If Chilean miners can maintain vast media attention for two months, then human-rights advocates may be in pole position to lure spotlights toward other underground issues below the border. With that notion and much more in mind, on Monday delegates from Jobs with Justice and the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) slid through Harvard Square to picket the Investment Fund for Foundations (TIFF).
TIFF Advisory Services has a New England office on Mt. Auburn Street, and invests on behalf of several hundred community, health-care, and educational interests including the Massachusetts-based Partners Healthcare System and Boston Children's Museum. But activists argue that TIFF should sever ties with mining behemoth Pacific Rim. The controversial Canadian company, of which TIFF is a major shareholder, is suing El Salvador for authority to extract gold and silver from the El Dorado mine outside of San Salvador.
In the lobby of TIFF's Cambridge outpost, a reluctant greeter (who would not identify himself) refused to speak on the fund's potential conflict of interest with Pacific Rim's mission. Reached for comment by the Phoenix, Paul Horvitz, a spokesman for TIFF Advisory Services, said "We respect the views expressed to us by Massachusetts Jobs with Justice concerning our holding of Pacific Rim Mining Corp. shares, and we have taken these views into consideration. . . . We would note that our Pacific Rim Mining holding is worth approximately $6475."
El Salvador's Ministry of the Environment rejects the Pacific Rim plan. Their concern, which is shared by Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES) scientists, is that an attempt to extract a projected eight-million-plus ounces of precious metals will trigger environmental devastation in the forms of acid drainage, cyanide evaporation, and water pollution. The government is not alone in protest; public demonstrations have been violent, while the influential Catholic group Caritas El Salvador has assumed a lead role in the struggle.
The problem for El Salvador is that the government can't regulate such looming corporate interests. Because of the Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) — enacted under President George W. Bush and embraced by crooked Central American regimes including one that ran El Salvador until mid 2009 — Pacific Rim can fight in closed international court to regain permits that were promised by past leaders. On August 2, a World Bank tribunal denied El Salvador's preliminary objections to the El Dorado initiative.
As both sides await final decisions — Pacific Rim is suing for either $77 million in losses or the right to commence mining — progressive forces stateside hope to raise awareness by embarrassing the company's financial backers. The CISPES Cambridge offensive was organized by Miguel Rivera, whose brother, Marcelo, helped lead the environmental push against Pacific Rim in El Salvador until he was found dead and tortured at the bottom of a well last year.
"We're asking everybody who makes investments to be aware of where they're putting their money," said Rivera, who this past week also lobbied pols in Washington and investors in New York, through a translator. "Mining in my country is not going to help the people there. It's only going to create more health problems and hurt us."