Climate Change, Economy, El Salvador Government, Environment, International Relations, News Highlights, U.S. Relations

What has happened with “Fomilenio II” in El Salvador?

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The government of the United States, like other entities with transnational reach—such as the World Bank, The International Monetary Fund, and the European Union—have worked for decades to foment economic development and poverty reduction in “third world” or “developing” countries”. The US state has demonstrated a special interest in the development and stability of the Central American region, given its proximity and subsequent geopolitical importance. As a result, in countries such as El Salvador, billions of dollars have been invested since the 1960s in projects designed to foment “progress”, “reduce poverty”, “promote democracy”, “consolidate peace”, and most recently, to “prevent violence”, and “eradicate poverty” through a development model that seeks to incorporate the country into the global economy. These foreign investments—always in combination with the organized efforts of the Salvadoran people—have led to certain advances in the well being of the population. Nevertheless, El Salvador continues being a country with much poverty, much violence, a democratic deficit, and disastrous levels of economic inequality. This is to say that the dominant model of development—which has certainly been consolidated in El Salvador—has Benefited the very few, while it has exploited, marginalized, or expelled the vast majorities. 

Instead of changing this development model which has systematically produced poverty and inequality in the first place (and which many call “neoliberal”, for privileging the free market above and beyond other interests or factors), the recent decision of the foreign aid institutions of the US government has been to more holistically incorporate the countries who receive aid programs into the responsibilities around financing and executing these programs: that the poor countries gain “ownership” over the processes of their own development. The thinking of the US is that if these countries have to put their own money toward development programs, there won’t be as much money wasted, their won’t be as much corruption, and the poor countries will eventually no longer be poor, but rather equal counterparts in an interconnected global economy that is mutually beneficial to all, and will also no longer be sources of instability, migrants, and violence.  

And so, during the administration of George W. Bush, at the beginning of the 2000’s, the US government began implementing Millennium Challenge Account Funds across the world. These funds were not simply donations for developing countries, but rather contracts by which the funds-receiving countries had to put their own funds toward these development projects, though they would still be primarily financed by the US. Furthermore, the receiving countries would have to comply with certain requirements—such as respect for free expression, transparent democratic procedures, and the elimination of corruption, among other things—in order to continue receiving the necessary funds from the US to conclude their development projects. 

Given its close relationship with the US, El Salvador was chosen to receive a first Millennium Challenge Account fund in 2007, under the administration of Tony Saca. The funds from this contract were aimed at impacting the northern zone of the country, where the majority of the financing would go toward the construction of a “longitudinal highway” that would more effectively connect this region with the rest of the country and with neighboring countries so as to facilitate commerce, connectivity, and the continuing insertion of El Salvador into the global economy. 

The implementation of this project generated resistance from many communities residing in the northern part of the country, who feared that these infrastructural projects would destroy their communities and their livelihoods, including rivers, water sources, and farmlands. Nevertheless, the project was completed in its totality. The communities that had most resisted the construction of the highway—and who even had called it a “project of death”—eventually managed to negotiate an acceptable route for the highway that would avoid major environmental and social damages. From the institutional side, the Salvadoran government had managed to comply with all of the financial and institutional requirements that the Millennium Challenge Account Fund had demanded of it. From the perspective of ordinary inhabitants of rural communities across the region however, the project did little to change or improve their daily lives, but did bring in new, outside, trans-locally linked actors, and in broader terms, the project further deepened the neoliberal model in the region. 

By the time the first “Fomilenio” was being concluded across the northern belt of El Salvadoran in late 2012, the US and Salvadoran governments were planning the implementation of a second Fomilenio project, this one to be aimed at the southern, coastal region of the country. There too, the objective of the project as a whole would be to reduce poverty through the economic growth, as a means to the end of increasing the productivity and competitiveness of the country in international markets. 

“Fomilenio II” began on September 9, 2015 and finalized in September of 2020. It was financed with $277 million dollars from the government of the US, in addition to a counterpart contribution of $88.2 million that would come from the Salvadoran government, making a total of $365.2 million.

According to the Fomilenio II website, upon the finalization of the contract, the program had executed more than 100 interventions, divided into three larger project areas: 

The Human Capital Project, which primarily included the construction of schools, the creation of technical-vocational high school, and the training of teachers in different specialties. 

The Logistical Infrastructure Project, which included the widening of 28 kilometers of highway, improvements in a border checkpoint and other logistical infrastructure, as well as the automation of customs processes and procedures associated with foreign commerce. 

The Investment Climate Project, which led to a reported 15 private investment agreements, among which the training and certification of more than 900 aerospace technicians is notable, as well as the establishment of an irrigation system for agricultural production, and the implementation of six feasibility studies for the creation of “public-private” partnerships, among other investments. 

During the initial phase of Fomilenio II, this Investment Climate project was especially worrisome for many communities and social organizations because it had been announced that the focus would be on incentivizing private investment, simplifying commercial procedures, and making laws and regulations more flexible so as to enable private business to conduct business with as much ease as possible. 

Fortunately, the creation of public-private associations and the implementation of large-scale tourism projects was not carried out the way that had been feared. It is very possible that this was due to the fact that the private sector of the country was simply not yet ready to make these types of investments. 

A third Fomilenio could however unleash an offensive of projects associated with tourist infrastructure, which undoubtedly would provoke a large ecological impact in the fragile ecosystems on the Salvadoran coast. Nevertheless, everything indicates that a third Millennium Challenge Account contract is not likely to happen. 

This is the case first and foremost because there were irregularities in the final phase of Fomilenio II. As mentioned above, part of the contract required the Salvadoran state to assign counterpart funding to the project. In 2020 however, these funds were not included in the government’s national operating budget. For this reason, on September 9th, 2020, the Legislative Assembly assigned $55 million from a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank to honor the country’s commitment to Fomilenio II. But these funds did not end up going toward Fomilenio II because, according to the Executive Branch, led by young president Nayib Bukele, these funds had to be prioritized for attending to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Subsequently, at the end of November, the Ministry of the Treasury of El Salvador, solicited the approval of $50 million from the Legislative Assembly to be assigned to Fomilenio II obligations. On November 26th, the Assembly approved—for the second time—the allocation of these funds, but this approval was vetoed by the President of the Republic, who argued that it would not be possible to obtain these funds from the financial source established by the legislators. 

In response to this controversy, the Millennium Challenge Account Corporation in El Salvador emitted a communique on December 1, 2020 that informed of the suspension of various projects and warned of the possibility that El Salvador might enter into the list of “countries that cannot honor their commitments,” given the country’s inability to allocate the necessary funds to Fomilenio II. And although the contract technically ended on September 9, 2020, a 120-day period had been established to enable the closing down of offices and final operations, so that all of the actual infrastructure projects would be done by January 2021. However, this communique also announced that given the Salvadoran government’s lack of allocation of funds, various projects would not be finished. 

But then, on December 24th, the Legislative Assembly, after a long debate, approved the country’s general budget for 2021. As a result, on January 20, 2021, the Ministry of the Treasury—together with Millennium Challenge Account officials—announced that the previously suspended projects would be restarted with funds from the Salvadoran Ministry of Public Works, and would be finished by the following April. 

In order to be eligible for a third Millennium Challenge Account however, the country was required to comply with at least 10 of a list of 20 indicators. In El Salvador’s last evaluation, it complied with 12 of the indicators, but the problem was that the indicator of “control of corruption and good democratic government”, was of obligatory compliance, and was not met. According to the resident director of the Millennium Challenge Account Corporation in El Salvador, Preston Winter, over the last four years, El Salvador has consecutively maintained a lack of control over corruption, thereby implicating both Bukele’s current government, and the previous government administered by Sanchez Ceren of the FMLN in acts of corruption. 

So although the contributions of this second Millennium Challenge Account contract for the coastal zone of El Salvador cannot be denied—the construction of infrastructure, the training of teachers, the improvements in logistics for private investment—these are measures that contribute little or nothing to poverty reduction. Rather, these measures deepen an economic model that for decades has generated poverty and inequality. In order to reduce poverty, social inequality must also be reduced, and this requires deep reforms to the tax system and effective measures to combat corruption, so that the Salvadoran state can leverage more resources for social investment. Universal access to quality education, effective health coverage, strategic support to family-based agriculture, protection of the environment, universal access to dignified housing, and the provision of quality basic services are all measures that would actually contribute toward significantly reducing poverty.

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Qué ha pasado con Fomilenio II, en El Salvador.

El gobierno de EEUU, como otras entidades con alcance trasnacional, como el Banco Mundial, El Fondo Monetario Internacional, y la Unión Europea, se han esforzado por décadas en las tareas de fomentar el desarrollo económico y la reducción de la pobreza en los países “del tercer mundo” o “en vías de desarrollo”.  Estados Unidos ha demostrado un interés especial en el desarrollo y la estabilidad de la región Centroamericana dado su proximidad y su consecuente importancia geopolítica. Como resultado, en países como El Salvador, se ha invertido miles de millones de dólares desde la década de los 60 en proyectos orientados a “fomentar el progreso”, “disminuir la pobreza”, “promover la democracia”, “consolidar la paz” y más últimamente “prevenir la violencia” y “erradicar la pobreza” mediante un modelo de desarrollo que busca incorporar el país en la economía mundial. 

Estas inversiones extranjeras—combinadas siempre con los esfuerzos organizados del pueblo salvadoreño han logrado ciertos avances en el bienestar de la población. Sin embargo, El Salvador sigue siendo un país con mucha pobreza, mucha violencia, un déficit democrático, y niveles nefastos de desigualdad económica. Es decir, el modelo de desarrollo dominante que se ha logrado consolidar en el país, ha beneficiado a pocos, mientras ha explotado, marginado, o expulsado a grandes mayorías. 

En vez de cambiar este modelo de desarrollo—que muchos llaman “neoliberal”, por privilegiar siempre un libre mercado por encima de otros intereses o factores—el cual sistemáticamente produce pobreza y fomenta la desigualdad en primer lugar, la reciente decisión de las instituciones de ayuda” extranjera de los EEUU, ha sido de incorporar más integralmente a los países receptores de fondos de ayuda en la responsabilidad de financiar y ejecutar programas de desarrollo económico y reducción de la pobreza: que los países pobres asuman con propiedad los procesos de su propio desarrollo. La idea de Los Estados Unidos es que si estos países tienen que invertir hacia sus propios caminos de desarrollo, ya no habrá tanto dinero desperdiciado, no habrá tanta corrupción, y los países pobres ya no serán pobres sino que se desarrollarían económicamente y serian contrapartes iguales en una economía mundial interconectada y mutuamente beneficiosa para todos los países, y ya no serian fuentes de inestabilidad, migrantes, y violencia. 

Así que durante la administración de George W. Bush a principios de los 2000, se empezó a implementar los Millenium Challenge Accounts (Cuentas de Reto de Milenio), al nivel global. Estas “cuentas” ya no eran simples donaciones desde la USA hacia los países en vías de desarrollo, sino contratos en que los países receptores de fondos tenían que poner fondos propios hacia proyectos de desarrollo que serian financiados mayoritariamente por EEUU. Además, los países receptores tendrían que cumplir con ciertos requisitos—como respeto a la libre expresión, procedimientos democráticos transparentes, eliminación de la corrupción entre otros. 

Dado su relación cercana con los EEUU, El Salvador fue escogido para recibir un primer contrato del Reto del Milenio, en 2007, bajo la administración de Tony Saca. Los fondos de este contrato fueron destinados a la zona norte del país, donde una mayoría del financiamiento estaría destinado a la construcción de una “carretera longitudinal” que conectaría la zona al resto del país, y a otros países vecinos para potenciar el comercio, la conectividad, y la progresiva inserción de El Salvador en la economía mundial. La implementación de este programa generó resistencia de muchas comunidades al norte del país que temían que los proyectos de infraestructura destruirían sus comunidades y sus fuentes de vida, como ríos, cuencas acuíferas, y terrenos agrícolas. Sin embargo, el proyecto fue llevado a cabo en su totalidad. Las comunidades más resistentes a la construcción de la carretera—que incluso la calificaban como un “proyecto de muerte”—al final lograron negociar una ruta aceptable para su construcción que evitara mayor destrozo social o ambiental. Desde el lado institucional, el gobierno salvadoreño logró cumplir con los requisitos, tantos financieros como institucionales. 

A finales de 2012, cuando El Salvador estaba terminando su primero contrato de Fomilenio, los gobiernos de El Salvador y Estados Unidos ya estaban negociando un segundo contrato—el Fomilenio II, y este último que estaría destinado a implementarse en la zona costera-sur. Ahí también, el objetivo sería reducir la pobreza mediante el crecimiento económico, y como meta incrementar la productividad y competitividad del país en los mercados internacionales. 

Fomilenio II empezó el 9 de septiembre de 2015 y finalizó el 9 de septiembre de 2020. Fue financiado con US$277 millones donados por el gobierno de los Estados Unidos, más una contrapartida de US$88.2 millones que deberían provenir del gobierno de El Salvador, haciendo un total de US$365.2 millones.

Según el sitio web de Fomilenio II, a la fecha de finalización del convenio reportaba haber trabajado en más de 100 intervenciones, divididas en tres grandes proyectos: 

  • Proyecto Capital Humano, que incluyó principalmente la construcción de escuelas, la creación de bachilleratos técnicos vocacionales y la capacitación de docentes en diferentes especialidades.
  • Proyecto de Infraestructura Logística, el cuál comprendió la ampliación de 28 kilómetros de carretera, mejoras en un reciento fronterizo y otra infraestructura logística, así como la automatización de procesos y trámites aduaneros relacionados con el comercio exterior.
  • Proyecto Clima de Inversión, como resultado de este proyecto se reporta 15 acuerdos de inversión privada, entre los que se destaca la formación y certificación de más de 900 técnicos en aeronáutica, construcción de plantas de tratamiento de aguas residuales, establecimiento de un sistema de riego para la producción agrícola y la realización de 6 estudios de factibilidad para la creación de asocios público privados, entre otras inversiones.

En la etapa inicial del Fomilenio, este proyecto Clima de Inversión fue de especial preocupación para muchas comunidades y organizaciones sociales, porque se anunció que la apuesta sería incentivar la inversión privada, simplificando trámites, flexibilizando leyes y regulaciones para permitir a la empresa privada, realizar negocios con todas las facilidades posibles. Afortunadamente la creación de asocios público privados y la implementación de proyectos de turismo a gran escala, no se llevó a cabo como se esperaba. Es muy posible que esto se deba a que el sector privado del país aún no estaba listo para realizar este tipo de inversiones.

Un tercer Fomilenio, si podría desencadenar una ofensiva de proyectos de infraestructura turística y de otro tipo, que indudablemente provocaría un gran impacto ecológico en los frágiles ecosistemas de la costa salvadoreña; sin embargo, todo parece indicar que una tercera intervención, tiene escasas probabilidades de suceder.

En primer lugar, porque se presentaron irregularidades en la etapa final del Fomilenio II. Como parte del convenio, el Estado salvadoreño debía asignar una contrapartida, el año 2020, pero esos fondos no fueron incluidos en el presupuesto general de la nación, por lo que el 9 de septiembre la Asamblea Legislativa asignó $55 millones provenientes de un préstamo con el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID). Para honrar dicho compromiso.  Pero esto no sucedió porque, según la versión del gobierno, los fondos se priorizaron para atender la pandemia por el Covid19.

Por lo que a finales de noviembre el Ministro de Hacienda, nuevamente solicitó a la Asamblea Legislativa la aprobación de $50 millones para el mismo fin. El 26 de noviembre la Asamblea aprobó, por segunda ocasión, dichos fondos, pero esta aprobación fue vetada por el Presidente de la República, argumentando que no era posible disponer de esos recursos, de la fuente de financiamiento establecida por los legisladores.

Ante esta controversia, El 01 de diciembre de 2020, FOMILENIO II emitió un comunicado informando la suspensión de varios proyectos y advirtió de la posibilidad de que El Salvador entre en la lista de “países que no pueden honrar sus compromisos”, por la no asignación de fondos. 

Si bien el convenio finalizó el 9 de septiembre de 2020, se establecía un periodo de 120 días para el cierre de oficinas y operaciones finales, por lo que todas las obras deberían ser concluidas en enero de 2021; sin embargo, en dicho comunicado se anunció que, por la falta de asignación de fondos, varios proyectos quedarían inconclusos.

Pero el 24 de diciembre la Asamblea Legislativa, después de un largo debate, aprobó el presupuesto general de la nación para el año 2021, por lo que el 20 de enero el Ministro de Hacienda, junto a funcionarios de Fomilenio anunciaron que se reanudarían los proyectos suspendidos, y que serían financiados con fondos del Ministerio de Obras Públicas, además se dijo que estos concluirían el próximo mes de abril.

En segundo lugar, para optar a un nuevo Fomilenio, se requiere que el país cumpla por lo menos 10, de una lista de 20 indicadores. En la última evaluación El Salvador cumple 12 de estos indicadores, el problema es que el indicador “control de corrupción y buena gobernanza democrática”, es de obligatorio cumplimiento y según el director residente de país de la Cooperación Reto del Milenio, Preston Winter, en los últimos cuatro años El Salvador ha mantenido de manera consecutiva un incumplimiento del control de la corrupción.

El Fomilenio I y Fomilenio II, han significado una contribución importante para El Salvador, especialmente en lo referido a la construcción de infraestructura y otras mejoras logísticas para la inversión privada. Sin embargo, estas son medidas que poco o nada contribuyen a reducir la pobreza, más bien profundizan un modelo económico que por décadas ha generado pobreza y desigualdad. Para reducir la pobreza, hay que reducir la desigualdad social, esto pasa por una reforma profunda del sistema tributario y por medidas efectivas de combate a la corrupción, de manera que el Estado pueda disponer de más recursos para financiar la política social. 

El acceso universal a una educación de calidad, una efectiva cobertura de salud, un apoyo decidido a la agricultura familiar, la protección del medio ambiente, el acceso universal a vivienda digna y la provisión de servicios básicos de calidad, constituyen medidas que si pueden tener un impacto significativo en la reducción de la pobreza.  

COVID 19, El Salvador Government, human rights, News Highlights, Public Health, U.S. Relations

President Nayib Bukele’s First Year (UPDATED)

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On June 1, 2019 Nayib Bukele became the President of the Republic of El Salvador, ending three decades of bipartisanship in which the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) held the presidency for 20 years and the Farabundo Marti Libertation Front (FMLN) for 10 years. 

According to a May 24th opinion poll published in the Prensa Grafica, 92% of the population supports the president’s administration of the country.  Those polled recognized his main achievement being a notable improvement in the country’s security situation.

The official figures indeed reflect a decrease in the number of homicides in El Salvador, where the rate per 100,000 inhabitants went from 51 in 2018 to 35.8 in 2019. Since July 2019, the monthly number of homicides has remained below 200. January 2020 unfortunately suffered high homicide rates, yet even with 119 homicides and  a daily average of 3.8, it was still 60% less than January 2019. According to the government, these are the lowest figures since the 1992 Peace Accords.

While the government’s achievements aren’t being questioned, their performance sometimes is.  One of Bukele’s most criticized actions was the militarization of Parliament for a few hours, which lead the The New York Times to weigh in: “What Bukele did in February 2020, was a watershed in Salvadoran democratic history. After several weeks of discussing the legislative authorization to negotiate a 109 million dollar loan for his security plan with parliament members, a Bukele with the pretense of dictator addressed the Legislative Assembly with military and police in tow.”  

As expected, Ronald Johnson, the United States Ambassador to El Salvador reacted to the President’s  bold move by tweeting the next day: “I did not approve of the presence of @FUERZARMADA at @AsambleaSV yesterday and I was relieved that this tense situation ended without violence.  I now recognize the calls for patience and prudence.  I join all actors who are asking for a peaceful dialogue to move forward.” 

It should be noted that for the last three months, Bukele has ruled in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in a way that a large percentage of the population approves of. However, from the viewpoint of respected human rights organizations, there are serious concerns about the drastic measures being imposed in the name of public safety and the authoritarian ways being used to enforce them.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, addressed the topic by stating: “International law allows governments to restrict some rights when faced with an emergency such as the one caused by COVID-19.  However, these measures must be necessary and proportional.  These must also be in accordance with the Constitution and international human rights norms and standards.  There must also be binding judicial and legislative oversight for the executive branch, and the executive must abide by it.  I am concerned that this has not been the case in El Salvador and that the government is therefore in breach of the fundamental principles of the rule of law.” 

President Bukele is currently in the spotlight for his involvement in a systematic confrontation with other State organs. The José Simeón Cañas University (UCA), recently published an evaluation of the government’s first year of administration, it is stated that: during the year, the President of the Republic spent more critical time fighting with the other organs of the State, especially with the opposition parties and the Legislative Assembly, than ruling the country. Another criticism is the lack of failing to follow through on concrete plans concerning the country’s major issues. Regarding this, the UCA indicated that: the plans announced by the President throughout the year on issues related to health, economic reactivation and the installation of the International Commission for the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES) did not materialize in reality.

On environmental issues, he has been criticized for the lack of any real plans and policies. According to a statement, recently published by a group of environmental organizations: In the current government, the environment policy is almost non-existent, we are very concerned that the budget of the Ministry of Environment was reduced despite the   ongoing destruction of valuable ecosystems, as if this institution plays an irrelevant role. 

Economically speaking, President Bukele did a great job to improve the economy, beginning in June 2019. According to the Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUSADES), the Salvadoran economy will have a tendency to increase its dynamism in the second half of 2019, the perception on the investment climate, which after 10 years of unfavorable perception, saw a significant change in its trend from the second quarter of 2019. The same source establishes that the Salvadoran economy experienced an increase towards the end of 2019,  from 1.8% in the first two quarters of the year, to 3% during the third and fourth quarters. In general, almost all sectors recorded higher growth in the fourth quarter of 2019. In annual terms, economic growth for 2019 stood at 2.4%

This upward tendency of improvement was abruptly interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While we fully acknowledge that this unfortunate reality is in many ways a  phenomena, we still see the importance in analyzing it since it will affect the future of the country for the years to come.

For example, in its most recent Economic Situation Analysis report, FUSADES highlights that among formal and informal employment activities, around 226,000 workers lost their jobs in April, which represents 7.5% of the total EAP. This figure exceeds the national unemployment rate. If people can’t earn income for two months, poverty would go from 30.9% to 42.5%, which implies that approximately 654,000 people would enter poverty. Similarly, if income loss extends to four months, poverty would rise to 51.4%.

In conclusion, we can say that El Salvador, like other impoverished counties, struggles greatly with political, social and economic challenges, which have historical and structural roots and make it difficult for a new government to achieve many things in their first year. That being said, 365 days is enough time to visualize the direction and style of governing and in the case of President Bukele, despite what is justifiably questioned, the vast majority of Salvadorans approve of his performance.


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Primer Año del Presidente Nayib Bukele

El 1 de junio de 2019, Nayib Bukele se convirtió en el presidente de la república de El Salvador, poniendo fin a tres décadas de bipartidismo en las que la derechista Alianza Republicana Nacionalista, ARENA ocupó la presidencia por 20 años y el FMLN durante 10 años. 

Transcurrido un año en el poder, según una encuesta de opinión, publicada el pasado 24 de mayo, el 92% de la población respalda la gestión del presidente. La población consultada le reconoce como el logro principal una notable mejora de la seguridad del país. 

Las cifras oficiales reflejan un descenso en el número de homicidios en El Salvador, donde la tasa por cada 100.000 habitantes pasó de 51 en el años 2018 a 35.8 en 2019. La tendencia a la baja es más notable desde que Bukele asumió la presidencia. Desde julio 2019, la cifra mensual de homicidios se mantuvo por debajo de 200. Siendo enero de 2020 uno de los meses récord, con 119 homicidios con un promedio diario de 3.8 (60% menos que el mismo mes del año anterior). Según el gobierno, se trata de la cifra más baja desde los Acuerdos de Paz de 1992.

En el sentido inverso de sus logros están los cuestionamientos a su desempeño. Una de las acciones mayormente criticadas fue la militarización, por algunas horas, del Parlamento, al respecto el periódico The New York Times publicó: “Fue un parteaguas en la historia democrática salvadoreña lo que hizo Bukele en febrero de 2020. Tras varias semanas de discutir con los diputados la autorización legislativa para negociar un préstamo de 109 millones para su plan de seguridad, un Bukele con ínfulas de dictador se tomó la Asamblea Legislativa con militares y policías.”

Como era de esperar, Ronald Johnson el Embajador de los Estados Unidos en El Salvador, reaccionó ante este hecho por twitter: “No apruebo la presencia de la @FUERZARMADA en la @AsambleaSV ayer y me sentí aliviado que esa tensa situación terminó sin violencia. Ahora reconozco los llamados a la paciencia y la prudencia. Me uno a todos los actores que están pidiendo un dialogo pacifico para avanzar.” 

Es de hacer notar que durante tres meses, Nayib Bukele, ha gobernado en medio de la pandemía por el covid19. En este sentido un amplio porcentaje de la población le reconoce un buen manejo de la crisis; no obstante, de parte de prestigiosas organizaciones de derechos humanos, hay serios señalamientos sobre las drásticas medidas impuestas y la forma autoritaria para hacerlas cumplir.

Sobre este tema, la Alta Comisionada de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos, Michelle Bachelet, expresó:El derecho internacional permite a los gobiernos restringir algunos derechos cuando se enfrentan a una emergencia como la causada por la COVID-19. Sin embargo, estas medidas deben ser necesarias y proporcionales. Estas deben además estar en concordancia con la Constitución y las normas y estándares internacionales de derechos humanos. También debe haber supervisión judicial y legislativa vinculante para el poder ejecutivo, y el ejecutivo debe acatarla. Me preocupa que este no ha sido el caso en El Salvador y que el gobierno está, por consiguiente, faltando a los principios fundamentales del estado de derecho.

Por otra parte, el presidente Bukele, se ha caracterizado por una sistemática confrontación con los demás órganos de Estado. En un editorial publicado por la Universidad José Simeón Cañas (UCA), con motivo de evaluar el primer año de gestión gubernamental, se afirma que, durante el año, el presidente de la República pasó más tiempo criticando y peleando con los demás órganos del Estado, especialmente con los partidos de oposición y la Asamblea Legislativa, que gobernando el país.

Otra de las críticas es la carencia de planes concretos que marquen el rumbo a seguir en los grandes temas de país, la misma institución académica señala: los planes anunciados por el presidente a lo largo del año en temas relacionados a la salud, reactivación económica e instalación de la Comisión Internacional Para el Combate de la Corrupción y la Impunidad en El Salvador (CICIES) no se concretaron en la realidad.

En el tema ambiental, igualmente se le ha recriminado la ausencia de planes y políticas: En el actual gobierno, la política de medio ambiente es casi inexistente, vemos con mucha preocupación que el presupuesto del Ministerio de Medio Ambiente fue reducido a pesar de la destrucción de valiosos ecosistemas, dicha institución está teniendo un rol irrelevante, Expresa un grupo de organizaciones ambientalistas, en un comunicado, publicado recientemente.

En el tema económico hay que reconocerle al presidente Bukele que el ritmo de la economía mejoró a partir de junio de 2019.  Según la Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo Económico y Social (FUSADES), la economía salvadoreña registró una tendencia a aumentar su dinamismo en la segunda mitad de 2019, la percepción sobre el clima de inversión, la que luego de 10 años de percibirse desfavorable, registró un cambio importante en su tendencia a partir del segundo trimestre de 2019.

La misma fuente establece que la economía salvadoreña experimentó un incremento hacia finales de 2019, pasando de 1.8% en los dos primeros trimestres del año, a 3% durante el tercero y cuarto trimestres. En general, casi todos los sectores registraron un crecimiento mayor en el cuarto trimestre de 2019. Con esto, en términos anuales el crecimiento económico para 2019 se situó en 2.4%.

Esa tendencia a mejorar se vio súbitamente interrumpida por la pandemia del covid19, por las medidas adoptadas para enfrentarla. Podría considerarse que esta realidad está al margen de la evaluación del primer año de gobierno del presidente Bukele; sin embargo, es importante analizarla ya que incidirá en el futuro del país para los próximos años.

Por ejemplo, en su informe más reciente sobre Análisis de Coyuntura Económica, en el tema del empleo FUSADES destaca que entre actividades formales e informales alrededor de 226 mil trabajadores podrían haber perdido su empleo a abril, lo cual significa el 7.5% del PEA total. Esta cifra supera la tasa de desempleo nacional.  Si los ingresos se pierden dos meses para las personas que se quedan sin trabajo, la pobreza pasaría de 30.9% a 42.5%, lo que implica que aproximadamente 654 mil personas entrarían a la pobreza. Asimismo, si la afectación sobre estas personas se extendiera cuatro meses, el porcentaje de pobreza se elevaría hasta 51.4%.

En conclusión, se puede afirmar que El Salvador, como todo país empobrecido presenta grandes desafíos políticos, sociales y económicos, que tienen raíces históricas y estructurales frente a los cuales, es muy poco lo que un gobierno puede lograr en un año; no obstante, es un tiempo suficiente para visualizar el rumbo y estilo de gobernar. Para el caso del presidente Bukele, a pesar de lo que justificadamente se le cuestiona, es notable que la gran mayoría de salvadoreños y salvadoreñas aprueban su desempeño.


https://www.laprensagrafica.com/elsalvador/Piden-al-presidente-Bukele-usar-bien-su-alta-aprobacion-20200524-0061.html

https://www.laprensagrafica.com/lpgdatos/Bukele-cierra-su-primer-ano-de-trabajo-con-alta-aprobacion-20200523-0072.html

https://www.laprensagrafica.com/internacional/Bukele-y-la-violencia-en-El-Salvador-cuanto-ha-influido-en-la-reduccion-de-homicidios-el-plan-de-seguridad-por-el-que-el-mandatario-militarizo-el-Congreso-20200218-0018.html

https://www.nytimes.com/es/2020/04/20/espanol/opinion/bukele-el-salvador-virus.htmlhttps://elfaro.net/es/202003/el_salvador/24110/La-historia-detr%C3%A1s-del-d%C3%ADa-en-que-Bukele-se-tom%C3%B3-la-Asamblea-Legislativa.html

El Salvador: Bachelet preocupada por la erosión del estado de derecho en medio de las medidas para la COVID-19

Click to access Informe%20de%20Coyuntura%20Econo%CC%81mica_mayo%202020_3.pdf

human rights, International Relations, migration, U.S. Relations

Thousands of Migrants March Towards Saftey

S2AAFCGVLAI6RA5C2HB5UKGWWY_103943202_migrants_caravan_route_4_640-ncOn October 13, 1,500 Honduran refugees began the long arduous journey from one of the most violent capital cities in the world in search of respite and peace. The majority of those seeking a chance for survival were young people, women and their babies.

Pueblo Sin Fronteras or People without Borders, who organized the foot march says the aim is to draw attention to the plight facing the migrants at home and the dangers they run during their attempts to reach safety in the US.

Every single migrant had his or her own personal reason for fleeing. For some, especially the young people, it was direct threats or acts of violence towards themselves or their loved ones. For others, it was the oppressive Honduran government that has been opposing people’s justice movements, or it was the fear of what would become of their children because of unemployment and starvation.

Two days later on October 15th, the caravan had grown to an estimated 3,500 by the time it reached the Guatemalan border.

Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua all belong to a migratory convention called The Central America-4 Free Mobility Agreement (CA-4), it is akin to the Schengen agreement in Europe, which allows nationals from 26 countries in the Schengen area to legally enter and reside in each other’s countries. Though this agreement exists, officials in Guatemala and El Salvador have met the caravan with hostility and armed suppression.

Citizens of Honduras and other Centro American countries have been paying the price of U.S. foreign policy atrocities since the beginning of the cold war, with their lives and that of their loved ones. Since the 2009 Honduran coup d’état that put economic elites in charge of the most important sectors of society, the country has been on a never-ending binge of oppression and violence. While this instability has no doubt strengthened the rise of gang violence in the streets, the government’s own tactics of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, protest suppression and the jailing of political prisoners have added to the upheaval happening at this very moment.

On Sunday October 21, as the 7,000 person strong caravan reached the Mexican border of Tapachula in the State of Chiapas, Donald Trump fired off a series of tweets, expressing anger towards central american governments inability to halt the progression of the foot march.

“Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S. We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them,” Trump wrote.

An estimated 258 million people, approximately 3 per cent of the world’s population, currently live outside their country of origin, many of whose migration is characterized by varying degrees of compulsion. Migration is a fundamental human right. We have no right to forbid or stigmatise, we only have the power to try to do so.

Follow the stories: #CaravanaMigrante

U.S. Relations

US Organizations Demand Justice for Central American Migrants in the United States

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(Text in Spanish Below)

We, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), US-El Salvador Sister Cities, SHARE, Joining Hands Network (RUMHES), Voices on the Border, and the Center for Exchange and Solidarity (CIS), organizations in solidarity with El Salvador based in the United States, denounce the raids being carried by our government for the purpose of deporting Central American families seeking asylum in the United States.

The repressive and violent actions of US immigration authorities constitute serious human rights violations and generate anxiety and terror in the immigrant community. According to the United Nations, many of the Central American families who migrate to the United States in recent years fulfil the requirements to receive international protection as refugees due to the violent situations in their communities of origin. What’s more, migrant rights defenders have indicated grave failures to provide due process for this population, especially in regards to the right to legal advice. The United States has a moral responsibility and an obligation under international agreements to protect these families and to not return them to dangerous situations.

These mass detentions are part of an immigration system that considers immigration a border security issue rather than a human rights issue. This system focuses on militarizing not just the US border, but also borders in Mexico and Central America, family detention, and mass deportation. These immigration policies are inhumane, and they generate great profits for the defense industry and private prisons that operate immigrant detention facilities; they generate more violence and danger, and infringe on the rights of migrants and refugees.

We affirm that, in addition to the economic inequality and social violence in Central America that generates migration and forced displacement, these phenomena are in large part the result of US intervention in the region. The imposition of neoliberal economic policies like free trade agreements and privatization has created conditions of economic and labor instability and precariousness, and military and security interventions both during the civil war and afterwards through the War On Drugs and the Regional Security Initiative for Central America (CARSI) have aggravated the situation of violence and weakened access to justice throughout the region. Today, under the pretext of putting a stop to Central American migration, the United States is driving the militarization of regional borders through initiatives like the Southern Border Plan with the Mexican government, and now as conditions on funds allocated to support the Alliance for Prosperity Plan for the Northern Triangle of Central America.

Instead of pursuing repressive policies against migrants, the United States government should stop enacting policies that aggravate the economic and social crises in the countries of origin. As organizations based in the United States, we demand the following:

  • An immediate stop to the round ups,
  • That Central American families receive humanitarian aid,
  • That the rights of migrants and refugees be respected,
  • And that the United States government and its ambassador in El Salvador stop imposing interventionist neoliberal and militaristic policies that contribute to the forced displacement and mass migration.

San Salvador, El Salvador

January 19, 2015

Organizaciones Estadounidenses Exigen Justicia Para los Migrantes Centroamericanos en los EEUU

Nosotros, el Comité en Solidaridad con el Pueblo de El Salvador (CISPES), Ciudades Hermanas, La Fundación Share, Red Uniendo Manos contra el Hambre El Salvador (RUMHES), Voces en la Frontera, y el Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS), organizaciones de solidaridad con El Salvador con base en los Estados Unidos, denunciamos las redadas realizadas por nuestro gobierno con el fin de deportar familias centroamericanas que buscan asilo en los Estados Unidos.

Las acciones represivas y violentas de las autoridades de migración estadounidenses constituyen una violación grave de derechos humanos además de generar zozobra y terror en la comunidad migrante. Según la Organización de las Naciones Unidas, muchas de las familias centroamericanas que han migrado a los EEUU en los últimos años cumplen los requisitos para recibir protecciones internacionales como refugiados por las situaciones de violencia en sus comunidades de origen. Además, defensores de los derechos de migrantes han señalado graves fallos en la aplicación del debido proceso para esta población, especialmente el derecho a la asesoría jurídica. Los EEUU tienen una responsabilidad moral y de una obligación bajo convenios internacionales de proteger a estas familias y no regresarlas a situaciones de peligro.

Estas detenciones masivas forman parte de un sistema migratorio que concibe de la migración como un problema de seguridad de fronteras, y no como un tema de derechos humanos. Este sistema se enfoca en impulsar la militarización de las fronteras, tanto estadounidenses como mexicanas y centroamericanas, la detención de familias migrantes, y la deportación masiva. Estas políticas migratorias son inhumanas, y enriquecen a la industria militarista y las empresas carcelarias que operan los centros de detención de migrantes; generan más violencia y peligro, y vulneran los derechos de migrantes y refugiados.

Afirmamos, además, que la desigualdad económica y violencia social en Centroamérica que genera la migración y el desplazamiento forzado son resultados en gran parte de las intervenciones estadounidenses en la región. La imposición de políticas económicas neoliberales como los tratados de libre comercio y la privatización ha creado condiciones de inestabilidad y precariedad económica y laboral, y las intervenciones militares y de seguridad tanto en los tiempos del conflicto armado como a través de la Guerra Contra Las Drogas y la Iniciativa Regional de Seguridad para América Central (CARSI) han agravado la situación de violencia y debilitado el acceso a la justicia al nivel regional. Hoy, con el pretexto de querer detener la migración centroamericana, los Estados Unidos está impulsando la militarización de las fronteras regionales a través de iniciativas como Plan Frontera Sur con el gobierno de México y ahora como condición para los fondos destinados a apoyar el Plan de la Alianza para la Prosperidad del Triangulo Norte de Centroamérica.

En vez de proseguir políticas represivas contra los inmigrantes, el gobierno de los Estados Unidos debe dejar de avanzar políticas que agravan las crisis económicas y sociales en sus países de origen. Como organizaciones con base en los Estados Unidos, exigimos lo siguiente de nuestro gobierno:

  • Un alto inmediato a las redadas,
  • Que las familias centroamericanas reciban protección humanitaria,
  • Que se respeten los derechos de los migrantes y refugiados,
  • Y que el gobierno de los Estados Unidos y su embajada en El Salvador dejen de impulsar políticas intervencionistas neoliberales y militaristas que contribuyen al desplazamiento forzado y la migración masiva.

San Salvador, El Salvador

19 de enero de 2015

Environment, Partnership for Growth, U.S. Relations

¿Desarrollo para el país o el país por el desarrollo?

The University of Central America (UCA) in San Salvador just ran a program on the recent signing of the second Millennium Challenge Corporation compact between the United States and El Salvador. The program looks at the benefits proposed by the Salvadoran Government and the fears expressed by communities in the Bajo Lempa and San Juan del Gozo.

The program features Voices’ Field Director Jose Acosta, and many of our friends and partners in the Jiquilisco Bay region of El Salvador.

The 25-minute video is in Spanish only right now, but we will be working with AudiovisualesUCA to add subtitles and we will post it as soon as its ready.

We are writing up an analysis of the second MCC-FOMELINIO Compact that we’ll post soon.

Advocacy, agriculture, El Salvador Government, U.S. Relations

Jiquilisco Bay Communities Oppose U.S. Embassy Threats AND the MCC Grant

This week, U.S.-based organizations working in El Salvador published a letter opposing the U.S. State Department’s threats to withhold a $277 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant over a possible violation of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Sixteen U.S. Congressmen signed onto the letter and sent it to the U.S. Department of State, sharing their concern over the controversy.

At issue is a seed distribution program for which the Ministry of Agriculture (MAG) purchases seed corn and beans from Salvadoran cooperatives and distributes to more than 400,000 small farmers. The program is a huge benefit to rural families and the 17 agricultural cooperatives that supply the seeds. The U.S. Embassy argues that the MAG violates CAFTA by not allowing international seed producers participate in the procurement process, buying seeds only from Salvadoran producers. The Embassy will not release the $277 million grant until El Salvador is in compliance with CAFTA.

Jose Santos Guevarra (aka Mario) in a community meeting to discuss MCC and tourism issues
Jose Santos Guevarra (aka Mario) in a community meeting to discuss MCC and tourism issues

Voices on the Border, at the advice of our Salvadoran partners, did not sign the letter published by the other solidarity organizations for one simple reason. Communities and organizations in the Jiquilisco Bay oppose the $277 million MCC grant and believe the outrage over the seed program, while justified, fails to address a much bigger issue – the MCC fund will destroy El Salvador’s coastal environment and agrarian way of life.

Yes, the Embassy’s complaint about the seed program is wrong. But the impacts of the $277 million MCC grant will be worse. Here’s why:

1. FOMELINIO will fund large-scale tourism development in the Jiquilisco Bay, causing irreparable harm to the region’s fragile mangrove forests, beaches, and agricultural lands, and drain the El Salvador’s scarce water resources.

2. MCC and FOMELINIO (the Salvadoran counterpart to the MCC) have never considered how the projects they are funding will affect the targeted communities. Jose Santos Guevara, resident of La Canoa and President of MOVIAC, makes this point well. “During the design phase of the FOMELINIO [proposal], they did not consult [the communities] with respect to the type of projects needed for the development of the communities. We have a series of proposals aimed at reactivating production in the region – the construction of levees, improving roads and drainage systems. However, none of these were incorporated into the proposal that the Government of El Salvador sent to the MCC.” The only people consulted were private investors and others with financial or political interests in the outcome of the proposal.

3. In order to have a project proposal considered for MCC funds, an applicant must be able to invest at least $100,000. There are no communities or community-based organizations that are able to front those kinds of funds meaning the only people who can develop projects are outside investors.

4. There has never been a public discussion or debate about the content, objectives, and impacts of FOMELIO projects. State institutions control the information about plans and projects, releasing only vague statements to the media when it is politically expedient.

Over the past couple of years the U.S. Embassy has used the $277 million MCC grant to get El Salvador to adopt several laws and policies that promote corporate interests. Just last year the Legislative Assembly passed the Public Private Partnership Law, which the U.S. Embassy had made a prerequisite for approval of the MCC funds. The Embassy, however, did not like a couple provisions in the final draft of the law and are requiring reforms before they will release the MCC funds. The U.S. Embassy also made reforms to the Law on Money Laundering a requirement for receiving MCC funds. And of course, the Embassy is requiring the MAG to reform the seed program so that international seed producers like Monsanto can compete for contracts alongside Salvadoran agricultural cooperatives.

Just this week, Medardo Gonzàles, the Secretary General of the FMLN, said the government has done everything the Embassy wants, but it seems they will never be able to satisfy their demands. Yesterday, Danilo Perez, the Director of the Center for Consumer Protection, recommended that the Government of El Salvador reconsider signing the second MCC Compact because of all the U.S. Embassy’s conditions.

Communities and organizations in the Jiquilisco Bay see the reforms and MCC funds as a really bad deal – adopt pro-development economic policies so wealthy developers can receive financial support to take their land and destroy the region’s mangrove forests, beaches, and agrarian culture. They prefer that the Salvadoran government just say no to the MCC; maintain the seed program the way it is; and start pushing back on the pro-corporation economic policies being pushed through the Legislative Assembly.

Yes, folks in the Jiquilisco Bay are angry that the U.S. is trying to get El Salvador to change a seed program that provides so many benefits for so many families. But they are even more concerned about the long-term negative impacts that the $277 million will have on the region.

 

Advocacy, agriculture, Climate Change, Corruption, Economy, Environment, International Relations, Public Health, Tourism, transparency, U.S. Relations, Uncategorized

The Case of Privatizing Happiness

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Dozens of reporters, spent an entire day, braving the heat to cover a story concerning one of the major issues Voices is currently working on. The story is about the implementation of mega-tourism, sponsored by the Millennium Challenge Corporation in the Lower Lempa Region of El Salvador. The main theme is it’s negative impacts on the communities living in and around the Jiquilisco Bay.

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IMG_0040 IMG_0055  IMG_0031 An article published by the Foreign Policy Journal said: “U.S. foreign aid is expected to promote poverty alleviation and facilitate developmental growth in impoverished countries. Yet, corporations and special interest groups have permeated even the most well-intended of U.S. policies.”

The United States has $277million in aid money to grant El Salvador and much of it will promote tourism in the Jiquilisco Bay by funding infrastructure projects like wharfs ans marinas in order to encourage private investment.

IMG_0116 IMG_0108 IMG_0092 IMG_0134Voices has been working extensively with communities and NGO’s in the Lower Lempa region to ensure that residents are bring represented, rights are being protected and those in charge are being held accountable for non-ethical practices. La Tirana and El Chile are two communities most affected by the plans and have expressed concerns about the potential threats to the land, the water, the culture and the economy of their communities. Voices even collaborated with them to create a detailed report on the situation.                >> Read the report here                                                                                                        >> Read the article here

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IMG_0149  IMG_0009“They are privatizing our happiness. They are stealing our smiles.”  La Tirana’s community leader said as he looked over the bay where kids were playing. Thanks to the efforts of leaders like him, many of these people here know what’s going on. They know that this isn’t free money coming into their communities and they are banding together to demand that their lives and rights be taken into consideration.

The day’s event was a great opportunity for exposure. Many diverse, national and international journalists were able to experience the reality these communities face. These communities have been taking good care of the natural resources through climate change, contamination and even flooding with little to no help from the government. To them, these resources are their lifeline. This is something that tourists who are primed to vacation here will never understand.

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Economy, Partnership for Growth, U.S. Relations

The Price for a $277 Million MCC Grant

Since Sanchez Cerén became the President of El Salvador on June 1, his administration has said securing the $277 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant is a top priority. Vice President Oscar Ortiz said they want to get it done within their first 100 days in office, which means within the next three months.

The MCC approved the grant in September 2013, but the US Embassy blocked the release of the funds until the government met conditions such as reforming the Public Private Partnership Law (P3 Law) and restructuring a popular seed program.

The P3 Law facilitates government contracts with private entities to provide public goods and services. The US Embassy made the P3 Law a prerequisite for the MCC funds but they don’t like the law passed by the Legislative Assembly. They don’t approve of the oversight role the Legislature created for itself – a committee that must approve all P3 contracts. The Embassy and business community also don’t like that the law exempts important public goods and services like water, health, education, and public security from public private partnerships.

One of the most vocal opponents of the P3 Law has been El Salvador’s labor movement. Unions fear that public private partnerships will result in a loss of jobs, decrease in wages, and even worse working conditions as private investors maximize profits. Other civil society organizations fear the P3 Law, even with the exemptions, will lead to the privatization of important goods and services – like water, health care, and education.

The US Embassy also doesn’t approve of the Seed Distribution Program operated by the Ministry of Agriculture (MAG). Officials argue the procurement process violates the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) because the government only buys seeds from Salvadoran Farming Cooperatives, excluding international seed producers like Monsanto. The program provides thousands of jobs for people working for the cooperatives and ensures that more than 400,000 farmers have quality, non-GMO seeds.

Last week US Ambassador said that the Embassy’s problem was not with the seeds, but with the process. On May 2 Voices wrote an article arguing that the problem was not the seeds or the procurement process, but CAFTA.

The MCC program is popular with a lot of Salvadorans and politicians who see it as free money for development projects. But a growing number of environmentalists, unions, and communities argue that the Embassy’s conditions are too high a price to pay for development projects they don’t want anyway. And many see the conditions as an encroachment on El Salvador’s sovereignty.

Among those who oppose the MCC program outright are environmental groups and communities in the Jiquilisco Bay. MCC funds will support tourism development in the Bay and residents fear it will cause irreparable harm to mangrove forests, nesting grounds for the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtle, and El Salvador’s most fertile agricultural land. (Voices has written about Tourism on this blog in the past – here are two reports we wrote on tourism in the Jiquilisco Bay).

Roberto Lorenzana, President Sanchez Cerén’s Chief of Staff said two weeks ago that the administration already has a draft Fomelinio Law (in El Salvador the MCC is called Fomelinio) that they will send to the Legislative Assembly soon. It’s unclear what is in the Fomelinio Law, but it likely contains all of the reforms the US Embassy is requiring for release of the MCC funds. Even before he became Chief of Staff, Lorenzana said the new administration is going to open the procurement process to national and international seed producers, in an apparent effort to satisfy the Embassy’s concerns.

While some Salvadorans have spoken out against the second MCC compact, the P3 Law and other neoliberal policies, many have not. The politics of opposing neoliberal economic policies grew more complex when the leftist FMLN party took office in 2009 and again on June 1, 2014. People and groups that organized against privatization, dollarization, CAFTA, and the first MCC compact (all policies adopted by the rightwing ARENA party between 1994 and 2008) have not been as critical since the leftist FMLN party took power. The result is that opposition to these destructive policies is less now that the FMLN is power.

El Salvador will soon get a $277 million grant from the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation, but it should be clear – this is not free money.

The 17 farming cooperatives that have been growing seed corn and beans for the MAG’s Seed Distribution Program will pay for the MCC grant when they have to compete with Monsanto and other international seed giants.

Communities that depend on the mangroves for their survival will pay for the MCC grant when developers cut down forest to build resorts and golf courses.

The Salvadoran labor force will pay for the MCC grant when private contractors take over government services and cut jobs and wages to increase profitability.

And all Salvadorans will pay if public goods and services like water, education, and health are contracted out to for-profit entities, especially if there is no oversight in the process.

 

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.

Advocacy, U.S. Relations

The Salvadoran Roundtable Against Mining Releases a Statement Against the P3 Law

Yesterday the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly passed the controversial Public Private Partnership Law. The Law passed 84-0, meaning that no representative in the Legislative Assembly opposed the Law. The vote doesn’t necessarily reflect the public’s opinion of public-private partnerships or the Law. Many groups throughout El Salvador oppose the Law for a variety of reasons.

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Over 75 leaders of communities throughout the Bajo Lempa and Bay of Jiquilisco gathered the day before yesterday’s vote to again denounce the law and the implications that public private partnerships have for the region (click here for more on that). In addition to opposing privatization of more state resources and services, leaders throughout the region oppose the plan to use public-private partnerships to promote tourism in the region.

Simiarlly, the labor movement organized a couple of protests this week and circulated an online petition (click here for more on that). They are concerned that public-private partnerships will cost thousands of public-sector jobs and a deterioration of workers rights.

The Salvadoran Roundtable Against Metallic Mining (MESA, in Spanish) are concerned that the PPP Law will result in government-sponsored mining activities. The MESA released a statement yesterday afternoon and this morning quickly translated it to English (apologies in advance to the authors for any errors) – it is posted below, first in English and then the original in Spanish.

The MESA Statement in English

We REJECT THE LAW BECAUSE Public Private Partnership OPEN POSSIBILITIES FOR METAL MINING IN EL SALVADOR

With regards to the debate around the Public-Private Partnership Law (PPP) and its dishonorable approval by the Legislature, the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining releases its strong rejection of this new attempt to privatize public services .

As the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining, we also express our deep concern that the PPP Law opens the door for approval of mining projects in [El Salvador]. When there is no law that prohibits metalic mining or a General Law on Water to alieviate the water shortage that we suffer, it is irresponsible and reprehesible that [the Legislature] would pass a law like the PPP Law that creates the conditions for severe predation and environmental degradation, and a the socio-environmental crisis in which we live.

It is foolish and wrong to repeate actions that have already been proven to be the cause of many of our structural problems. Vulnerability to disasters, along with environmental degradation, massive budgetary and institutional weaknesses in addressing climate change, forced migration, social exclusion and violence are the result of not keeping the voracious markets under control. The State’s goods and resources should serve to provide a dignified life for the population, not to finance predatory corporate profits.

The proposed public-private partnerships are a continuation of the neoliberal policies of the privatization of public services that affect the economic, social and cultural rights of the Salvadoran population. From an environmental sustainability perspective, we urge government authorities and the Legislative Assembly to stop implementing programs promoted by the International Monetary Fund, and pass with equal importance and speed, the General Law on Water, the Ban on Metallic Mining, and the ratification of Article 69 of the Constitution, which establishes the right to water and food.

We reject and deny that private concessions are the solution to improve the delivery of services to the population. We emphasize that if El Salvador prosecuted those who avoid and evade their tax liabilities, and adopt of a progressive tax code that requires those who have more to pay more, the State would have the conditions and resources to provide adequate public services.

We also call on legislative representatives to defend the sovereignty of our country. There are several international treaties such as the Convention for the Conservation of Biodiversity of SICA, Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization ILO, 1992 Rio Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes the right of people to participate and decide on the use that will be given to the resources of their territories. The Law on Public Private artnerships are nothing more and nothing less than an affront to any possibility of building a worthy development model that is just and sustainable.

Deputies: DEFEND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE PEOPLE SALVADORIAN

No to the proposed Public Private Partnership law!

The MESA Statement in Spanish

RECHAZAMOS LA LEY DE ASOCIO PÚBLICO PRIVADO PORQUE ABRE POSIBILIDADES PARA LA MINERÍA METÁLICA EN EL SALVADOR

RECHAZAMOS LA LEY DE ASOCIO PÚBLICO PRIVADO PORQUE ABRE POSIBILIDADES PARA LA MINERÍA METÁLICA EN EL SALVADOR

En el contexto de discusión de la Ley de Asocio Público-Privado (APP) y su deshonrosa aprobación por parte de la Asamblea Legislativa, la Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería Metálica hace público su más enérgico rechazo a este nuevo intento de privatización de servicios públicos.

Como Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería Metálica  manifestamos además nuestra profunda preocupación de que la Ley de APP abra las puertas para la aprobación de proyectos mineros en nuestro país.  Mientras no se cuente con Ley que prohíba la Minería Metálica o una Ley General de Aguas orientada a revertir el estrés hídrico que sufrimos, es irresponsable y repudiable que se apruebe un marco jurídico como la Ley APP, que sienta las condiciones para agudizar gravemente la depredación ambiental y por ende, la crisis socioambiental que vivimos.

Es absurdo y equivocado que se repitan medidas que ya demostraron ser la causa de muchos de nuestros problemas estructurales. La vulnerabilidad ante desastres, al igual que el deterioro ambiental, las enormes desventajas presupuestarias e institucionales para enfrentar el Cambio Climático, la migración forzada, la exclusión y la violencia social son el resultado de no controlar la actitud voraz  del mercado. Los bienes y recursos que son patrimonio del Estado deben orientarse para garantizar la vida digna de la población, no para financiar el lucro depredador de las corporaciones.

Las propuestas de Asocio Público constituyen la continuación de las políticas neoliberales de privatización de servicios públicos que afectarán los derechos económicos, sociales y culturales de la población salvadoreña.  Desde una lógica por la sustentabilidad ambiental, exigimos a las autoridades del Gobierno y a la  Asamblea Legislativa que en lugar de hacer valer los programas del Fondo Monetario Internacional, hagan valer con la misma importancia y celeridad, las leyes de agua, de la prohibición de la minería metálica, así como la ratificación del artículo 69 de la Constitución que establece el derecho humano al agua y a la alimentación.

Rechazamos y desmentimos que las concesiones a privados sean la solución para mejorar la prestación de servicios a la población. Enfatizamos que si en El Salvador se persiguiera la elusión y evasión fiscal, así como si se aprobara un pacto fiscal progresivo donde los que tienen más pagan más, el Estado contaría con las condiciones y recursos suficientes para hacerlo.

Llamamos a las y los diputados de la Asamblea Legislativa para que hagan respetar la soberanía de nuestro país. Existen diversos tratados internacionales como el Convenio para la Conservación de la Biodiversidad del SICA, el Convenio 169 de la Organización Internacional del Trabajo OIT, la Convención de Río de 1992, la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos que reconocen el derecho de las poblaciones para participar y decidir sobre el uso que se le dará a los recursos de sus territorios. Los Asocio Públicos Privados son nada más y nada menos que una afrenta más para cualquier posibilidad de construir un modelo de desarrollo digno, justo y sustentable.

DIPUTADOS Y DIPUTADAS : DEFIENDAN LA SOBERANÍA DEL PUEBLO SALVADOREÑO

¡No a la propuesta de ley de Asocio Público Privado!