational mining company. Prior to hearing Morales speak, director of the Latin America Center and Korbel professor, Aaron Schneider, informed the audience about El Salvador and the organization’s legal battle.
El Salvador is a small Central American country with a dense, crowded population. Schneider compared its size to that of Massachusetts with a population of 6.3 million people and a GDP of $4,200.
In 2006, recalls Schneider, Morales led a movement that pressured the conservative president at the time to overturn a license for a gold mine that was polluting a valued river in El Salvador. They won that case and, subsequently, that same president put a hold on all future mining permissions until further environmental review.
“This provoked a lawsuit, in which the Canadian company, in order to make use of the privileged foray and rules that are available through the CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement), bought a U.S. company in Nevada in order to sue El Salvador from the U.S.,” said Schneider.
Morales speech was entirely in Spanish. Non-Spanish speakers could understand her with the help of a translator who spoke into a microphone which they could listen to through a provided MP3 player.
Morales told the audience about the risk El Salvador already has without metal mining, pointing out that it is the second most Latin American country, behind Haiti, that greatly suffers from deforestation. The country’s unstable environmental state makes it most vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change, Morales claimed.
She emphasized in her lecture that the desire to prohibit mining was not just a community concern. Though the civilians of the country are the most familiar with El Salvador’s fragile state, she said, she and her team made several investigations to prove how unsustainable metal mining would be.
The community’s opposition to metal mining is not an opposition to urbanization and industrialization, Morales clarified. To her, there’s nothing more important than finding the opportunity for the citizens of El Salvador to escape poverty and live harmoniously. The worry, she proclaimed, is that the implementation of environmentally harmful projects will destroy the country’s ecosystem and contaminate their already poor quality rivers.
“No to Mining! Yes to Life!” was the slogan for the anti-mining movement.
It is rare for a transnational company to lose a court case. And although El Salvador won this case in 2016 and later won a legislative battle to ban metals mining in perpetuity—lives were lost during the time of the case.
Morales reminisced over four activists and community leaders who were murdered between 2009 and 2011. One of the four, Dora Alicia Recinos Sorto, was eight months pregnant at the time of her murder and left her six other children orphaned.
“We live in a single world, not separate,” said Morales. “They separate us simply by borders, which in the end were created by humans. We live in a single world and anything that affects other parts of the world is affecting us all.”
Morales concluded her speech by saying that her experience and the issues affecting other parts of the world, at its core, are human rights issues.