Investigators from El Salvador’s Attorney General’s Office Visit El Chile

For over a year, the small, economically depressed community of El Chile on El Salvador’s San Juan del Gozo Peninsula has been trying to stop private investors from encroaching on nearby mangrove forests and fragile beaches – area that are supposed to be protected State land. Residents got some good news last week when a team from the State Attorney General’s Office (FGR in Spanish) came to investigate, a sign that someone is finally listening.

FGR El CHile

(Photo from FGR)

Community leaders believe investors have illegally appropriated land in two areas. One investor bought a large plot on one side of the village and fenced it off all the way through a section of mangrove forest to the Bay, an apparent violation of Salvadoran law. He even posted a sign in the mangrove forest threatening legal action against trespassers. Another investor who had acquired a long stretch of beachfront property in El Chile allegedly bought the adjacent dunes and part of the beach. Like the mangrove forest, the dunes and beach are protected State land that cannot be privatized.

In recent months, Residents of El Chile have escalated their advocacy efforts, holding press conferences, calling State agencies, and engaging in a variety of other efforts to get the State to oust these investors from the public land.

Finally, last week the Attorney General’s Office (FGR, in Spanish) sent a team to El Chile to investigate allegations that investors were encroaching on State land. FGR investigators even took the time to tweet some photos from their visit, though there is little information about their time in the community. One FGR tweet says, “If [the FGR] proves the crime of usurpation of [State] land, [the owner] could face a sentance of one to five years in prison.”

It is too early to call the FGR visit a victory for the community, but it is certainly a positive development. The rule of law is weak in El Salvador and too often private investors and corporations are able to ignore laws with impunity. The visit at least demonstrates that the advocacy efforts have put the issue on the FGR’s radar. Residents of El Chile will now have to ensure that protecting these State lands remains a priority and the investigation doesn’t get lost on someone’s desk.

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Residents of El Chile are concerned about the State land for a few reasons. They are concerned about the mangroves because they use the forests for fishing and harvesting clams – their primary sources of income. They are concerned about the beaches for more environmental reasons. Critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtles use the beach and dunes as a nesting ground, and developing the beaches will further threaten their survival.

The community has other fears as well. The mangroves, dunes, and beaches are State land that everyone should have a right to use in accordance with the law. If El Chile doesn’t protect it from developers, nothing will be left for future generations. And despite more than 20 years of trying, residents of El Chile have yet to get titles to their land. With investors buying land on all sides, they fear it is only a matter of time before developers and the State try to kick them off their land.

The struggle for land began in at least 2004 when a tourism consultant presented a plan to turn the Jiquilisco Bay into the “Cancun of Central America.” Phase One of his plan was to pave a road out the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula and acquire land. The government completed the road in 2011 and investors have bought up the most valuable properties in the region. The next steps are to attract developers and investors to the region to build hotels, resorts, marinas, wharfs, shopping centers, golf courses and other tourism facilities. The second Millennium Challenge Corporation grant, if ever released by the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, will provide seed money for tourism infrastructure projects to attract other investors, domestic and international.

El Chile is just one small community taking on investors right now. Residents of communities like La Tirana, Montecristo, El Retiro, Cieba Doblado, Las Mesitas, Isla de Mendez, San Juan del Gozo, and others are equally concerned about how tourism development will affect their environment and agrarian-based economy and culture.

Voices on the Border is currently partnering with other organizations to help build the organizational capacity of these communities to realize their own goals and priorities, and defend against unwanted development. In April of this year, we drafted a report in Spanish and English on El Chile detailing these threats (they are attached above).

Jiquilisco Bay Communities Oppose U.S. Embassy Threats AND the MCC Grant

This week, U.S.-based organizations working in El Salvador published a letter opposing the U.S. State Department’s threats to withhold a $277 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant over a possible violation of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Sixteen U.S. Congressmen signed onto the letter and sent it to the U.S. Department of State, sharing their concern over the controversy.

At issue is a seed distribution program for which the Ministry of Agriculture (MAG) purchases seed corn and beans from Salvadoran cooperatives and distributes to more than 400,000 small farmers. The program is a huge benefit to rural families and the 17 agricultural cooperatives that supply the seeds. The U.S. Embassy argues that the MAG violates CAFTA by not allowing international seed producers participate in the procurement process, buying seeds only from Salvadoran producers. The Embassy will not release the $277 million grant until El Salvador is in compliance with CAFTA.

Jose Santos Guevarra (aka Mario) in a community meeting to discuss MCC and tourism issues

Jose Santos Guevarra (aka Mario) in a community meeting to discuss MCC and tourism issues

Voices on the Border, at the advice of our Salvadoran partners, did not sign the letter published by the other solidarity organizations for one simple reason. Communities and organizations in the Jiquilisco Bay oppose the $277 million MCC grant and believe the outrage over the seed program, while justified, fails to address a much bigger issue – the MCC fund will destroy El Salvador’s coastal environment and agrarian way of life.

Yes, the Embassy’s complaint about the seed program is wrong. But the impacts of the $277 million MCC grant will be worse. Here’s why:

1. FOMELINIO will fund large-scale tourism development in the Jiquilisco Bay, causing irreparable harm to the region’s fragile mangrove forests, beaches, and agricultural lands, and drain the El Salvador’s scarce water resources.

2. MCC and FOMELINIO (the Salvadoran counterpart to the MCC) have never considered how the projects they are funding will affect the targeted communities. Jose Santos Guevara, resident of La Canoa and President of MOVIAC, makes this point well. “During the design phase of the FOMELINIO [proposal], they did not consult [the communities] with respect to the type of projects needed for the development of the communities. We have a series of proposals aimed at reactivating production in the region – the construction of levees, improving roads and drainage systems. However, none of these were incorporated into the proposal that the Government of El Salvador sent to the MCC.” The only people consulted were private investors and others with financial or political interests in the outcome of the proposal.

3. In order to have a project proposal considered for MCC funds, an applicant must be able to invest at least $100,000. There are no communities or community-based organizations that are able to front those kinds of funds meaning the only people who can develop projects are outside investors.

4. There has never been a public discussion or debate about the content, objectives, and impacts of FOMELIO projects. State institutions control the information about plans and projects, releasing only vague statements to the media when it is politically expedient.

Over the past couple of years the U.S. Embassy has used the $277 million MCC grant to get El Salvador to adopt several laws and policies that promote corporate interests. Just last year the Legislative Assembly passed the Public Private Partnership Law, which the U.S. Embassy had made a prerequisite for approval of the MCC funds. The Embassy, however, did not like a couple provisions in the final draft of the law and are requiring reforms before they will release the MCC funds. The U.S. Embassy also made reforms to the Law on Money Laundering a requirement for receiving MCC funds. And of course, the Embassy is requiring the MAG to reform the seed program so that international seed producers like Monsanto can compete for contracts alongside Salvadoran agricultural cooperatives.

Just this week, Medardo Gonzàles, the Secretary General of the FMLN, said the government has done everything the Embassy wants, but it seems they will never be able to satisfy their demands. Yesterday, Danilo Perez, the Director of the Center for Consumer Protection, recommended that the Government of El Salvador reconsider signing the second MCC Compact because of all the U.S. Embassy’s conditions.

Communities and organizations in the Jiquilisco Bay see the reforms and MCC funds as a really bad deal – adopt pro-development economic policies so wealthy developers can receive financial support to take their land and destroy the region’s mangrove forests, beaches, and agrarian culture. They prefer that the Salvadoran government just say no to the MCC; maintain the seed program the way it is; and start pushing back on the pro-corporation economic policies being pushed through the Legislative Assembly.

Yes, folks in the Jiquilisco Bay are angry that the U.S. is trying to get El Salvador to change a seed program that provides so many benefits for so many families. But they are even more concerned about the long-term negative impacts that the $277 million will have on the region.

 

The Case of Privatizing Happiness

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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.

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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

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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.

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The Price for a $277 Million MCC Grant

Since Sanchez Cerén became the President of El Salvador on June 1, his administration has said securing the $277 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant is a top priority. Vice President Oscar Ortiz said they want to get it done within their first 100 days in office, which means within the next three months.

The MCC approved the grant in September 2013, but the US Embassy blocked the release of the funds until the government met conditions such as reforming the Public Private Partnership Law (P3 Law) and restructuring a popular seed program.

The P3 Law facilitates government contracts with private entities to provide public goods and services. The US Embassy made the P3 Law a prerequisite for the MCC funds but they don’t like the law passed by the Legislative Assembly. They don’t approve of the oversight role the Legislature created for itself – a committee that must approve all P3 contracts. The Embassy and business community also don’t like that the law exempts important public goods and services like water, health, education, and public security from public private partnerships.

One of the most vocal opponents of the P3 Law has been El Salvador’s labor movement. Unions fear that public private partnerships will result in a loss of jobs, decrease in wages, and even worse working conditions as private investors maximize profits. Other civil society organizations fear the P3 Law, even with the exemptions, will lead to the privatization of important goods and services – like water, health care, and education.

The US Embassy also doesn’t approve of the Seed Distribution Program operated by the Ministry of Agriculture (MAG). Officials argue the procurement process violates the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) because the government only buys seeds from Salvadoran Farming Cooperatives, excluding international seed producers like Monsanto. The program provides thousands of jobs for people working for the cooperatives and ensures that more than 400,000 farmers have quality, non-GMO seeds.

Last week US Ambassador said that the Embassy’s problem was not with the seeds, but with the process. On May 2 Voices wrote an article arguing that the problem was not the seeds or the procurement process, but CAFTA.

The MCC program is popular with a lot of Salvadorans and politicians who see it as free money for development projects. But a growing number of environmentalists, unions, and communities argue that the Embassy’s conditions are too high a price to pay for development projects they don’t want anyway. And many see the conditions as an encroachment on El Salvador’s sovereignty.

Among those who oppose the MCC program outright are environmental groups and communities in the Jiquilisco Bay. MCC funds will support tourism development in the Bay and residents fear it will cause irreparable harm to mangrove forests, nesting grounds for the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtle, and El Salvador’s most fertile agricultural land. (Voices has written about Tourism on this blog in the past – here are two reports we wrote on tourism in the Jiquilisco Bay).

Roberto Lorenzana, President Sanchez Cerén’s Chief of Staff said two weeks ago that the administration already has a draft Fomelinio Law (in El Salvador the MCC is called Fomelinio) that they will send to the Legislative Assembly soon. It’s unclear what is in the Fomelinio Law, but it likely contains all of the reforms the US Embassy is requiring for release of the MCC funds. Even before he became Chief of Staff, Lorenzana said the new administration is going to open the procurement process to national and international seed producers, in an apparent effort to satisfy the Embassy’s concerns.

While some Salvadorans have spoken out against the second MCC compact, the P3 Law and other neoliberal policies, many have not. The politics of opposing neoliberal economic policies grew more complex when the leftist FMLN party took office in 2009 and again on June 1, 2014. People and groups that organized against privatization, dollarization, CAFTA, and the first MCC compact (all policies adopted by the rightwing ARENA party between 1994 and 2008) have not been as critical since the leftist FMLN party took power. The result is that opposition to these destructive policies is less now that the FMLN is power.

El Salvador will soon get a $277 million grant from the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation, but it should be clear – this is not free money.

The 17 farming cooperatives that have been growing seed corn and beans for the MAG’s Seed Distribution Program will pay for the MCC grant when they have to compete with Monsanto and other international seed giants.

Communities that depend on the mangroves for their survival will pay for the MCC grant when developers cut down forest to build resorts and golf courses.

The Salvadoran labor force will pay for the MCC grant when private contractors take over government services and cut jobs and wages to increase profitability.

And all Salvadorans will pay if public goods and services like water, education, and health are contracted out to for-profit entities, especially if there is no oversight in the process.

 

FGR Investigating Minister of Defense for Arms Trafficking and Raul Mijango for Gang Truce

The new Sanchez Cerén Administration has been in office for two weeks and is already having to manage in its first conflict between government agencies.

Attorney General Luis Martínez recently opened an investigation into Minister of Defense David Munguía Payés, in part for arms trafficking. The military was supposed to have destroyed hundreds of weapons but it seems they never got around to it. The Attorney General alleges they were instead sold to gang members.

The Minister Payés clarified this week in a conversation with La Prensa Grafica that the Attorney General “did not say that I was involved, he said that I was part of investigation.” While that might be the case, the Attorney General seems to be going after Payés pretty aggressively.

In fact, this last President Sanchez Cerén called on the Attorney General to make sure he has sufficient evidence before making accusations or filing charges, underscoring the sensitivity of the situation. The current Minister of Justice and Security, Benito Lara, also called on the Attorney General’s investigation to be thorough and objective. “This will have a big impact, because we are talking about the institution of the armed forces of this country, and that is why I say this should be a very objective and serious investigation.”

According to El Faro, Martínez has been investigating Payés since he became the Attorney General in December 2012. On May 30, 2014 just a couple days before Sanchez Cerén was inaugurated, the Attorney General’s Office tried to get records and archives from military bases concerning their arsenals, but they were denied access citing national security interests. Diario CoLatino reports that instead the Attorney General will interview the Minister of Defense on June 18 to discuss the allegations of arms trafficking.

In a related case, Attorney General Martínez is also investigating Payés and former FMLN diputado Raul Mijango for their roles in negotiating the gang truce, which was signed in March 2012. The truce, which reduced the murder rate from 70 per 100,000 own to 41, fell apart at the end of May when the homicide rate spiked to new highs.

Last week, Mr. Mijango met with the Attorney General’s Office for more than 12 hours talking about the truce and the role that he and others played in lowering El Salvador’s murder rate. The investigations are focused on alleged payments made to those who were a part of the process. Earlier in the year, members of the ARENA party said that while serving as the Minister of Justice and Security, David Munguía Payés made at least 10 payments between $2,000 and $5,000 to Mijano and others. The payments, which were allegedly made from the government coffers, would be a violation of Salvadoran law. Mr. Mijango admits that he received monthly payments of $1,500 for his role in negotiating the truce but he says the funds came from a nonprofit organization called Interpeace and not the government.

Last week when Mr. Mijango left his 12-hour interview with the Attorney General he told reporters, “I feel politically persecuted… but I’m not one of those people who pee in their pants in difficult situations.”

It is still unclear whether the investigations into Payés and Mijango are legitimate or the Attorney General is just out to inflict some political damage. Perhaps we’ll know more on June 18th when Payés goes in for his interview with the Attorney General.

Crime Continues to Rise in El Salvador

Yesterday, Salvador Sanchez Cerén took office as the new president of El Salvador, becoming the first former FMLN militant from El Salvador’s Civil War to ascend to the presidency.

DSCF0265President Sanchez Cerén’s political victory has not been the glorious triumph many wanted for the former guerrilla leader. The runoff election against the ARENA’s Norman Quijano was surprisingly close, as Sanchez Cerén squeaked out a victory with only 50.2% of the vote. Quijano’s late surge seemed to stem from Salvadorans’ discontent with the lack of security and the failing truce between the country’s two rival gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18.

The FMLN and the country’s mood have only soured since the election. In May, the police reported 396 homicides, 170 more than the same month last year, and fingers are being pointing in all directions. Now former President Mauricio Funes recently said recently that political interests “want to give the impression that there is a failed state incapable of facing crime,” meaning that foes of the FMLN want to make the leftist government seem unable to address crime.

Indeed, the State appears helpless in stopping the violence. The gangs have taken steps over the past few years by signing a truce but the government was unable or unwilling to support their efforts. And past administrations and political leaders continually fail to address economic and social equalities, or provide youth with good alternatives. Until they do so, gangs will continue to fill in the gaps left by the stagnant economy and broken families.

President Sanchez Cerén said yesterday during his first speech as President that he would lead a System of Citizen Security. He also said, “improving the security of citizens will require that we work together against organized crime, traffickers, extortion, and all expressions of violence. We will fight delinquency in all its forms, with all legal instruments and tools of the State.”

President’s and politicians have made so many speeches over the years but taken little action. If President Sanchez Cerén is going to promote security and end the country’s violence he will have be willing to take bold and creative measures that set aside politics. Language like fighting delinquency in all its forms and using all legal instruments seems to indicate more of the same Mano-Duro or heavy hand kind of law enforcement, which has never been successful.

Unfortunately, President Sanchez Cerén also seems to be embracing the same neoliberal economic policies that the U.S. government has been promoting since the end of the civil war – creating an export economy and attracting foreign investment. These policies have failed to address the social and economic inequalities that have allowed the gangs to flourish, and in fact made divisions even wider.

Most Salvadorans seem to have pretty low expectations for their new President and his administration, and he has given them little reason to have hope for something new. Salvadoran communities and Diaspora seem willing to support the new administration, but President Sanchez Cerén and his team will have to show a level of creativity and boldness that we haven’t seen yet.

Free Trade Threatens El Salvador’s Seed Distribution Program

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Agricultural workers in the Bajo Lempa harvesting seed corn for the MAG’s distribution program

In recent months conservative groups and the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador have criticized a popular seed distribution program run by the Salvadoran Ministry of Agriculture (MAG). They allege the Ministry’s procurement of seeds violates section 9.2 of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and lacks transparency.

Salvadoran farmers, however, argue that the seed distribution program provides real benefits to farmers and farming cooperatives, and that if there is a problem it is rooted in CAFTA and free trade.

Since 2004, the Salvadoran Ministry of Agriculture (MAG, in Spanish) has provided seed packages to small farmers in one form or another. The latest incarnation of the program is part of the Family Farming Program. In 2012, Vice-Minister Hugo Flores told the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that “after 20 years of neo-liberalism – a model that has neglected subsistence farmers, which total some 325,000 in the country, and left them in a situation of extreme poverty – a targeted approach had to be put into action given the lack of technical assistance for these sectors.”

Every year MAG buys beans and white corn seed, primarily from Salvadoran producers, and distributes them along with 100 pounds of fertilizer to peasant farmers. The seeds program amounts to a small agricultural subsidy of less than $100 per family, covering only part of the cost of producing corn and beans.

The program is very popular with the cooperatives that produce the seed and the small farmers who receive them. Will Hernandez, a member of the Nueva Esperanza Model Cooperative, told Voices on the Border, “the seed program has strengthened our cooperative, both economically and technically. Before it was just transnational corporations that had the capacity to produce seeds [on a large scale], now we also have the technical capacity.” In addition, the seed program generates employment in rural areas. Mr. Hernandez said that in 2013 the seed program resulted in $1.5 million in wages in rural communities, which is particularly important for thousands of peasant families.

MAG officials say the seed distribution program promotes domestic production of basic grains and food security for the population. They report the program resulted in a record 22.6 million bushels of corn and 2.7 million bushels of beans at harvest in 2013.

In April, MAG distributed more than 188,000 seed packages to small farmers throughout El Salvador. MAG officials plan to distribute more than twice that amount the first week of May to reach of total of 400,000 packages for the year, almost all small farmers in El Salvador.

In January, Vice-Minister Flores said that MAG will “prioritize domestic seeds and the importation of seeds will depend on the offers that we have. Last year we imported 8% of the seeds, because the cooperatives were unable to satisfy demand.” In fact, last year 17 Salvadoran Agricultural Cooperatives, three of which are located in the Bajo Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulután, supplied more than 91% of all the seed used in the MAG packages. The remaining 9% was from Guatemala and purchased on the Bolsa de Productos y Servicios de El Salvador (BOLPROS, in Spanish) market. The domestically produced seed cost the MAG $124 per quintal while the imported seed bought at the BOLPROS seed cost $132 per quintal. The domestic seeds used in the program are a specific hybrid and the MAG carefully monitors its quality.

The decision to buy domestic seeds was not just MAG’s. In December 2012 the Legislative Assembly passed Law No. 198, entitled the “Temporary Special Provisions for the Promotion of Certified Production of Corn and Bean Seed.” The law required that all seed used in the agricultural packages be purchased from Salvadoran farmers. Law No. 198 expired in December 2013, at which time the Legislature passed the Temporary Special Provisions to Promote the Production of Basic Grains, which governs the seed program this year. The new law allowed the MAG to purchase seed directly from Salvadoran farmers without going through an open bidding process or purchasing on the BOLPROS. The justification was that the Ministry did not have time to go through the procurement process and still have the seeds ready to distribute by April and May.

There are several reasons why it is more beneficial for the MAG to purchase seeds for the distribution program from Salvadoran cooperatives. As Vice-Minister Flores and Mr. Hernandez pointed out, the program invests in the technical capacity of farming cooperatives. Similarly, the money invested in the seed distribution program, $25 million in 2013, remains in the Salvadoran economy and generates jobs rural communities where they are needed most. Another benefit is that the domestic seeds in 2013 were $8/quintal less than the seed from Guatemala bought off the BOLPROS. This is likely due in part of the cost of transporting seeds from Guatemala to El Salvador. Another reason for contracting with Salvadoran growers is that the MAG can more easily monitor the quality of seed they are buying. The government works directly with farmers on producing hybrid seeds that are able to better withstand El Salvador’s increasingly extreme climate, which can present drought and floods in the same growing season.

Despite the economic and social benefits, John Barrett, an Economic Advisor for the U.S. Embassy, and Amy Angel, an agricultural economist with FUSADES, argue that requiring MAG to buy seed from domestic producers violates CAFTA. Section 9.2 of CAFTA requires the Salvadoran government to give domestic and international providers equal consideration and treatment when procuring goods and services. If the government wants to buy seeds or any other goods or services, Section 9.2 requires that it treat all interested vendors the same, without giving preference based nationality or country of origin.

Amy Angel and members of the ARENA political party also argue that the procurement process this year violated the Law on Acquisitions and Contracts for Public Administration (LACAP, in Spanish) and lacks transparency. Ms. Angel argues that Article 72 of LACAP requires specific conditions to be in place in order for the MAG to directly purchase seeds from the Salvadoran cooperatives, and that the seed purchases did not meet any of the conditions. She rejects the argument that the MAG did not have time to go through a formal bidding process. Ms. Angle says that even if they did not have time they could have gotten a third party to contract with buyers or just bought seeds off the BOLPROS, which would have made the procurement process transparent and CAFTA-compliant.

In January when the Legislative Assembly passed the Temporary Special Provisions to Promote the Production of Basic Grains bill, the rightwing ARENA political party accused MAG of ignoring LACAP and transparency norms in order to give “benefits to one of the FMLN businesses, Alba Alimentos.” Members of the leftwing FMLN party created ALBA in 2006 as a framework for working with the Bloivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas, an economic trade alternative created by Venezuela. In April,Minister of Agriculture Pablo Ochoa reiterated that the reason for bypassing the formal procurement process was a time issue, and the claim that ALBA is at all involved in the seed program was a politically motivated claim that is untrue.

The seed program’s apparent violation of CAFTA is one of several issues that is currently holding up the release if the Millennium Challenge Corporation funds – a $284 million grant from the U.S. government to help develop El Salvador’s economy. While there is no indication that the U.S. government is planning to file a complaint against El Salvador over the program, John Barrett said “the seed issue is very important because it is an example of where the Salvadoran Government has to give confidence in how it will respect their obligations to free trade.”

According to Jose Santos Guevara, Coordinator of the Movement of Victims of Climate Change, the problem is not the seed program – it’s CAFTA. He believes the U.S. Government is using free trade to allow giant transnational organizations like Monsanto take even more control over El Salvador’s agricultural sector. Monsanto is the largest seed company in the word, controlling more than a forth of the global seed market. A few years ago Monsanto bought Semillas Cristiani Bunkard, the largest seed company in Central America, for more than $100 million, taking control of the regional seed market.

The United States, Central American countries, and the Dominican Republic all signed and ratified CAFTA in 2006. By 2011 U.S. exports to El Salvador had risen more than a billion dollars, a number the U.S. government says was low due to a spike in fuel prices. During the same period Salvadoran imports to the U.S. rose half that amount, resulting in a significant trade deficit that did not exist pre-CAFTA. More relevant to Salvadoran peasant farmers, in the seven-years between 2006 and 2013 U.S. agricultural exports to El Salvador doubled to $467 million. The US claims that under free trade they have increased its agricultural exports around the world by $4 billion. The U.S. maintains a trade surplus in agricultural products in part by ensuring that U.S. farmers, which receive large agricultural subsidies, have access to foreign markets and can compete in the kind of procurement opportunities like the MAG’s seed distribution program. While free trade has been good in allowing U.S. farmers to access to Salvadoran markets, it has been bad for the Salvadoran economy and the peasant farmers who are trying to survive and feed their families.

Every dollar (and it is dollars because in 2001 El Salvador traded the Colon for the U.S. dollar) that El Salvador spends on agricultural imports is a dollar that leaves the local economy and not invested in local farmers and agricultural workers. If MAG officials are forced to allow international producers to bid on contracts for the seed distribution program, it is likely to increase the trade deficit with the U.S even more. It will mean the 17 cooperatives that have been providing the seeds will lose their most stable source of income, and agricultural workers will loose their jobs.

Perhaps the MAG’s seed distribution program violates the Central American Free Trade Agreement, but that does not make it a bad program. It is just another reason why CAFTA and free trade are bad policies.

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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