Partnership for Growth

Partnership for Growth: Part 1

On November 3rd, government representatives from the U.S. and El Salvador signed the Partnership for Growth Agreement with the goal of promoting economic development in El Salvador. The five-year program seeks to overcome two constraints to economic growth in El Salvador – crime and insecurity, and low productivity in the tradables sector.

Partnership for Growth “is a signature effort of President Barak Obama’s development policy, focused on economic growth as the core priority for United States development efforts.” El Salvador is, so far, one of only four countries to sign a Partnership for Growth agreement. The other countries are Philippines, Ghana, and Tanzania.

Over the next few weeks, Voices on the Border will examine what the Agreement says, what the Agreement does not discuss, and what the Agreement means for communities in El Salvador.

A fact sheet released by the U.S. Department of State lists five general goals for the Partnership Agreement:

–       Reduce the effects of the constraints to economic growth (crime and insecurity, and low productivity in tradables) over the next 5 years;

–       Provide conditions so that other countries can participate in the Partnership;

–       Demonstrate to the people of El Salvador the commitment to addressing the constraints to economic growth;

–       Increase the partnership between the government and private sector; and

–       Reinforce a bilateral relationship of mutual respect and action.

A team of economists from El Salvador and the United States spent the first few months of 2011 generating an economic report that defines the main constraints to economic growth in El Salvador. A link to the report can be found on the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador website, along with a statement of Principals and the Joint Country Action Plan. According to the report, the “shadow price” (potential GDP missed due to the constraints) of crime and insecurity and low productivity in the tradables sector is substantial.

In addition to providing a detailed review of the country’s economy, the report states,

“ the prevalence of crime represents a weakening of property rights because it demonstrates government failures to protect property from unlawful seizure and reduces the ability of economic actors to reliably recover returns on their investments.”

Citing statistics from the World Bank, the report says that small businesses in El Salvador lose an average of over 7% of their sales to crime. Medium size businesses report a 5% loss to crime. Businesses also have to pay for security, costing small and medium businesses an average of 3% of their total sales. Combined, the loss of sales and cost of security are 10% of sales for small businesses and 8% for medium size businesses.

The El Salvador Constraints Analysis (CA) determined that the effect of crime on El Salvador is between 4.8% and 10.8% of the country’s GDP, depending on whether health costs are included. Both figures are higher than the Central American average, and double the figure in Costa Rica, the only country in the region that does not have an epidemic level of crime. The report also states, “in the Global Competitive Report, El Salvador ranks last out of 139 countries under the Organized Crime Indicator, and next-to-last in Business Costs of Crime and Violence.” In coming blog posts, we will consider the Joint Country Action Plan and the activities the governments are planning to minimize insecurity as a constraint to economic development.

The CA also determined that low productivity in tradables is another constraint, suggesting that Salvadoran goods and services are less competitive internationally than those from countries such as Nicaragua, Honduras, and Costa Rica. As a result, El Salvador exports less than it could, and imports products that could potentially be made domestically. The CA calculates that the effect of low productivity in the tradables sector is “as much as 8 percent” of GDP.

The Partnership for Growth Agreement was just signed a couple weeks ago, and people and economists are still trying to fully understand its implications. Some have already begun holding it up as the most important development for El Salvador’s economy in recent history. Others are calling it the worst thing that could happen to El Salvador. In the coming weeks we will try to present a balanced analysis of the Agreement and how it fits into the larger picture of sustainable development in El Salvador.

Climate Change, Disasters

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.

El Salvador Government

Minister of Security, Manuel Melgar, Steps down

This week, El Salvador’s Minister of Security, Manuel Melgar, submitted a letter of resignation to President Mauricio Funes, who accepted it. While there are many discussions about why he resigned, many are also speculating on who will take his place.

Former Minister Melgar was a Comandante in the FMLN militancy during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war. When journalist turned politician Mauricio Funes won the country’s presidency in 2009, he appointed Mr. Melgar to the post of Security Ministry.

During the 2 years and five months that Mr. Melgar held the post, El Salvador’s murder rate continued its steady clime upward, averaging 12 murders a day. The United Nations recently reported that El Salvaodr has the second highest murder rate in the world, behind only Honduras.

Many have blamed Minister Melgar for the increase, though others have noted that the numbers were steadily climbing in the final year of the Saca administration. And the rise in violence is also a region-wide issue and not specific to El Salvador.  Whether Mr. Melgar is to blame for the violence and insecurity or not is a question that will likely be debated for some time.

There are reports that the United States government conditioned the signing of the Partnership for Growth on Mr. Melgar resigning his post. While there is any confirmation of this report, his resignation came just days after the agreement was signed, and much of the Partnership for Growth action plan revolves around reforms that aim to improve security. There are also reports that he was planning to submit his resignation in October, a month before the Partnership for Growth agreement was signed, but put off his resignation due to Tropical Storm 12-E that caused historic flooding throughout the region.

Days after his departure, the conversation has now turned to his replacement. Members of the leftist FMLN party and rightwing ARENA party have said the next Minister of Security should not be a military figure. Sigfirdo Reyes, the President of the Legislative Assembly, recently stated that if the military were given a larger role in domestic affairs, it would be a “terrible regression” on what the country accomplished since the signing of the 1992 Peace Accords that ended 12-years of civil war.

The Peace Accords demilitarized the national police force and El Salvador’s Constitution prohibits the military from taking a role in domestic security issues. Under the Funes Administration, and Mr. Melgar’s leadership, the military has been deployed to patrol urban neighborhoods controlled by El Salvador’s notorious gangs. The Funes administration has also used the military to help close the nation’s porous borders and limit the trafficking of people, guns, narcotics, and other contraband.

According to former Attorney General, Romeo Melara Granillo, no matter what kind of background the new minister has, civilian or military, he or she must be able to exercise “inter-institutional cooperation that would fortify investigations [and operations] carried out by the ministry.

El Salvador Government, Elections 2012

A Look at Salvadoran Political Institutions, Part Two: Election Day Misconduct in 2009

On March 11, 2012, Salvadorans will cast votes for all 84 seats in the Legislative Assembly and the position of mayor in each of El Salvador’s 262 municipalities. As the parliamentary and municipal elections approach, we are taking a look at a variety of topics relating to Salvadoran political institutions and the pursuit of democracy. The first installment, posted on October 25, discussed efforts to add new voters to the Election Registry and increase the number of voting stations.

Today’s installment looks back to January 18, 2009, the day of the last parliamentary and municipal elections, in order to better understand possible challenges to free and fair elections on March 11, 2012. We focus on two examples of Election Day misconduct monitored and reported by international observers.

“While the January 18 (2009) legislative and local elections went fairly smoothly, serious deficiencies in the electoral process persist.” -Voices on the Border Delegation Report on January 2009 Elections in El Salvador

Campaigning In Voting Centers On Election Day

The Salvadoran Electoral Code explicitly prohibits promoting political parties or candidates (i.e. campaigning) three days before elections. Article 230 reads:

“Political Parties … and all citizens… are prohibited from campaigning … during the three days before elections and on the day of elections. Party propaganda is also prohibited in voting centers.”

The law, however, was not enforced in 2009. Election observers reported partisan groups displaying signs, making announcements, and handing out t-shirts, food, and money near voting centers. There were also reports of party enthusiasts carrying party propaganda, chanting party slogans, and disrupting voting, even within voting centers.

“Cases of intimidation were reported within the vicinity of, or inside, 25 percent of the observed voting centers,” according to European Union (EU) Electoral Observation Mission (EOM), which observed 118 out of 400 voting centers.

An even higher estimate came from The University Institute of Public Opinion (IUDOP), which observed a representative sample of 1,578 of the 9,534 total polling stations, on behalf of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI). IUDOP noted, “30.0 percent of observed polling stations registered cases of either party propaganda inside voting centers or party members trying to verbally induce others to vote in a certain way.

The EU EOM attributes the behavior to “a pattern of excessively zealous party activism on Election Day in Salvadoran electoral culture,” but the behavior also confirms a degree of impunity for party promotion beyond the legal limits. Often, it was candidates running for office who brought party propaganda into the voting centers.

The Center for Exchange and Solidarity (CIS) election observation report documented individual cases of election misconduct. 12 out of 16 documented cases of party propaganda within voting centers involved political candidates, up to and including the ARENA presidential candidate, Rodrigo Ávila, who was interviewed within the voting center, surrounded by singing supporters, according to the report.

A more extreme case is documented in Santa Ana, Santa Ana:

“Between 11 and 11:45 a.m. Mayor Orlando Mena, of the PDC, was in the voting center with 50 party representatives (including the head of the voting center staff and other members of the staff), citizens dressed in [the party color] green, and some media singing ‘Mena yes! Others no!’ Mena voted, showed his ballot, and held an interview at 11:15 a.m. right next to polling station 03003.”

This provision of the electoral code is meant to provide a cooling off period just before the elections. It gives voters a recess from the otherwise intense and overwhelming campaigning, hopefully so they can make a clear decision about which candidate or party they want to vote for. For the same reason, the electoral code prohibits the consumption of alcohol during this same period – they want people to make clear sober decisions and avoid conflict. It remains unclear whether the no-drinking provision is enforced more or less than the others.

Voter Fraud

Following the 2009 elections we reported that one of the most serious issues with the January 18 elections was voter fraud, in which foreigners from Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala were bused into municipalities to vote. In addition, there were reports of Salvadorans voting in municipalities that were not their own.

At 9:50 a.m. on January 18, 2009, citizens protesting voter fraud forced officials in San Isidro, Cabañas to shut down the voting center and delay elections for one week. Citizens alleged that numerous individuals from nearby municipalities, including Ilobasco and Sensuntepeque, were illegally registered as San Isidro residents in order to influence elections. International observers also documented similar allegations in other municipalities and in the rescheduled San Isidro elections.

According to the EU EOM report, the problem of voter fraud stems from two under-regulated processes in El Salvador – applying for and modifying a national identification card (DUI).

In order to cast a ballot in the March 2011 elections, voters need to register for a DUI. Once registered, voters are automatically included in the Electoral Register, the official list of people eligible to vote at each voting center, complete with photo IDs and DUI numbers. On Election Day, voters arrive with their DUI and sign their name to complete the process. Anti-forgery devices on the DUI help to discourage fraud.

The problem, according to the EU EOM, is that voters can register a fraudulent address on their DUI in order to vote in a highly contested area. “The lack of rigorous controls on effective residency (utility bills, rent leases, children’s school enrollment codes, or other similar proof) in the procedures for modifying addresses opens up the possibility for parties to abuse these procedures.”

The EU EOM explains that by moving Salvadoran voters, “parties can transfer voters from a hypothetically safe, or lost, municipality to others, which are expected to be closely fought.”

“On the other hand,” the report goes on to say, “the lack of any safeguards or verification by other administrative bodies implies that the municipal authority has control over the issuance of birth certificates, which frequently leads to speculation that certain mayors seeking re-election may abuse the system by issuing false birth certificates.” With a false birth certificate, even voters from outside of the country can apply for a DUI and be placed on the Electoral Register.

There are two ways to address this particular problem. First, authorities can tighten procedures related to applying for and modifying a DUI, as the EU EOM recommends. However, part of the problem is that no one is sure of the extent of voting fraud. A second solution is the implementation of a Residential Voting program. As discussed in part one of this series, a residential voting program would create additional voting centers, subdividing the Electoral Register and bringing voting centers closer to homes. It is expected that fraud will be more easily identified within a more local group of voters.

In the coming weeks we will post another installment into this election series that will discuss the control that the political parties have had over the electoral process, and how the recent reforms to the Electoral Code will impact voters when they get into the booth.

Advocacy, Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government

Flood Recovery update in the Lower Lempa

More than two weeks after El Salvador’s historic floods, victims continue the slow recovery process. As people clean their homes and live with very real public health issues, they are also planning how to protect themselves against future storms.

Days after the Lempa Rivera completely flooded communities along its banks in Usulután and San Vicente, we posted an article on the public health concerns residents would likely face when they returned home. We are very sad to report that this week an 18-year old male in Salinas del Potrero died when he contracted leptospirosis, a “rare and severe bacterial infection” that can occur when people are exposed to standing water in tropical regions. He most likely contracted the bacteria from water or food contaminated with urine from rats, cattle or other animals.

Other people are suffering from a wide variety of fungal infections, and according to our staff in the field, everyone they have talked to has a cold. The public health risks will remain a concern for the near future.

This week, the Funes Administration released their preliminary report on the flood damage – $840 million. The storm cost El Salvador $300 million in production alone, including the destruction of bean and corn crops, which would likely have yielded record harvests. El Salvador’s infrastructure sustained $260.58 million in damage, and there was another $207.8 million in damages to homes, schools, and health centers.

Residents of the Lower Lempa are still cleaning and trying to plan their next steps for recovery. Our field staff says that people continue hanging out clothes and personal belongings in the sun to dry, and that the entire region smells like a moldy swamp. Our staff also says that though our friends are as happy and hospitable as ever, they are definitely suffering.

Some farmers are debating whether to plant another crop of corn. Because the rainy season is all but over, they would be depending on the water in the soil to sustain the crop. They would be running the risk that the ground would dry up within the 2.5-month period until they could harvest. If the ground dried up, they would lose the $900 up-front investment they would have to make. If they were successful and harvested a crop, however, they would be able to get their family through the dry season with minimal support from aid programs.

People and organizations are also starting to talk a lot more about the CEL (the private corporation that manages El Salvador’s dams) and their management of the September 15th Hydroelectric Dam upriver. There is still insufficient information to determine whether they could have done more to protect communities in the Lower Lempa during the last storms, but groups are talking about the need for an audit of their performance.

An article in the La Prensa Grafica this week pointed to the tension between the CEL and the communities in the Lower Lempa. The CEL maximizes energy production and profits by maintaining high levels of water in the dam’s reservoir. The more water they have in the reservoir at the end of the rainy season, the more energy they can produce in the dry season. In the rainy season, the CEL can satisfy 59% of the nation’s energy needs, but that drops down to 20% in the dry season. The end of the rainy season is when there is the greatest threat of a large storm.

The CEL could make sure that the reservoir is empty going into the end of the rainy season when the threat of flooding is the greatest, minimizing the risk of flooding downriver. But this would mean that they run the risk of having no water in the reservoir dramatically decreasing energy production during the dry season when there are no rains. A full reservoir, on the other hand, means they can continue generating electricity and power into the dry season. It also means that if there is a large storm such as Tropical Storm 12-E, they have no choice but to release waters at a high rate, resulting in flooding.

As we have discussed in previous articles, many are blaming Tropical 12-E and the massive amounts of rain on climate change. This week the Archbishop of El Salvador echoed comments made by the Minister of the Environment and others, stating, “climate change is the most serious problem confronting humanity.” The Minister of the Environment said in the days after the flood that El Salvador needs to be a model for countries around the world in mitigating the impact of climate change – his statements seem to accept that climate change at this point is irreversible, and that they must figure out how to live with it.

Preparing for climate change, however, could be where the CEL and communities downstream from the September 15th Dam may find some common ground. The government has to repair or rebuild the levees in the Lower Lempa. The higher and stronger the levees, the more water the CEL can keep in their levees and the more energy they can produce without risking the communities downstream. Post Hurricane Mitch, the levees could withstand dam releases at no more than 2500 cubic meters per second. If the dams were built to withstand much more than that, the communities and CEL come out ahead.

Just this afternoon communities in the Lower Lempa are meeting to discuss their approach towards working with the CEL. As the communities, CEL representatives, and government officials move forward in planning for how to best deal with climate change, it is important to realize that if all of the parties work together, there is likely an outcome that benefits all stakeholders. We hope that those participating in the conversations can set aside their own short-term economic and political interests in service of collective long-term benefits.

Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government

Marvin and Hiedi Video

Those of you who have been on a Voices on the Border Delegation to El Salvador in recent years have likely gotten to know our dear friends Marvin and Heidi. They live in Nueva Esperanza, which was underwater last week during the historic rains and floods.

During one of our flood updates we mentioned that Marvin and Heidi had been trapped Nueva Esperanza with 55 other people when flood waters were at their highest. Sunday October 16th, they were forced to spend the night in the bell tower of the church after currents got to strong for the boats to evacuate more people. They were rescued the next afternoon after the rains slowed and the water began to recede.

Yesterday we found a video of their evacuation in which they share their experience as they are boating down the main road out of town.

We also want to thank all of you who donated to the fundraising effort. Your support allowed us to provide material support for those who were forced to their homes and lived in emergency shelters for a week or more. We are continuing to raise money to engage in two post-flood activities 1) providing farmers with support so they can replant their fields and get back on their feet as fast as possible; and 2) supporting local advocacy campaigns for appropriate rebuilding of the levees and drainage system in the Lower Lempa.

 

agriculture, Climate Change, El Salvador Government

Salvadoran Government Catching up to Communities on Climate Change

Yesterday we issued a press release reporting that Salvadoran government officials attribute last week’s record rainfall and flooding to climate change.

This morning Hernán Rosa Chávez, the Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, told La Presnsa Grafica that El Salvador is about to “begin the process of shielding itself against climate change.” He wants El Salvador to be a model country for the international community on how to live with climate change.

He said, “we have to prepare ourselves for this [the rains] to occur every year. We have to make changes in agriculture so that [farmers] will not lose their crops. We have to build an infrastructure thinking about vulnerability, and develop the country without needing to destroy it.”

While these statements are an important recognition of the problem, they are also another sad reminder that the time for the United States and other industrialized nations to change their greenhouse-gas emitting ways is running out. And its countries like El Salvador that are suffering as a result.

With regards to Minister Chávez’ plan to change the agriculture sector so farmers won’t lose their crops, communities long-ago recognized that extreme weather patters would affect their crops. In the Lower Lempa region of Usulután, one of the most affected during last week’s historic rains and floods, farmers have been converting some of their fields to rice which is more flood resistant. That have also been installing irrigation systems that will allow them to plant corn in the dry season when the risk of flooding is low. Local development organizations and farmers talk openly about climate change and how to better protect their crops, and increase their food security.

Levee Break
Rio Lempa flowing through a levee break on October 13th, days before the flooding got really bad

If the Salvadoran government really wanted to help, they could work with local farmers to protect domestic markets for their crops instead of allowing cheap imports from heavily subsidized US farmers to run them out of business. In September, President Funes was in the Lower Lempa to announce an $18 million aid package for the region that will in part help farmers convert to “exotic crops” such as cashew nuts that they can sell in the US. Such crops are even more sensitive to climate change and would subject Salvadoran farmers to the ups and downs of US markets. And if locals are not growing corn and beans, it creates a greater market for US farmers. If the Funes administration really wants to help the domestic agricultural sector respond to climate change, they should help provide farmers access to simple technologies that give them more control over their crops, and protect domestic markets for domestically grown products.

Minister Chávez also said the government will improve the nation’s infrastructure to decrease vulnerability. That’s great, but communities in the Lower Lempa and other river basins around El Salvador have been asking for better levees and drainage systems for more than 10 years. The levees have failed in several of the most recent storms, and since 2003, communities have marched from the Lower Lempa to San Salvador to demand they repair them. It’s great that the Minister supports these efforts now. Imagine if he and other government officials had supported these efforts last year or the year before. Maybe Nueva Esperanza, Ciudad Romero, Zamorano, Nuevo Amanecer, Salinas del protrero, and hundreds of other impoverished communities would have faired a little better last week.

Climate change is a reality. And with all due respect for Minister Chavez, if there is a silver lining to last week’s rains its that the government and international community may begin supporting communities that have been trying to deal with it for years.

Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government, Food Security, Hydro Electric Dams

Climate Change Blamed for Historic Flooding in El Salvador

Communities Organize Disaster Response & Demand More Government Collaboration

JIQUILISCO, El Salvador – As thousands of Salvadorans return to their homes and begin to rebuild their lives after last week’s historic rain and floods, many officials and civil society organizations in the region are blaming climate change for the catastrophe and calling upon the government to respond appropriately.

Don Lencho with some of his cattle in Zamorano

Last week, Tropical Depression 12-E and weather from Hurricane Jova poured more than 55 inches of rain over a seven-day period on Central America, far eclipsing Hurricane Mitch in 1998, the storm by which all others had been compared.

Though last week’s rain and flooding were more severe, local and national preparedness has improved dramatically since 1998, limiting the number of deaths in El Salvador to 34, compared to the 289 lives claimed by Hurricane Mitch.

Officials throughout Central American have attributed the extreme rain totals to climate change. Raul Artiga of the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD) stated, “Climate change is not something that is coming in the future, we are already suffering its effects.”

Herman Rosa Chávez, El Salvador’s Minister of the Environment, elaborated that the frequency of extreme rainfall events, defined by more than 100 millimeters (4 inches) in 24 hours, or 350 millimeters (14 inches) in 72 hours, in El Salvador has increased continually since the 1960s. Chávez said that until the 1980s, El Salvador “had never been affected by a Hurricane in the Pacific.” Since then, several of the worst weather disasters have resulted from Pacific weather patterns, including Hurricane Paul in 1982, Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and now Tropical Depression 12-E.

According to a recent reportreport by The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), climate change is expected to take a greater toll on the region in the future. “Studies agree on the upward tendency of costs,” says the report, “whether defined as damage to well-being or as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”

According to Roberto Valent, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in El Salvador, damages from last week’s extreme rain may reach more than US$1 billion.

The Lower Lempa region of San Vicente and Usulután has been one of the hardest hit in El Salvador. The region is supposed to be protected by earthen levees that line the banks of the Lempa River, the largest in the country. The levees, however, burst when an upstream dam released 9,500 cubic meters of water per second, for more than 12 hours – three times the flow the levees were built to withstand.

While community leaders in the Lower Lempa agree that climate change is responsible for the extreme rainfall, they have long argued that the Hydroelectric Executive Commission of the Lempa River (CEL, for its name in Spanish) mismanaged the dam and corresponding reservoir, prioritizing the generation of electricity over mitigating the risk of flooding downstream. In February 2011, Rigoberto Herrera Cruz, the Deputy Mayor of Jiquilisco, stated that

“We believe the CEL [Lempa River Hydro-electric Commission] who runs the dam do massive water releases because to allow the water out little by little means they would earn slightly less profit,”

On October 20th, El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes met with leaders in the Lower Lempa and promised support for reconstructing communities and local agriculture. Jiquilisco Mayor David Barahona stressed that the Central Government must also reconstruct the levees and restore the drainage system that helps channel floodwaters out of the region. Local development organizations have joined in this call, adding that the CEL must also manage its hydroelectric dams in a manner that prioritizes the safety of the communities downstream over their desire to maximize electricity production.

Minister Chávez added to the reconstruction conversation, “we cannot rebuild in the same vulnerable way. If we do not take the [changing weather] phenomena into account, we will be throwing that investment away.”

The undersigned group of international organizations works in partnership and solidarity with various organizations, government officials, and community boards in the Lower Lempa. We echo the concerns and demands expressed by our local partners and Minister Chávez, and will support them in the days, weeks, and months ahead as they advocate for their communities.

Signed:

EcoViva – http://eco-viva.org/  (Contact: Nathan Weller, nathan@eco-viva.org)

Voices on the Border – http://votb.org/ (Contact: Rosie Ramsey, rosie@votb.org)

The Share Foundation – http://www.share-elsalvador.org/ (Contact: José Artiga, jose@share-elsalvador.org)

U.S. Sister Cities – http://elsalvadorsolidarity.org (Contact: sistercities.elsalvador@gmail.com)

Advocacy, El Salvador Government, Elections 2012, Uncategorized

Salvadoran Political Institutions, Part One: New Voters and Local Voting Locations

Before the rain started falling two weeks ago, dumping over 50 inches of rain on El Salvador and causing extreme flooding around the country, we began working on a series of articles regarding recent reforms to the Electoral Code. We will continue to report on the flooding and cleanup efforts, but we don’t want to do so at the cost of discussing other important issues in El Salvador – of which there are many.

“To guarantee Salvadoran society the autonomous and effective administration of democratic electoral processes; a reliable electoral register; prompt execution of the judicial aspects of the electoral process; full exercise of political rights and the promotion of a democratic civic culture.”

The “Mission” of El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE)

“The Electoral Register that we have audited is, in general terms, a reliable instrument. This consideration is accompanied, as is often the case in the international experience, with some challenges to improve upon.”

-Pablo Gutiérrez, Director of the Department for Electoral Cooperation and Observation at the Organization of America States (OEA), in a 2007 audit of El Salvador’s Electoral Register, quoted in the TSE 2009 annual report

On March 11, 2012, Salvadorans will cast votes for all 84 seats in the Legislative Assembly, and mayor in each of the 262 municipalities. As the parliamentary and municipal elections approach, Voices will be considering a variety of topics relating to Salvadoran political institutions and the pursuit of democracy.

Today’s installment examines new voter registration and attempts to bring voting centers closer to homes. In both areas, we look at recent attempts to improve voter participation.

New Voters – More than 75 percent of potential new voters ineligible to vote

On the 2012 election calendar, voter registration was set to close on September 12, 2011 180 days before the March elections. However, the Electoral Code says that any Salvadoran turning 18 years old after registration closes and before the election takes place will be included in the Electoral Register and eligible to vote provided that they register for a national identification card, or DUI, before the September 12 deadline.

While more than 58,000 Salvadorans will turn 18 during that window of time, fewer than 14,000, or 23.8 percent of these potential new voters registered for a DUI and will be eligible to participate, according to the National Citizens Registry (RNPN). The other 76.2 percent did not register for a DUI before a modified September 19 deadline, despite a registration campaign by the TSE.

The TSE praised the registration in a recent statement. “We are very satisfied with this campaign,” said TSE President Eugenio Chicas, referring to a three-week-long effort to register prospective voters. RNPN President Fernando Arturo Batlle Portillo similarly called the registration “successful,” even though 44,000 Salvadorans that could be participating in the March elections will not be.

This year’s campaign is better than some in the past. According to the TSE, the 2008 campaign leading up to 2009 national elections lasted four months and only registered 6,000 new voters out of 50,000 potential voters. In that light, the campaign can be seen as an improvement. However, as TuCanalLocal points out, the official 2009 TSE report lists 14,695 new voters under the age of 18, significantly more than the 6,000 claimed by TSE.

Nonetheless, Chicas said that more could be done to incorporate new voters who should be able to participate in elections. “The challenge remains significant and we should continue our efforts. I believe that we still lack work on a community level, we need more time and resources.”

The June-July 2011 constitutional standoff between the judicial and legislative branches is one problem with registration this year. The campaign to register new voters was scheduled to begin on August 12 and end 31 days later on September 12. However, the Legislative Assembly took longer to approve the budget for the General Election Plan (PLAGEL) than expected, pushing the start of the campaign back to August 29.

To compensate for the delay, the Assembly granted a one-week extension for voter registration, but the campaign still lost 10 days, lasting 21 days instead of the 31 days planned. Many of the new voters registered during this extension period – 7,000 new voters registered by September 12, according to the RNPN. Between September 12 and September 19, an additional 7,000 registered, with almost 5,000 registering on September 19th alone.

While 44,000 eligible youth will be sitting out the March 2012 elections, El Salvador now has 14,000 new names on the voter registry.

Local Voting Locations, or El Voto Residencial

“The current electoral model in El Salvador … concentrates voting locations in urban centers … without considering the distance that the voter will have to travel.” (TSE, “Concepts of residential voting”)

El Salvador is one of the last Latin American countries without a “residential voting” electoral model. For some citizens, the nearest voting location is 70-kilometers away. For many, the trek can be expensive, difficult, and a disincentive to vote.

The TSE is planning to implement a residential voting program throughout El Salvador over the course of the 2012 and 2014 elections, fulfilling political promises made continually since 1994. Under the new system, the TSE will open voting locations based on proximity to voters to facilitate access and improve electoral participation.

The initiative began in 2006, when the TSE implemented a “Voto Residencial” (Residential Voting) pilot program in seven municipalities. In 2009, the TSE expanded the pilot program to the Department of Cuscatlán, scaling up from 7 to 23 total municipalities. In the March 2012 elections, 185 of El Salvador’s 262 municipalities in central and eastern El Salvador are expected to participate in the program, plus key urban areas of San Salvador and Santa Tecla.

Reports on the 2006 and 2009 pilot initiatives demonstrate the impact of the program on the participating municipalities. Under the program, 18 voting centers grew to 73, averaging between two and ten centers per municipality.

The program had a positive effect on voter participation. In the 2004 presidential elections, 70 percent of Salvadorans on the Electoral Register in Cuscatlán cast a vote compared a national average of 67 percent. In the 2006 parliamentary elections, Cuscatlán had 63.5 percent electoral participation compared to a national average of 54 percent. In 2009, the pilot program in Cuscatlán had 65.5 percent participation in parliamentary elections and 71.5 percent participation in presidential elections compared to 54 and 63 percent respectively on the national level. While national participation remained the same or fell, participation in Cuscatlán, already higher than the national average, rose in both presidential and parliamentary elections.

Additionally, the program is expected to facilitate voting access for many of the most vulnerable members of Salvadoran society, including the elderly, persons with disabilities, and those without the financial means to travel a longer distance.

When voting centers are closer to home, it is also more difficult for political interests to perpetrate electoral fraud by bringing in people from other communities, or as has been alleged in previous elections, from Honduras or Nicaragua. Citizens are more able to police the voting registry and identify people that are not from their community.

Poco a poco, Salvadoran institutions are working together, or in some instances forcing other branches of government, to reform the electoral system so that more people vote, and to ensure their votes are counted. The campaign to register new, young voters and expanding voting centers are only two of the most recent reforms. In the coming weeks and months we will explore reforms to the ballot that voters will use once they are in the booths, efforts to decentralize power once held by political parties, and other changes.

Advocacy, Climate Change, Disasters

Flood Update – Photos from Salinas del Potrero and Nueva Esperanza

Over the weekend Voices staff was able to visit Salinas del Potrero and Nueva Esperanza in the Lower Lempa with our friends from Cristosal. Our initial reports from Salinas were that the flooding cut off the community from the rest of the region but that the damage was minimal. Our visit tells a different story. Many in Salinas continue to live in the community shelter, standing water still obstructs the road going into the community, and many of the community’s fisheries have been flooded out and damaged.

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Our staff also visited other communities in the region – Ciudad Romero, Nueva Esperanza, and others and the news is not all bad. The majority of the people who have been living in the emergency shelters have returned home and are starting the arduous task of cleaning up. Electricity and water has been restored in most communities, and people seem to be in fairly good spirits considering the circumstances.

Jessie, voices field volunteer, and 35 youth from OSCA, a youth group in Morazan, traveled to Nueva Esperanza to help locals with the clean up. Read her report with photos here.

 

 

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Later today we will provide a more thorough update on the survey of the damage.

Thanks to all who have contributed to the recover effort! Though this has been one of the worst disasters in modern Salvadoran history, everyone has worked together to minimize the impact on our local partners. We have a lot of work to do, but the response has been inspiring.