When I remember my time in El Salvador, one community particularly stands out: the community of San Jose Las Flores of Chalatenango. We got to spend a whole evening with the community's council in a meeting after supper, along with visiting their school (that teaches popular education curriculum), an eco-tourist site, the hospital, and a nearby massacre site from the war. Many of the council members had been active in the resistance against the military. Maria, one of the women on the council, had eight children while she was fighting, all of whom she took care of in the 'jungle' (it was more like a forest, but with giant tarantulas) where guerrilla resistors were in hiding. Her children grew up living amongst the damp trees, sometimes sleeping in moss, always afraid the army would come and burn their forest down (this was a tactic the military used to scare those in hiding out of the woods – there are still hillsides charred with the remains of burned woods today). She was so strong, and at one point, she turned to me and smiled, squeezing my shoulder. This was the most humbling moment of my trip – that this woman, who had endured so much, was so open to share her story with a group of privileged Canadians, who indirectly benefited from mining (our mining corporations invest in Canadian pension plans, something I wasn't aware of but many El Salvadorians knew) that destroys communities just like hers in neighbouring countries.
The people of this community also described to us how, once they were re-located to this area from refugee camps during the war, the first thing they did was plant trees. Their town is full of hills, and the trees are essential to prevent soil erosion. “We do not need to have laws to tell the people not to cut the trees,” one man said. “The trees are important for us to grow food, so we know it is a universal rule not to cut the trees.”
San Jose Las Flores also sits on top of precious metals that Canadian and Australian mining corporations want. This community is extremely active in the fight against mining. “We picked up guns for this land once, and we will do it again,” one community leader said when he met with a mining representative. The thing is, if the corporation manages to get just one individual to sell them a piece of the land, then the company's rights are immediately established within the community. Corporate rights of multinationals often trump the laws of a community once they are 'active participants' of the local economy. So, just like with the trees, the community is consensus not to sell to OceanaGold (or anyone else), otherwise the entire community will be at the mercy of the corporation.
The strength of these people, living in a region that was essential to strategic planning in the resistance of the 1980s, is unlike anything I can describe. I apologize to you, my reader, and hope that this introduction to San Jose Las Flores has opened your hearts even a little bit to the experiences of those battling our corporate interests.
Since I've been back, San Jose Las Flores has proven its strength by becoming the first mining-free territory in El Salvador. This has led to other municipalities in Chalatenango voting to ban mining as well. The hope is to have the entire province ban mining through the community consultation vote.
Monique Veselovsky has always loved the art of the story. As an advocate for social justice, she understands the power of storytelling in overcoming difference. Her greatest desire is to create dialogue and share knowledge, for there is no greater story than someone’s lived experience.
She hopes to tell her story here.
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