by John Cavanagh and Robin Broad – STOPESMINING
August 17, 2016
Ever since it took over PacRim in El Salvador in 2013, the large Canadian-Australian Mining Company, OceanaGold, has wanted to mine gold along the Lempa River in northern El Salvador. It claims that it will be an environmentally-responsible mining company that will protect this river, which supplies over half of the drinking water of El Salvador.
OceanaGold currently runs another large gold mine half way around the world in the northern Philippines, which it also claims is a “responsible” mine. We visited this mine in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines, in 2013 and we have researched the mine. It is neither responsible nor sustainable, and it offers a glimpse of what El Salvador could face if it invites OceanaGold to mine.
Here is a quick summary of what we found in OceanaGold’s Philippine mine:
- Displacement: Dozens of families, most of them migrant indigenous peoples, were forcibly and illegally displaced as their homes were demolished to build the mine.
- Violence: Two people opposed to the mine were murdered under suspicious conditions.
These two findings alone convinced the Philippine Human Rights Commissioner to recommend in 2011 the revocation of OceanaGold’s mining license.
We also found the following:
- Abusive Working Conditions: Workers in the mine earned less than 50 cents an hour in grueling 12 hour shifts.
- Toxic Chemicals: As would be the case in El Salvador, OceanaGold uses the toxic chemical cyanide to separate the gold from the surrounding rock, a chemical that can get released into the soil and rivers in the heavy rains that come in rainy season. In 2012, the company closed down a road used by farmers to transport their crops to market and flooded it to be used as a toxic mine tailings dam.
- Water Pollution: Farmers downstream from the mine have experienced skin rashes, and dead fish washing up on the shores.
- Noise Pollution: Residents near the mine complained that they often couldn’t sleep at night because of the loud noise of the machinery that runs all day and night.
- Air Pollution: More than a thousand residents have suffered respiratory diseases.
- Export of Profits: The overwhelming majority of OceanaGold’s profits leave the country along with the gold.
- Overuse of Water: A more recent fact-finding delegation found that water for irrigation near the mine was drying up because of the huge amounts of water used in the mining. Several communities have had to abandon their homes because the drinking water has dried up.
Because of this, in June 2016, communities blockaded the road into this Philippine mine to prevent OceanaGold from bringing in equipment to expand the mine. In May, Filipinos elected a new President, who appointed a new Minister of Environment and Natural Resources in June: Gina Lopez. She has announced a halt on new mining in the country. This places the Philippines alongside El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Argentina, as nations that are putting the environment and water over the profits of mining firms.