Thank you, Aleisar.
Good afternoon, members, friends, and parliamentary assistants. It is an honour for me to be here and to share my experiences with you. I want to talk to you about a number of violent acts and fundamental abuses of human rights in Central America and, in particular, in El Salvador.
My name is Bernardo Belloso. I am the president of CRIPDES, which brings together approximately 300 communities in seven of the departments that make up the 14 departments in El Salvador. We work in about 350 communities, so it represents about 30,000 people.
We always try to promote human rights and search for alternative development for these communities while we work in those seven departments. El Salvador is a very small country in Central America of approximately 20,000 square kilometres, and almost seven million Salvadoreans live there. That means that on this land, which is inhabited, a number of projects are being carried out that violate human rights and impinge on the structure of natural resources.
There is the threat of exploitation of the mineral resources underground. We are in a critical situation. Water, groundwater, and water above ground are contaminated, making us very vulnerable, according to studies carried out by the Ministry of the Environment. The future holds a number of problems for our society in this regard.
Since 2000 we have been working in communities developing awareness-raising and information campaigns for the population to try to find alternative ways of developing those communities. A number of alternative projects were developed that are environmentally friendly and that have to do with agricultural production: meat, milk, grain, fruit, and vegetables. In other words, we have developed an alternative economy in our communities and in 2000 a number of companies arrived in El Salvador with the idea of being able to develop mining projects.
Most of those companies in the 29 areas for which mining concessions have been granted are Canadian, American, and Australian; but most of them are Canadian. What does that mean? Based on the different companies that were given concessions for mining exploration in the northern part of the country in particular, where the main water sources for the rest of the population are located, that area is under threat.
Some of the impacts that have been generated by the exploration by these companies can be enumerated, and we have denounced them. There is environmental destruction, as water has been contaminated and forests have been destroyed as well.
However, the main source of local problems has been the increased insecurity and the persecution of environmental leaders who defend their territories, their lands, and their lives.
In El Salvador, as recently as 2009, more than four community leaders were assassinated. The population cried out against this through local institutions. The investigations carried out by the people themselves found that these were linked to processes carried out by the mining companies.
There were a number of local problems, and it's true that we have problems locally. There's insecurity. There are a number of minority populations, and of course, there is drug trafficking. Well, the companies used those problems as a pretext, and this was something that the population that was directly affected denounced. Steps were taken using the relevant institutions to push these investigations forward to find those responsible for the murders. Marcelo and Dora, who was six months pregnant, were murdered as well. They were murdered, and they were murdered with impunity. That is what we want to highlight, because it is important for you to know what is going on so that you can demand that the companies issue a true report of what's happening in the territories where they operate.
There are also a number of problems with regard to the increase in corruption, particularly in the public sector, because, as you may know, mining companies, particularly Pacific Rim, start out by purchasing political will not only from the local political authorities but also from leaders who oppose mining projects. We have been caught in that dynamic, and we find it hard to generate the kind of support we need in the population.
There is an argument to the effect that mining is good and generates development, but I think that in El Salvador, and in other countries, we say that we're against mining. Why are we against these mining projects? First of all, nowhere in the country have mining companies have carried out their projects without harming natural resources, without destroying forests, without polluting water, without generating violence, and without generating corruption. The saddest thing about all of this is that I know of no place in the country where the companies have not dispersed the local population, particularly the indigenous population. That is of great concern in El Salvador.
Second, mining in El Salvador does not help resolve social conflict. It does not contribute to the economy of our country, either. It generates more poverty, more insecurity, and more destruction of natural resources.
As I already mentioned, El Salvador is a very vulnerable country. El Salvador is the country in Central America that is the most impacted by climate change, with droughts, floods, and landslides. Right now, the stress caused by water scarcity is also creating social problems, because the population does not have the water it needs to survive.