Letters to President Obama on the occasion of his trip to El Salvador

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Dear President Obama: 
 

On your upcoming trip to Latin America, we ask that you state your support for renegotiation of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and for El Salvador’s request to have dismissed a pending CAFTA investor-state arbitration suit challenging El Salvador’s environmental and safety policies relating to metals mining concessions.  


Pacific Rim Mining Corp. and Commerce Group Corp. CAFTA cases 
 

As the unfortunate record of mining in Guatemala and Honduras has demonstrated, certain forms of metals mining can irreparably pollute fresh drinking water, contaminate water used for crop irrigation, and pose grave threats to fishing livelihoods, thus permanently endangering the health and well-being of generations. El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America, already grapples withsevere shortages of clean water, as 90 percent of its surface water is contaminated.  
 

The environmental damage caused by mining in neighboring countries largely motivated El Salvador to
reform its mining laws. The failure of two companies, Pacific Rim Mining Corp. and Commerce Group Corp.,
to fulfill the requirements of El Salvador’s mining law is at the crux of two recent CAFTA investor-state
attacks. According to legal filings, Pacific Rim Mining Corp. failed to submit an adequate environmental
feasibility study and thus did not obtain the environmental permit required to qualify for an exploitation
concession. With respect to Commerce Group Corp., the firm’s environmental permit was revoked in 2006 for
failure to comply with clean-up and other obligations of the permit, according to Salvadoran court documents.
While the Commerce Group Corp. claim was recently dismissed on a technicality – the company’s failure to
withdraw a concurrent claim from the Salvadoran judicial system – the preliminary stage of the case alone has
cost El Salvador over $800,000 in legal fees.  
 
Rather than supporting El Salvador’s commitment to protecting its citizens and environment, the United
States, through its current trade policy, is allowing companies to punish the people of El Salvador for pursing
those objectives. In addition to what El Salvador has already spent defending its policies against the
Commerce Group Corp. claim, Pacific Rim Mining Corp. is demanding over $100 million dollars in
compensation from the Salvadoran state – on top of legal fees the government will incur during the process.
This is equivalent to approximately .46 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The U.S.
equivalent, relative to GDP, is over $67 billion. The Salvadoran government could better spend the millions of
dollars at stake by investing in the infrastructure and other development programs needed to promote
economic growth and improve fundamental health and education.
 
It is especially egregious that Pacific Rim Mining Corp. is not even based in a CAFTA-signatory country, but
rather in Canada. That the firm was able to file a CAFTA investor-state arbitration case against El Salvador
simply by transferring a subsidiary (Pac Rim Cayman LLC) from the Cayman Islands to Nevada sets a
dangerous precedent for the environment, public health, and labor rights in all CAFTA signatory countries.
 
CAFTA undermines democracy
 
The environmental regulations at stake in El Salvador are precisely the type of policies that, as a Presidential
candidate, you pledged to protect in trade agreements. While campaigning, you stated, “With regards to
provisions in several FTAs that give foreign investors the right to sue governments directly in foreign
tribunals, I will ensure that foreign investor rights are strictly limited and will fully exempt any law or
regulation written to protect public safety or promote the public interest.” (Response to a Pennsylvania Fair Trade Coalition questionnaire, April 2, 2008)
 
When trade pacts grant expansive corporate rights that impede governments’ abilities to respond to the call of
their people for positive environmental and economic policy, they threaten the very principle and practice of
democracy and human rights. El Salvador is currently considering whether to protect its natural resources by
enacting a national ban on metals mining, similar to the ban recently passed by Costa Rica. The people of El
Salvador must be guaranteed the right to determine their country’s environmental policy through the
democratic process without threat of retaliation by foreign investors.
 
Violence against anti-mining activists has been on the rise, with three community leaders who opposed
mining assassinated in 2009. While some of the perpetrators of these crimes have been prosecuted, the
intellectual authors and financers of these crimes have not yet been identified. Death threats and kidnapping
attempts against environmental defenders, journalists and religious leaders in El Salvador who oppose mining
continue today.
 
The Administration should submit an Article 10.22 submission in the Pacific Rim Mining Corp. case

 
On March 2nd 2011, the communities and member organizations of the Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería
Metálica (National Roundtable against Metals Mining), who have been organizing to defend their land and
water from the threat of metals mining, presented an amicus curiae brief to the International Centre for
Settlement of Investment Disputes tribunal hearing the Pacific Rim Mining Corp. case. As these civil society
organizations explained in their brief: “at the heart of this arbitration: the attempt by Pac Rim Cayman to
extract compensation as a result of its dissatisfaction with the government’s legitimate exercise on political
democracy.” 
 
We believe that the tribunal should take their amicus brief into account, and call on your Administration to
similarly weigh in. The State Department’s Office of Legal Affairs has the legal right under CAFTA Chapter
10 to formally intervene and submit a brief in the case as well. We strongly encourage the Administration to
file a brief in support of your stated campaign position that the investor rights in trade pacts must not be
allowed to undermine public safety and the public interest.  
 
Conclusion
 
Mr. President, during your upcoming trip, you have an important opportunity to make good on your campaign
commitments by offering concrete support to the people of El Salvador in the continued exercise of their
sovereign right to develop economic, environmental and social policy that promotes sustainable development.
We call on you to:
 
1) Publicly state your support for dismissal of the case brought by Pacific Rim Mining Corp. challenging
El Salvador’s environmental and safety policies relating to metals mining.

2) Publicly state your support for the efforts of President Funes and the National Civilian Police to fully
investigate the 2009 murders of community activists Marcelo Rivera, Ramiro Rivera, and Dora Sorto,
including the extent to which individuals linked to Pacific Rim Mining Corp. were involved; to bring
the intellectual authors to justice; and to end the on-going human rights violations against journalists,
community organizers and religious leaders in relation to the mining debate in El Salvador.
 
3) Publicly state your support for revisions to the existing CAFTA text so as to eliminate the investor-
state enforcement mechanism that provides rights for foreign investors to sue sovereign governments
and replace the investor-state system with a democratic, transparent, state-state enforcement
mechanism that will protect environmental and human rights, rather than endanger them.
 
4) Prevent repeating mistakes by eliminating the investor-state private enforcement mechanism in
pending free trade agreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia and replace it with a more
democratic government- government mechanism, and commit to ensuring that any trade pact that
results from Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement negotiations underway similarly does
not include investor-state enforcement. The Korea FTA alone would empower over 2,000 cross-
registered U.S. and Korean corporate affiliates to challenge U.S. and Korean state and federal
environmental policies.
 
We urge you to act quickly and concretely to support El Salvador’s position with regard to the current
CAFTA arbitration and to address the underlying policy issues in CAFTA that threaten the exercise of
democracy in our hemisphere. 

Signatory Organizations: 

National

Alliance for Democracy
Alliance for Global Justice
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, BAYAN-USA
Campaign for Labor Rights
Center for Democracy in the Americas
Code Pink
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Doctors for Global Health
Earthjustice
Earthworks
Food and Water Watch
Friends of the Earth
Global Exchange
Guatemala Human Rights Campaign
Holy Cross International Justice Office
Institute for Policy Studies, Global Economy Project
International Action Center, IAC
Labor/Community Strategy Center
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Media Alliance
Missionary Oblates – USA
National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean
Communities
National Lawyers Guild Task Force on the Americas
NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala
Nicaragua Network
Public Citizen, Global Trade Watch
Rights Action
Salvadoran-American National Association
Salvadoran-American National Network
School of the Americas Watch
SHARE Foundation
Sierra Club
Sister Parish Inc./Iglesias Hermanas
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Institute Justice Team
STITCH
Unión del Barrio
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth
Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project
U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities
Voices on the Border
Witness for Peace

Local

Asociación de Programadores de Español de KPFK
(Los Angeles, CA)
Association of Raza Educators, ARE (Los Angeles, CA)
Austin-Guajoyo Sister City Project (TX)
Bangor-Carasque Sister City Project (ME)
Bend-Condega Friendship Project (OR)
Binghamton-El Charcón Sister City Project (NY)
Brandworkers International (NY)
Brooklyn for Peace – Latin America Committee (NY)
California Fair Trade Campaign
Cambridge-El Salvador Sister City Project (MA)
Caribbean and Latin America Support Project
(New Paltz, NY)
Center for Alternative Mining Development Policy
(LaCrosse, WI)
Chicago-Cinquera Sister City Project (IL)
Chicano/Latino Artists for Social Equality (Los Angeles)
Citizens for Sanity.com (Pasco County, FL)
Coalition for Peace and Democracy in Honduras
(Los Angeles, CA)
Community Alliance for Global Justice (Seattle, WA)
Community Organizing Center: Latin American Action
Community Organizing Center: Latin American Action
Group (Columbus, OH)
CounterCorp (San Francisco, CA)
FMLN Committee “Combatiente Anónimo”
(Minneapolis, MN)
FOCUS Central America (Wichita, KS)
Focus on the Food Chain (NY)
Friends of Chilama (Crystal Lake, IL)
Guatemala Education Action Project (Los Angeles, CA)
Hands Across Borders (Erie, PA)
Jamie Moffett Media Design & Production, Inc.
(Philadelphia, PA)
Latin America Solidarity Committee (Milwaukee, WI)
Lawrence-El Papaturro Friendship Committee (KS)
Madison-Arcatao Sister City Project (WI)
Maine Fair Trade Campaign
Maine Organic Farmers & Growers Association –
El Salvador Committee, MOFGA-ESSC
Massachusetts Jobs with Justice
Milwaukee Clean Clothes Coalition (WI)
Marin Interfaith Task Force on the Americas (CA)
Milwaukee Fair Trade Campaign (WI)
Mount Mary College (Milwaukee, WI)
Movimiento de Acción Inspirando Servicio, MAIZ
(San Jose, CA)
Southwest Workers Union/Union de Trabajador@s
del Suroeste (San Antonio, TX)
St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America (MO)
St. Sebastian Catholic Church (Milwaukee, WI)
The Community Church of Boston (MA)
United Steelworkers Local 1188
Washington Ethical Society, Global Connections
Committee (Washington, DC)
Watertown- El Salvador Sister City Committee (MA)
William C. Velasquez Institute, WCVI (Los Angeles, CA)
Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice (Madison, WI)
Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (Tomahawk, WI)

International

Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network (Canada)
Barrio Nuevo (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Canadians Against Mining in El Salvador
(Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Cebes Mártires de El Salvador (Canada)
Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad, CIS (El Salvador)
Centro para la Promoción para los Derechos Humanos
"Madeleine Lagadec" (El Salvador)
Comité Ambiental de Cabañas, CAC (El Salvador)
Committee to Support Social Development in
El Salvador (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
Consejo de Investigaciones en Desarrollo (Guatemala)
Coordinación Ecuménica de la Iglesia de las y los Pobres
en El Salvador, CEIPES (El Salvador)
Democracy Center (Bolivia)
Ditsö  (Costa Rica)
Foundation Mgr Oscar Romero (Canada)
Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho,
FESPAD (El Salvador)
Fundación REDES (El Salvador)
La Asociación para el Desarrollo de Chalatenango, CCR
(El Salvador)
La Asociación para el Desarrollo de El Salvador, CRIPDES
(El Salvador)
Latin American Law Students Association in the Faculty
of Law, University of Ottawa (Canada)
Latin American-Canadian Solidarity Association
(London, Ontario, Canada)
McGill Research Group Investigating Canadian Mining
in Latin America (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)
Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (Toronto, Ontario)
Mining Justice Minière (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)
Mining Watch Canada (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)
Mirna Perla, Magistrada de la Corte Suprema de Justicia
(El Salvador)
Movimiento Unificado Francisco Sanchez-1932
(El Salvador)
Mujeres para el Diálogo (Mexico)
Ontario Public Interest Research Group, OPIRG
(Ottowa, Ontario, Canada)
Patria Exacta (El Salvador)
Radio Victoria (El Salvador)
RED de Mujeres Transformando la Economía Integrada
Latinoamericana, REMTE LA
Red Nacional Género y Economía (Mexico)
Salvadorian Canadian Association of Ottowa and
National Capital Region (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)
Siembra, A.C. (Mexico)
Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña (El Salvador)

 

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