El Salvador Claims Guatemalan Mine Threatens Its Water

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador

El Salvador has claimed a gold and silver mine in Guatemala would pollute the water quality of its essential Lempa River, which provides 37 percent of the country’s drinking water. The government of El Salvador is now calling on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) to pressure Guatemala to halt Goldcorp’s Cerro Blanco mine.

Although the mine is in Jutiapa, Guatemala, the Salvadoran government believes contamination would spread over the border once it is operational.

“The residual water from this mine will be discharged into the River Ostua and will reach Lake Guija (shared by Guatemala and El Salvador), which meets the River Lempa,” El Salvador’s human rights defense attorney general, Oscar Luna, warned.

Luna informed the CIDH that contamination to the water supply would represent an infringement of the human rights of the Salvadorans, and called on the CIDH to investigate. Luna said the mine represents “a slow and certain threat to human life, vegetation, fauna and water resources not only for Guatemala but also in El Salvador.”

The location of the mine would be within the Trifinio region, which also provides the primary water basin of Honduras, as well as parts of Guatemala and El Salvador. Luna said the development of the entire Trifinio region “is in danger because of the development of the Cerro Blanco mining project,” La Information reported on January 10.

Water around the mine already shows high levels of arsenic, lithium, fluoride and boron, according to a report published by El Salvador’s Center for the Investigation of Investments and Commerce. “This first evaluation, when gold and silver extraction has not even started, shows us that when extraction begins, the levels of heavy metals will increase, particularly in winter,” said the study’s author, Cidia Cortes. “The eventual impact on the Lempa River is imminent.”

Goldcorp, the world’s second-largest gold company,denies its mine presents a threat to the water supply. Entre Mares de Guatemala, the company’s subsidiary in Guatemala, stated:“As part of sustainable mining, Cerro Blanco’s operations are transparent, responsible and mindful of the environment. Additionally, the project is subject to national laws and international parameters.”

The Canadian company has sought to emphasize its credential as a responsible miner. On January 3, its Wharf Mine in the United States was certified in full compliance with the International Cyanide Management Code.

Campaigners have also claimed that Goldcorp’s Marlin gold mine in Guatemala has been responsible for discharging contamination into the water supply, being responsible for skin rashes and using water from community wells. The company denies this and claims to uphold the highest standards. 

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