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2014-2017 Five municipalities declare themselves “Mining-Free Territories” through popular consultation procedures

Articles 115 and 116 of El Salvador’s Municipal Code require municipal governments to promote citizen participation through various mechanisms, including popular consultations (consulta popular). According to art. 117, a popular consultation must be held where “40% of eligible voters request in writing” that one be called (See also, 2014). Moreover, the municipal council cannot take action against the majority opinion expressed in a popular consultation if at least 40% of eligible voters participate in the consultation (Article 117). The results of a popular consultation are, therefore, considered to be binding (de carácter vinculante) on, at minimum, municipal authorities (UCA, 2010).

The Association for the Development of El Salvador (CRIPDES), a grassroots organizations formed in 1984, and the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining in El Salvador, an umbrella organization that began in 2005 in an effort to bring together social, environmental, and religious organizations from around the country to develop and advance strategic policies to eradicate metallic mining in El Salvador, are two key organizations that provide logistical, legal training, and support to communities interested in proceeding with popular consultations in relation to mining activities within their territories. The process for organizing and promoting the consultations is, however, led by community members themselves, typically through a Management Team that is made up of local residents selected by local Associations for Community Development (ADESCOS). The communities rely on existing procedures and mechanisms in place for municipal and national elections in order to carry out the consultation. The ballot question asks whether voters want or do not want exploration-exploitation mining projects in their municipalities. If the Municipal Code requirements are met, the community will generally request an official Municipal Ordinance to formalize the results. The ordinance acts as an organizing tool or means by which to pressure politicians at the national level to comply with community decisions, as reflected in local participatory processes. However, legally, the ordinances are secondary to mining legislation and could not prevent mining activities that were lawfully authorized under the Mining Law. CRIPDES assisted with drafting and publishing the ordinances in the Official Journal, along with designing communication campaigns and providing any training or logistical support needed throughout the process. This information is based on an interview conducted with a representative of CRIPDES as part of The Legal Cultures of the Subsoil project. Similar information was provided by the mayor of San Jose Las Flores in an interview conducted for this project.

The first popular consultation on metallic mining was held in the municipality of San Jose Las Flores in the Department of Chalatenango in September 2014. Voter turnout was 67%, with 99% voting to ban mining in their territory and declaring itself a “mining-free territory” (, Sept 2014). A second was held in November 2014 in the municipality of San Isidro Labrador in the Department of Chalatenango. Voter turnout was more than 60% with 98.74% voting in favour of banning metallic mining in its territories (, Dec 2014).

In March 2015, the municipality of Nueva Trinidad became the third municipality to declare itself a “mining-free territory” following the results of a popular consultation. The voter turnout in this case was 61.85%, with 99.25% voting no to mining in their territories. As with other popular consultations, preparations for the vote began months in advance; “organizers from the municipality and civil society organizations mobilized an educational campaign, using general assemblies, banners, and house visits to educate the population on the popular consultation and the effects of mining” (Upside Down World, 2015). The process was also monitored by 24 international observers from the U.S., Canada, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua to give it international legitimacy. National observers from the Office of the Ombudsperson for the Defence of Human Rights (PDDH) and the mayors of San Jose Las Flores and Arcatao also provided “”logistical and legal support” for the consultation process (Ibid).

In November 2015, the municipality of Arcatao in the Department of Chalatenango became the fourth municipality to vote in favour of becoming a “mining-free territory” through a popular consultation process. Voter turnout was 60%, with 99% voting against mining. In 2017, similar results were obtained by a fifth municipality, Cinquera, in the Department of Cabañas  (where the El Dorado mine is located), with 98% of eligible voters in favour of becoming a “mining-free territory”. This was the first vote of its kind in Cabañas (IPS, 2017).

Prior to the passage of the national legislative ban on metallic mining, popular consultations served as a tool to express rejection of mining activity at a local level (Gatoencerrado, 2014).

Type of Action / Tipo de Acción:
Popular Consultations and/or Referendum
Extractive Project / Proyecto extractivo:
Region / Región:
Central America
Country / País:
El Salvador
Natural Resource / Recurso natural:
Gold, Silver
Jurisdiction / Jurisdicción:
Salvadoran System
Category of Key Actors in Legal Action / Categoría de actores claves en la Acción Legal:
Grassroots Movements, Municipal Institutions, Non-Governmental Organizations, State Institutions
Human Rights Violated/Claimed:
Right to self-determination, Right to consultation
Key Legal Actors Involved / Actores jurídicos clave involucrados:
Association of Communities for the Development of Chalatenango (CCR), Association for the Development of El Salvador (CRIPDES), Associations for Community Development (ADESCOS), Human Rights Ombudsperson Office (PDDH) of El Salvador, National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador (Mesa Nacional), Regional and Interntional Election Observers
References / Referencias:

Diario Co Latino, “Un ‘NO’ contundente contra la minería metálica en Arcatao, Chalatenango”, dated 10 November 2015, online:, accessed 23 November 2021.

Gatoencerrado, “Los Pueblos que Dijeron No la Minería en El Salvador”, dated 21 September 2014, online:, accessed 23 November 2021.

Inter-Press Services (IPS), “Otro pueblo de El Salvador rechaza un proyecto minero”, dated 26 February 2017, online:, accessed 23 November 2021.

The Legal Cultures of the Subsoil: The Judicialisation of Environmental Politics in Central America, Interview by Dr. Ainhoa Montoya with the Asociación para el desarrollo de El Salvador (CRIPDES), held in San Salvador, El Salvador on 10 February 2017.

The Legal Cultures of the Subsoil: The Judicialisation of Environmental Politics in Central America, Interview by Dr. Ainhoa Montoya with the Mayor of San José Las Flores, held in San José Las Flores, El Salvador on 9 February 2017.

Mesa Nacional Frente a la Minería Metalica, “Misión”, online:, accessed on 23 November 2021.

No a la Mina, “Municipio Salvadoreño Prohibirá la Actividad Minera tras Consulta Popular”, online:, accessed 23 November 2021.

Noticias UCA, “La primera consulta popular municipal”, dated 29 January 2010, online:, 23 November 2021., “Arcatao: Participatory Democracy Defeats Mining”, 11  November 2015, online:, accessed 23 November 2021., “Municipality of San Jose Las Flores declared the first territory free of mining in El Salvador”, 24 September 2014, online:, accessed 23 November 2021., “Second Municipality Declared Free of Metal Mining in El Salvador”, 01 December 2014, online:, accessed 23 November 2021.

TruthOut, “Another Town in El Salvador votes No to Mining”, 2 March 2017, online:, accessed 23 November 2021.

Upside Down World, “Nueva Trinidad: 3rd Municipality in El Salvador to Declare Itself a ‘Mining Free Territory'”, 15 April 2015, online:, accessed 23 November 2021.