Water over gold or gold over water?: Extractive Discourses in El Salvador

Authors: James Artiga-Purcell*,
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Water Resources and Hydrology, Latin America
Keywords: Extraction, development, water, discourse, El Salvador, Latin America, socio-environmental conflict, social movements
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In 2017, El Salvador’s historic metal mining ban placed water over gold in an apparent move that rejected extractive development. However, the same anti-mining protesters who fought to protect their water rights against mining have returned to the streets to denounce current attempts to privatize the country’s water. Ex-minister of the environment, Lina Pohl, described the attempted water privatization thus, “in contrast to what happened with the Mining Law, gold won over water”. Seemingly, narratives of “clean water over dirty gold” dissolve as other extractive interests tighten their grip on water resources and drive water policy. This paper examines how mining and water discourses—narratives, symbols and meanings—overlap and compete to highlight and hide distinct political economic extractive interests. I investigate how a diverse anti-mining movement, spanning local communities and leftist-NGOs to private sector and free-market loyalists, coalesced around black-box narratives of “water”, “extraction” and "resilience", and how these same discourses served to hide the very multiple competing extractive interests that underpin El Salvador's current contentious water politics. Rather than a rejection of extraction, I propose that El Salvador’s water-extractive narratives obscure the country’s deepening commitment to extractive development.

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