The Case of Privatizing Happiness


Dozens of reporters, spent an entire day, braving the heat to cover a story concerning one of the major issues Voices is currently working on. The story is about the implementation of mega-tourism, sponsored by the Millennium Challenge Corporation in the Lower Lempa Region of El Salvador. The main theme is it’s negative impacts on the communities living in and around the Jiquilisco Bay.


IMG_0040 IMG_0055  IMG_0031 An article published by the Foreign Policy Journal said: “U.S. foreign aid is expected to promote poverty alleviation and facilitate developmental growth in impoverished countries. Yet, corporations and special interest groups have permeated even the most well-intended of U.S. policies.”

The United States has $277million in aid money to grant El Salvador and much of it will promote tourism in the Jiquilisco Bay by funding infrastructure projects like wharfs ans marinas in order to encourage private investment.

IMG_0116 IMG_0108 IMG_0092 IMG_0134Voices has been working extensively with communities and NGO’s in the Lower Lempa region to ensure that residents are bring represented, rights are being protected and those in charge are being held accountable for non-ethical practices. La Tirana and El Chile are two communities most affected by the plans and have expressed concerns about the potential threats to the land, the water, the culture and the economy of their communities. Voices even collaborated with them to create a detailed report on the situation.                >> Read the report here                                                                                                        >> Read the article here

IMG_0149  IMG_0009“They are privatizing our happiness. They are stealing our smiles.”  La Tirana’s community leader said as he looked over the bay where kids were playing. Thanks to the efforts of leaders like him, many of these people here know what’s going on. They know that this isn’t free money coming into their communities and they are banding together to demand that their lives and rights be taken into consideration.

The day’s event was a great opportunity for exposure. Many diverse, national and international journalists were able to experience the reality these communities face. These communities have been taking good care of the natural resources through climate change, contamination and even flooding with little to no help from the government. To them, these resources are their lifeline. This is something that tourists who are primed to vacation here will never understand.


A Declaration from COO: The Bajo Lempa Continues to Resist!

Friday was International Day of the Mangroves.  Voices’ partner communities and other friends from the Bajo Lempa and Bay of Jiquilisco marked the day by meeting in Comunidad Octavio Ortiz to discuss Climate Change and the tourism projects that the Salvadoran Government and private investors are planning for the region – issues that affect the health of the mangrove forests in the region.

They concluded the meeting by drafting a Declaration: “In Order to Have Life and Hope: The Bajo Lempa Continues to Resist” – We’ve posted below in English and Spanish (the original).

We at Voices are in the middle of a fundraising campaign to raise $7,600 by this Friday (Aug. 2). The funds are to support the communities that drafted this Declaration in their efforts to protect their environment, including the mangrove forests, and preserve their simple, agrarian way of life. Here is a link to our original appeal posted last week. If have donated already, THANK YOU! If you haven’t, there is still time and every dollar helps (you can donate by clicking here). This is an urgent appeal – the government and private investors have huge resources and institutions backing them.

There is a slideshow at the bottom of the post with photos from the mangroves and coastal area, and the communities that are asking for you support.


Accompanied by the revolutionary spirit of Father Octavio Ortiz Luna, we the residents of the Bajo Lempa met again in the community of La Canoa to analyze the issue of climate change, which we experience in the form of floods and at times as prolonged droughts. These affects of climate change are becoming more intense and more frequent, and are the product of a political economic model that is leading us to destruction.

We also met to consider that we live in the region of El Salvador with the greatest biodiversity. We are located in one of the most pristine mangrove forests on the planet.

Species such as crocodiles, fish, crabs, migratory birds like the roseate spoonbill and many others make up an ecosystem that is vital for the survival of our communities. In addition, the mangrove forests are a natural barrier that protect the region from the rising sea waters and reduce the impacts of flooding.

The mangrove forests are an ecological treasure that communities have used, maintained and improved for many years, because we look to them for the sustainence and hope for the present and future generations.

However, the tranquility inspired by the mangroves, the simple lifestyle of the communities, and the hope of life for future generations, are being threatened by domestic and international corporations, and their insatiable thirst for profit through tourism development, with complete disregard for the impacts on the region’s biodiversity and the human rights of our population.

The construction of a modern road through the heart of the Bay of Jiquilisco, land speculation, the government’s tourism development plan, approval of the Public Private Partnership Act, and the the Second Millennium Challenge Compact, indicate that there are serious efforts to turn our region of El Salvador into another Cancun, Mexico, where the beaches are private and exclusive to foreign tourists.

But 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.

So, on this day marking the INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE MANGROVES, the communities of the Bajo Lempa and in the mangrove forests of the Peninsula of San Juan del Gozo, DECLARE:

1 – We strongly reject all mega tourism and we are ready to mobilize and use all legal remedies against companies seeking to destroy our natural resources.

2 – The communities that live in the mangroves are the only guarantee of the forests’ preservation, and therefore we are organizing and strongly linking with these mangrove communities.

3 – The Communities of the Bajo Lempa, and especially Community Octavio Ortiz are in the process of adaptating to climate change with intense focus on food sovereignty based on agro-ecological production that protects biodiversity, soil, and water. Nature is our source of knowledge and every day we learn more about her.

4 – We demand the government promptly complete and maintain the public works projects meant to protect the region from flooding. We also demand government agencies regulate discharge from the September 15 dam.

We demand respect for our right to life and our right to a healthy environment. We want that forests remain an inexhaustible source of life. We want to have clean and sufficient water supplies, and we want to produce our own food and eat well. We want health and education for our children. We want to remain free …

We want to have life and hope.

Community Octavio Ortiz, July 26, 2013




Acompañados por el espíritu revolucionario del Padre Octavio Ortiz Luna, nuevamente nos reunimos en la comunidad La Canoa para analizar el tema de cambio climático que vivimos en forma de inundaciones y otras veces en forma de sequías prolongadas.  Hemos visto que estos fenómenos se presentan cada vez más intensos y con mayor frecuencia  y que son producto de un modelo económico político que nos está llevando a la destrucción.

Pero también nos hemos reunido para analizar que vivimos en la región de El Salvador de mayor riqueza biológica. En nuestro territorio se ubica uno de los bosques de manglar más desarrollados del planeta.

Especies como cocodrilos, peces, cangrejos, aves  migratorias como la espátula rosada y otras muchas conforman una red vital para la sobrevivencia de las comunidades. El bosque de manglar también constituye una barrera natural que detiene el avance del mar y reduce los impactos de inundaciones.

Este bosque de manglar constituye una riqueza ecológica que las comunidades han aprovechado, mantenido y mejorado durante muchos años, porque en el encuentran el sustento y son la esperanza para las presentes y futuras generaciones.

Sin embargo, la tranquilidad que inspira el manglar, la forma de vida sencilla de las comunidades y la esperanza de vida para las futuras generaciones, hoy se ve amenazada por la sed de lucro insaciable de empresarios nacionales y de corporaciones trasnacionales que pretenden impulsar un desarrollo turístico sin importarles la conservación de la biodiversidad ni los derechos humanos de la población.

La construcción de una moderna carretera que cruza el corazón de la Bahía de Jiquilisco, el acaparamiento y especulación  con la tierra, el plan gubernamental de desarrollo turístico, la aprobación de la Ley de Asociaciones Público Privadas y un interés sospechoso de la empresa privada por que se apruebe el Segundo FOMILENIO, son los principales indicadores de que existen serias pretensiones de convertir este territorio en una región similar a Cancún, en México, en donde las playas son privadas y exclusivas para turistas extranjeros.

Pero nuestras comunidades tienen una historia de lucha y de organización, este territorio y sus recursos nos pertenece y le pertenece a nuestros hijos y nietos, tenemos  la fuerza, el coraje y  el deber moral de defender la vida y el territorio hasta las últimas consecuencias.

Por eso, en este día que se celebra el DIA MUNDIAL DE LOS MANGLARES, las comunidades del Bajo Lempa y las comunidades habitantes de los bosques de manglar de la Península de San Juan del Gozo, DECLARAMOS:


1-    Que rechazamos enérgicamente todo megaproyecto de turismo  y que estamos dispuestos a movilizarnos y a demandar judicialmente a cualquier empresa que pretendan destruir nuestros recursos naturales.

2-    Que las comunidades que vivimos en los bosques de manglar somos la única garantía de su conservación, para ello nos estamos organizando y vinculando fuertemente entre comunidades del manglar.

3-    Que las comunidades del Bajo Lempa y en especial la comunidad Octavio Ortiz estamos llevando a cabo un proceso de adaptación al cambio climático con un intenso trabajo por la soberanía alimentaria, en base a la producción agroecológica que protege la biodiversidad, el suelo y el agua. La naturaleza es nuestra fuente de conocimiento y cada día aprendemos más de ella.

4-    Demandamos del gobierno la pronta ejecución de obras de protección ante inundaciones, así como su permanente mantenimiento y la regulación de las descargas de la presa 15 de Septiembre.

Exigimos que se respete nuestro derecho a la vida, nuestro derecho a un medio ambiente saludable. Queremos que los bosques sigan siendo fuente inagotable de vida. Queremos tener agua limpia y suficiente, queremos producir y comer bien. Queremos salud y educación para nuestros hijos.  Queremos seguir siendo libres…

Queremos tener vida y  esperanzas.

Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, 26 de Julio de 2013





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Earth Day, the Bajo Lempa in Resistance

Today, residents of the Bajo Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulutan are marking International Earth Day with a large event in Amando Lopez. Event organizers have made it clear that this is not so much a celebration, but a call to action.

Communities throughout the region have identified food sovereignty and protection of the region’s natural resources as their top priorities. They reject mega-development projects and large monoculture-based economies as a threat to their existence. For more on the mega-projects, click here. For more on mono-culture-based economies (i.e sugarcane) click here. For more on climate change, click here).

Today, organizers of the Bajo Lempa Earth Day event released this declaration stating their positions (we’re posting the declaration in English and Spanish).

ON INTERNATIONAL EARTH DAY, THE BAJO LEMPA IN RESISTANCE – More than a celebration, a cry of alarm and indignation!

Gathered in the community of Amando Lopez to commemorate International Earth Day, we are more than 1,500 people, community leaders, members of grassroots organizations, social groups, and movements, and we declare that we will defend our constitutional right to life.

Our Mother Earth is suffering the consequences of capitalism, which has plundered natural resources and caused serious problems such as destruction of biodiversity, the pollution of the oceans, depletion of water resources, and climate change. This indefensible destruction infringes upon the rights of the poor by making them even more vulnerable.

The main threats to the Bajo Lempa are the profit-driven national and multinational entities that are eager to invade and plunder the region without regard for the rights and dignity of the communities, or the rights of the population. They are doing so in the form of mega-tourism projects that are already underway with the appropriateion of land and the construction of a highway through the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC, known in El Salvador as FOMILENIO) is a mechanism for implementing these megaprojects. If passed it will stimulate private investment for mega-tourism projects whose main goal is generating profits and not the wellfare of the communities.

The consequence of MCC/FOMILENIO and related investment projects will be the predation and contamination of the coastal region of El Salvador, as well as the eviction of the peasant communities that have traditionally lived sustainably in the region.

It is sad that these types of mega-projects are possible because stakeholders employ strategies that dismantle the social fabric of communities, and  discourage and deter the organized struggle of hope.

Faced with this reality, there are two possible paths for residents of the Bajo Lempa: tolerate the domination and irrational exploitation of Mother Earth, which will generate disastrous consequences for the poorest, or deploy a strategy of resistance based on sovereignty, sustainability and solidarity with nature and individuals.

For this reason, we, the social organizations and rural communities of the Bajo Lempa, commit ourselves to strengthening the economic struggle in an organized, persistent and brave manner, which involves:

  • Defending our region to the end against all those that threaten to deprive us of our scarce resources, especially our land;
  • Promoting and maintaining a strong mobilization and advocacy campaign to prevent the passage of the Law on Public-Private Partnerships to protect against the privatization of water and health;
  • Strengthening atonomous ways of life and reject the establishment of monoculture economies such a sugarcane production;
  • Creating alliances with all organizations and social movements that reject the Millennium Challenge Corporation;
  • Developing a process to achieve food sovereignty with a focus on agro-ecology that includes the protection of heirloom seeds, the defense of the earth, and the conservation of sources of water;
  • Promoting awareness and disseminating information on the FOMILENIO megaprojects, including tourism, to increase and maintain strength.

    Bajo Lempa in resistance.

    Community Amando Lopez, April 21, 2013

EN EL DÍA INTERNACIONAL DE LA TIERRA – EL BAJO LEMPA EN RESISTENCIA: Más que una celebración, un grito de alerta e indignación.

Reunidos en la comunidad Amando López para conmemorar el Día Internacional de nuestra Madre Tierra, más de 1500 personas, entre líderes comunitarios, miembros de organizaciones de base, de grupos y movimientos sociales, declaramos que defendemos nuestro derecho constitucional a la vida.

La Madre Tierra sufre las consecuencias del capitalismo que ha depredado los recursos naturales y ocasionado graves problemas como la pérdida de  biodiversidad, la contaminación de los océanos, el agotamiento de fuentes de agua  y el cambio climático. Esta destrucción injustificada atenta principalmente contra las poblaciones empobrecidas incrementando su vulnerabilidad.

En lo local la principal amenaza es el afán de lucro de grandes empresas nacionales y trasnacionales que invaden y saquean los territorios sin importarles la dignidad de las comunidades, ni los derechos de la población que se ve afectada. El Bajo Lempa vive esta realidad producto de un megaproyecto turístico que ha iniciado con la concentración de tierras y la construcción de una carretera que cruza de norte a sur  la Península de San Juan del Gozo.

La Corporación Cuenta del Milenio (conocida en El Salvador como FOMILENIO), es un mecanismo para impulsar este tipo de megaproyectos. De aprobarse el segundo FOMILENIO, se realizarán grandes proyectos de turismo cuyo fin será la generación de ganancias y en ningún momento el bienestar de las comunidades.

Las consecuencias del segundo FOMILENIO, serán el incremento en la depredación y contaminación de los ecosistemas costeros del país; además el desalojo de comunidades campesinas que tradicionalmente han pertenecido a estos territorios, quienes han convivido y aprovechado sosteniblemente los recursos naturales.

Es de lamentar que este tipo de megaproyectos se hacen posibles porque los sectores interesados emplean estrategias que desarticulan el tejido social de las comunidades,  desaniman la lucha organizada y desalientan la esperanza.

Frente a este nuevo escenario hay dos caminos posibles para los habitantes del Bajo Lempa, uno tolerar el proceso de dominación y explotación irracional de la Madre Tierra,  ó plantearse una estrategia de resistencia, basada en la soberanía, la sustentabilidad y solidaridad con la naturaleza y las personas.

Por esta razón, organizaciones sociales y comunidades campesinas del Bajo Lempa, nos  comprometemos a trabajar para que se fortalezca la lucha reivindicativa de forma organizada, perseverante y valiente, que comprenderá lo siguiente:

  • Defender nuestro territorio, hasta las últimas consecuencias, de  aquellos intereses que amenacen con despojarnos de nuestros escasos bienes, principalmente la tierra.
  •  Impulsar y mantener una fuerte campaña de movilización para evitar la aprobación de la Ley de Asocios Público – Privados, por el riesgo de privatización de bienes como el agua y la salud.
  • Fortalecer los medios de vida autóctonos y rechazar el establecimiento de monocultivos, como la caña de azúcar.
  • Articular alianzas con grupos, organizaciones y movimientos sociales que rechazan el segundo FOMILENIO.
  • Desarrollar un proceso de Soberanía Alimentaria, con enfoque agroecológico que incluya la protección de nuestras semillas, la defensa de la tierra y la conservación de las fuentes de agua.
  • Impulsar procesos de sensibilización y difusión de información sobre el segundo FOMILENIO y megaproyectos de turismo, para incrementar el conocimiento sobre estos temas y mantener la resistencia.



Comunidad  Amando López, 21 de Abril de 2013.

The Bitter Taste of Sugar

By: Voices on the Border

Fotografía: Al Jazeera. Quema de caña de azúcar en el Bajo Lempa.

Fotografía: Al Jazeera. Quema de caña de azúcar en el Bajo Lempa.

Originally from Southeast Asia, sugarcane arrived in the Caribbean Islands on Christopher Columbus’ second voyage in 1494 and its cultivation expanded rapidly throughout much of the continent. Sugarcane is now one of the main export products from tropical countries like El Salvador, where it accounts for 2.8% of the gross national product and almost 20% of agricultural production.

Mario Salvverria, president of the Salvadoran Association of Sugar Producers and former Minister of Agriculture said that sugarcane is not only resistant to the impacts of climate change, the last sugarcane harvest (2011-2012) actually grew by 10% over the previous harvest, reaching 15 million quintals. With that, El Salvador has gone from being a major industrial sugarcane producing country in Central America to being in the ninth largest exporter of raw sugar in the world.

The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is one factor that has stimulated the increase in production. CAFTA assigns export quotas that increase annually. For example, the sugarcane quota for the 2011-2012 harvest was set at 645,217.38 quintals (142,246 pounds), but for the 2012-2013 harvest it will be 673,913.03 quintals (148,572 pounds).

But the economic growth enjoyed by the sugarcane sector must be contrasted with the tragedy lived out by the communities located in regions where production has expanded. One of the regions most affected by mono-cultivation of sugar is the Lower Lempa region of Usultuan. The local population has denounced the destruction of biodiversity, consumption of water sources, depletion of agricultural land, destruction of traditional campesino agricultural traditions, and the health of the people exposed to agrochemicals and the methods used to spray them.

The Confederation of Federations of Salvadoran Agrarian Reform (CONFRAS) recently completed a study that included the Lower Lempa that determined that the cultivation of sugarcane uses at least eight different pesticides. Among them are Glyphosate, which is a controversial herbicide that environmentalist around the world would like to see banned.

This is one of the reasons that the Lower Lempa reports high rates of kidney disease, a problem evidenced by the results of a 2009 study completed by doctors from the Kidney Institute of Havana, Cuba. Their investigation revealed that 11 of every 100 residents of the Lower Lempa were suffering from kidney disease, and that in the Community of Ciudad Romero 30 people had already died within the past three years. The large majority of cases are reported in men – 25.7% of men tested were positive for kidney problems, while only 11.8% of women tested were positive. Cuban nephrologist Carlos Orantes led the study explained at the time that the problem is associated with a variety of factors, among them is agrochemicals.

The real problem for the communities is the burning of the sugarcane fields, the objective of which is to increase production of the workers who cut the cane by reducing the end product to the cane by burning off the unnecessary green leaves so they are not shipped to the plant. Ricardo Navarro from CESTA/Friends of the Earth stresses that the burning process has the highest environmental costs in that it destroys the soil and biodiversity, alters the local microclimate, contaminates the air, and generates greenhouse gases. The Sugarcane Producers Association of El Salvador, however, has said that the environmental impact of sugarcane production is positive. He says on the Association’s website that “planting a hectacre of sugarcane is the same as planting two hectacres of native forest.”

While few enjoy the sweet economic benefits of sugar, many suffer the bitter impacts of its production without the Salvadoran State institutions acting to take meaningful action to prevent damage.

**This article was first published in Spanish on Tuesday as an opinion piece by the Diario C0-Latino.

Climate Change in Central America

On Saturday, the National Catholic Reporter published an article by Danielle Mackey about climate change and a recent Catholic Relief Services technical study to help Central American communities adapt.

Climate change is an especially timely topic – just this morning Frankenstorm is starting to pound the East Coast of the U.S. promising to affect 60 million people.  While this storm event is unprecedented in one sense (three systems, including a hurricane, converging on such a heavily populated region), severe/freaky storms like this are not so rare anymore. This time last year, for example, we were writing about Tropical Storm 12-E that dumped an unprecedented 55 inches of rain on El Salvador in a 10-day period, causing extreme flooding.

Danielle’s article reports on ongoing efforts to help Central American communities, which are the most vulnerable to the affects of climate change, survive. Earlier this month, Catholic Relief Services published a technical study called Tortillas on the Roaster, which provides farmers with the technical information they need to adapt to climate change. Specifically, the report “seeks to assess the expected impact of climate change on maize and bean production in four countries in Central America.”

This is the kind of technical information that our partners in the Lower Lempa need to plan their future. Tortillas on the Roaster provides the kinds of detailed forecasts necessary to know how climate change will impact corn and bean crops, and how our partners may adapt.

The article and technical report are a little long to repost in this article, but here are some links to Danielle’s report (Central American Farmers Seek Buffers Against Climate Change) and the CRS technical study (Tortillas on the Roaster – in English and Tortillas en el Comal – en Español).

Our thoughts and prayers go out to folks on the East Coast.

Royal Decameron Announces Plans to Build Resort in the Lower Lempa

Last week the Royal Decameron Hotel Group announced plans to invest $60 million in three El Salvador projects – an expansion of their high-end beach resort in Sonsonate, construction of a four-star hotel in San Salvador, and a beachfront resort in Usulután. The new Usulután facility, which will cost $12 million, will be modeled after their Sonsonate resort with 300 individual cabins, an office center, spas, and a conference room.

Royal Decameron’s announcement wasn’t completely unexpected. Investors have been working to develop tourism in the Lower Lempa for many years, and there are likely several other projects being planned. Though tourism may seem like a great boost for the local economy, it’s a complicated issue and Royal Decameron is likely to face some stiff opposition from Lower Lempa residents.

Usulután is centrally located along El Salvador’s coast. One of the local treasures is the Bay of Jiquilisco, a large inlet known for its fishing, mangrove forests, and beautiful beaches. The stretch of land between the bay and the ocean is the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula. The only things out on the peninsula right now are mangrove forests, a few fishing and crabbing villages, and a nesting ground for endangered sea turtles… and a very fancy highway.

In 2004, the Ministry of Tourism hosted an event for potential investors at the Intercontinental Hotel in San Salvador. An Argentinean architect presented plans for the Espino Resort, as well as other infrastructure development plans. His presentation included draft plans for “El Pueblo,” a high-end shopping center on the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula for tourists that included grocery stores, ATMs, and other amenities. It was all part of a 25-year plan that outlined specific stages of development – land acquisition, construction of a highway to the end of the peninsula, and a dyke that would supply water. Eight years into the plan, investors have acquired land, the highway through the peninsula is complete, and the government announced plans last year to install a water system.

Three people are reported own much of the real estate between La Tirana and Isla de Mendez. Angel Velasquez owns two sections of land totaling 2.5 miles of waterfront property. Eduard Quiroz owns 1 mile of beachfront property, and the Tesak family owns another 3 miles along the coast. CESTA, a Salvadoran nonprofit environmental organization, owns 872 feet of beachfront that they preserve. Sources also claim that ex-president Alfredo Cristiani owns property in the region, as does FMLN politician Facundo Guardado, who has a consortium of investors that includes possible FMLN VP candidate Oscar Ortiz. Royal Decameron is rumored to own 103 acres in the region though it is unclear whether this is the property they plan to develop.

Land acquisition on the peninsula has been quiet, but not free of controversy. Locals report that Quiroz and Velazquez regularly violate land-use and easement requirements. For example, environmental regulations allow landowners to own property up to 50 meters above the highest tide. Quiroz and Velazquez, however, fenced their property at the high-tide point, ignoring the 50-meter boundary. Similarly, in 2006 ISTA (the Salvadoran Land Reform Institute) distributed plots of land to landless families in La Tirana. The families moved in, but lacking roads and utilities, seven of them sold their plots to Velazquez. Ignoring ISTA regulations that require passage between the plots and access to the mangroves, Velazquez fenced off the plots and blocked access to the forests. The president of La Tirana, Nahum Diaz, has spoken out about the violations but to no end. The 23 families in La Tirana have to survive on crabbing and shellfish, while Velazquez controls access to all of the farmland, which he uses to graze his several hundred head of cattle. Residents are also upset because in addition to blocking access to agricultural fields, Velazquez cleared large areas of forest to expand his cattle operation.

As investors were starting to buy up land along the Peninsula, Gustavo Guerrero arrived in the Lower Lempa. He introduced himself as the charity manager for the Tesak family, which owns Bocadeli, a Salvadoran food company. In 2007, Guerrero created the San Juan del Gozo and Jiquilisco Bay Integral Development Association and illegally listed local community leaders as members of the board without their knowledge. The new organization published a full-page add in a Salvadoran paper listing its priorities – building a levee for irrigation, constructing a National University campus in the Lower Lempa, and other investments to build the tourism infrastructure. He is still handing out checks and has financed several projects in the region including hiring the Linares Company to repave of the road in La Canoa. In 2009, one of our local partners said “Gustavo Guerrero is the person that made it possible for the rich to buy land,” which they often did at prices far below-market value.

But land acquisition also included making room for the new highway through the Peninsula, primarily convincing landowners to allow builders to cut across their property. Linares, the company that repaved the road in La Canoa won the contract to build the road. If you’ve been in the Lower Lempa at all over the past few years you’ve seen large dump trucks tearing up and down the main road – that was Linares hauling sand and backfill for the highway.

Few people or groups are currently protesting tourism in the Lower Lempa. Many locals, however, oppose development projects that threaten their fragile environment. The community of Amando López, for example, released a statement in May 2012 stating: “This land is our life and our life is this land, we will never stop resisting any project that threatens our natural resources and our organized communities.” They also said, “we know that so-called development means more problems for poor communities, and we are not interested in the development they are offering, because in the end the only thing they develop are transnational businesses. We care about our livelihoods and our children’s lives, and we want proposals to come from our communities, that respond to our interests, to our livelihoods, our needs, and our own worldview.

While Amando López residents were specifically referring to the Millennium Challenge Corporation in their address, they assure us that these sentiments apply to a wide array of initiatives being imposed on the region, including tourism. Amando López was the only community in the region to reject funding offered by Gustavo Guerrero.

The Jiquilisco Bay is one of El Salvador’s few remaining treasures, and residents know that once it’s gone – it’s gone. The mangrove forests protect the region from flooding, which is happening with greater frequency, and the Bay provides residents with food and a livlihood. Communities are very aware of how fragile their ecosystem is and are unlikely to let outsiders exploit it.

The argument for allowing tourism is that it will provide jobs and economic growth, but local residents understand that most jobs will go to people with degrees in tourism and hotel management. They also know that profits will be distributed to investors in San Salvador and beyond and not stay local. Residents of the Lower Lempa also know better than to count on the government to enforce the environmental laws that are supposed to protect their natural resources.

But as pointed out by our friends in Amando López, there is a bigger issue at play. Many in the Lower Lempa are not interested in the kinds of development that wealthy investors from San Salvador are selling. Communities prioritize food security over tourism, and a healthy environment for their kids over a larger income for themselves. Amando López residents said “this land is ours and we will defend it with the same courage with which we won it.”

Royal Decameron says that they still have to work out some land acquisition issues, so this is a story that will likely play out over the next several years. Along the way they will likely face a healthy opposition to their ideas of development.


Earthquake Update: The waves in Isla de Mendez



Map of the area hit on the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula, about 5 miles from Octavio Ortiz

Last night two people were injured in the Lower Lempa of Usulután and are currently in the hospital.  The injuries were caused by very high waves that struck them as they were guarding the sea turtle egg hatchery on the beach of Isla de Mendez.  Two other people were also swept away by the waves, but were able to swim back to safety.

Community members reported that waves reached heights of 8 meters (26 feet) and that the water came inland about 350 meters (383 yards) which crossed the barrier peninsula and reached fresh water land.

Other nearby communities were on alert until 1:00 in the morning.  Communities such as Octavio Ortiz and Amando López were kept on full alert by the emergency speaker that blared warnings throughout the night.

Climate Change Education in the Schools: El Salvador and the U.S.

The climate change debate has made its way into U.S. classrooms, as school boards and legislators try to force teachers to present “both sides of the issue.” In El Salvador, however, schools are taking a different approach. Government officials and educators have moved way beyond questioning the reality of climate change and are implementing a curriculum that teaches the science behind the resulting extreme weather patterns and how to mitigate the associated risks.

In January, a writer for the Wall Street Journal Law Blog posted about “a new battle brewing in America’s classrooms” – climate change. As U.S. schools have begun teaching climate change to their students, state legislatures and school boards have reacted by requiring teachers to also present the other side of the debate.

In Texas and Louisiana, state boards of education now require classrooms to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. In Tennessee, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Kentucky, state legislators have proposed bills that would require teachers to dedicate equal time teaching climate change and climate change skepticism.

In El Salvador, however, schools have adopted a climate change curriculum that goes beyond an academic discussion about whether or not it’s a reality. Salvadoran teachers, instead, are now tasked with the more serious task of preparing their students for future extreme weather events caused by climate change.

According to an article posted on Alertnet, the government now mandates that all public and private schools in El Salvador teach the science behind climate change as well as how students can deal with the increased risks caused the extreme weather.

In October 2011, Tropical Storm 12-E dumped 55 inches of rain on El Salvador in 10 days, causing the worst flooding in the country’s history. The storm and its aftermath were a wakeup call for many Salvadorans. Communities along the coast, especially those in the Lower Lempa region of Usulután and San Vicente, have experienced regular flooding for the past several years. Tropical Storm 12-E, however, was the first storm since Hurricane Mitch in 1998 that affected multiple regions throughout the country. In the days after the storm, government officials, including the Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, attributed the storm to climate change and warned that because of it, these weather events are the new norm.

The Salvadoran schools system is responding by joining the effort to teach more than the science of climate change. Government officials are using the schools to teach environmental safety. According to the Alertnet article, “in math, biology, and physics, students will undertake exercises that estimate potential damage from climate-linked extreme weather, and explore how to counteract and reduce its effects.”

The article quotes a 12-year-old student who believes “the teaching approach will be well-received in the classroom, particularly as so many families in El Salvador have had first-hand struggles with the country’s recent extreme weather.”

Since Hurricane Mitch, government agencies and civil society have prepared communities to deal with extreme weather events. Since President Funes took office in June 2009, the government has strengthened the Civil Protection network, which they elevated to a government Ministry. Their success over the past few years are measurable. Hurricane Mitch, the previous high-water mark, claimed over 240 deaths. Tropical Storm 12-E produced more rain and more severe flooding, destroyed more crops, and affected many more communities, but the loss of life was limited to 34 people.

If predictions are accurate, El Salvador will see more storms like Tropical Storm 12-E, and efforts to prepare the population is a matter of life and death. In theory, there is still time to reverse or decrease the impacts of climate change over the long-term, but that would require principal polluters such as the U.S. and China to reduce their emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Its hard to imagine how the U.S. will ever cut emissions voluntarily, considering that the teachers can’t even talk about climate change without interference from politicians.

Communities still demand reconstruction in the Lower Lempa

This is a translation of Contrapunto‘s February 13th note about our partners in the Lower Lempa.

By Gloria Morán

Photo: Luis Veláquez

San Salvador – It has been two months since the Salvadoran President, Mauricio Funes, promised to invest around 21 million dollars for the reconstruction efforts in the Lower Lempa.  Today, representatives from the region are denouncing the failure to fulfill this promise.

On December 19th Funes made this promise, just after the Lower Lempa had suffered the some of the worst impacts of Tropical Storm 12E in October 2011.  “The first priority is the recovery of the levees along the shores of the Lempa River; then the rehabilitation of the drainage ditches, and the construction of two permanent shelters that can provide security and hygiene should future evacuations prove necessary”, announced Funes to local residents in December.

At that moment the Salvadoran representative assumed, with authority, the reconstruction as part of the historic debt owed to the residents of the Lower Lempa, noting that they had discover drainage systems that hadn’t been maintained in over 30 years.

Of these promises, Gilberto Berríos of United Communities (ACUDESBAL), assured us that “of that promised, still nothing has been done”.  The residents of the Lower Lempa, above all, ask that the government repair and rebuild the damaged levees as quickly as possible.  They also demand that they begin the cleaning and rehabilitation of the drainage system and the reconstruction of the main roads that were washed out.  They also insist that the hydroelectric company, CEL, establishes a protocol for discharges so that the residents know when they will release the water, and how much.

They also request that the government create an integral plan to provide health, education, and basic services to the local population; not just reconstruction.  “What is happening now, since nothing is being repaired, is that we are preparing for another flood”, said Maritza Hernández, another representative from the Lower Lempa, who affirmed that time is their worst enemy.

José Acosta, representative in the Lower Lempa for the Center for Appropriate Technology (CESTA), expalined that the greatest worry of the communities is the imminent arrival of the rainy season [around May], and there has been no progress.  Berríos explained that they have seen the contractors who are responsible for the reconstruction in the region, but they have only cleaned-up and marked-off the areas where “we suppose they plan on doing some work, but this is insufficient”.

The representatives of the communities expressed that this is nothing new.  They have been waiting 13 years since Hurricane Mitch and the levees are still incomplete.

According to the surveys done by organizations in the region, 29 communities have been directly affected, of about 2,000 families. [in Jiquilisco]

In regards to the unfulfilled promises made by the president, the head of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office (PDDH), Oscar Luna, said that as an institution they are requesting the necessary measures so that the residents of the Lower Lempa and other communities receive the help they need in so far as rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Voices note:

The promises made on December 19th by President Funes were considerably more modest than those announced just 3 days after Tropical Storm 12E.  On October 20th, Funes flew into the offices of the Mangle Association in the Lower Lempa and declared that the government and the CEL hydroelectric company would build levees, clean the drainage system, build shelters and dredge the Lempa River.  He also emphasized the government’s interest in establishing the Lower Lempa as a key region for agricultural development in El Salvador, as well as the their commitment to an integral risk management policy.  On November 15th Funes reiterated these promises, even going on to explain that the CEL wanted to just repair a few of the levees, but he had ordered them to include all of the communities, especially along the Tecoluca side of the river. According to a delegation of German Engineers from 2003, it would cost about 400 million dollars to complete all levees, drains, and to dredge the river.  The 21 million that the CEL and the Salvadoran government finally signed off on is really just another band-aid on an increasingly compromised infrastructure.  If the contractors continue the ‘reconstruction’ effort at this pace, the effort will certainly be of little use in the Lower Lempa.

Durban, El Salvador and Climate Change

Since Tropical Storm 12-E poured 55 inches of rain on El Salvador just two months ago, high-ranking government officials have jointed communities in the Lower Lempa region of Jiquilisco in speaking out against climate change. Unfortunately, the principal emitters of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change do not seem to be listening.

President Funes recently stated, “Climate change has harmful effects on societies, and particularly our country.” Minister of the Environment Herman Rosa Chávez said in the days after the flooding, “El Salvador is one place on earth that is already suffering from climate change.” Communities in the Lower Lempa held a forum earlier in the year in which residents discussed how climate change was already affecting their lives, including extreme droughts and flooding, as has been the pattern for the last few years.

Climate change has also been in the news because of the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference, which was held November 28 to December 11 in Durban, South Africa. For those in the Lower Lempa who are still recovering from the October floods AND trying to prepare for future extreme weather events, there was a lot at stake in the Durban negotiations. Climate change is a reality in their communities and if the global community does not agree to cut emissions, Tropical Storm 12-E will become a way of life.

The Economist summarized the Durban agreement as “a quid pro quo between the European Union and big developing-country polluters, especially China and India.” The agreement failed to consider the demands and pleas from smaller economies (and smaller emitters) such as El Salvador. The deal requires that EU countries continue reducing emissions of greenhouse gases responsible for climate change under the existing Kyoto protocol. The U.S. never signed on to Kyoto and Canada just dropped out, so the Durban agreement did not affect their current emissions-status. The main provisions of Kyoto were set to expire in 2012, but under the agreement they will be extended. In the meantime, developed and developing countries will work together to produce a new agreement by 2015 that will be implemented by 2020. The Kyoto protocol does not require developing or poor countries to reduce emissions, and under the Durban compromise they will remain exempt until the new agreement goes into affect.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) maintains a database of CO2 emissions for each country. Based purely on output, China emits the most greenhouse gases – 7,707 million metric tons of CO2 (2009). The U.S emits the second highest levels of greenhouse gases – 5,425 million metric tons of CO2 (2009). China, however, emits only 5.83 metric tons of CO2/capita, while the U.S. emits 17.67 metric tons of CO2/capita. India emits the 3rd highest levels of greenhouse gases – 1,591 million metric tons of CO2 (2009), which is only 1.38 tons/capita. El Salvador, in comparison, emitted only 5.93 million metric tons of CO2 (2009), which is 0.98 tons of CO2/capita.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, analyzing EIA figures from 2008, concluded,

“The picture from these figures is one where…. developed countries and major emerging economy nations lead in total carbon dioxide emissions. Developed nations typically have high carbon dioxide emissions per capita, while some developing countries lead in the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions. Obviously, these uneven contributions to the climate problem are at the core of the challenges the world community faces in finding effective and equitable solutions.”

This was the tension at Durban. Larger emerging markets –China and India – are not bound by the Kyoto protocol and did not want to be bound under a new agreement. Their argument is that per capita, they emit far less than developed countries and limits on emissions would hinder their ability to develop and lift their populations out of poverty. This argument was more promulgated by India – China, which has fairly high levels of per capita emissions appears to realize that they need to take steps to cut emissions by developing clean energy sources.

Similarly, developed nations don’t want to put themselves at a “competitive disadvantage” with such large economies as China and India by agreeing to expensive emission reductions that developing countries don’t have to worry about. Many other countries participating in the Durban Conference are like El Salvador –small economies with relatively low emissions that are suffering the effects of climate change, but lack the economic or political capital to force the larger countries to cut their emissions.

As the Economist points out, the U.S. should be pleased with the outcome of the Durban Conference. The U.S. never ratified the Kyoto protocol because it did not require developing nations to cut emissions. The Durban agreement, however, lays the groundwork for requiring that all nations cut emissions of greenhouse gases, but puts it off until 2020.

This past Monday, Amy Goodman on Democracy Now dedicated her entire broadcast to the Durban Conference.  Kate Horner, who is a policy analyst for Friends of the Earth International, said on Monday’s show,

“The outcome of the talks here in Durban is, unfortunately, a very weak agreement that lacks in ambition, equity and justice. The Kyoto protocol… will continue only as an empty shell. Several countries – namely, Canada, Russia, and Japan – have refused to put new targets on the table, and the countries that have signed up have only offered really shockingly low levels of ambition… The United States has weaseled out of every promise that it has made, including to take on comparable action to other developed countries in line with its historic responsibility for contributing to this problem.”

She also said the Durban Platform, “is really not the important milestone in building a climate regime that many have called it, including the United States and the European Union… the most damaging part of it is it’s an attempt to shift the burden of this problem on developing countries who have contributed less.”

Salvadoran Environmental Minister Herman Rosa Chávez spoke at the conference, highlighting the effects of climate change on Central America. He called for the Conference to address three essential issues: fund the Green Climate Fund, expansion of adaption efforts, and serious mitigation commitments from developed and principal emitters.

This week, Salvadoran environmental groups held a forum in San Salvador to discuss the Durban Conference. In a statement released after the forum, the environmentalists criticized the international community and Salvadoran government for failing to take appropriate action to address climate change. Pointing out that international studies have identified El Salvador as one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, participants emphasized that if polluters don’t cut emissions, average temperatures in El Salvador will rise 6 degrees Celsius.

The Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Central American Integration System (SICA) met yesterday in San Salvador in advance of the SICA summit that begins today. The purpose of their meeting in advance of the summit was for the Consultative Group for the Reconstruction of Central America to create an action plan for helping the region adapt to climate change. Addressing the meeting on Wednesday, President Funes said,

“The proposal of the meeting with the Consultative Group is not to get resources, its to put the Central American region and particularly El Salvador on the international agenda, and that the impact that climate change is having is more visible.”

What is clear post-Durban is that the countries that are responsible for emitting the most greenhouse gases that is causing climate change are more motivated to protect their short-term economic development than preventing long-term disaster. It is also apparent that countries like El Salvador that emit low levels of greenhouse gases but are experiencing the extreme weather patterns associated with climate change have little influence over the discussions. As Tropical Storm 12-E showed Central Americans, doing nothing to prevent climate change is not really an option. But it seems that’s exactly what the principal emitters are doing – nothing.