Last Friday we posted about the CEL hosting a medical clinic in the Lower Lempa and a community organizing a protest about the October floods. Our staff visited both events and we have a few more details.
Thursday night of last week, the CEL (the public/private corporation that manages the country’s hydroelectric dams) arrived in La Canoa (a.k.a. Comunidad Ocatavio Ortiz) and set up tents for the medical brigade, which was held on Friday. Word of the clinic spread pretty quickly and many in the region considered it to be an attempt to pacify those who blamed the CEL for the October flooding, and generate good will in the region.
The region’s general attitude towards the clinic was best summarized by a banner that some community members hung over the road next to the clinic sometime late Thursday night or early Friday morning. The banner read:
“Ayer nos inundaron… Hoy nos endulzan con 4 pastillas…”
“Yesterday you flooded us… today you sweeten us with 4 pills…”
When the CEL arrived at the clinic on Friday morning to finish setting up, they wanted to take the banner down, but the a community representative would not allow it. According to locals, turnout was low. Even though people are in need of the services and medicines they did not want to take them from the CEL. When it became evident that turnout would be low, the CEL sent a truck around the communities advertising the clinic, but the turnout was underwhelming.
The communities’ response to the clinic was also somewhat underwhelming. As much anger and frustration among people throughout the region, the banner that hung across the road was the only form of protest at the clinic site. In fact, the community board in La Canoa approved the CEL using the clinic; some members of the board even took advantage of the clinic’s services.
Since we posted on Friday, we also learned more about the military presence in the clinic. Giving the military the benefit of doubt, the local Ombudsman for Human Rights said that the military was probably there to continue supporting people in the region. They had, after all, been an integral part of the rescue effort during the October floods.
A community member, however, approached one of the soldiers and asked why the military was there. He answered quite frankly that they were “providing security.” When pushed on who had given them orders to provide the CEL with security, the soldier seemed to realize that he had said too much and stopped answering questions. The Salvadoran constitution is clear that the military is prohibited from engaging in domestic issues unless it is a national crisis. Rescuing residents from the worst flooding in the nation’s history arguably falls into the category of national crisis, while providing protection for the CEL likely does not. The Ombudsman and other government agencies should investigate the use of the Military.
Though the banner was the only form of protest in La Canoa, sources clarified that the protest on the bridge in San Marcos de Lempa was a direct response to the medical clinic and the CEL’s apparent attempt to pacify those upset about the floods. Residents of Nuevo Amanecer took over the bridge on the main highway, shutting down the main corridor that traverses the southern coast of El Salvador to show that they could not be bought off. More than a couple protesters commented that they were disappointed that residents allowed the clinic to open in La Canoa without more protests.
Protesters made only a couple broad demands during the two hours they had the highway closed down. They want the CEL and government to help them rebuild their lives and prevent more flooding in the future. And they wanted to send a clear signal that they would not be bought off.