Franciscan Br. Domingo Solis passed a small bottle of a deep tan colored liquid to a member of his audience on the UW-Milwaukee campus.
The bottle is filled with river water Br. Domingo collected in his country, El Salvador.
“This used to be a clean river that people used on a daily basis,” Br. Domingo said. “Now the people on that river have to buy water elsewhere.”
Br. Domingo spoke at UWM on Nov. 13. Hours earlier, he was speaking at MATC. He had already spoken in Madison on Nov. 10-11, and was heading to Chicago from Milwaukee.
The issue he’s so passionate about is metal mining in El Salvador. Before coming to Wisconsin he spent time in Washington D.C., Cleveland, and St. Louis.
But his stop in Wisconsin is particularly important to him because of the direct connection to the mining issue. A Milwaukee-based mining company, the Commerce Group Corp, has filed a $100 million lawsuit against El Salvador after it was barred from mining in the country.
“We are being sued in the World Bank by those owners for $100 million, supposedly in lost revenue,” Br. Domingo said. “They’re suing free trade agreements as a legal frame work for submitting the lawsuit.”
Br. Domingo said the scientists at the University of El Salvador tested the water in the river. The bottle of water that was passed around the audience contained traces of cyanide, residuals of acid drainage, lead, iron, copper, gold and silver.
“All at levels above what can be sustained by humans,” Br. Domingo said. “This has got to the point where only two percent of the 300 rivers that cross El Salvador… have drinkable water.”
Br. Domingo added that rivers can go for miles without having any sign of life within them.
“We’re talking about a crime against humanity,” he said. “This is fracturing civil society in these countries. This is a confrontation between the seeking of wealth and the seeking of life.”
Br. Domingo has been fighting the mining companies for 20 years, mostly as a “rank-and-file activist,” but now he’s the head of the office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation for the Franciscans in El Salvador.
“(We) work in support of justice and, where there’s not a movement, to promote the creation of the movement,” Br. Domingo said. “Where there’s not justice, to seek justice and open opportunities for dialogue and reconciliation.”
Br. Domingo said he’s generated a lot of interest in the issue.
“It’s a very opportune moment because of people’s concerns for the environment, for life, to show young people not everyone favors the destruction of the earth,” Br. Domingo said.
Along with the bottle of water, Br. Domingo brought with him a petition to ask the Commerce Group Corp. to drop their lawsuit on El Salvador. After the presentation members of the audience signed the petition.
Dan Kasun, co-chair of the El Salvador Solidarity Committee at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, New Berlin, said it was important for members of his parish to get involved with the issues in El Salvador to serve the communities and grow their faith.
“I think it’s our obligation as Catholics to take interest in the poor and marginalized,” Kasun said. “It’s a unique opportunity to experience both the difficulties of the poor, but also live the eyes of the faith.”
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish has a sister parish in El Salvador, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Rutilio Grande, and has spent the last eight years helping the parish in various ways.
Some of the ways they help is by providing funding for gardens to have a healthy food source, scholarships for school supplies and transportation, and transportation to Mass.
“Parishes are far away for them and they sometimes have to walk 15, 20 miles to get to their parish,” Kasun said.
Kasun said his parish raises $10,000 to $15,000 a year to help the communities.
“As far as the mining is concerned, well, that’s totally an issue that affects all El Salvadorians,” Kasun said. “It doesn’t help El Salvadorians to break the stalemate with getting an environmental assessment done and allowing the people that live on those lands some land rights.”
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is one of a few parishes with direct ties to El Salvador, Kasun said. St. Sebastian, Milwaukee, and Good Shepherd, Menomonee Falls, have similar relationships in El Salvador.