An Australian-Canadian mining company, OceanaGold, is suing the Salvadoran government for refusing to grant it a gold-mining permit to its subsidiary, Pacific Rim. Manuel Pérez-Rocha, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies, explained the situation: “OceanaGold is demanding more than $300 million from El Salvador. They are saying, ‘If you do not let us operate in your country the way we want, you must pay us for the profits that you prevented us from making.’”That sounds absurd, but it’s true: The company is claiming that under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, it has the right to sue the Salvadoran government for passing a law that threatens its bottom line.El Salvador is now defending its decision to prevent OceanaGold/Pacific Rim from operating the El Dorado mine near the Lempa River before the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a little-known World Bank–based tribunal.As several protesters pointed out, El Salvador’s decision is grounded in its need to protect its limited water supply. More than 90 percent of the surface water supply in El Salvador is already contaminated, and more than 50 percent of the country’s 6.3 million people depend on the Lempa River watershed for their water.
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