An obscure tribunal housed at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. will soon decide the fate of millions of people.
At issue is whether a government should be punished for refusing to let a foreign mining company operate because it wants to protect its main source of water.
The case pits El Salvador’s government against a Canadian gold-mining company that recently became part of a larger Australian-based corporation. When OceanaGold bought Pacific Rim last year, it identified the Salvadoran mining prospects as a key asset, even though gold prices have sunk by more than a third from their 2011 high of more than $1,900 an ounce.
The case’s implications are chilling. If the company wins, this small country will have to either let the company mine or pay hundreds of millions of dollars.
This summer, we returned to northern El Salvador. That’s where the Pacific Rim mining company started to dig its exploration wells about a decade ago.