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EL SALVADOR: The first nation to ban mining

El Salvador has become the first country in the world to ban mining for gold and other metals. The vote by its legislative assembly on March 29 marked the culmination of a multi-year campaign in which the archbishop of San Salvador and the Jesuit-run Central American University (U.C.A.) played a major role. The ban’s proponents say industrial mining practices posed a grave risk to the country’s already limited water supply.

When El Salvador’s bishops were in Rome for their ad limina visit at the end of March, Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas, leader of the Archdiocese of San Salvador and president of El Salvador’s Episcopal Conference, told Pope Francis that mining “would threaten our country with disaster.”

He said the church was requesting the ban “in complete agreement with your encyclical Laudato Si, and together with the poorest communities directly threatened by mining…. In our small, densely-populated country, [mining] would contaminate the waters…and cause irreparable damage to the environment, to the fauna and flora and, most gravely, to people’s lives and health.”

Contamination from previous mining efforts has already reached alarming levels in El Salvador. Ban advocates say that new mining would jeopardize the Lempa River, the country’s major water source.

Archbishop Escobar Alas told Vatican Radio that while mining always causes some damage, “in our country, it would be even worse.” He added that the country’s mining laws are so weak that a legal ban is the only remedy.

The new law orders the Economy Ministry to close existing mines while prohibiting the government from issuing new mining licenses and gives small-scale and artisanal miners a two-year period to phase out production.

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