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Advocacy, annual report, education, Environment, Food Security, News Highlights, Voices Developments, Womens issues, Youth Development

Celebrating 30 years of Solidarity with the People of El Salvador – 2016 Annual Report

2016 was a dynamic year for Voices. We said goodbye to old friends and opened the door to new ones. We began an extensive education revitalization project in Bajo Lempa, started supporting women’s empowerment in Morazán and even joined in on environmental justice protests in the capital San Salvador.

This year is even more special because we turn 30! Since our inception in the refugee camps until now, we have never deserted our communities and are committed to being a critical source of support for them now, and in the future.

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Read our report to find out what our partners have been up to, the large scales issues they are facing and how Voices has been working hard in collaboration with leaders to find solutions to issues and pathways to accomplishing goals.

agriculture, Climate Change, Environment, Food Security

Earth Day Celebration in Parque Cuzcatlán

On Sunday, hundreds of Salvadorans gathered in Parque Cuzcatlán in San Salvador to celebrate Earth Day. The theme was food sovereignty, and groups from around the country came to share heirloom seeds and farming techniques, and talk about stopping multinationals like Monsanto that want to control of all aspects of food production.

Our good friend Ebony Pleasants put together a very nice video of the event:

One quote from the woman interviewed in the video… “How is it possible that the transnational corporations are now saying that we can only use one type of seed? Monsanto has made many farmers [in El Salvador] dependent on their agro-business and the agrochemicals that they sell.  For us, agro-ecology is the alternative.”

One of the biggest threats to biodiversity and food sovereignty right now is large-scale sugarcane production. In the next few weeks, Voices will publish a report on sugarcane production in El Salvador, followed by a series of workshops and community meetings to discuss alternatives… and how to achieve food sovereignty.

The organizations and communities present at the event on Sunday was a demonstration of what is possible when communities are organized and united.

agriculture, Economy, Equality, Food Security

More Neoliberal Economic Policies Will Not Stop Unaccompanied Minors From Seeking Refuge

DSCF0020March 2-3, Vice President Joe Biden was in Guatemala with leaders from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB). Their agenda was to “accelerate the implementation of the Plan for the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle (the Plan).” The meeting came just a month after Vice President Biden announced that the Obama Administration would ask Congress for $1 billion in aid for the region.

The purpose of the Alliance’s Plan, $1 billion fund, and the March meeting is to address the surge of unaccompanied minors leaving the Northern Triangle for the U.S. It’s an important goal. In FY2014, more than 60,000 youth were caught trying to enter the U.S. and government officials expect more than twice that in FY2015.

While the Plan arguably contains some constructive approaches towards decreasing violence, the emphasis is on implementing neoliberal economic policies. The proposal reads more like CAFTA-DR 2.0 or a World Bank structural adjustment plan, than an effort to stem the flow of emigration. The Northern Triangle and U.S. governments are proposing that foreign investment, more integrated economies, and free trade – and a gas pipeline – will provide the jobs and opportunities necessary to keep youth from seeking refuge in the U.S.

Income inequality and violence are the driving forces behind youth seeking refuge in the U.S., but its hard to imagine how more neoliberal economic policies, which many cite as the reason for inequality over the past 25 years, will do anything except ensure the region’s rich will remain so. A skeptic might even argue that the U.S. and Northern Triangle governments are using the “crisis” of violence and emigration in order to implement policies that further their own economic interests.

Increasing Foreign Investment and Investing in Our People

The Alliance Plan and other related documents emphasize that the solution to emigration, violence and inequality has to be economic – attracting foreign investment, unifying regional economies, increasing competitiveness in global markets, and training the workforce. The Plan, which was first published in September 2014, offers four Strategic Lines of Action. The first, and most detailed, is to stimulate the productive sector. The second is to develop opportunities for our people. Of the $1 billion grant from the U.S., $400 million will support these two lines of action.

Stimulating the productive sector means “attracting investment and promoting strategic sectors capable of stimulating growth and creating jobs… we will make more efficient use of our regional platform to reduce energy costs that stifle our industries and the national treasury, overcome infrastructural and logistical problems that curb growth and prevent better use of the regional market, and harmonize our quality standards to put them on par with what the global market requires.”

The Plan identifies four productive sectors: textiles, agro-industry, light manufacturing, and tourism, none of which are new to the Northern Triangle. Textile maquiladoras, sugarcane producers, factories, and tourism have exploited the region’s labor force and natural resources for years. They have created jobs, but ones in which workers are paid a sub-poverty minimum wage and endure a myriad of human rights abuses. Saskia Sassen wrote in 1998, and other since then report that so far the global economy has produced “a growing supply of poorly paid, semi-skilled or unskilled production jobs.” That has not changed in the past 17 years. When unions and workers try to negotiate better wages or working conditions, manufactures and investors simply leave. The environmental impacts of these sectors have been equally devastating, and will get exponentially worse if large-scale tourism, a gas-pipeline, and other industries are allowed to move forward.

While CAFTA-DR pretends to address labor and environment, and the “race to the bottom”, Northern Alliance governments provide detail about the concessions they will give to foreign investors. These include lower energy costs, infrastructure, and “harmonization” of standards, which some believe means an agreement on a very low bottom.

The U.S. and Northern Alliance countries have been implementing neo-liberal economic policies since the early 1990s; the same period that crime and gang violence began to proliferate. Privatization, dollarization, free trade agreements, maquiladoras, Millennium Challenge Corporation grants, Partnership for Growth, Public-Private Partnerships, and more have all been implemented over the past 25 years. The same period that crime and violence has skyrocketed.

As academics (good articles here and here) and campesino leaders in rural El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have articulated for years – globalization and neoliberal economic policies are the reason for the high rates of inequality that has resulted in the high levels of crime and violence, and lack of opportunities that have forced youth to flee. Poverty and inequality are nothing new in the Northern Triangle, but Globalization and neoliberalism is simply the latest tools the elite use to maintain and grow their wealth.

Just this week, El Faro published an article titled “The Neoliberal Trap: Violent Individuals or Violent Situations ” that is based on 2013 study in El Salvador. The authors found that communities that are more isolated from the global community and depend sustenance agriculture were less likely to experience social isolation, gangs, crime and violence. Communities that have a greater market mentality are more socially isolated and prone to crime. The article argues, “The neoliberal reconstruction has renewed and amplified the conditions of alienation. Meanwhile, some elites embrace neoliberal reconstruction as a means of assuring their position in the new “transnational capital class of global capitalism, while a large part of the population is left out and has to fend for themselves.”

Colette Hellenkamp drew a similar conclusion in her piece War and Peace in El Salvador. She concludes, “The wealthy few in [the El Salvador] do whatever is necessary to maintain their riches and quench their thirst for comfort and power. Their status and wealth will not be threatened as long as they ensure that the masses remain uneducated and in chaos.” The crime and violence in El Salvador has certainly caused such chaos that instead of opening small shops and providing services the region’s otherwise hard-working and industrious workforce is leaving en masse.

Academics also point out that proponents of neo-liberal ideologies believe their model is perfect – “everyone benefits, not just some, all.” Those that don’t are referred to as the “underserving poor or the underclass that demonstrate two characteristics – they are underserving and predisposed to unlawful behavior. Proponents argue that free market, neoliberalism is perfect and if people don’t benefit, its not the market’s fault, it’s because people are lazy and prone to violence.

The Northern Alliance Plan is to double down on the neoliberal policies that sustain the same economic inequalities they say they are want to correct. Bur more sub-poverty, minimum wages will only serve to further stratify the economic and social classes.

Albert Einstein said, “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” But that’s what the Northern Triangle Plan seems to want to try and do.

Violence and Security

Instead of focusing on more neoliberal economic policies, the Plan must focus on putting an end to the high rates of crime and violence.

Analysts agree that most of the youth detained on the U.S. border were fleeing violence. A report published by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that 58% of the minors interviewed “were forcibly displaced because they suffered or faced harms that indicated a potential or actual need for international protection.” The report identified two sources of violence – “organized armed criminal actors and violence at home.” A report written by Fulbright Fellow Elizabeth Kennedy found, “59 percent of Salvadoran boys and 61 percent of Salvadoran girls list crime, gang threats, or violence as a reason for their emigration. Whereas males most feared assault or death for not joining gangs or interacting with corrupt government officials, females most feared rape or disappearance at the hands of the same groups.” Other reasons for leaving included the lack of economic opportunities and reunification with family members in the U.S. But of those youth, “most referenced crime and violence (the chaos) as the underlying motive for their decision to reunify with family now rather than two years in the past or two years in the future.”

The proposal for decreasing violence in the Northern Triangle is a mixed bag at best. The Plan wants to invest more money into the same heavy-handed, militarized, law enforcement policies that have been failing for 25 years. Alexander Main provides a good critic of these policies in his Truthout article, Will Biden’s Billion-Dollar Plan Help Central America.

But its not all bad. There are some proposals in the Plan that focus on alternative conflict resolution, safe schools, trustworthy community policing, modernizing the justice system, and giving civil society and churches a greater role in prevention and rehabilitation. There are also needed reforms for ensuring better governance and addressing organized crime. One of the more positive ideas is to “improve prison systems, including infrastructure based on prisoner risk profiles, the capacity of prison staffs, and rehabilitation programs, including those focused on juvenile offenders and their prison conditions.”

El Salvador has even proposed an ambitious $2 billion plan that proposes similarly progressive policies for ending violence at the national level. The plan “promises parks, sports facilities, education and training programs for the country’s 50 most violent municipalities, as well as improvements to the worst prisons where the country’s biggest gangs – Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS13) and Calle 18 – have proliferated over the past decade.”

If implemented, these projects could help decrease levels of crime and violence, and calming the chaos that helps maintain high levels of inequality. But if academics and campesino leaders are right, and globalization is the cause of the inequality, these positive steps are unlikely to have any lasting impact. The undeserving poor will still be limited to working sub-poverty wages and have little if any social and economic mobility.

If Not More Neoliberal Economic Policies…

Stemming the flow of emigration is a complex task, and the Northern Triangle and U.S. governments are right to consider a multi-faceted approach that aims to provide economic opportunities, end violence, and address other deficiencies.

Instead of more neoliberal economic policies, the Northern Triangle and U.S. governments, and the IADB should focus their plan on making the region safe from crime and violence. There are very smart, informed civil society leaders who have put forth some very reasonable proposals. The governments should do more to work with them to implement their ideas and proposals on a large scale. The plan articulates some of these ideas, but instead of taking second place to more neoliberalism, they should be at the heart of the proposal.

The solution should include creating economic opportunities, but that does not require foreign investors or selling out the region’s workforce and environment. Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans are known as hardworking and industrious. Instead of building infrastructure and providing incentives to multinational corporations, the governments should focus those investments on supporting and incentivizing local, small businesses. That does not mean small business loans, but it might mean making it more difficult for international corporations like Walmart to run all the mom-and-pop shops out of business. Family businesses do more than provide jobs; they build neighborhoods and social networks.

Instead of promoting agro-industry and exports, as proposed by the Plan and Partnership for Growth, governments should support communities in their efforts to promote food security and sovereignty. El Salvador’s family seed program, for example is an example of a relatively low cost government action that supports small family farmers that are trying to feed their family and contribute to their local economy. In 2013, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development called for a “rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”

There are solutions. The only question is motive and whether policy makers are really interested in addressing emigration, violence, and economic inequality, or using the chaos and “crises” as means to further their own economic interests. This month, President Sanchez Cerén and the Legislative Assembly declared March 26 as the National Day of Peace, Life and Justice – a day in which all Salvadorans will unite and demand an end to the violence and chaos. But even this simple idea of bringing people together was too much for the business class. ANEP (El Salvador’s Chamber of Commerce) came out against the Day of Peace, Life, and Justice, argues that celebrating a National Day of Peace would cost El Salvador $56 million in lost economic opportunities. ANEP representatives argue, “the suspension of just one day of work will cost Salvadorans more that 56 million dollars, and could result in the loss of contracts from export businesses, and thus the employment of workers.”

Their position could be one of pure practicality. More likely it is a true reflection of their priorities – money and profits over peace, life, and justice.

Environment, Food Security

Civil Society Marches for Public Health, Food, and Water

This morning 5,000 Salvadorans from 150 civil society organizations and communities took to the streets in San Salvador to demand that the Legislative Assembly ratify a Constitutional Amendment recognizing food and water as a basic human right.

In 2012, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly passed an amendment to Article 69 of the Constitution recognizing access to food and water as basic rights to be protected by the State. If the current Legislature ratifies the amendment, Article 69 will include the following language:

“All people have the right to adequate nutrition. The State is required to create food sovereignty and nutritional policies for all inhabitants. A law will regulate this issue.

Water is a resource essential for all of life, and as such the State is required to protect and preserve water resources and provide it for all inhabitants. The State will create public policies that regulate this issue.”

The Legislative Assembly first approved the amendment on April 19, 2012, just 12 days before the current legislature took office. To complete the process, this Legislature has to ratify the amendment before their 3-year term expires on April 30.

When the marchers reached the Legislative Assembly this morning, Diputados (Representatives) Lourdes Palacios and Yoalmo Cabrero greeted them and declared that all 31 representatives from their leftist FMLN party would vote in favor of the amendment. They pointed out, as did many marchers, that it was the right-wing ARENA, PCN, and PDC representatives that have blocked ratification. During a meeting last month with members of MOVIAC, Representative Palacidos said that they have brought the ratification vote to the floor twice and both times ARENA, PCN, and PDC [representatives] blocked its passage. She also said that they have yet to give a valid argument for their opposition.

A statement released by MOVAIC (the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change), declared that “water and food, like air, are elements essential for human life and other creatures of the biosphere. Human beings are unable to live without food and water.

“It seems like a lie and its shameful that in the twenty-first century, fifty years after we put a man on the moon and reached high levels of scientific and technological development, that we still are fighting for the recognition of such fundamental rights as access to food and water.”

The holdup seems to be privatization. MOVIAC and others believe that the ARENA, PCN, and PDC Representatives blocking ratification of Article 69 are backing the corporations and investors that want to privatize and control water and food. Representative Palacios confirmed that the opposition from the conservative parties is strong.

In addition to calling for the ratification of the amendment, marchers ask Salvadorans to vote against any legislator or party that has refused to support ratification (on March 1, El Salvador will hold elections for the Legislative Assembly and Municipal governments).

Water resources in El Salvador are scarce and for years Salvadoran organizations have fought to ensure that all Salvadorans have access to potable water. Currently, 20% of Salvadorans do not have access to potable water. That means they have to get water for drinking and to run their household from surface waters, 90% of which are contaminated with agrochemical runoff, untreated industrial waste, raw sewage and other pollutants.

Access to adequate food and nutrition has become more difficult in recent years. Neo-liberal economic policies prioritize using El Salvador’s farmland for growing exports like sugarcane instead of corn, beans, and vegetables for local consumption. U.S. policies such as Partnership for Growth, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and others have made it increasingly difficult for families to feed themselves or make a living farming.

Ratifying Article 69 of the Salvadoran Constitution will not mean that everyone will have access to water and food, but it will require the executive and legislative branches to take affirmative steps in that direction – like passing the water law that has been lingering in the Legislative Assembly for 10 years.

News out of El Salvador is generally bad – gangs and violence, and 60,000 youth showing up on the U.S. border. That won’t change with the government doubling down on “mano duro” policies and tougher law enforcement. Things will only get better when the government is ready to engage in long-term solutions that ensure Salvadorans have what they need to survive, and nothing is more fundamental than access to food and water.

The inability for some politicians to recognize that people should have the right to access food and water indicates just how far El Salvador has to go before it can resolve its more complicated issues.

Advocacy, Environment, Food Security

Marching for Food Sovereignty

Last Wednesday, October 15th hundreds of people stepped out into a soft rain in San Salvador to celebrate Food Sovereignty Day and World Food Day. Perhaps more than celebrating, marchers were demanding that the Salvadoran government take specific actions so the population can achieve food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty is a fairly straightforward concept articulated first by La Via Campesina in 1996. It simply asserts the right of people to define their own food systems, placing the individuals who produce, distribute, and consume food at the center of the decisions on food systems and policies.

Marchers had some very specific policy points they want their government to address. (If this post and these demands sound familiar, they held a similar march last year making many of the same demands.)

First, marchers want the current Legislative Assembly to ratify an amendment to article 69 of the Constitution recognizing food sovereignty as a basic right enjoyed by all Salvadorans. The previous Legislative Assembly passed the amendment but to complete the process the current Assembly has to ratify it. Similarly, over the past two years, civil society has also lobbied the Legislative Assembly to pass a Law on Food Sovereignty, which would promote the sustainable production of food production and regulate other activities that affect food sovereignty.

The marchers also want the Legislative Assembly and President Sanchez Cerén to ban a long list of toxic agrochemicals. Last year the Legislative Assembly passed a bill banning fifty-three agro-chemicals (the bill amended an existing law that regulates agrochemicals). Instead of signing the bill, President Funes (2009-2014) took out the eleven most common (and harmful) agrochemicals, including Glyphosate, and sent the bill back to the Assembly. When the Legislative Assembly received the Funes’ changes, its members could have ignored them and signed the original bill into Law, or accepted them and signed it into law. Instead, they did nothing. This all occurred during the campaign for the March presidential elections, and the business sector was pressuring on the Funes Administration not to sign the ban. They argued that coffee plantations were combating leaf rust and a ban on agrochemicals would result in a loss of agricultural jobs and harm the economy. Marchers and civil society organizations, however, reject the dependence on agrochemicals and demand that the Legislative Assembly finally ban the use of all harmful agrochemicals in El Salvador.

Another important issue is the Water Law. Eight years ago civil society organizations drafted a law that guarantees all Salvadorans have a right to water. If passed, the Water Law would also ensure that the government could not privatize water resources. Instead of approving the draft law proposed by civil society, the Legislative Assembly began a long process of drafting its own. Unfortunately private interests such as ANEP (National Association of Private Business), and conservative political parties (ARENA and PCN) have been able to stall the process.

Another obstacle to achieving food sovereignty is sugarcane production. In regions like the Bajo Lempa of Usulután, sugarcane producers are buying and leasing large amounts of farmland. For example, two weeks ago Voices’ partners in La Tirana learned that a wealthy landowner that owns the land adjacent to their mangrove forests is leasing 400 manzanas (691 acres) of farmland to a sugarcane producer. United States economic policies are driving  the demand for sugarcane. The Central American Free Trade agreement is allowing the U.S. to import more sugarcane at lower prices, and Partnership for Growth is providing incentives for El Salvador to increase exports rather than grow food for local consumption.

While sugarcane will make landowners wealthy, sugarcane production has a large, negative impact on the environment. Sugarcane producers use a lot of chemicals on their crops – fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Just before a crop is ready to harvest, producers apply the herbicide Glyphosate (sugarcane is “Roundup Ready”) in order to ensure all the cane is ready to harvest at the same time. These agrochemicals, which are generally sprayed using a crop-duster, contaminate local water sources and nearby farmland, as well as villages, schools, soccer fields and homes. These chemicals are believed to be contributing to the extremely high rates of renal failure that has claimed tens of thousands of lives in recent years.

Sugarcane production affects food sovereignty in a few ways. First, farmland that could be used to grow food for local consumption is being used to grow sugarcane for export. This means that El Salvador’s dependence on food imports will continue to rise. The environmental impact of sugarcane also makes it harder for small farmers to produce food. Farmers complain that the spraying of agrochemicals contaminates their fields and destroys their crops. The herbicide Glysophate is one of the worst offenders. Upon contact it kills foliage, flowers, fruits, and vegetables that farmers cultivate. And large monoculture crops upset the ecosystems where farmers grow, diminishing bee populations, disrupting forests and animal life, and harming soil structures.

Marchers also demand that the government do more to protect the country’s fragile ecosystems, especially the mangrove forests along the coast. Families in and around the forests often sustain themselves by harvesting the crabs, clams, and fish that live in the mangroves. And an estimated 75% of all commercialized fish in the Pacific off the coast of El Salvador are hatched in the mangrove forests. If developers and sugarcane farmers are allowed to destroy these forests, they will also be destroying the livelihood and food source of tens of thousands of people.

Another threat to food sovereignty is mining. El Salvador currently has a de facto ban on mining. But there is nothing in place to prevent government officials from granting the extraction permits that allow mining companies to mine for gold, silver, uranium, and other minerals. Salvadoran civil society has argued for years that if the government allowed mining it would result in the contamination of the country’s farmland and water resources, greatly diminishing El Salvador’s capacity for food production.

In February 2014, then presidential candidate Sanchez Cerén spoke at an event hosted by MOVIAC to discuss environmental issues. During his comments, Sanchez Cerén said that as president he would sign legislation to ban mining. But five months into his presidency the Legislative Assembly and President Sanchez Cerén have yet to pass a ban. One reason given for the delay is that the legislatures don’t have enough votes. But some annalists say (behind closed doors) that politicians from all political parties give the impression they don’t want to ban mining, and use the lack of votes as an excuse to do nothing.

Again, none of these issues or demands is new, but people are protesting because there has been little to no action. While many celebrate the Sanchez Cerén administration as the second consecutive leftist government elected into power in El Salvador, many in the FMLN’s base are grumbling because they have not seen the kinds of changes they expected. Some have been reluctant to protest against the government officials they voted into power, believing the alternative to be far worse. But others are tired of the perceived inaction on issues related to basic rights such as food sovereignty and access to water, and are speaking up.

agriculture, Economy, El Salvador Government, Food Security, U.S. Relations

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.

Food Security

Popular Struggle for Food Security in El Salvador

To commemorate World Food Day (October 16) several coalitions in El Salvador joined together to draft a declaration that calls on the Legislative  Assembly to take specific actions to help Salvadorans achieve food security.

Achieving food security, and more specifically food sovereignty, is the number one priority for the communities that Voices’ serves in the Bajo Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulután. The Bajo Lempa has some of the richest, most productive land in El Salvador, yet agricultural and economic policies have made it almost impossible for small farmers to even feed their families. Free trade agreements allow large, subsidized farms in the U.S. access to Salvadoran markets, and local farmers simply can’t compete. Grocery stores and markets in urban areas are full of grains and processed food from the U.S.

Supporters of globalization might argue that grocery stores in San Salvador or Zacatecoluca full of Welches Grape Juice and Pancake syrup is a positive development. But many in the Bajo Lempa argue that it ruins the local economy and is replacing their culture of food. The community of Amando Lopez has recognized this as an important issue and for their community assemblies requires participants to bring their own cups and bowls and instead of serving cookies and cokes for refreshments they serve traditional tomalies, fresh maracuya (passion fruit) juice, hot chocolate or other locally produced snacks. But even organized communities like Amando Lopez struggle to achieve food security.

Instead of food for local consumption, policy makers are pushing other crops like sugarcane for export or altogether different industries like tourism. Communities are trying to reject sugarcane production because of the heavy use of toxic chemicals that are sprayed with crop dusters and contaminate nearby communities, causing alarming rates of chronic renal failure and other diseases. They reject tourism in their region because of the impact it will have on valuable natural resources like the Jiquilisco Bay and surrounding mangrove forests, and the strain it will put on El Salvador’s already tenuous water supply.

Communities in the Bajo Lempa share a common goal – they want to farm and feed their families with locally produced grains, fruits and vegetables. And they are calling on the Legislative Assembly help them achieve these goals.

Voices partners in the Bajo Lempa, including NGOs like ACUDESBAL, ADIBAL, are members of MOVIAC (Movement for the Victims of Climate Change), and helped author this declaration. We’ve attached it below, first in the original Spanish and then and English translation below.

En Español:

LUCHA Y UNIDAD POPULAR POR LA SOBERANIA ALIMENTARIA EN EL SALVADOR

En el Día Mundial de la Alimentación, diversas organizaciones comunitarias, campesinas y cooperativas agropecuarias, organizaciones ambientalistas, organizaciones de mujeres rurales, movimiento de agro-ecología, redes de economía solidaria, entidades de investigación y organizaciones no gubernamentales estrechamente vinculadas a la pequeña producción campesina, nos unimos para luchar por la Soberanía Alimentaria, entendida como el derecho de nuestro pueblo a alimentos nutritivos y culturalmente adecuados, accesibles, producidos de forma sostenible y ecológica, y el derecho a decidir nuestro propio sistema alimentario y productivo. Al mismo tiempo reiteramos que la alimentación adecuada es un derecho consagrado en la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos y  otros instrumentos jurídicos internacionales.

Sin embargo, El Salvador aún no reconoce constitucionalmente este derecho, a pesar que muchas familias que viven en condiciones de pobreza en el campo y la ciudad, no consumen los alimentos necesarios para tener una vida sana y activa, situación de inseguridad alimentaria que es una consecuencia de las políticas neoliberales. La dolarización y la firma de Tratados de Libre Comercio abrieron totalmente al país al comercio agrícola internacional, eliminando todo tipo de protección a la producción nacional, razón por la cual más de la mitad de las personas que trabajan en la agricultura viven en condiciones de pobreza y extrema pobreza.  En esta realidad las mujeres son las más desfavorecidas, a pesar de sus grandes aportes en la producción de alimentos, ya que son las mujeres del campo las que garantizan el sustento de las familias.

Otro problema que tiene relación con la inseguridad alimentaria es la injusta distribución de la tierra, injusticia que es más grave en el caso de las mujeres, a pesar de la Reforma Agraria, el  Programa de transferencias de tierra  y entrega de títulos de propiedad por el actual gobierno. El acceso a la tierra con equidad e igualdad de condiciones para mujeres y hombres, y la garantía de hacer uso sostenible de ella es un problema no resuelto en el país.

El incremento del monocultivo de la caña de azúcar con sus perjudiciales métodos de producción, el interés de empresas transnacionales por llevar a cabo megaproyectos de explotación minera en la zona norte del país, así como la amenaza de proyectos turísticos en la zona costera y la permanente destrucción de los recursos naturales, principalmente el suelo, la biodiversidad y el agua, dañan severamente la agricultura campesina y la producción de alimentos.

También el uso indiscriminado de agroquímicos tóxicos provoca inseguridad alimentaria y contaminación ambiental, matando a la población campesina con enfermedades como la insuficiencia renal crónica. Muchos de estos productos son prohibidos en sus mismos países de origen, sin embargo, en El Salvador aún se comercializan mientras se debate su prohibición.

Por todas estas razones exigimos que se cumpla nuestro derecho a la alimentación sana, nutritiva, suficiente, culturalmente aceptable y con equidad de género, por tanto demandamos de la Asamblea Legislativa, de forma inmediata:

1-    Aprobar la Ley de Soberanía Alimentaria que fortalezca la producción nacional campesina y familiar de alimentos con equidad de género, que garantice el derecho a la tierra y al agua para las y los campesinos, la asociatividad en la producción y distribución de los beneficios, garantizando el derecho de todas las personas a una alimentación adecuada, promoviendo la agroecología, la economía solidaria y los mercados campesinos.

2-    Ratificar la reforma al artículo 69 de la Constitución reconociendo el Derecho Humano al Agua y la Alimentación.

3-    Aprobar la Ley General de Aguas, con participación y gestión comunitaria.

4-    Aprobar la Ley de Promoción y Fomento de la Producción Agropecuaria Orgánica, presentada el 24 de septiembre de 2013.

5-    Prohibir la exploración y explotación de minería metálica aprobando la Ley presentada el 1 de octubre de 2013.

6-    Prohibir el uso de riego aéreo de agroquímicos, la quema fundamentalmente en los cultivos de caña de azúcar y frenar la expansión de este monocultivo.

7-    Superar las observaciones del Presidente Funes, a la reforma aprobada por la Asamblea el pasado 5 de septiembre, referida a la prohibición de 53 Agrotóxicos.

¡¡ EXIGIMOS LA APROBACIÓN DE LA LEY DE SOBERANIA ALIMENTARIA!!

¡¡MUJERES Y HOMBRES DEMANDAMOS LA GARANTIA DE UNA ALIMENTACION  SUSTENTABLE Y LIBRE DE TOXICOS!!

San Salvador, 16 de octubre de 2013

Plataforma de Lucha Cooperativa

Alianza de Mujeres Cooperativistas de El Salvador

Mesa por la Soberanía Alimentaria

Plataforma de Economía Solidaria, PECOSOL, capítulo El Salvador

Movimiento de Víctimas y Afectados por el Cambio Climático y Corporaciones, MOVIAC

Movimiento Popular de Resistencia 12 de OctubreLogos

In English:

POPULAR STRUGGLE AND UNITY FOR FOOD SOVEREIGNTY IN EL SALVADOR

On World Food Day, community organizations, farmers and agricultural cooperatives, environmental organizations, rural women’s organizations, members of the agro-ecology movement, solidarity economy networks, research institutions, and non-governmental organizations associated with small peasant agricultural production join the fight for food sovereignty. We the people have the right to food that is nutritious and culturally appropriate and produced using sustainable, organic practices. We also have the right to choose our own food and agricultural systems. We reiterate that the right to adequate food is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties.

The Salvadoran Constitution, however, has yet to recognize this basic right, and too many families from urban and rural settings continue to live in poverty and lack the food they need to live healthy, active lives. And food insecurity is a consequence of neoliberal policies. Dollarization and the signing of Free Trade Agreements have opened El Salvador to international agricultural markets by removing all means for protecting domestic producers. As a result more than half of all agricultural workers live in poverty or extreme poverty. Even though they make great contributions in the production of food, women are the most disadvantaged because they put the well being of their families first.

Another factor that contributes to food insecurity is the unfair distribution of land, despite Agrarian Reform Program land transfers and the current government’s efforts to provide land titles to rural farmers. Again women suffer the most from unequal distribution of land.

Other causes of food insecurity include the increased production of sugarcane and the growing reliance on destructive methods of production, as well as mining exploration conducted by international corporations in northern region of El Salvador, the threat of tourism along the southern coast, and the constant destruction of natural resources like soil, biodiversity and water. These issues severely diminish the ability of peasant farmers to produce food or otherwise achieve food security.

The indiscriminate use of toxic agrochemicals also contributes to food insecurity, also resulting in significant environmental destruction, and high numbers of death among the peasant population, which suffers from epidemic rates of chronic renal failure and other infirmities. Many of these toxic chemicals are banned in most other countries but are still sold and used in El Salvador while the government debates whether or not to ban them.

For all of these reasons we demand that our international right to healthy, nutritious and, culturally acceptable food, as well as gender equality be respected, and we call on the Legislative Assembly to immediately:

1 – Pass a Food Sovereignty Law that strengthens domestic family farming and food production, while promoting gender equity, and guaranteeing the right to land and water for all peasants, as well as the right of all people to adequate food, while promoting agro-ecology, the solidarity economy, and farmers markets.
2 – Ratify a reform of article 69 of the Salvadoran Constitution to recognize the right to water and food.
3 – Approve the General Water Law, which ensures community participation and management.
4 – Approve the Law on Promotion and Development of Organic Farming, which was proposed on September 24, 2013.
5 – Ban metallic mining exploration and exploitation by passing the law proposed on October 1, 2013.
6 – Ban the use of aerial spraying of chemicals, the burning of sugar cane crops, and curb the growth of monoculture production.

7 – Veto President Funes’ comments on the amendment passed by the Assembly last September 5, relating to the prohibition of 53 pesticides.

WE DEMAND THE APPROVAL OF FOOD SOVEREIGNTY LAW!!!

MEN AND WOMEN DEMAND THE GUARANTEE OF FOOD SECURITY AND FREEDOM FROM TOXIC CHEMICALS!!!

San Salvador, 16 de octubre de 2013

Plataforma de Lucha Cooperativa

Alianza de Mujeres Cooperativistas de El Salvador

Mesa por la Soberanía Alimentaria

Plataforma de Economía Solidaria, PECOSOL, capítulo El Salvador

Movimiento de Víctimas y Afectados por el Cambio Climático y Corporaciones, MOVIAC

Movimiento Popular de Resistencia 12 de Octubre

Logos