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2017 El Salvador passes Legislative Ban on Metallic Mining

On 29 March 2017, the Legislative Assembly approved a law prohibiting metallic mining in El Salvador. The law enjoyed cross-party support, passing with 69 out of 84 votes, well over the qualifying majority  (Reuters, 2017 and Montoya, 2021).The law prohibits all exploration, extraction and processing of metals, whether in open pits or underground, and officially entered into force on 2 June 2017. In relation to existing mining legislation, the 2017 ban law revokes all provisions in the Mining Law relating to metallic mining (El Pais, 2017).

The passage of this legislation was a historical event. El Salvador was the first country to “categorically” and “unconditionally” prohibit metallic mining in its territory (Dougherty, 2017). The process leading up to this stage began with the first draft proposal for a legislative metallic mining ban authored by the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining in El Salvador (Mesa Nacional), an umbrella organization that began around 2005 in an effort to bring together social, environmental, and religious organizations from around the country, and submitted to the Legislation Assembly by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) in 2006. A second iteration of this draft proposal was submitted in 2013 (Montoya, 2016; Montoya, “Citizens as Lawmakers”). However, in the interim, the debate on a legislative metallic mining ban had stalled as politicians focused on resolving a multi-million dollar investment arbitration started by Pacific Rim Mining Corporation in 2009 (Dougherty, 2017). During this period, mining in El Salvador remained in a state of limbo as governments and politicians from across the political spectrum extended a de facto moratorium put in place in 2006. (See the Legal Actions entitled “2006-2016 Pacific Rim International Investment Arbitration against El Salvador”, “2006-2017 The Mesa Nacional Drafts and Proposes initial Legislative Bans on Metallic Mining”, and “2006 De facto Moratorium on Mining imposed by Successive Salvadoran Governments”, for more information). 

On 6 February 2017, representatives of the influential Catholic Church, including the Archbishop of San Salvador, along with the Vice-Chancellor of the Jesuit “José Simeón Cañas” Central American University (UCA), appeared before the Legislative Assembly in support of a legislative ban on mining. This appearance, particularly by the Archbishop, was considered a turning point in the national debate (Montoya, 2021). During this session, the Archbishop and President of the UCA presented a new bill, which built upon Mesa Nacional’s previous drafts and was developed by the UCA. This version, with some amendments, ultimately would become law on 29 March 2017.  

On 9 March 2017, the President of the Legislative Assembly, Guillermo Gallegos, announced that the law prohibiting metallic mining in El Salvador could be approved before Easter. This announcement was well received by the Catholic Church and civil society groups which had marched to the Assembly the same day to present the signatures of 30,500 citizens who were against metallic mining (El Mundo, 2017).

Nonetheless, efforts to ensure the law passed continued. On 28 March 2017, Governor of Nueva Vizcaya in the Philippines, Carlos Padilla, delivered a presentation to El Salvador’s Environment and Climate Change Committee regarding his province’s adverse experience with an OceanaGold mining project (i.e. the corporate owner of the El Dorado mine in Cabañas). The mine had recently been “suspended after complaints of water contamination, forcible and illegal demolitions of homes, harassment of residents and violations of indigenous cultural rights.” Mr. Vizcaya’s presentation was organized by the UCA (NOW Magazine, 2017). The next day, the Law on the Prohibition of Metallic Mining was passed by the Legislative Assembly.

Type of Action / Tipo de Acción:
National Legislative Activities and Procedures
Legal Description / Descripción Legal:
Law on the Prohibition of Metallic Mining, Decree No. 639, dated 29 March 2017, published in the Official Gazette No. 66, Volume 415, on 4 April 2017
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:
Religious Organizations and Institutions, Academic Institutions, Grassroots Movements, State Institutions, Foreign Politicians
Human Rights Violated/Claimed:
Right to water, Right to health, Right to a healthy environment
Key Legal Actors Involved / Actores jurídicos clave involucrados:
Catholic Church, José  Simeón Cañas Central American  University  (UCA), National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador (Mesa Nacional), Environment and Climate Change Commission of Legislative Assembly, Governor Carlos Padilla, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines
Legal Artefact / Artefactos Legales
References / Referencias:

El Mundo, “Gallegos dice que ley contra minería podría ser aprobada antes de Semana Santa”, 9 March 2017, online:, accessed 5 June 2018.

El País de El Salvador, “El Salvador le dijo NO a la minería metálica”, dated 31 March 2017, online:, accessed 23 November 2021.

Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), “El Salvador Votes for Water over Gold”, 30 March 2017, online:, accessed 5 June 2018.

Mesa Nacional Frente a la Minería Metálica (Mesa Nacional), “Resurge el engaño de la minería verde en El Salvador” (Press Release), 3 April 2018, online:, accessed 6 June 2018.

Michael L. Dougherty (NACLA), “El Salvador Makes History”, dated 12 April 2017, online:, accessed 11 October 2018.

Montoya, A., “On Care for Our Common Home: Ecological Materiality and Sovereignty over the Lempa Transboundary Watershed”. Journal of Latin American Studies, 53(2), 297-322, dated 29 March 2021, online:, accessed 23 November 2021.

Montoya, A. “Citizens as Lawmakers: The Juridification of Conflicts over Metallic Mining in El Salvador” (Work in Progress).

NOW Magazine, “In mining-affected communities, water is becoming more precious than gold”, dated 24 April 2017, online:, accessed 5 June 2018.

Reuters, “El Salvador Congress approves law prohibiting metals mining”, 29 March 2017, online:, accessed 6 June 2018.