“Water is an issue that can unite people. Water is life. Their slogans were always very powerfully pro water, less anti mining. And through that and their boldness and reaching out to unlikely allies, they were able to gather quite a force.”
Water is life. Countless communities across the world, from Flint, Michigan to the Standing Rock Reservation to the Gualcarque River in Honduras, have used this phrase as a rallying cry against powerful corporations that value profits over the environment and the health of local communities. In 2002, a small group of citizens in El Salvador joined this global community of water defenders when representatives from multinational mining company Pac Rim appeared in their home province of Cabañas. This ignited a people’s fight against corporate power that would last for over a decade. In The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved A Country from Corporate Greed, Robin Broad and John Cavanagh tell the harrowing, inspiring saga of El Salvador’s fight – and historic victory – to save their water, and their communities, from Big Gold.
Based on over a decade of research and their own role as international allies of the community groups in El Salvador, Robin Broad and John Cavanagh unspool this untold story, replete with corporate greed; a transnational lawsuit at a secretive World Bank tribunal in Washington, DC; violent threats; murders; and, surprisingly, victory. The husband-and-wife duo immerses the reader in the lives of the Salvadoran villagers, the journeys of the local activists who sought the truth about the effects of gold mining on the environment, and the behind-the-scenes maneuverings of the corporate mining executives. The Water Defenders demands that we examine our assumptions about progress and prosperity, while providing valuable lessons for other communities and allies fighting against destructive corporations in the United States and across the world.
“Broad and Cavanagh offer a practical David-versus-Goliath playbook for those who would mobilize both domestic and international forces to halt corporate abuses and to place the long-term welfare of communities above short-term financial gain.”
— Foreign Affairs
“The book is an environmentalist playbook, a how-to guide for activists seeking to defeat a power structure that is rigged in favor of their opponents.”
— The American Prospect
“Challenges conventional wisdom about activism, ‘the poor,’ and where real power really lies.”
“Part history, part environmental organizing case study, the book chronicles the community’s struggle against the mine from the early 2000s to the campaign’s unlikely conclusion in 2017, when El Salvador became the first country in Latin America to completely ban metal mining.”
—National Catholic Reporter
“It is rare, in the world of corporate power, to have a story where David beats Goliath. And rarer still to have one that reads like a fast-paced thriller.”
—Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost and Rebel Cinderella
“Bravo to the courageous Salvadorans—and their likely and unlikely allies—who prove that victories against overwhelming odds are possible. . . . The water defenders of El Salvador and their international partners provide a powerful guidebook, poignantly retold by Broad and Cavanagh, of how the struggles for justice in the United States can link with allies abroad to build power and win.”
—Opal Tometi, cofounder of Black Lives Matter
“Broad and Cavanagh are masterful storytellers. The words, deeds, and stories of people in El Salvador come alive so vividly in these pages to reinforce what we in the Poor People’s Campaign in the United States know well: the most powerful defenders of water, of the environment—of justice across the board—are poor people.”
—Rev. Dr. William Barber II, national co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign author of The Third Reconstruction
About the Authors
Robin Broad is an expert in international development and was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim fellowship for her work surrounding mining in El Salvador, as well as two previous MacArthur fellowships. A professor at American University, she served as an international economist in the US Treasury Department, in the US Congress, and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Broad and her husband, John Cavanagh, have been involved in the Salvadoran gold mining saga since 2009. They helped build the network of international allies that spearheaded the global fight against mining in El Salvador. They have co-authored several previous books together.
John Cavanagh is director of the Washington, DC-based Institute for Policy Studies, an organization that collaborates with the Poor People’s Campaign and other dynamic social movements to turn ideas into action for peace, justice, and the environment. Previously, he worked with the United Nations to research corporate power. Cavanagh and his wife, Robin Broad, have been involved in the Salvadoran gold mining saga since 2009. They helped build the network of international allies that spearheaded the global fight against mining in El Salvador. They have coauthored several previous books together.
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