Chalatenango Communities Remove Last Traces of Mining Project

Sebastian Dario
Chalatenango, El Salvador

Early Saturday morning members of the organized communities of the CCR (Association of Rural Communities for the Development of Chalatenango) spread out along the hilltops of northeastern Chalatenango to search out and remove evidence of the exploration work of the Martinique mining company. In groups of 5 to 8 people, members of the communities of San José Las Flores, Los Amates, San Isidro Labrador, Ignacio Ellacuría, Las Limas, and Guarjila combed the hillsides of the region, destroying or removing the markers the company uses to identify potential mineral veins. The communities encircled the region the mining company has explored, traversing ridges and gullies and slowing tightening the circle until a crowd of people all converged on San Isidro to pronounce once again their determination to protect their land from foreign transnational companies.

Brandishing bracelets made of the bright orange and pink tape that Martinique used to mark trees and fences, community members of all ages emerged from the morning-long search triumphant. “Surely there are many more markers hidden in the hills,” said Lisandro Monges of Las Flores, “but let this be yet another message of rotund rejection to the mining company.”

Although there has not been physical presence of the mining company workers in the region since October, the hills of the region are littered with the markers the company left behind, evidence of its intention to continue its exploratory work. Each piece of marking tape is stamped with pattern of maps which represent the territory included in the Ojo Blanco exploration licence the mining company was granted by the Ministry of the Economy. The orange marking tape is often found alongside a harder to find metal plaque, which includes a four digit number corresponding to the number written on the marking tape. The morning long search turned up a bag full of marking tape and 21 company plaques, interspersed with US made machine gun cartridges which date from the war years, a vivid reminder of past unwanted visitors. The company had also painted four digit numbers on tree trunks and rocks, which members of the communities destroyed.

Present in the activity was one of the former employees of the company, who resides in the community of Las Limas, and had talked of selling his land to Martinique. After a series of ugly verbal exchanges between community leaders and the company employee, both sides were able to sit down and work through their disagreements. Saturday community leaders and the former employee marched side by side, united in their conviction to reject the planned mining project.

And unity is increasingly important. This activity comes just days after the Hydroelectric Executive Commission of the Lempa river (CEL) confirmed the possibility of diverting the Sumpul river which provides water and life to northeastern Chalatenango. In an article published in the Diario de Hoy, CEL admits it is considering partially diverting the river to the Suchitlán Reservoir to feed the hydroelectric generators the reservoir runs, citing high electricity prices and the need for a greater electricity generating capacity during peak hours.

For the communities of the CCR, the diversion of the Sumpul is a direct threat to their health and livelihoods, and one more project supported by the central government without taking into account the voices of those who would potentially be affected. On Friday afternoon in Las Flores the community called an assembly to discuss the proposed project and plan resistance. Those who attended left the assembly clear in their conviction. As one person looked me in the eyes and said: “if they want to divert the Sumpul, they will have to kill us all first.”