Last night I attended a moving ceremony at the Smithsonian museum where the Goldman Environmental Awards were presented to six brave activists for a better world.

One of the recipients was farmer-turned-activist Francisco Pineda, who is a leader of a coalition of Salvadoran groups fighting gold mining, which was poisoning their fresh water sources. IPS gave its prestigious Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award to this group in 2009, and we have worked with them in an international coalition to halt the destructive gold mining. As Francisco put it in his acceptance speech: “We can live without gold, but we cannot live without water.”

Francisco Pineda at the 2011 Goldman Prizes

Francisco Pineda accepts his award at the 2011 Goldman Prizes. Photo via Goldman Prizes FB page.

Francisco and his colleagues have managed to convince their government to stop new mining permits, but two of the big the mining companies have been suing the Salvadoran government under the Central American Free Trade Agreement. As Francisco says of the CAFTA law suit: “It is like saying to a friend: ‘I’m going to steal everything from you. But if you don’t let me steal everything, I’m going to sue you.’”

I am traveling to El Salvador next week with my wife, Robin Broad, to write a piece for The Nation on this struggle, from the communities on the front lines to the global legal battles. And IPS is continuing to work with Francisco and his colleagues in a campaign to convince the mining firm, Pacific Rim, to drop its case against El Salvador as part of a larger IPS effort to end corporate protections in trade and investment agreements.

As we left the Smithsonian, Francisco still wore the huge smile he’d had all evening. “I got to meet your president today. He told me he understood Spanish, but couldn’t speak it. I thanked him for coming to our country and for giving us assistance but I told him we needed him to come out against mining, to come out against the CAFTA lawsuit.”

We must constantly remind ourselves and our president that global rules are made by people, and we can change them to reflect the interests of people and the environment. Today, an ally from El Salvador made that case.

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