February 20, 2018
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‘Water is More Precious than Gold’ tour visits Maine

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“Water is More Precious than Gold” speaking tour highlights the dangers industrial metal mining poses to people, water and the environment in El Salvador and beyond.

From March to April, members of the El Salvadoran National Roundtable against Metallic Mining (the Mesa), Vidalina Morales and Sandra Carolina Ascencio, will travel across Canada and the United States on the “Water is More Precious than Gold” Tour. Ascencio will speak in Bangor on March 29 at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 120 Park St. and Portland on April 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Shep Lee Lecture Hall in the Wishcamper Center at the University of Southern Maine, 34 Bedford St. She also will be featured in a legislative briefing in Augusta on April 1.

The tiny country of El Salvador – the most densely populated in Latin America – is caught up in a monumental battle to protect water and community well-being from industrial mining projects, as it seriously considers becoming the first country in the world to ban large-scale metals mining.

As members of the Mesa, Morales and Ascencio have been on the front lines of the struggle. Since 2006, the Mesa has brought together hundreds of communities and thousands of people from across El Salvador, including environmental, community-based, research, legal and religious organizations, to call for a ban on metal mining. Ascencio has worked for years with Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation , an organization of Franciscans whose mission is to care for the poor and marginalized, advocate for human rights, be peacemakers and respect and care for all of creation. She is a community advocate, educator and environmentalist who has experience working in diverse issues ranging from family violence to environmental education.

Morales and Ascencio will speak about the dangers of gold mining in El Salvador, the ways Salvadorans have organized to confront these projects, and how multinational mining companies are attempting to punish the Salvadoran government in international trade tribunals for responding to its citizens’ outcry.

In 2008, the Salvadoran President declared an effective moratorium on mining projects. In response, two multinational mining corporations, Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining and Milwaukee-based Commerce Group, filed lawsuits against El Salvador in a World Bank trade tribunal for tens of millions of dollars. For its part, Pacific Rim Mining had failed to obtain the necessary permit to open a gold mine in the rural state of Cabañas, for which it is claiming losses of at least $77 million.

In Maine, Morales and Ascencio’s message hits close to home. “For the first time in decades, out-of-state mining companies are seriously considering mining copper, zinc, and other metals in Maine,” said Nick Bennett, staff scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “This could have huge environmental consequences for some of Maine’s most pristine and treasured natural areas,” he added. Ascencio will join Bennett at two Maine presentations.

During Maine’s own mining history, mining companies have exaggerated the benefits and downplayed the costs their industry brings. The Kerramerican mine in Blue Hill operated for only five years, generating only 13% of the jobs the company initially projected. Today, thirty-five years after mining ended, the site still needs to be monitored for toxic leaks. The Callahan mine in Brooksville was open for only four years, closing in 1972, but the mining company left taxpayers with an estimated clean-up bill of $23 million. The largest parts of the clean-up have not even occurred yet, over 40 years later.

The Water is More Precious than Gold speaking tour aims to build greater awareness about the issues facing El Salvador and its neighboring countries, denounce mining companies’ unjust lawsuit, and build relationships with groups in North America, including those in Maine. The tour will also promote the Canadian-American Fact-Finding Mission to El Salvador from 9-11 May aiming to build awareness around the dangers of mining in El Salvador.

“We are honored that Sandra will be joining us here in Maine to teach us about Salvadorans’ struggle with pollution and corruption from transnational mining companies. Although El Salvador’s mining problems may be three thousand miles away, Maine can learn much from them,” said Bennett.

For more information about event or to set up an interview please contact: Jan Morrill morrillj@gmail.com 207.542.4360 or Todd Martin, Todd@nrcm.org, 207.430.0115