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Chalatenango Communities Step Up Resistance to Au Martinique

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

Guest blog by Sebastian Dario
Chalatenango, El Salvador

The town of San José Las Flores in Chalatenango overlooks the hills the mining company Au Martinique Silver claims to be rich in gold and other precious minerals, according to its March presentation to investors posted on the Au Martinique web site. However the community of 200-plus families is not overly tempted by the company's offers of development, employment, schools, and other infrastructure projects. As the same investor reports by Au Martinque Silver announce that the company is obtaining two new exploration licences adjacent to the Ojo Blanco and Petancol licences it already has, the organized communities of the Association of Rural Communities for the Development of Chalatenango (CCR) are stepping up their resistance campaign.

Recently the elected community leaders of San José Las Flores presented a series of discussions to the elementary and high school students of Las Flores and surrounding communities about the environmental and social consequences of mining. As Felipe Tobar, president of the community board stated: "The youth, our children, are the future. They are the ones who will be affected by the contamination of mining. If it were just for me, this struggle wouldn't matter, I'll be dead before long anyway. But we are fighting for our children."

Awareness raising amongst young people and students is a priority for the community board. Before the organized communities escorted the mining company out of the region, young people had been targeted by the company to carry out day labour, digging trenches and collecting rock samples. The company pays 8 dollars a day and 12 dollars on Sundays, a fortune when compared to the $4.35 that local youth earn in a day working for the Las Flores cooperative. However, thanks to youth organizing and educational campaigns, those who had considered working for the company are now clear in their conviction. When the alert went out recently over community radio and with the ringing of church bells that the mining company might attempt to reenter the region, the young people were among the first to gather in the street.

The Ecological Association of Chalatenango (ASECHA), is also carrying out an educational campaign for the more than 2000 students in the public schools of the city of Chalatenango, in coordination with the organized communities of the CCR. The current licences Au Martinique has include parts of the municipality of Chalatenango, specifically the communities of Guarjila and Ignacio Ellacur’a, and some of the territory which falls under the mining licence in municipalities such as San José Las Flores is owned by residents of Chalatenango.

Despite what has been a rotund and repeated "no" from religious leaders, including the diocese of Chalatenango and mayors and community leaders in the municipalities of Los Ranchos, San Isidro Labrador, San José Las Flores, Nueva Trinidad, Arcatao and the city of Chalatenango, the mining company announced publicly this month that it has acquired two new licences. One of these licences is the region of Arcatao and the other is for the region south and east of San Isidro Labrador, including San José Cancasque, extending all the way to the '5th of November' reservoir.

Likewise, Martinique representatives continue to search for community and religious leaders who will negotiate community consent and lands. One example is Felipe Tobar who has been approached repeatedly, including this week when company representatives called to invite him to a company event. Felipe flatly refused, and in a few words accurately transmitted the message the communities of the CCR continue to give, "We do not want to negotiate, we do not want you here. We don't want any problems with the company and because of this we ask that you not enter our communities."