Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Price of "Bling"

On July 15, the day that Geoff and I arrived in El Salvador, an anti-mining environmental activist was found murdered at the bottom of a well in San Isidro, El Salvador. He had been missing for nearly a month, and his body showed visible signs of torture. Since then, 4 reporters who have been covering the news of his disappearance and death have received death threats themselves, and another priest who is also aligned with the left-wing activists has nearly also been kidnapped and killed, escaping his armed aggressors ever-narrowly only by jumping into a ravine.

Concerned about the issues surrounding the obviously heated environmental activism, I looked up some relevant information about mining in El Salvador. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that El Salvador is a rich source for natural elements such as gold and silver, seeing that 90% of the country originated from volcanic activities. Mining companies based in U.S. and Canada are eager to come in and reap the benefits of the abundant resources this country has to offer. The local proponents of the mining law point to the jobs it would create and the income that the local government would receive as a percentage of the proceeds, but the environmental and social activists point to the amount of acidic toxins -- specifically, of mercury, cyanide, arsenic, zinc and aluminium -- that would be released into the water. Leaching, the process of extracting gold and silver from the rocks, requires an enormous amount of water and exposes chemicals to open air, allowing them to evaporate and to be absorbed into the surroundings. Mercury evaporates readily at 26 degrees Celsius, and then redistributes in the form of rainfall. The mixing of the chemicals with water also would exacerbate the existing water shortage. Already, 1.5 million Salvadoreans (out of a total population estimated to be somewhere between 6 to 7 million) do not have access to drinking water. The "acidic drainage", as it is called, is going to make things worse. Already, there have been hillsides and wells that have dried up in San Isidro as a result of "an error" committed by one of the mining company's employees. Instead of receiving water deliveries in exchange for keeping quiet, the residents of San Isidro have opted to speak up against further mining activities by these foreign companies -- hence, the recent wave of environmental activism.

In any case, the laws right now are in limbo. The mining companies are hoping for the drafted mining law to be passed, so that the suspended mining activities may resume. I don't think you need me to say where I stand on the issue.

...What an absolute outrage!


I finished reading One L, a personal account of one guy's experience as a first-year law student at Harvard Law School. The author describes the fearful manipulation that the professors used to run their first-year classes, and the resulting degradation in decency he observed in his peers and in himself as the academic year progressed. Even though he attended HLS back in the 70s and his account is clearly outdated, the story was still pretty interesting for me to read. It made me think about what my friend Ron once said about being a witness to injustice: "Either together we stand [against what we perceive of as injustice], or individually we will fall. Today it could be them, but tomorrow it might be you... or me." I think that concept applies broadly to a lot of things, and it is an idea that I keep coming back to. Why is it that we should stand up for someone whom we think is treated unfairly? What is the broader implication of justice, for us individually and, then, collectively?

Anyway, I picked up a Spanish novel yesterday from the bookstore. --Ambitious, I know! I figured that I would try to build my vocabulary the best way I know how -- by tediously working my way through a book I'd like to read. That's how I learned English, anyway, so doing this again actually feels familiar and warm, a bit like coming home again after many years. It's going slowly, obviously; took me about 30 minutes to cover 3 pages, because the structure of written Spanish is more difficult than spoken Spanish, and words often mean different things once you string them together into a phrase. But, I love the feeling of piecing together meaning, one word at a time. I'm excited. :)

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