El Salvador's Congress approved a law on March 29 that prohibits all metal mining projects, in a bid to protect the Central American nation's environment and natural resources.
The new law, which enjoyed cross-party support, blocks all exploration, extraction and processing of metals, whether in open pits or underground. It also prohibits the use of toxic chemicals like cyanide and mercury.
According to the country’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, 90% of the country's surface water is polluted, mostly due to the mining industry.
“This is a historic day for El Salvador and our right to decide our future,” said Oxfam’s El Salvador Country Director Ivan Morales.
“The voice of the people has been heard. Mining is not an appropriate way to reduce poverty and inequality in this country. It would only exacerbate the social conflict and level of water contamination we already have.”
A 2015 poll showed that more than 77% of the country’s population support such a ban.
Environmentalists, human rights groups and the Catholic church handed over a petition with 30,000 signatures in early March demanding the ban of metal mining.
In October, El Salvador unexpectedly won a case at a World Bank court against Canadian-Australian gold mining giant OceanaGold, which claimed that El Salvador interfered with its profits when the government pulled the plug on a proposed gold mine.
The conflict sparking the US$301 million lawsuit dates back to 2007 when El Salvador took a stand for national sovereignty and clean water by denying OceanaGold, then Pacific Rim, a new permit to extract gold.
The court ultimately awarded El Salvador's government US$8 million to cover legal fees and costs.
Oxfam has called on mining companies operating in El Salvador, including OceanaGold, to withdraw from the country, and avoid any action that might incite violence.
[Abridged from TeleSUR.]