Nicolle Katrivanos,* San Salvador – On Saturday, October 24th, the Association of the United Communities for Economic and Social Development of the Lower Lempa (ACUDESBAL) hosted a meeting between the Salvadoran Institute of Agrarian Transformation (ISTA) and representatives from 29 communities in the region. The meeting permitted citizens of the Lower Lempa to address land-use issues with ISTA, which oversees the implementation of land reform in El Salvador. Over 100 campesinos attended the meeting to voice their concerns and provide support to their neighbors.
The majority of those in attendance expressed concerns about land titles, appraisal of their land, and fraud. As is the case all over El Salvador, many farmers have possession of their land, but do not have a proper title. When the government redistributed land following the 1980 Agrarian Land Reform Act and the 1992 Peace Accords, many received a plot of land, but not a title. Nationally, 116,000 landowners have requested a title to their land, and are waiting for ISTA to respond. This has been an important issue for the new Funes Administration, which issued 3212 titles in its first 100 days, according the to the ISTA website. Without title to their land, campesinos are under a constant threat that either a private company or a government entity will challenge their right to their land. Numerous studies over the years have also shown the obvious – that if people do not have a title, they are much less likely to invest their limited resources to improve the land that the live on, limiting their economic opportunities and stifling national productivity.
Other campesinos have a proper title to their land, but still have trouble proving what land is there’s when challenged. Still others in the Lower Lempa have been victims of fraud. Individuals posing as ISTA representatives have been collecting fees from campesinos in exchange for land they have no authority to distribute.
ISTA representatives at the meeting included its president, regional officer, and a general officer, who all documented comments and concerns voiced by the attendees, and responded directly to each one. They acknowledged that for the past 20 years, the needs of the campesinos have been set aside, and that they would vindicate their struggle. They stressed that their goal is to distribute land in an objective, transparent, and responsible manner, cautioning that the process would be long. ISTA representatives also encouraged campesinos to take legal action against individuals perpetrating fraud, assuring them they would support their cases.
In general, the attendees left the meeting satisfied with their interaction with ISTA officials. Participation in the discussion was strong and attendees came prepared with tough questions, and ISTA representatives responded in a productive manner. Meetings are a beginning, but residents of the Lower Lempa said they would save their excitement and optimism until they had secure titles to their land.
*Nicolle Katrivanos is a new Voices volunteer from Maryland who will spend the next 5-6 weeks living in San Salvador and reporting on development issues throughout the country.