Update from the Lower Lempa

A couple updates from the Lower Lempa this morning. Three weeks after floods devastated the region, communities have organized the first demonstration against the CEL (the corporation that manages the hydroelectric dam upstream from the communities). While the demonstration is going on, the CEL and Salvadoran Military have set up a health brigade in the community of La Canoa (Comunidad Octavio Ortiz). Information is still coming in, but here’s what we know so far.

Residents from Nuevo Amanecer, one of the communities most devastated in the October floods, have taken over the Highway 2 bridge that crosses the Lempa River just north of the communities in the Lower Lempa. The highway is one of the main roads through the southern region of the country and the bridge is the only way to get over the river without driving more than an hour north to the Pan American Highway.

Bridge over the Lempa River, currently held by residents of Nuevo Amanecer. This photo was taking during the October floods, when the river was flooding communities downriver.

People on the ground say the Nuevo Amanecer residents are protesting the CEL and their management of the dam before and during Tropical Storm 12-E, which dumped 55 inches of rain on El Salvador. Locals throughout the region, not just Nuevo Amanecer, believe that the CEL manager failed to release enough water in the early part of the storm forcing them to release at extremely high levels during the later part of the storm, resulting in the extreme flooding.

Communities in the region are traumatized and have held a few open meetings to discuss the best way to respond to the CEL and advocate for reconstruction. Today’s protest doesn’t appear to have been planned at any of these region-wide meetings, but surely other communities are supportive of their efforts. And surely this is only the first of such demonstrations.

While protesters block the bridge, the CEL is engaged in their own public relations activity in La Canoa (Comunidad Octavio Ortiz). Yesterday afternoon, residents of La Canoa were surprised to see military trucks and the CEL at their small medical clinic setting up tents for a health brigade. This morning, the CEL and military are offering free medical services and medicines to locals. Though a lot of people are sick and in need of medicines following the flood, only a handful of people have taken advantage of the services.

According to a local health promoter, the president of the community board in La Canoa approved the clinic, but most residents do not want to be a part of what they perceive to be public relations campaign.

There are a couple things that are a little odd about the health brigade. One is that the military is present. Military units were deployed to the region to help with evacuations, so they do have an interest in the region, but according to locals their presence seems more intended to intimidate would-be CEL protestors than to help flood victims. And, if the CEL and Military really wanted to help flood victims they should be in Nueva Esperanza, Nuevo Amanecer, Ciudad Romero, or Zamorano – all five miles up the road from La Canoa. Perhaps the CEL asked these communities to host the event and they declined?

We will provide more information on the medical clinic and protests later in the day.

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