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El Salvador: Pacific Rim Mining Co. Shares Up, Tensions Remain High in Cabañas PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jason Wallach   
Friday, 18 September 2009 07:57
ImageAt the recent Pacific Rim Mining Company shareholders' meeting in Vancouver, BC, shareholders voted to extend repayment on $6.7 million of stock-like warrants for another year. About $800,000 of the extended warrants belong Pacific Rim Executive Board members themselves, so the move sent a clear signal to investors that the company is committed to carrying through with its $77 million investment arbitration claim against the government of El Salvador.

Pacific Rim has spent millions on exploration costs in hopes of re-opening the El Dorado mine in eastern El Salvador, close to the town of San Isidro. The company's hopes were all but dashed in July 2008 when massive public outcry against the mine forced then-President Tony Saca to suspend permits for Pacific Rim's continued operations there.

If the warrant extension was intended to increase investor confidence in the company, then the move seems to have paid off. Pacific Rim (PMU) shares on the AMEX have shot up 50% in the three weeks, from 20 cents to just around 30 cents per share. The price flirted with its year-to-date high reached in June, shortly after the company officially filed its CAFTA claim.

The rise in Pacific Rim's share price also comes after the company issued its first public statement in response to right-wing extremist attacks against local residents opposed to Pacific Rim's El Dorado mining project. Local resistance to the mining plan has been intense, and not without cost for activists. In July, Marcelo Rivera, a community leader in the anti-mining movement, went missing. His body was found dumped in a well weeks after his forced disappearance near his home town of San Isidro.  

Later in July, Fr. Luis Quintanilla narrowly escaped a kidnapping attempt when a group of masked and armed men stopped him and forced him from his car. And reporters from the respected Radio Victoria—from the town of the same name—made public that they had suffered a gruesome volley of written and texted death threats related to their mining coverage. The radio station itself was sabotaged and was forced off the air for a few days in early August.

Upside Down World reported in August that throughout the violent actions that rocked the Cabañas region in recent months, Pacific Rim maintained a curious silence. For Salvadorans who lived through twelve years of war during the 1980's and 90's, silence is often interpreted as consent.

In the Pacific Rim statement, company President Tom Shrake expressed "outrage" at Rivera's murder. But the statement was issued only after the Business and Human Rights Resource Center requested comment from the company, and its August 20 release date was nearly three weeks after Rivera's highly publicized funeral snaked through the streets of San Isidro.

"There is no place in the mining debate for threats upon people's lives and safety," Shrake explained in the statement.

While the Shrake statement does not openly acknowledge the broad violence targeted at mining opposition, the CEO take pains to distance his company from some of the more sundry characters who have emerged as a result of the violent attacks. For example, Shrake specifically notes that his company has no connection to Oscar Menjívar, who is currently in jail awaiting arraignment for the shooting of prominent anti-mining protest leader, Ramiro Rivera. (No relation to Marcelo.)

Shrake does not mention the connection between Menjívar and multiple attacks upon anti-mining campaigners stemming back at least two years, including a machete attack on Santos Rodriguez that resulted in the loss of two fingers. Menjívar was arrested, but never faced charges in the attack. The National Roundtable Against Metal Mining has called Menjívar a "hitman" for powerful pro-mining interests. Activists strongly consider that Menjívar's services are being "outsourced" by higher-ups, though the intellectual authors of these attacks have not been identified.

It is well known that Pacific Rim has offered "development grants" to local political leadership as part of a good neighbor program launched by the company to enhance its corporate image in Cabañas. Activists plan to press for a full accounting of the grants.

Stalled Investigations, Coordinated Resistance
Authorities in El Salvador have arrested four gang members for the murder of Marcelo Rivera. They allege his death resulted from a drunken brawl that spiraled out of control. Activists have rejected this account, since Rivera was a widely-esteemed community leader who was known to have sworn off alcohol years ago.

The Attorney General of El Salvador, Astor Escalante, has indicated his satisfaction with his office's investigation of the Rivera case. But, in a recent meeting with activists in his San Salvador office, Escalante hinted that he was reluctant to pursue leads that link local officials and Pacific Rim with Rivera's killing and other recent incidents.

He noted that his office is also charged with defending El Salvador against the Pacific Rim arbitration claim, and he did not want to leave his office open to accusations of persecuting the company before the CAFTA arbitration panel. He did note, however, that the government had contracted a law firm to defend El Salvador in the arbitration hearings. Earlier statements by Funes Administration officials had hinted that the government would seek a negotiated settlement.

Pressure on the Pacific Rim is likely to increase in coming days. José Angel, Director of the Vancouver-based United Latin America Solidarity Coalition told UDW about a series of events planned, including an open forum in October that will shine a spotlight on Pacific Rim's conduct in developing the El Dorado mine project.

"We have invited a representative from the National Roundtable Against Metal Mining, and we've invited Pacific Rim to send a representative as well. It's important that people here know what [Pacific Rim] is doing in El Salvador," said Angel.

Angel plays with the Salvadoran musical group Cutumay Camones and says the group has planned a week of concerts and actions in October that will raise awareness about opposition to the El Dorado mine and Pacific Rim's arbitration suit against the Salvadoran government. The concerts, scheduled for October 10 in Edmonton and October 17 in Vancouver, will be followed by a protest in front of Pacific Rim headquarters on October 16. 
 

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