El Chile: Land Rights, Environmental Conservation, and Tourism on the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula

TESAK propertyTension over tourism development  in the Bay of Jiquilisco, specifically in the Bajo Lempa and San Juan del Gozo Peninsula, is rising. Over the past few months Voices on the Border has partnered with communities in the region to identify threats related to tourism and document how development plans are starting to affect specific communities.

In December 2013 we finished a report called Tourism Plans for the Jiquilisco Bay, which outlines the general plans to promote tourism in the region and their potential impacts on El Salvador. This week we finished a report on El Chile, a small community that is fighting to keep their land and protect their local environment. Here are links to both articles in Spanish and English:

Tourism Report Cover spaTourism Report Cover eng

 

 

 

 

El Chile Cover spaEl Chile Cover EngDuring  numerous conversations and meetings about development plans, residents of the Bajo Lempa and San Juan del Gozo Peninsula made it clear that they oppose the kind of large-scale tourism outlined in the 2016 and 2020 National Tourism Plans. They fear that golf courses, hotels, resorts, condominiums, marinas and wharfs, shopping centers, and other development will destroy local mangrove forests, beaches, and farmland. Residents also fear that thousands of people will be displaced as the demand for real estate grows. On a more macro level, environmentalists argue that an influx of 20 million tourists from the U.S. and Europe, a goal identified in the 2020 National Tourism Plan, will completely drain El Salvador’s already scarce water supply.

Communities insist that they are not anti-tourism. They just oppose the large-scale projects that are currently planned. In La Tirana, Voices on the Border staff is accompanying the community board as they plan their own tourism initiative that will consist of a few small huts in the center of town, a community-run restaurant, and a few canoes for giving tours through the forests. Community members appreciate the beauty and importance of the mangrove forests in their community and they want to be able to share it with others, but in an appropriate manner.

La Tirana 11 At the moment developers and investors seem to be waiting on the release of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) funds to move forward on their projects. Last year the MCC approved a second compact with the Salvadoran government worth $277 million. The U.S. Congress and State Department are holding the funds until the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly reforms the Public-Private Partnership Law (P3 Law) passed last May. U.S. officials say the reforms are necessary to ensure investors have access to all Salvadoran assets and resources, including water, education, and health. The U.S. also doesn’t want the Legislative Assembly to have a role in approving or overseeing public-private partnership contracts. In the days after being certified as the winner of the March 9th presidential elections, President-elect Sanchez Cerén (FMLN) said that when he is sworn in on June 1, his administration would work to make sure the MCC funds are released.

The MCC funds are not specifically earmarked for tourism. They will be available to encourage private investment along El Salvador’s coast. The majority of projects proposed so far are related to tourism in the Jiquilisco Bay and other coastal areas.

Even though the MCC funds are stalled, speculators have continued to acquire land for tourism projects. The most recent acquisitions occurred earlier this year in El Chile. Residents of the community have lived on and worked their land for more than 22 years, but their ongoing efforts to secure legal titles to their land have been unsuccessful. As a result, when Salvadoran investors came to acquire land along the community’s beach, they were powerless to stop them. And government agencies seem unwilling or unable to step in to help.

Developing mega-tourism projects in La Tirana, Montecristo, Las Mesas, San Juan del Gozo, Isla de Mendez, El Chile, El Retiro, Corral de Mulas, and many other communities in the Bajo Lempa and San Juan del Gozo Peninsula would be as disastrous as allowing Pacific Rim to mine gold and silver in Cabañas. The mangroves are El Salvador’s defense against climate change. The beaches are nesting ground for at least four species of sea turtle, including the Hawksbill, which is a critically endangered species. Golf courses and 20 million visitors would diminish El Salvador’s water supply very quickly.

Please take a few minutes and read our Overview on Tourism and the Report on El Chile (see links above), and stay tuned… local organizations and communities will be organizing ways for you to become involved in the struggle against mega-tourism in the Bajo Lempa and San Juan del Gozo Peninsula.

 

Bajo Lempa Rejects Latest Pressures from the U.S. Embassy over the Public-Private Partnership Law

In May, El Salvador passed a Law on Public-Private Partnerships (P3 Law) to facilitate foreign investment and increase the private sector’s role in managing and providing public services. The U.S. Embassy made the law a prerequisite for their approval of a second round of Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) funding.

The Legislative Assembly, led by the leftist FMLN party, passed the Law with reforms that exempt certain public goods and services from public-private partnerships. The public assets exempt include water, education, health care, and the prison system – all of which the government deems to important to contract out.

For a few months it seemed as though the passage of the P3 Law, even with the reforms, as enough to satisfy U.S. officials, and in September the MCC board approved a second round of funding.

Last week, however, Mari Carmen Aponte, the U.S. Ambassador, said that the Legislative Assembly would have to reform the P3 Law to take out the exceptions in order to get the MCC funds. The Embassy is also requiring that El Salvador have an anti-money laundering law in place.

Sigfredo Reyes, the FMLN president of the Legislative Assembly, responded to Ambassador Aponte’s new requirements saying that the pretentions that a person would impose such conditions on El Salvador that they would not adopt in their own country was unacceptable. He also stated, we are grateful that the government, or more the MCC has granted this second round of funding, as they call it, but the Salvadoran legislative branch moves to its own rhythm that Salvadorans determine.

Communities in the Bajo Lempa of Jiquilisco, Usulután responded to the Ambassador’s latest threats with the following statement (the original is in Spanish, with an English Translation below):

APROBAR LA LEY DE APP, FUE UN ERROR, REFORMARLA  ES AGRABAR EL ERROR

Desde que surgió el proyecto de Ley de Asocios Público-Privado, las organizaciones sociales, sindicales, ambientalistas, de derechos humanos y campesinas, la rechazan debido a que los resultados serán: control transnacional de servicios e industrias estatales necesarias, incremento de los costos de servicios básicos, peores condiciones laborales para los trabajadores y la pérdida de ingresos para el Estado.

Durante el debate en la Asamblea Legislativa, los partidos llegaron a un acuerdo para proteger por lo menos varios bienes públicos, incluso el agua, la educación, la salud y los sistemas de justicia. También hicieron reformas importantes para garantizar más supervisión por la Asamblea. Estas modificaciones son positivas, pero no suficientes para evitar que bienes como el aeropuerto, los puertos, presas hidroeléctricas, carreteras y otros que actualmente son propiedad de todos los salvadoreños y salvadoreñas sean susceptibles de ser concesionados a empresas privadas; pero más grave aún es lo que puede pasar con las playas, los bosques de manglar  y las reservas naturales.

Con la aprobación de la Ley de APP, El Salvador continúa asumiendo la receta neoliberal dictada por el Banco Mundial, El Fondo Monetario Internacional y el gobierno de Los Estados Unidos, principales “asesores” y promotores de esta Ley. A pesar que las medidas neoliberales fracasaron en todo sentido, las promesas de empleo y de crecimiento económico que acompañaron las privatizaciones, la dolarización y la firma del CAFTA-DR, jamás se cumplieron y en su lugar la pobreza, la violencia, el deterioro del medio ambiente y la corrupción se incrementaron.

A pocos meses de su aprobación la gran empresa privada y el gobierno de los Estados Unidos están presionando por introducir reformas en beneficio de los inversionistas, al respecto la Embajadora de los Estados Unidos en El Salvador, públicamente ha amenazado con detener el segundo compacto del FOMILENIO, si no se aprueban tales reformas.

Este chantaje viola la soberanía del pueblo salvadoreño. Son los y las salvadoreñas,  no el gobierno de los Estados Unidos, quienes deben  determinar la política económica de El Salvador. Por lo que ante las presiones externas de reformas a la Ley, es imprescindible que la Asamblea Legislativa reaccione y comprenda  que aprobar la ley fue un error, introducirle reformas es agravar el error.

Las comunidades del Bajo Lempa, una de las regiones del país, principalmente afectadas con este tipo de leyes, claramente han manifestado:

La ley de asocios público privados y El Fomilenio II, han sido diseñados a partir de los intereses políticos de Los Estados Unidos y como tal se convierten en instrumentos de manipulación y dominación de nuestro pueblo, al mismo tiempo que destruyen los recursos naturales y generan división y conflictos entre comunidades.  Además, expresan: Teniendo en cuenta que con la aprobación de la Ley de Asocios Público Privados todos los partidos políticos han perdido credibilidad, las organizaciones  y comunidades del Bajo Lempa reiteramos una vez más nuestra determinación a defender la vida y el territorio hasta las últimas consecuencias.

English Translation:

Approving the Public Private Partnership Law was a Mistake, Reforming the Law Will Only Make it Worse

Since the beginning of the Public-Private Partnership Law project, social organizations, unions, environmentalists, human rights organizations, and peasant (campesino) communities have rejected it. They believe the law will result in the control of important state services and assets by transnational corporations; increase in the costs of basic services; worse labor conditions; and lost income for the State.

During the Legislative Assembly’s debate of the issue, the political parties came to an agreement to at least protect various public goods from the law, including water, education, health, and the prisons. They also inserted mechanisms to give the Legislative Assembly a greater supervisory role in overseeing public-private partnerships. While these modifications were positive, they were insufficient to ensure that assets like the airport, ports, hydroelectric dams, highways, and others that belong to the Salvadoran people but are now subject to concessions with private, for-profit corporations. The most serious results could be occur with the selling off of the beaches, mangrove forests, and natural reserves, which are currently targeted for tourism projects.

With the approval of the P3 Law, El Salvador continues to implement the neoliberal agenda dictated by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the government of the United States, which is the principal advisors and promoters of the law. The neoliberal policies have failed the people of Salvador in every sense – the promises of employment and economic growth that were to accompany privatization, dollarization, and the signing of the Free Trade Agreement have never materialized. In their place, poverty, violence, deteriorating environment, and corruption have all increased.

A few months after the approval of the P3 Law, large private corporations and the United States govenrment are pressuring the Legislative Assembly to adopt reforms to the law that will benefit investors. The U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte, has threatened publicly to withhold the second round of funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation if the Legislature does not pass the reforms.

This blackmail violates the sovereignty of the Salvadoran State and its people. Salvadorans, not the U.S. government, ought to be the ones who determine the economic policies of El Salvador. It is imparitive that the Legislative Assembly recognize these external pressures, and state that passing the law was a mistake in the first place, and introducing reforms would only compound previous errors.

The Communities of the Bajo Lempa, one of the regions of El Salvador most affected by these types of laws and the implementation of neoliberal policies, clearly states:

 The Public-Private Partnership Law and the second round of the Millennium Challenge Corporation have been designed to benefit the political and economic interests of the United States, an as such have been converted into a tool of manipulation and domination of our communities and people, while destroying our natural resources and generating conflict between communities. We also state that with regards to the adoption of the Public Private Partnership Law, all political parties have lost credibility, and the social organizations and communities of the Lower Lempa once again reiterate our determination to defend our life and territory to the end.  

Ciudad Segundo Montes Celebrates 24 Years

One the 18th of November, 1989, the 10,000 people living in the Colomoncagua refugee camp in Honduras began to repatriate to El Salvador (they repatriated in 4 different groups from November 1989 to March 1990). Upon their return, the majority settled in the municipalities of Meanguera and Jocoaitique in Northern Morazán, founding Ciudad Segundo Montes, inspired but the works of Father Segundo Montes, a Jesuit Priest who was assassinated just two days before their return. As late as August 1989, Segundo Montes had been in the camps working with the refugees to negotiate their repatriation, facilitating communication with the United Nations, and Salvadoran and Honduran military.

Last week the Ciudad Segundo Montes commemorated the 24th anniversary of their return. One of the most interesting activities was a conversation about Historical Memory and Youth, an event that allowed the adults to share with local youth their experiences in the refugee camps.

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Santos Chicas, one of the participants said, “many of us that today live in Segundo Montes, we are the children that appear in the videos and photos from the camps. [During the event, Voices staff showed a video clip from the return] Under the weight of military repression and poverty, our infancy was happy because it [the refugee camp] was a model of community life, without prejudice and discrimination of any type.” He added, “in the refugee camps we did not have drugs or liquor, nor mobile phones or Internet, nor continuous electricity, but we did not need these things to be happy.”

Betsy Shepard, a member of Voices’ Board of Directors, echoed Santo’s testimony when she recounted her trips to the refugee camps. “Colomoncagua did not fit the usual image of a grim refugee camp, rather it was seen as a model community in the middle of difficulties, and an example of a society that transformed from a group of illiterate campesinos to a community with new capabilities and the ability to confront the powerful in a creative way. These attributes of the community of refugees were key for their survival.

In actuality, after 24 years of hard work, the advances in the development of the community are visible, according to the majority of the population. The have the best library in all of the eastern region, the best high school in Morazán, and 20% of all youth have finished or are in the process of finishing their university degrees. There is no gang presence in the region and youth dedicate their free time to practice sports, or learn dance, theatre, painting or music. There are childcare facilities as well as community centers where older residents receive meals and other services.

When asked what factors made this level of community development possible,  Santos Chicas gave a very clear and firm response – “the life in the camps showed us the way.”

With the renewed interest in preserving the communities history, we at Voices have begun going through our archives. Poco a poco, we are digitizing the tens of thousands of documents, photographs, posters, and materials that we have from our work in the camps and the early years in Segundo Montes. During last week’s celebration, for example, we showed a video of the November 1989 repatriation that one of our early delegations shot (we’ll post that on the blog after we clean it up a little more). For now, here is a small sample of the thousands of slides  we are scanning in for our friends in Morazán. There is much more to come!!!

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El Salvador’s Constitutional Court Considering Claim Against Presidential Candidate Tony Saca

The Constitutional Court of El Salvador yesterday accepted a claim filed by Ramiro Peña Marín y Wilmer Humberto Marín Sánchez that the presidential candidacy of Tony Saca is unconstitutional.

The Court is considering three claims – 1) Saca, who was President of El Salvador from 2004-2009, isn’t eligible to run again until 2019; 2) he is guilty of fraud during his presidency; and 3) he has shares in corporations that have state contracts, which is a violation of Article 127 of the Constitution.

Tony Saca, who is running as a candidate for the UNIDAD party, is not the defendant in the case; rather it is the Supreme Electoral Tribunal that has to prove the constitutionality of their decision to certify his candidacy. The Court has given them 10 business days to submit a brief justifying their certification of the Saca candidacy. After the TSE has submitted its brief, the Court will send the case to the Attorney General’s Office to get their opinion.

The first claim argues that a former President cannot run for another term until he has been out of office for an entire term. Article 152 of the Constitution says, “The following shall not be candidates for the President of the Republic:

1st – He who has filled the Presidency of the Republic for more than six months, consecutive or not, during the period immediately prior to or within the last six months prior to the beginning of the presidential period.

The plaintiffs argue that the former president is ineligible to run again until after the new President takes office in 2014, and he couldn’t begin a second term until 2019.

The second argument is that Tony Saca committed fraud in 2009 when his administration submitted its final report. The plaintiffs argue that there was no way the administration could complete the report appropriately until those who had positions in the administration had finished going through their final audits, which did not happen until 2010.

The third argument the Court is considering is that Tony Saca is ineligible to be President because he holds shares in corporations that have government contracts. Article 152 .7, which refers back to 127 .6, of the Constitution prohibits a President from having government contracts. The plaintiffs argue that his ownership of Grupo Radial Samix, which has government contracts, makes Saca ineligible to run. They also argue that his involvement in the National Telecommunications Administration, which also has government contracts, makes him ineligible. Saca has argued that he transferred interests in these corporations to family members to avoid a conflict with the Constitution, but the plaintiffs argue this was insufficient and just an attempt to circumvent the constitutional requirements. He also argues that the concessions were to corporations, and while he was on the board of those corporations he did not own the concessions.

Tony Saca responded to the claims by saying he is sure the Constitutional Court will resolve the claim in his favor. He also said the claims show that the ARENA party is afraid of his candidacy and that they have had to resort to a dirty campaign. The former president also pointed to polls that show his candidacy will guarantee that no one candidate will win 50% of the vote on election day, forcing a runoff.

There were six other claims of unconstitutionality related to the Presidential Candidates – 4 others against Tony Saca (UNIDAD), one against Norman Quijano (ARENA), and one against Sánchez Cerén (FMLN). The court did not validate these complaints; they only agreed to consider the three against Tony Saca.

El Faro.net points out that if the Court agreed to hear the case, it means that there is a real constitutional issue to debate – this is not just a formality. All five members of the Court signed off on the decision.

Tony Saca is not having a good week in the press. On Tuesday (November 19, 2012) El Faro published an interesting report on Saca’s earnings during his presidency. They found that in 2003, the year before he became president, Saca was worth roughly $600,000 and had an annual income of  $200,000. By 2009 and the end of his Presidency, Saca was worth $10.5 million, more than 16 times what he was worth the year before he was sworn in as President.

If the Constitutional Court decides to annual Saca’s candidacy, it will most likely favor Norman Quijano and the ARENA party. Polls indicate that Saca is splitting the more conservative votes, giving Cerén and the FMLN a boost. The argument is that if Cerén can’t win in the first round, he’ll be able to peel away enough Saca supporters to win in the second and become President.

The last polls from La Prensa Grafica, however, show a close race with the Cerén and the FMLN ahead with only 29.4%. Quijano and the ARENA are close behind with 28.3%, with Saca is a distant third getting only 9.8% of the vote. Approximately 30% of voters remain undecided, which means this race is still far from over.

ACUDESBAL is Celebrating 15 years

This Saturday (November 23rd) our friends at ACUDESBAL (the Inter-communal Association of United Communities for the Economic and Social Development of the Bajo Lempa) are holding their 15th Anniversary celebration in the Bajo Lempa – If you’re in the area you should join in the festivities (see details below).

ACUDESBAL is a local development organization run by and for residents of the Bajo Lempa, helping communities address issues such as economic development, public health, youth leadership, environmental protection, sports and recreation, and more. ACUDESBAL is also a leading advocacy organization with emphasis over the years on completion and maintenance of the levees and drainage systems that are supposed to protect the region from flooding. They have also been strong advocates around the renal failure issue that has already claimed the lives of hundreds of poor farmers in the region. ACUDESBAL also operates its own rescue squad that provides first responder services and is there to help communities during emergencies like the extreme flooding caused by Topical Storm 12-E, which dumped 55 inches of rain on El Salvador in just 10 days.

The 29 communities of the Bajo Lempa founded ACUDESBAL in November 1998 in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, a powerful storm that devastated much of Central America, including the Bajo Lempa. The government failed to provide any aid or assistance so community leaders decided that they had to take things into their own hands – which they have.

We at Voices are honored to say that we have known ACUDESBAL since the beginning, and over the years we have worked together on many issues and projects. We congratulate all the folks at ACUDESBAL on all of their hard work over the years and for being an example for other communities throughout El Salvador.

Members of the ACUDESBAL team circa 2004/5

Members of the ACUDESBAL team circa 2004/5

Event details:

When: 9:00 am, Saturday, November 23, 2013

Where: ACUDESBAL Grounds in El Zamoran, Bajo Lempa, Jiquilisco Usulutan

For more information visit their Facebook Page.

Salvadoran Human Rights Organization, Pro-Busqueda Attacked

At 4:45 am yesterday morning, three unknown assailants raided the offices of Pro-Busqueda, a human rights organization in El Salvador that for more than 19 years has worked to reunite families separated during the country’s 12-year civil war.

The assailants held a driver and night watchman at gunpoint while they destroyed files and computers, doused offices with gasoline, and set them on fire. A statement sent around by Pro-Busqueda yesterday afternoon said that the attackers targeted the offices most vital to their work, destroying archives and files related to cases that they have pending in the judicial system. When the attackers left, the night watchman and driver were able to free themselves and put out the fires with hoses

Ester Alvarenga, a Former Director of Pro-Busqueda and a member of the technical team said that the assailants had done the most damage in the administrative and advocacy departments. She also made it clear that they have all of their information backed up so it was a not a total loss.

Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales, who visited the scene shortly after the attack said it was well planned and was reminiscent of attacks on human rights organizations during the 1980s. He also said there hasn’t been an attack like this on a human rights organizations since the end of the war.

The specific reasons for the attack remains unclear, but it is likely related to cases pending in international and domestic courts related to the forced disappearances of children during the war. This past Monday, the Constitutional Court suspended evidentiary hearings against former members of the armed forces who did not attend their habeas corpus hearing, during which Pro-Busqueda was scheduled to present evidence they have collected against the defendents.

Just last month the Catholic Church closed Tutela Legal, one of the leading human rights organizations in El Salvador. The organization housed an extensive collection of evidence and documents related to human rights abuses committed during the civil war. The closing of Tutela Legal and the attack on Pro-busqueda come as the Constitutional Court considers constitutionality of the Amnesty Law, which has protected war criminals from being prosecuted for atrocities committed during the 1980s.

Tutela Legal and Pro-Busqueda are not the only organizations and people with evidence and records that could be used to prosecute crimes committed during the civil war. The Human Rights Institute at the University of Central America (IDHUCA) and others have been collecting evidence and documents since before the war ended, and could also be a threat to those who risk prosecution.

In March Voices staff had a conversation with Benjamin Cuellar, the director of the IDHUCA, about the Amnesty Law and the lack of transitional justice after the war. Instead of treating the Peace Accords as the beginning of the peace process, the Salvadoran government and many international stakeholders were too quick to declare peace and put the war in the past, ignoring issues of justice. But it is difficult if not impossible to achieve peace until there is also justice.

Tourism Plans for the Jiquilisco Bay

(Voces está trabajando para traducir este artículo al español y se publicará muy pronto)

Since at least 2004 the Salvadoran Government has been planning large-scale tourism development in El Salvador. Among the goals articulated in the development plans is for tourism to account for 10% of El Salvador’s GDP, up from 3.7% in 2005.

IMG_0363Just this week, Global Travel Industry News wrote, “El Salvador is the diamond in the rough, the potential jewel that needs the savvy hand of a smart developer who is willing and able to chip away on the rough edges to release the beauty and unbridled opportunities of the destination.”

Many people view tourism as a way to create jobs and economic growth. Communities in the Jiquilisco Bay of Usulután, however, do not want developers to chip away at their rough edges or promote development they fear will irreparably harm to their mangrove forests, estuaries, beaches and other natural resources.

Government agencies have at least three plans guiding tourism development – the Plan for the Sustainable Develop of Eco-Tourism in the Jiquilisco Bay (2007), the 2014 National Plan on Tourism (2006), and the 2020 National Plan on Tourism. The 2020 Plan proposes constructing at least 350 new hotels and resorts that will offer at least 23,000 rooms. The Plan suggests that 85% (or 298) of these 350 new hotels and resorts should be small rural or beachfront cabins with 50 rooms or less. If each small hotels maxes out at 50 rooms, in order to achieve the 23,000 room goal, the remaining 15% (or 52) hotels and resorts will have to average 156 rooms.

The Ministry of Tourism wants 1.9 million tourists to visit El Salvador in 2014, a number they want to increase to 3 million with 12 million overnight stays in 2020. In 2005 Central Americans comprised 70% of tourists in El Salvador while North Americans were only 25%. The 2014 Plan says that by 2014 Central Americans should “be no greater than 40% of all tourists” and North Americans should make up at least 45%. The 2020 plan articulates the same numeric goals, but does not state that they should limit the number of Central Americans. Additionally, the 2020 Plan wants tourists to stay at least 7 days and spend more than $160 per day.

A small town nestled into the mangrove forests, but threatened by tourism projects targeted for the region

A small town nestled into the mangrove forests, but threatened by tourism projects targeted for the region

While the 2020 Tourism Plan does not identify any specific region for tourism, the 2014 Tourism Plan and the Jiquilisco Tourism Plan identify the Jiquilisco Bay as an important region for development. The region’s bay and long stretch of undeveloped coastline includes miles of beautiful beaches, mangrove forests, estuaries and rivers, islands and protected park lands. In addition to hanging out on the beach and surfing, the Plans envision tourist activities such as bird watching, canoeing and kayaking, boating and sport fishing, and more.

In 2004, CORTASUR, a government tourism agency, held a conference during which a consultant recommended that the Jiquilisco Bay become the Cancun of Central America, complete with hotels, resorts, shopping centers, restaurants, golf courses and other facilities. The consultant said that the first phase for development would include building a modern, paved road out the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula and acquiring land. A highway out the Peninsula was completed in 2011, and shortly after the conference land speculators began acquiring land. In 2003 a hectare of land on the Peninsula cost around $1,000. In 2005 the price the same hectare of land shot up to $12,000. Prices have been on the rise ever since. The 2014 Plan identified other goals for developing tourism in the region:

 - Promoting foreign investment and local entrepreneurship to develop small, boutique hotels and eco-lodges, and restaurants;

-  Equipping, altering, and cleaning the beaches so that they meet international quality standards;

- Creating the structure for services and activities related to sport fishing, bird watching, and a coastal route;

-  Recuperating and conserving the coastal environment;

-  Building the capacity of local human resources involved in tourism and those who would come in contact with tourists to better serve their clients;

-  Improving the landscape and the beauty of urban spaces; and

-  Improving the infrastructure of the ports.

Undeveloped beach along the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula

Undeveloped beach along the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula

Currently the government is looking for foreign and domestic investments. The 2020 Plan says El Salvador should have at least 2000 investors in restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality services. To help out, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) recently approved a $277 million grant to develop El Salvador’s southern coast. While the funds do not identify support for tourism specifically, FOMELINIO (the Salvadoran Government MCC counterpart) and the El Salvador Investment Challenge issued a call for proposals while they were developing their MCC proposal. The ESIC said the purpose was to:

“to invest in public projects that catalyze private investments in tradable goods and services thereby generating economic growth and poverty reduction. The first phase of the ESIC is a competitive call-for-ideas that would catalyze investments in El Salvador through public-private partnerships, whereby private entities identify public or quasi-public infrastructure and services that are necessary to support private investments aimed at increasing productivity and trade of goods and services in El Salvador.”

Of the 49 proposals received, 27 involved tourism infrastructure projects in Usulután, La Libertad, and La Union. (Efforts to get the names of those who submitted proposals and what they proposed were unsuccessful). MCC funds won’t be available to fund hotels, resorts, or other private investments, but they will likely be available for infrastructure projects like building secondary roads, equipping, altering, and cleaning beaches, operating a tourism police force, creating programs to train locals in tourism and hospitality services, and similar projects to make it easier to attract investments. In addition to MCC funds, the Inter-American Development Bank has approved a $25 million dollar loan for tourism projects.

Currently, opposition to the government’s tourism plan is mostly local. It appears that most Salvadorans approve of tourism as a way to create jobs and improve their stagnant economy. But many residents and organizations in the Bay area are concerned large-scale tourism, and even the small, eco-tourism projects, will harm fragile ecosystems like the mangrove forests, network of rivers and estuaries, the Bay itself, and local beaches.

According to the Mangrove Action Project, their fears are legitimate – tourism is one of the greatest threats to the world’s mangroves. Worldwide the loss of mangroves results in the decline of fisheries, and weak or lost buffers that shield populated areas from storm surges. Specifically, the Jiquilisco Bay’s mangrove forests are home to thousands of species of birds, reptiles, and amphibians and capable of absorbing more than 5 times carbon than rainforests, making them a vital asset for stopping climate change.

Environmentalists also point out that 12 million overnight stays by tourists will put an impossible strain on El Salvador’s scarce water supplies. A water expert at CESTA (the Center for Applied Technology) reports that the average tourist in El Salvador uses at least five times the water that the average Salvadoran uses. Three million tourists who are spending 12 million overnights will put an enormous strain on the nation’s water resources, which are already insufficient to satisfy the country’s demand. It is inevitable that water resources would be diverted to resorts and other tourist facilities along the coast, leaving Salvadorans with even less access to water.

Tourism can also have a tremendous impact on water quality. Three million tourists will produce large quantities of solid waste and sewage, and El Salvador lacks the facilities to manage them properly. Environmentalists fear contamination will further damage the country’s already contaminated water supplies. They also fear that construction projects, buildings, parking lots, and other development will will upset local water tables, resulting in irreversible salinization that would render them useless.

Environmentalists and local populations also fear tourism development and the MCC investments harm the four threatened and endangered species of sea turtle that use the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula beaches as a nesting ground. Approximately 40% of the critically endangered Hawksbill turtles in the eastern Pacific use the region to lay eggs, and in recent years communities have played an important role in protecting their nests and saving the turtle from extinction. “Equipping, altering, and cleaning” local beaches, building beachfront hotels and resorts, and allowing tourists unfettered access to beaches would likely be disastrous for these conservation efforts.

In El Chile, land speculators have started to buy the best land and deny access to locals, which is against the law...

In El Chile, land speculators have started to buy the best land and deny access to locals, which is against the law…

Locals also fear that tourism will result in their mangrove forests and beaches being privatized. Even though Salvadoran law prevents private ownership of beaches and recognizes the right for all people to enjoy unfettered access, private landowners are already fencing off sections of beach and limiting access to mangrove forests. Locals are aware that the Royal Decameron in Sonsonate have sectioned off more than a mile of beach in front of their resort, denying locals all access. This is more than just an issue of locals enjoying a swim every now and then. Many of the families that live near the coast depend on fishing to survive and must have access to the water.

Community boards in the region have also expressed a concern that land speculation is already having on their efforts to achieve food sovereignty. More than jobs, communities want to preserve their agrarian culture and ensure they can feed their families with locally produced, organic food. Just the idea that there might be tourism has already fueled a land grab in which small farms and cooperatives are sold to investors, meaning that they no longer contribute to the region’s ability to achieve food sovereignty. And once farmland is turned into a golf course, resort, or shopping center it is lost forever.

Many people in the Jiquilisco Bay region are quick to say they are not anti-tourism; they are just opposed to the scale of the government’s plan and the lack of consultation with the affected populations.

Young punchero from La Tirana giving a tour of the community's mangrove forests

Young punchero from La Tirana giving a tour of the community’s mangrove forests

La Tirana, a small community nestled in a mangrove forest, enjoys hosting bird watchers and others who regularly ask to be guided through local estuaries and forests. The community’s board even wants to build some small cabins and a comedor (eatery) so they can better host visitors. Residents are very committed to protecting the forests, despite their lack of electricity or running water. Their plans for tourism will allow them to control the number of people that come and go, the areas they visit, and the impact that it would have on the region. La Tirana residents are concerned because land speculators have purchased land in the community and they have heard of plans to build a resort and golf course next to the mangroves. The local population is adamantly opposed to these plans and has vowed to fight them any way they can.

Even though tourism enjoys national and international support as a apparent win-win way of developing the economy, locals are confident that they if they organize they can stop plans to develop hotels, resorts, shopping centers, and sport fishing in the region. Prior to 2005, most people in Cabanas supported Pacific Rim’s plans to mine gold and silver – they thought it would provide them with jobs and economic growth. But once they realized the impact mining would have on their environment, especially water resources, locals organized a strong movement against Pacific Rim and mining. Pacific Rim never got mining permits and this month the Legislative Assembly introduced a bill to ban mining in El Salvador.

Organizations and communities in the Jiquilisco Bay region understand that stopping tourism will be a long, difficult struggle. But according to a declaration they made in July,

our communities have a history of struggle and organization. This land and its resources belong to us, and our children and grandchildren, and we have the strength, courage, and moral duty to defend our lives and territory until the end.