Uncategorized

ACUDESBAL is Celebrating 15 years

This Saturday (November 23rd) our friends at ACUDESBAL (the Inter-communal Association of United Communities for the Economic and Social Development of the Bajo Lempa) are holding their 15th Anniversary celebration in the Bajo Lempa – If you’re in the area you should join in the festivities (see details below).

ACUDESBAL is a local development organization run by and for residents of the Bajo Lempa, helping communities address issues such as economic development, public health, youth leadership, environmental protection, sports and recreation, and more. ACUDESBAL is also a leading advocacy organization with emphasis over the years on completion and maintenance of the levees and drainage systems that are supposed to protect the region from flooding. They have also been strong advocates around the renal failure issue that has already claimed the lives of hundreds of poor farmers in the region. ACUDESBAL also operates its own rescue squad that provides first responder services and is there to help communities during emergencies like the extreme flooding caused by Topical Storm 12-E, which dumped 55 inches of rain on El Salvador in just 10 days.

The 29 communities of the Bajo Lempa founded ACUDESBAL in November 1998 in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, a powerful storm that devastated much of Central America, including the Bajo Lempa. The government failed to provide any aid or assistance so community leaders decided that they had to take things into their own hands – which they have.

We at Voices are honored to say that we have known ACUDESBAL since the beginning, and over the years we have worked together on many issues and projects. We congratulate all the folks at ACUDESBAL on all of their hard work over the years and for being an example for other communities throughout El Salvador.

Members of the ACUDESBAL team circa 2004/5
Members of the ACUDESBAL team circa 2004/5

Event details:

When: 9:00 am, Saturday, November 23, 2013

Where: ACUDESBAL Grounds in El Zamoran, Bajo Lempa, Jiquilisco Usulutan

For more information visit their Facebook Page.

Advocacy

Salvadoran Human Rights Organization, Pro-Busqueda Attacked

At 4:45 am yesterday morning, three unknown assailants raided the offices of Pro-Busqueda, a human rights organization in El Salvador that for more than 19 years has worked to reunite families separated during the country’s 12-year civil war.

The assailants held a driver and night watchman at gunpoint while they destroyed files and computers, doused offices with gasoline, and set them on fire. A statement sent around by Pro-Busqueda yesterday afternoon said that the attackers targeted the offices most vital to their work, destroying archives and files related to cases that they have pending in the judicial system. When the attackers left, the night watchman and driver were able to free themselves and put out the fires with hoses

Ester Alvarenga, a Former Director of Pro-Busqueda and a member of the technical team said that the assailants had done the most damage in the administrative and advocacy departments. She also made it clear that they have all of their information backed up so it was a not a total loss.

Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales, who visited the scene shortly after the attack said it was well planned and was reminiscent of attacks on human rights organizations during the 1980s. He also said there hasn’t been an attack like this on a human rights organizations since the end of the war.

The specific reasons for the attack remains unclear, but it is likely related to cases pending in international and domestic courts related to the forced disappearances of children during the war. This past Monday, the Constitutional Court suspended evidentiary hearings against former members of the armed forces who did not attend their habeas corpus hearing, during which Pro-Busqueda was scheduled to present evidence they have collected against the defendents.

Just last month the Catholic Church closed Tutela Legal, one of the leading human rights organizations in El Salvador. The organization housed an extensive collection of evidence and documents related to human rights abuses committed during the civil war. The closing of Tutela Legal and the attack on Pro-busqueda come as the Constitutional Court considers constitutionality of the Amnesty Law, which has protected war criminals from being prosecuted for atrocities committed during the 1980s.

Tutela Legal and Pro-Busqueda are not the only organizations and people with evidence and records that could be used to prosecute crimes committed during the civil war. The Human Rights Institute at the University of Central America (IDHUCA) and others have been collecting evidence and documents since before the war ended, and could also be a threat to those who risk prosecution.

In March Voices staff had a conversation with Benjamin Cuellar, the director of the IDHUCA, about the Amnesty Law and the lack of transitional justice after the war. Instead of treating the Peace Accords as the beginning of the peace process, the Salvadoran government and many international stakeholders were too quick to declare peace and put the war in the past, ignoring issues of justice. But it is difficult if not impossible to achieve peace until there is also justice.

Tourism

Tourism Plans for the Jiquilisco Bay

(Voces está trabajando para traducir este artículo al español y se publicará muy pronto)

Since at least 2004 the Salvadoran Government has been planning large-scale tourism development in El Salvador. Among the goals articulated in the development plans is for tourism to account for 10% of El Salvador’s GDP, up from 3.7% in 2005.

IMG_0363Just this week, Global Travel Industry News wrote, “El Salvador is the diamond in the rough, the potential jewel that needs the savvy hand of a smart developer who is willing and able to chip away on the rough edges to release the beauty and unbridled opportunities of the destination.”

Many people view tourism as a way to create jobs and economic growth. Communities in the Jiquilisco Bay of Usulután, however, do not want developers to chip away at their rough edges or promote development they fear will irreparably harm to their mangrove forests, estuaries, beaches and other natural resources.

Government agencies have at least three plans guiding tourism development – the Plan for the Sustainable Develop of Eco-Tourism in the Jiquilisco Bay (2007), the 2014 National Plan on Tourism (2006), and the 2020 National Plan on Tourism. The 2020 Plan proposes constructing at least 350 new hotels and resorts that will offer at least 23,000 rooms. The Plan suggests that 85% (or 298) of these 350 new hotels and resorts should be small rural or beachfront cabins with 50 rooms or less. If each small hotels maxes out at 50 rooms, in order to achieve the 23,000 room goal, the remaining 15% (or 52) hotels and resorts will have to average 156 rooms.

The Ministry of Tourism wants 1.9 million tourists to visit El Salvador in 2014, a number they want to increase to 3 million with 12 million overnight stays in 2020. In 2005 Central Americans comprised 70% of tourists in El Salvador while North Americans were only 25%. The 2014 Plan says that by 2014 Central Americans should “be no greater than 40% of all tourists” and North Americans should make up at least 45%. The 2020 plan articulates the same numeric goals, but does not state that they should limit the number of Central Americans. Additionally, the 2020 Plan wants tourists to stay at least 7 days and spend more than $160 per day.

A small town nestled into the mangrove forests, but threatened by tourism projects targeted for the region
A small town nestled into the mangrove forests, but threatened by tourism projects targeted for the region

While the 2020 Tourism Plan does not identify any specific region for tourism, the 2014 Tourism Plan and the Jiquilisco Tourism Plan identify the Jiquilisco Bay as an important region for development. The region’s bay and long stretch of undeveloped coastline includes miles of beautiful beaches, mangrove forests, estuaries and rivers, islands and protected park lands. In addition to hanging out on the beach and surfing, the Plans envision tourist activities such as bird watching, canoeing and kayaking, boating and sport fishing, and more.

In 2004, CORTASUR, a government tourism agency, held a conference during which a consultant recommended that the Jiquilisco Bay become the Cancun of Central America, complete with hotels, resorts, shopping centers, restaurants, golf courses and other facilities. The consultant said that the first phase for development would include building a modern, paved road out the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula and acquiring land. A highway out the Peninsula was completed in 2011, and shortly after the conference land speculators began acquiring land. In 2003 a hectare of land on the Peninsula cost around $1,000. In 2005 the price the same hectare of land shot up to $12,000. Prices have been on the rise ever since. The 2014 Plan identified other goals for developing tourism in the region:

 – Promoting foreign investment and local entrepreneurship to develop small, boutique hotels and eco-lodges, and restaurants;

–  Equipping, altering, and cleaning the beaches so that they meet international quality standards;

– Creating the structure for services and activities related to sport fishing, bird watching, and a coastal route;

–  Recuperating and conserving the coastal environment;

–  Building the capacity of local human resources involved in tourism and those who would come in contact with tourists to better serve their clients;

–  Improving the landscape and the beauty of urban spaces; and

–  Improving the infrastructure of the ports.

Undeveloped beach along the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula
Undeveloped beach along the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula

Currently the government is looking for foreign and domestic investments. The 2020 Plan says El Salvador should have at least 2000 investors in restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality services. To help out, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) recently approved a $277 million grant to develop El Salvador’s southern coast. While the funds do not identify support for tourism specifically, FOMELINIO (the Salvadoran Government MCC counterpart) and the El Salvador Investment Challenge issued a call for proposals while they were developing their MCC proposal. The ESIC said the purpose was to:

“to invest in public projects that catalyze private investments in tradable goods and services thereby generating economic growth and poverty reduction. The first phase of the ESIC is a competitive call-for-ideas that would catalyze investments in El Salvador through public-private partnerships, whereby private entities identify public or quasi-public infrastructure and services that are necessary to support private investments aimed at increasing productivity and trade of goods and services in El Salvador.”

Of the 49 proposals received, 27 involved tourism infrastructure projects in Usulután, La Libertad, and La Union. (Efforts to get the names of those who submitted proposals and what they proposed were unsuccessful). MCC funds won’t be available to fund hotels, resorts, or other private investments, but they will likely be available for infrastructure projects like building secondary roads, equipping, altering, and cleaning beaches, operating a tourism police force, creating programs to train locals in tourism and hospitality services, and similar projects to make it easier to attract investments. In addition to MCC funds, the Inter-American Development Bank has approved a $25 million dollar loan for tourism projects.

Currently, opposition to the government’s tourism plan is mostly local. It appears that most Salvadorans approve of tourism as a way to create jobs and improve their stagnant economy. But many residents and organizations in the Bay area are concerned large-scale tourism, and even the small, eco-tourism projects, will harm fragile ecosystems like the mangrove forests, network of rivers and estuaries, the Bay itself, and local beaches.

According to the Mangrove Action Project, their fears are legitimate – tourism is one of the greatest threats to the world’s mangroves. Worldwide the loss of mangroves results in the decline of fisheries, and weak or lost buffers that shield populated areas from storm surges. Specifically, the Jiquilisco Bay’s mangrove forests are home to thousands of species of birds, reptiles, and amphibians and capable of absorbing more than 5 times carbon than rainforests, making them a vital asset for stopping climate change.

Environmentalists also point out that 12 million overnight stays by tourists will put an impossible strain on El Salvador’s scarce water supplies. A water expert at CESTA (the Center for Applied Technology) reports that the average tourist in El Salvador uses at least five times the water that the average Salvadoran uses. Three million tourists who are spending 12 million overnights will put an enormous strain on the nation’s water resources, which are already insufficient to satisfy the country’s demand. It is inevitable that water resources would be diverted to resorts and other tourist facilities along the coast, leaving Salvadorans with even less access to water.

Tourism can also have a tremendous impact on water quality. Three million tourists will produce large quantities of solid waste and sewage, and El Salvador lacks the facilities to manage them properly. Environmentalists fear contamination will further damage the country’s already contaminated water supplies. They also fear that construction projects, buildings, parking lots, and other development will will upset local water tables, resulting in irreversible salinization that would render them useless.

Environmentalists and local populations also fear tourism development and the MCC investments harm the four threatened and endangered species of sea turtle that use the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula beaches as a nesting ground. Approximately 40% of the critically endangered Hawksbill turtles in the eastern Pacific use the region to lay eggs, and in recent years communities have played an important role in protecting their nests and saving the turtle from extinction. “Equipping, altering, and cleaning” local beaches, building beachfront hotels and resorts, and allowing tourists unfettered access to beaches would likely be disastrous for these conservation efforts.

In El Chile, land speculators have started to buy the best land and deny access to locals, which is against the law...
In El Chile, land speculators have started to buy the best land and deny access to locals, which is against the law…

Locals also fear that tourism will result in their mangrove forests and beaches being privatized. Even though Salvadoran law prevents private ownership of beaches and recognizes the right for all people to enjoy unfettered access, private landowners are already fencing off sections of beach and limiting access to mangrove forests. Locals are aware that the Royal Decameron in Sonsonate have sectioned off more than a mile of beach in front of their resort, denying locals all access. This is more than just an issue of locals enjoying a swim every now and then. Many of the families that live near the coast depend on fishing to survive and must have access to the water.

Community boards in the region have also expressed a concern that land speculation is already having on their efforts to achieve food sovereignty. More than jobs, communities want to preserve their agrarian culture and ensure they can feed their families with locally produced, organic food. Just the idea that there might be tourism has already fueled a land grab in which small farms and cooperatives are sold to investors, meaning that they no longer contribute to the region’s ability to achieve food sovereignty. And once farmland is turned into a golf course, resort, or shopping center it is lost forever.

Many people in the Jiquilisco Bay region are quick to say they are not anti-tourism; they are just opposed to the scale of the government’s plan and the lack of consultation with the affected populations.

Young punchero from La Tirana giving a tour of the community's mangrove forests
Young punchero from La Tirana giving a tour of the community’s mangrove forests

La Tirana, a small community nestled in a mangrove forest, enjoys hosting bird watchers and others who regularly ask to be guided through local estuaries and forests. The community’s board even wants to build some small cabins and a comedor (eatery) so they can better host visitors. Residents are very committed to protecting the forests, despite their lack of electricity or running water. Their plans for tourism will allow them to control the number of people that come and go, the areas they visit, and the impact that it would have on the region. La Tirana residents are concerned because land speculators have purchased land in the community and they have heard of plans to build a resort and golf course next to the mangroves. The local population is adamantly opposed to these plans and has vowed to fight them any way they can.

Even though tourism enjoys national and international support as a apparent win-win way of developing the economy, locals are confident that they if they organize they can stop plans to develop hotels, resorts, shopping centers, and sport fishing in the region. Prior to 2005, most people in Cabanas supported Pacific Rim’s plans to mine gold and silver – they thought it would provide them with jobs and economic growth. But once they realized the impact mining would have on their environment, especially water resources, locals organized a strong movement against Pacific Rim and mining. Pacific Rim never got mining permits and this month the Legislative Assembly introduced a bill to ban mining in El Salvador.

Organizations and communities in the Jiquilisco Bay region understand that stopping tourism will be a long, difficult struggle. But according to a declaration they made in July,

our communities have a history of struggle and organization. This land and its resources belong to us, and our children and grandchildren, and we have the strength, courage, and moral duty to defend our lives and territory until the end.

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

agriculture

Debate over the Ban of 53 Agrochemicals in El Salvador

This year our Salvadoran partner communities and organizations asked Voices to join them in a national effort to ban a long list of agrochemicals, including Paraquat, DDT, and Toxaphene. Many of the chemicals are banned in other countries but continue to contaminate Salvadoran communities, resulting in high rates of renal failure, cancer, and other public health issues.

If you follow Voices on Facebook (if you don’t we’d love for you to join us) you might recall that a few weeks ago we posted a photo of communities in the Bajo Lempa, along with Voices staff, CESTA, and MOVIAC all meeting with FMLN representatives in the Legislative Assembly. Our partners were lobbying representatives to consider legislation that would ban a list of toxic agrochemicals. The meeting was successful and the representatives said they were interested in taking action.

Meeting with FMLN diputados about agrochemcials
Meeting with FMLN diputados about agrochemcials

On September 5, the Legislative Assembly took action – they passed a bill banning 53 toxic agrochemicals. It was great news and our partners celebrated it as a victory. There was more motivating the Legislative Assembly’s passage of the ban than our meeting. In recent weeks there has been a tragic story in the Salvadoran news about several barrels of agrochemcials that have contaminated the town of San Luis Talpa, killing at least 60 people. This story helped the FMLN put together a majority of votes to pass the Sept. 5th ban.

But since the law passed, CAMAGRO (the Chamber of Agriculture and Farmers), the rightwing ARENA party, ANEP (National Association of Private Business), and multinational corporations like Monsanto have been lobbying President Funes to veto the bill. They argue that the chemicals are necessary for coffee production and that there are other ways to protect the population from exposure. Funes seems to be hearing them out. He still hasn’t signed the ban into law and supporters of the ban are worried he might veto it.

Members of MOVIAC (the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change) held a press conference during which they demanded that President Funes sign the bill into law. They also responded to the argument that chemicals are necessary for cultivating coffee and other crops. In a statement released this morning, MOVIAC states, “Changing the agricultural model is fundamental in order to protect people and the environment, and for this reason the message is not only to policy makers, but to farmers that there exist other forms of cultivation that protect ecosystems and don’t need the use of fertilizers.”

So all sides are stepping up pressure on President Funes to sign or veto the bill. This is a very important issue in the Lower Lempa region of Usulután where large sugarcane plantations spray large quantities of agrochemicals, contaminating nearby fields, water resources, and local villages.
Below (in English and the original Spanish) is an op-ed piece that Voices’ Field Director Jose Acotsa published in the Diario Co-Latino about the ban on agrochemicals. Jose grew up farming in a rural community in Santa Ana and many in his family still grow crops on their small plots. Jose has also spent the past 20 years working with farmers in rural communities like the Bajo Lempa region of Usulután. His article reflects the majority of views and opinions of Voices’ partner communities, and has been widely circulated at the local level.

Here is Jose’s op/ed in English:

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Program defines food security as the condition in which people at all times have access to supplies of safe and nutritious food that is sufficient to meet their cultural preferences and nutritional needs for a healthy and active life.

Since the Legislature reformed the Law on the Control of Pesticides, Fertilizers, and Agricultural Products, to ban 53 agrochemicals, the CAMAGRO (Chamber of Agriculture and Farmer) and other rightwing parties and organizations that supposedly represent peasant farmers lobbied the President to veto the reforms. They argue that the reforms will have negative economic repercussions on families involved in agriculture and result in greater food insecurity.

Food security has been a problem for decades. The UNPD reports that 17% of rural households and 9.2% of urban households live in the state of food depravation, meaning their food consumption is less than the minimum needed to have the energy required to function properly – and these numbers are likely on the low end. Food security has been an issue with the use of agrochemicals and there is no evidence that the ban will make it worse.

The causes of food insecurity in El Salvador are structural, and include the imposition of the neoliberal economic model that promotes ending agricultural production for domestic use. Proponents of the neoliberal model say that free, open markets will provide the most food at the lowest prices. For this reason, El Salvador dismantled the institutions that supported the Salvadoran agriculture sector.

For example, the government got rid of the Institute of Supply Regulation (ARI, in Spanish), meaning it no longer has purchasing power that allowed it to protect prices for producers and consumers. Without the ARI, markets are exposed to competition with foreign grains; there are no import quotas; and import tariffs are drastically reduced – all creating a lucrative business for domestic importers putting thousands of families into poverty.

Unequal land distribution also has a negative impact on domestic agriculture and food security. Despite land reform, land transfers, and efforts by the current administration to help families get titles to their land, poor families still do not have sufficient access to land or the protections that ensure they can use the land they have in a sustainable and production manner.

The problem is not a ban on agrochemicals. The problem is with the agricultural model that has been forced upon us. The debate should not focus on the poisons that kill weeds, pests, or diseases. The questions should center around the causes of the pests and diseases, and what is causing weeds and diseases to become more invasive. The debate should focus on why people believe agrochemicals are even necessary. It appears that conventional agriculture is counter to nature.

Its now necessary to stake out a new relationship between agriculture and nature so that food production is in closer harmony with nature and achieves more of an ecological balance. Endless economic profits should not be the goal or motive, rather producing food in a sustainable manner, caring for the health of the soil, water, biodiversity, and people. Without question, the ban on agrochemicals is a bold step in the right direction.

A new agricultural paradigm also requires spiritual, ethical and moral values. When asked about the Church’s position on agrochemical issue, Archbishop Escobar Alas expressed quite clearly, “using a proper scale of values, life comes first.”

Here is the original Spanish:

La Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y Alimentación FAO, define seguridad alimentaria como una situación en la cual todas las personas tienen acceso en todo momento a alimentos suficientes, seguros y nutritivos para cubrir sus necesidades nutricionales y preferencias culturales para una vida sana y activa.

Ante las reformas a la Ley sobre Control de Pesticidas, Fertilizantes y Productos para uso Agropecuario, la CAMAGRO en conjunto con partidos de derecha y organizaciones presuntamente campesinas, han manifestado que si el Presidente no observa o veta tales reformas habrá repercusiones en la economía de las familias dedicadas a la agricultura, asimismo se afectará profundamente la seguridad alimentaria.

Sin embargo, la seguridad alimentaria está afectada desde hace décadas.  El Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, sostiene que el 17% de los hogares rurales y el 9.2% de los hogares de la zona urbana, viven en situación de privación alimentaria, lo que significa que consumen alimentos por debajo de las necesidades mínimas de energía que requiere el organismo para funcionar adecuadamente, lo cual demuestra que el uso de agroquímicos no soluciona el problema del hambre.

La inseguridad alimentaria del país tiene causas estructurales, una de ellas es la implementación del modelo neoliberal en el que prevaleció la idea de acabar con la agricultura nacional, porque el libre mercado se haría cargo de proveer los alimentos a precios más convenientes. De esta manera se desmontaron y desaparecieron las instituciones que apoyaban la agricultura.

Se suprimió el Instituto Regulador de Abastecimiento (IRA), eliminando el poder de compra estatal que aseguraba precios justos para el productor  y para el consumidor. La desaparición del IRA provocó la liberalización total del mercado de granos básicos con el exterior, se eliminaron las cuotas de importación y se comenzó un proceso de reducción drástica de aranceles, generando un lucrativo negocio para los importadores nacionales y hundiendo en la pobreza a miles de familias campesinas.

Otro problema, que tiene mucha incidencia en la agricultura nacional, es la injusta distribución de la tierra. A pesar de la reforma agraria, transferencias de tierra y el proceso de legalización de propiedades, impulsado por el actual gobierno,  el  acceso a la tierra para los campesinos y la garantía de hacer un uso sostenible y productivo  de la misma es un problema no resuelto.

No obstante, el problema de fondo es el modelo de agricultura que se nos ha impuesto; por tanto la discusión no debe centrarse en los venenos para eliminar hierbas, plagas o  enfermedades, lo que hay que cuestionar es la causa de las plagas y enfermedades, debemos preguntarnos ¿Porqué las hierbas que crecen junto a los cultivos cada vez son más abundantes y agresivas? ¿Por qué cada vez es necesario utilizar más agroquímicos para obtener menores resultados? Evidentemente sucede porque la agricultura convencional actúa en contra de la naturaleza.

Ante este escenario es obligatorio replantear una nueva relación entre la agricultura y naturaleza, para que la producción de alimentos se comporte en armonía con el equilibrio ecológico, no se trata de generar lucro económico de forma ilimitada, si no de producir de forma sostenible, cuidando la base vital como lo es el suelo, el agua, la biodiversidad y la salud de las personas. Sin lugar a dudas con la prohibición de agroquímicos el país está dando un paso firme en la dirección correcta.

Un nuevo paradigma de la agricultura también  requiere de valores espirituales, éticos y morales. Monseñor Escobar Alas, al ser consultado sobre la posición de la iglesia con respecto al tema de los agroquímicos, expresó con absoluta claridad… “En una adecuada escala de valores, la vida está en primer lugar”.

Advocacy, agriculture, El Salvador Government, International Relations

The March for True Independence of the People

Yesterday, El Salvador celebrated Independence Day. Historically, many Salvadorans have used the day as a time to ask “what independence?” This was certainly the case yesterday in the Bajo Lempa. As they have in past years, communities came together and held a march down the main road through the Bajo Lempa, to demand true independence. After the march, several community leaders came together and drafted a declaration to highlight the various ways in which the Salvadoran Government has forfeited independence to other countries and international corporations.

Marchers on the main Road through the Bajo Lempa - their banner reads, "March for True Independence for the People."
Marchers on the main Road through the Bajo Lempa – their banner reads, “March for True Independence for the People.”

We translated the declaration and have posted it along with the original Spanish below.

FOR TRUE INDEPENDENCE

THE BAJO LEMPA OUR LIFE AND TERRITORY

 With the sound of tambourines, school parades, and military exercises, yesterday El Salvador celebrated 192 years of independence. For the organized communities of the Bajo Lempa, it was a day to reflect on the current state of the country and the state of independence.

 El Salvador is dependent on food purchased abroad – more than half the population consumes meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and grains that are imported from neighboring countries. In addition, the consumption of processed junk food (i.e. soups, artificial flavors, soft drinks, and more) is on the rise, affecting the health of the population and resulting in the loss of food sovereignty.

 With regards to the energy sector, El Salvador consumes more than 46,000 barrels of oil a day – all of which is purchased from countries such as Mexico and Venezuela. El Salvador produces energy from geothermic plants in the volcanic regions, but the Flores Administration practically gave these resources to an Italian corporation that now claim them as their own property.

Economically, El Salvador adopted the U.S. dollar in 2001 and lost its own currency (the Colon), exposing the country to international financial crises. El Salvador has also signed free trade agreements, particularly with the United States, that opened the country to the international markets and permitting transnational corporations to continue appropriating our national resources and causing many local businesses and farmers to go bankrupt. In addition, El Salvador has given international courts jurisdiction to decide trade conflicts, sacrificing sovereignty and allowing foreign corporations to violate the rights of workers and Salvadoran communities.

 The Public Private Partnership Law and the mega-projects promoted by the second Millennium Challenge Corporation, were designed by political interests of the United States and are used as instruments to manipulate and dominate the Salvadoran people, while destroying our natural resources and generating divisions and conflict between our communities.

Furthermore, the numerous transnational corporations that operate in the country with complete liberty and limited government oversight, such as telecommunications or energy companies, charge the local population high prices for important public services. These corporations work with local media to promote consumption patters that violate our cultural identity.

Transnational corporations are also engaged in the production and sale of toxic agrochemicals, and have gotten wealthy at the expense of the population and contamination of the environment. They are able to act with impunity to promote their deadly products, and they are creating confusion among the population about the recent law regulating the sale of 53 toxic substances, most of which are already banned in almost every country in the world.

 For these reasons we affirm with complete conviction that THERE IS NO INDEPENDENCE TO CELEBRATE. On the contrary, as social organizations and the organized communities of the Bajo Lempa, we take this opportunity to once again demand our legitimate right to genuine economic, political, and cultural independence. To achieve the later we are building a process to defend our territory and our lives.

 WE ARE MOBILIZING FOR THE DEFENSE OF LIFE AND TERRITORY

THAT IS HOW THE ORGANIZED COMMUNITIES OF THE BAJO LEMPA LIVE

Bajo Lempa, September 15, 2013

And the original Spanish:

POR LA VERDADERA INDEPENDENCIA

EL BAJO LEMPA DEFIENDE LA VIDA Y EL TERRITORIO

Con sonido de tambores, desfiles escolares y maniobras militares, este día los países de Centroamérica celebran 192 años de independencia. Para las comunidades organizadas del Bajo Lempa esta fecha es propicia para reflexionar sobre la situación del país y el sentido de la independencia.

El Salvador es totalmente dependiente en lo que se refiere a la alimentación, se compra en el extranjero más de la mitad de los alimentos que la población consume; carnes, lácteos, frutas, verduras y cereales, en su mayoría se importan de los países vecinos. Además, el consumo de comida chatarra: sopas instantáneas, saborizantes artificiales, bebidas gaseosas, etc. va en constante aumento, con lo que se afecta la salud de la población y se pierde soberanía.

En materia energética en el país se consumen más de 46,000 barriles de petróleo por día, todo este combustible se compra a países como México y Venezuela. También en el país se produce energía a partir del vapor que brota del subsuelo en las zonas volcánicas, pero en tiempos del gobierno de Francisco Flores, este recurso fue prácticamente regalado a una empresa italiana, que ahora lo reclama como de su propiedad.

En materia económica, El Salvador adoptó a partir del año 2001, el dólar como moneda de circulación nacional, con lo que perdió su propia moneda y ha quedado mayor expuesto a las crisis financieras internacionales. La firma de Tratados de Libre Comerció, especialmente con Estados Unidos abrió al país al mercado internacional permitiendo que empresas trasnacionales continúen apropiándose de nuestros recursos y provocando la quiebra de muchas pequeñas empresas nacionales. Por otra parte con la firma de Tratados de Libre Comercio, el país está sometido a tribunales internacionales para resolver conflictos, con lo cual se ha perdido soberanía y se vulneran los derechos de los trabajadores y las comunidades.

La ley de asocios público privados y megaproyectos como el Fomilenio II, han sido diseñados a partir de los intereses políticos de Los Estados Unidos y estos se convierten en instrumentos de manipulación y dominación de nuestro pueblo, al mismo tiempo que destruyen los recursos naturales y generan división y conflictos entre comunidades.

Además, son numerosas las empresas trasnacionales que operan en el país con total libertad o con limitados controles por parte del gobierno, como por ejemplo las empresas de telefonía o distribución de la energía eléctrica que prestan servicios a precios elevados. Además estas empresas en complicidad con grandes medios de comunicación fomentan patrones de alienación y consumo que violentan nuestra identidad cultural.

También las empresas dedicadas a la producción y comercialización de agro químicos que se han enriquecido a costa de la salud de la población y de la contaminación del medio ambiente, actúan con total impunidad promoviendo sus productos de muerte y generando confusión en la población a cerca de la reciente ley que regula la venta de 53 sustancias tóxicas, que en su mayoría están prohibidas en casi todos los países del mundo.

Por estas razones afirmamos con total convencimiento que NO HAY NINGUNA INDEPENDIENCIA QUE CELEBRAR, por el contrario las organizaciones sociales y las comunidades organizadas del Bajo Lempa, aprovechamos una vez más esta ocasión para reivindicar nuestro legitimo derecho a una verdadera independencia económica, política y cultural. La que ya estamos construyendo mediante el impulso de procesos de defensa  de nuestro territorio y de nuestra vida.

MOVILIZANDONOS POR LA DEFENSA DE LA VIDA Y EL TERRITORIO

QUE VIVAN LAS COMUNIDADES ORGANIZADAS DEL BAJO LEMPA

 Bajo Lempa, 15 de septiembre de 2013

Climate Change, Tourism

A Declaration from COO: The Bajo Lempa Continues to Resist!

Friday was International Day of the Mangroves.  Voices’ partner communities and other friends from the Bajo Lempa and Bay of Jiquilisco marked the day by meeting in Comunidad Octavio Ortiz to discuss Climate Change and the tourism projects that the Salvadoran Government and private investors are planning for the region – issues that affect the health of the mangrove forests in the region.

They concluded the meeting by drafting a Declaration: “In Order to Have Life and Hope: The Bajo Lempa Continues to Resist” – We’ve posted below in English and Spanish (the original).

We at Voices are in the middle of a fundraising campaign to raise $7,600 by this Friday (Aug. 2). The funds are to support the communities that drafted this Declaration in their efforts to protect their environment, including the mangrove forests, and preserve their simple, agrarian way of life. Here is a link to our original appeal posted last week. If have donated already, THANK YOU! If you haven’t, there is still time and every dollar helps (you can donate by clicking here). This is an urgent appeal – the government and private investors have huge resources and institutions backing them.

There is a slideshow at the bottom of the post with photos from the mangroves and coastal area, and the communities that are asking for you support.

IN ORDER TO HAVE LIFE AND HOPE,
THE BAJO LEMPA CONTINUES TO RESIST

Accompanied by the revolutionary spirit of Father Octavio Ortiz Luna, we the residents of the Bajo Lempa met again in the community of La Canoa to analyze the issue of climate change, which we experience in the form of floods and at times as prolonged droughts. These affects of climate change are becoming more intense and more frequent, and are the product of a political economic model that is leading us to destruction.

We also met to consider that we live in the region of El Salvador with the greatest biodiversity. We are located in one of the most pristine mangrove forests on the planet.

Species such as crocodiles, fish, crabs, migratory birds like the roseate spoonbill and many others make up an ecosystem that is vital for the survival of our communities. In addition, the mangrove forests are a natural barrier that protect the region from the rising sea waters and reduce the impacts of flooding.

The mangrove forests are an ecological treasure that communities have used, maintained and improved for many years, because we look to them for the sustainence and hope for the present and future generations.

However, the tranquility inspired by the mangroves, the simple lifestyle of the communities, and the hope of life for future generations, are being threatened by domestic and international corporations, and their insatiable thirst for profit through tourism development, with complete disregard for the impacts on the region’s biodiversity and the human rights of our population.

The construction of a modern road through the heart of the Bay of Jiquilisco, land speculation, the government’s tourism development plan, approval of the Public Private Partnership Act, and the the Second Millennium Challenge Compact, indicate that there are serious efforts to turn our region of El Salvador into another Cancun, Mexico, where the beaches are private and exclusive to foreign tourists.

But our communities have a history of struggle and organization. This land and its resources belong to us, and our children and grandchildren, and we have the strength, courage, and moral duty to defend our lives and territory until the end.

So, on this day marking the INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE MANGROVES, the communities of the Bajo Lempa and in the mangrove forests of the Peninsula of San Juan del Gozo, DECLARE:

1 – We strongly reject all mega tourism and we are ready to mobilize and use all legal remedies against companies seeking to destroy our natural resources.

2 – The communities that live in the mangroves are the only guarantee of the forests’ preservation, and therefore we are organizing and strongly linking with these mangrove communities.

3 – The Communities of the Bajo Lempa, and especially Community Octavio Ortiz are in the process of adaptating to climate change with intense focus on food sovereignty based on agro-ecological production that protects biodiversity, soil, and water. Nature is our source of knowledge and every day we learn more about her.

4 – We demand the government promptly complete and maintain the public works projects meant to protect the region from flooding. We also demand government agencies regulate discharge from the September 15 dam.

We demand respect for our right to life and our right to a healthy environment. We want that forests remain an inexhaustible source of life. We want to have clean and sufficient water supplies, and we want to produce our own food and eat well. We want health and education for our children. We want to remain free …

We want to have life and hope.

Community Octavio Ortiz, July 26, 2013

EN ESPAÑOL:

PARA TENER VIDA Y ESPERANZA,

EL BAJO LEMPA SIGUE EN RESISTENCIA

Acompañados por el espíritu revolucionario del Padre Octavio Ortiz Luna, nuevamente nos reunimos en la comunidad La Canoa para analizar el tema de cambio climático que vivimos en forma de inundaciones y otras veces en forma de sequías prolongadas.  Hemos visto que estos fenómenos se presentan cada vez más intensos y con mayor frecuencia  y que son producto de un modelo económico político que nos está llevando a la destrucción.

Pero también nos hemos reunido para analizar que vivimos en la región de El Salvador de mayor riqueza biológica. En nuestro territorio se ubica uno de los bosques de manglar más desarrollados del planeta.

Especies como cocodrilos, peces, cangrejos, aves  migratorias como la espátula rosada y otras muchas conforman una red vital para la sobrevivencia de las comunidades. El bosque de manglar también constituye una barrera natural que detiene el avance del mar y reduce los impactos de inundaciones.

Este bosque de manglar constituye una riqueza ecológica que las comunidades han aprovechado, mantenido y mejorado durante muchos años, porque en el encuentran el sustento y son la esperanza para las presentes y futuras generaciones.

Sin embargo, la tranquilidad que inspira el manglar, la forma de vida sencilla de las comunidades y la esperanza de vida para las futuras generaciones, hoy se ve amenazada por la sed de lucro insaciable de empresarios nacionales y de corporaciones trasnacionales que pretenden impulsar un desarrollo turístico sin importarles la conservación de la biodiversidad ni los derechos humanos de la población.

La construcción de una moderna carretera que cruza el corazón de la Bahía de Jiquilisco, el acaparamiento y especulación  con la tierra, el plan gubernamental de desarrollo turístico, la aprobación de la Ley de Asociaciones Público Privadas y un interés sospechoso de la empresa privada por que se apruebe el Segundo FOMILENIO, son los principales indicadores de que existen serias pretensiones de convertir este territorio en una región similar a Cancún, en México, en donde las playas son privadas y exclusivas para turistas extranjeros.

Pero nuestras comunidades tienen una historia de lucha y de organización, este territorio y sus recursos nos pertenece y le pertenece a nuestros hijos y nietos, tenemos  la fuerza, el coraje y  el deber moral de defender la vida y el territorio hasta las últimas consecuencias.

Por eso, en este día que se celebra el DIA MUNDIAL DE LOS MANGLARES, las comunidades del Bajo Lempa y las comunidades habitantes de los bosques de manglar de la Península de San Juan del Gozo, DECLARAMOS:

 

1-    Que rechazamos enérgicamente todo megaproyecto de turismo  y que estamos dispuestos a movilizarnos y a demandar judicialmente a cualquier empresa que pretendan destruir nuestros recursos naturales.

2-    Que las comunidades que vivimos en los bosques de manglar somos la única garantía de su conservación, para ello nos estamos organizando y vinculando fuertemente entre comunidades del manglar.

3-    Que las comunidades del Bajo Lempa y en especial la comunidad Octavio Ortiz estamos llevando a cabo un proceso de adaptación al cambio climático con un intenso trabajo por la soberanía alimentaria, en base a la producción agroecológica que protege la biodiversidad, el suelo y el agua. La naturaleza es nuestra fuente de conocimiento y cada día aprendemos más de ella.

4-    Demandamos del gobierno la pronta ejecución de obras de protección ante inundaciones, así como su permanente mantenimiento y la regulación de las descargas de la presa 15 de Septiembre.

Exigimos que se respete nuestro derecho a la vida, nuestro derecho a un medio ambiente saludable. Queremos que los bosques sigan siendo fuente inagotable de vida. Queremos tener agua limpia y suficiente, queremos producir y comer bien. Queremos salud y educación para nuestros hijos.  Queremos seguir siendo libres…

Queremos tener vida y  esperanzas.

Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, 26 de Julio de 2013

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Advocacy, Tourism

Urgent Appeal! Help Protect the Bay of Jiquilisco and Bajo Lempa!

Communities in the Jiquilisco Bay and Bajo Lempa region of Usulután need your help protecting their invaluable, irreplaceable coastal environment and agrarian way of life. Developers are planning to build resorts, golf courses, and shopping centers in the region, and our local partners fear it will destroy their agricultural land, mangrove forests and the other ecosystems upon which they depend.

A small town nestled into the mangrove forests, but threatened by tourism projects targeted for the region
A small town nestled into the mangrove forests, but threatened by tourism projects targeted for the region

We at Voices need to raise $7,600 by August 2nd so we can help our partners develop a legal and political strategy to protect their land, launch a national advocacy campaign, and organize a small, eco-tourism alternative.

Plan for Large-Scale Tourism – Developers are planning large-scale tourism projects for the Jiquilisco Bay and Bajo Lempa region of Usulután. With support from the Salvadoran government they recently completed Phase One – building a highway out the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula and purchasing large tracts of land. They are now preparing to begin Phase Two – construction. The government is again supporting them by proposing that the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation provide financing. Yes, the Salvadoran government wants to give U.S. tax dollars to well-financed developers to build high-end resorts.

Protecting the Local Environment – Communities in the region have simple goals – food security and environmental sustainability. They celebrate their peaceful agrarian lifestyle and would rather have productive farmland and healthy environment than tourism. The government claims tourism will provide jobs and economic opportunities, but our partners want to farm, not clean bathrooms. They want healthy a healthy bay and mangrove forests, not manicured golf courses and jet skis. Government officials say they will require developers to meet “minimal environmental standards” but El Salvador lacks a positive record of enforcing its laws.

Please Help Protect the Region’s Environment and Agrarian Culture! – Our partners ask that we help them 1) organize a legal and political strategy, 2) fund a national advocacy campaign, and 3) support a small eco-tourism alternative.  But we simlply can’t do it without your help. Time is short and we need to raise $7,600 by Friday, August 2nd.  Help our partners’ VOICES be heard by making a generous donation today!

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P.S. Lara Whyte recently published a piece in the Digital Journal about La Tirana and the Tourism threat. Als0, Justine Davidson, one our of Osgoode Hall Law School summer interns wrote an informative article on the Peninsula and the tourism issue.

Here is an overview of the projects/activities we need funding for:

 

Workshops to Develop Legal and Political Strategy

 

$2,600

Voices’ volunteers and staff are helping our local partners develop a legal and political strategy to defend their land and way of life. By July 15th our partners will be ready to present their proposed strategy to their communities, and solicit their input and cooperation. They want to hold open meetings in key communities like Zamorano, La Tirana, El Chile, and Isla de Mendez. Our local partners will then host a weekend conference with 20 community leaders to organize a national advocacy campaign. Each of the open community meetings will cost $400 in transportation, printing, and refreshments. The weekend retreat will cost $1,000 in lodging, transportation, food, and printing.

 

 

National Advocacy Campaign

 

$3,000

In August, after the workshops and weekend conference, our local partners will be ready to launch their National Advocacy Campaign. Organizers have asked Voices and partner organizations to help contribute funds to hire attorneys to file legal cases and monitor environmental permitting processes, arranging transport for rural community members to meet with policy makers in San Salvador, buying one-page advertisements in national newspapers and additional campaign opportunities. These activities will far exceed $3,000 but Voices is joining forces with several Salvadoran organizations that will also contribute to the campaign.

 

 

Alternative

Eco-Tourism

Project in

La Tirana

$2,000

The community board of La Tirana has asked Voices and CESTA (a Salvadoran environmental organization) to help them develop an eco-tourism project as an alternative to the mega-projects.  Birdwatchers and naturalists already visit La Tirana but residents are unable to offer lodging or food. CESTA is willing to help build small, comfortable cabins and a community-run restaurant if Voices will help the board develop the infrastructure and capacity to manage the project in the long-term.
We are ready to begin in July, but need $2,000 to help the board develop a business plan and build their capacity in areas such as accounting and business management which will enable La Tirana residents to sustain their own eco-tourism initiative in the long-run.

 

Advocacy, agriculture, Tourism

Life and Land on the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula of El Salvador

The peninsula of San Juan del Gozo, located in Usulután, is a 30-mile stretch that curves out from the Pacific coastline of El Salvador, embracing the Bahia de Jiquilisco and its wealth of sparsely inhabited, thickly forested islands.  The peninsula is home to a scattering of subsistence fishing communities, and the lives of the residents of the bay are inextricably bound up in the life of the mangrove forest (manglar, in Spanish), which covers much of the interior coastlines and estuaries.

La CanoaThe manglares at the western end of the peninsula, in the estuaries near the community of La Tirana, are home to the oldest and largest mangrove trees on the Pacific coast of Central America. This is due in part to the decade of civil war El Salvador suffered in the 1980s, which caused people to flee the area, leaving the saltwater forests to grow unmolested for years.

Today, residents of La Tirana harvest crabs (known locally as punches) in the large manglar. Other communities take fish and a variety of other shellfish (mariscos) from the waters of the mangrove estuaries and the bay. A few locals take boats out to sea for larger catches; though, no one lives on the ocean side of the peninsula, leaving it as a prime location for endangered hawksbill, olive ridley, leatherback and green turtles to lay their eggs. Communities in the peninsula rely completely on what they take from the water for their survival; there is no other industry except some small-scale eco-tourism outfits and restaurants to serve day visitors. There is one exclusive, boat-in resort in the region but none of the locals we met with report any employment or secondary economic benefits from the operation.

The entire peninsula – with its wealth of migratory birds, rare sea-turtle breeding grounds, magnificent manglares and untouched beaches – is now the focus of a 25-year tourism development plan, launched by the Salvadorian government in 2004. According to government documents, by 2026 there will be accommodation for 2,500 visitors, with a projected 932,000 overnight stays per year. The government first unveiled the plan at an invitation-only event attended by mega-resort developers from around the world, and presenters described the region as the Cancun of Central America. This was a two-fold reference; first to the similar peninsular geography; and second to the plans to create a resort region which would provide tourists with a self-contained vacation destination that would provide accommodations, shopping, hospitals, golf courses and more. At that event, a consultant hired by Salvadorian government outlined the first two steps to developing large-scale tourism in the region: building a new highway and buying large tracts of land.

The only way to get to the peninsula by car is by taking the Litoral Highway to San Marcos Lempa turning south and traveling 12 miles through the Bajo Lempa down to La Canoa (Comunidad Octavio Ortiz). Potholes and sections of washed-out road define the drive between San Marcos and La Canoa. The 20 miles from La Canoa out the Peninsula, however, is a freshly paved, well-maintained stretch of highway.

Residents of the Bajo Lempa and Jiqiulisco Bay take the highway’s construction as a sign of impending development. It was also a warning that land speculation* was about to re-ignite a struggle for land ownership in the region. Since 2004 when the government announced their plans to turn the region into the “Cancun of Central America,” land values have skyrocketed. In 2003, the average price for a hectare of land was $1,000 USD; today, the average has climbed to $10,000 USD and $40,000 USD per hectare for waterfront property.

CESTA, a Salvadoran environmental organization that works extensively in the region, has documented several ways in which government agencies appear to be fostering a positive climate for land speculation and development. CESTA notes that in 2004 there were four agricultural collectives in the peninsular region. All four have since dissolved, the result of government efforts to convince cooperative members that it was better to hold individual title to the land. Since dissolution, many former cooperative members have sold off their land, some because they wanted cash; others because without the shared machinery and support of the collective they could no longer work the land.

CESTA also believes that the government has used the agrarian reform process another way to transfer land to speculators and developers. CESTA representatives have documented cases in which the government has granted land to people who have no agricultural experience or knowledge, and as soon as they receive land titles they sell.

Whether or not communities have legal title to their land is one of the most pressing legal issues facing the residents of the peninsula today. In La Tirana, where all the resident families have legal title (or escritura as it is called here), the townspeople have agreed amongst themselves not to sell their properties to anyone from outside, knowing that they are in both a prime tourism development area, and also an extremely sensitive environmental zone. While land within La Tirana is relatively safe for the time being, wealth Salvadoran investors have already bought up larger tracts just outside of town. Some use the land for cattle or growing crops, others are sitting on the land until developers are ready to build hotels, golf courses, and shopping centers.

Land in other communities is also vulnerable. In El Chile, a small community down the Peninsula, no one holds title to their property, although they were nominally granted the land as part of the agrarian reform program following the peace accord. The land is still technically owned by the state, which now appears to be selling off lots on the edge of town.

Private Property
Sign on a property in El Chile that reads “Private Property – No Entry – You will be Reported to the Police”

Voices staff visited El Chile in mid-June and spoke with the president of the community’s council (or junta directiva). He showed us a large plot of forested land on the edge of town that has been fenced off with barbed wire and decorated with ominous signs warning “No entre” (No trespassing). The fence goes all the way down through the manglar to the water’s edge. As the community president pointed out, no one can own the manglar, it is against the law, and the fence is blocking off what should be public property. Law enforcement has done nothing to address the claim on this land and the fence has come to exemplify the community’s tenuous position without formal land titles. Residents of El Chile know they have a legal right to their land; but they do not have the legal or financial resources to register themselves as owners.

In neighboring Isla de Mendez, almost all residents have a legal title to their land. The only people that don’t have titles are those that live on the waterfront – the most desired and valuable land. With a focus on developing tourism in the region, their position is especially vulnerable.

Life in La Tirana, El Chile, Isla de Mendez and other communities along the Peninsula is still simple and relatively quiet. But if developers have their way that will all change soon. At risk are majestically mangrove forests, nesting grounds for several species of sea turtles, and a sustainable agrarian way of life.

*Land speculation is the practice of buying up properties with the intention of reselling them for a profit. Often land speculation is done by wealthy investors with insider knowledge of coming development or infrastructure, but land speculation can also be self-propelling because when one investor who is known to make profitable speculations starts buying in a region, others often follow, creating a strong sellers’ market.

Womens issues

Constitutional Court Says Beatriz Cannot Terminate Her Pregnancy

The Salvadoran Supreme Court handed down a 4 to 1 decision denying Beatriz’ request to terminate her 26-week fetus, which doctors say has a fatal anomaly and will not survive childbirth.

Over the past couple months, Beatriz has gained international attention because she has lupus, an autoimmune disease that has damaged her kidneys and resulted in other health problems. If forced to carry her pregnancy to term she faces any number of life-threatening complications including kidney failure or preeclampsia – pregnancy related hypertension.

El Salvador has an absolute ban on abortion that does not allow exceptions for the health of the mother or for rape or incest. In April Beatriz’s doctors and attorney appealed to the Salvadoran Constitutional Court, asking that her medical team be allowed to terminate her pregnancy without fear of prosecution and prison.

After weeks of contemplation, four of the Court’s five magistrates determined that if Beatriz and her doctors terminated the pregnancy they could be prosecuted under the abortion ban.

According to the BBC, Rodolfo Gonzalez, one of the four Magistrates who voted against allowing the termination, said he had not been convinced that Beatriz was at risk of dying if the pregnancy was allowed to continue. He also said that they could not turn the Constitutional Court into a “tribunal to allow the interruption of pregnancies.”

The Magistrates also said the rights of the mother cannot supersede those of the unborn child, and vice versa, that the rights of the fetus cannot supersede those of the mother. That logic, however, doesn’t seem to work in this case. Either way the court decided they would put the rights of the mother or the fetus over the rights of the other, and they decided that the fetus’ rights trump, even though it has no chance of survival.

The Court could have taken the opportunity to decide that El Salvador’s abortion ban is too extreme and that women should not have to carry pregnancies that are jeopardizing their health. In their appeal to the Constitutional Court Beatriz’s attorney was challenging the ban and asking for a broader decision that at least allowed for an exception when the mother’s life is at risk. A broader decision would have addressed Magistrate Gonzalez’s fear that the Court would turn into a tribunal for women seeking to terminate their pregnancies. But the Constitutional Court, which has showed some independence in recent years, does not appear ready to start protecting the rights of Salvadoran women.

Florentin Melendez, who was the only Magistrate to vote to allow Beatriz access to an abortion, said the court should have ruled in her favor to “guarantee that the medical personnel would not omit [any treatments] and would act diligently at all times, without having to recur to legal authorization to protect the life of the mother and the human being she is carrying in her womb.”

But this is already a serious problem in El Salvador. As reported by the New York Times Magazine in 2006, the absolute ban on abortion prevents doctors from, among other things, treating women with ectopic pregnancies – a condition in which the fertilized egg is implanted in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus – without risking imprisonment. That’s right… Salvadoran doctors cannot treat ectopic pregnancies, which have zero chance of survival and can be fatal for the woman, without being prosecuted for violating El Salvador’s abortion ban.

A Salvadoran women’s rights organization that has taken on Beatriz’s case indicated they are trying to help Beatriz travel to another country where she can safely and legally terminate her pregnancy.

But Beatriz’s case is not unique and that is not an answer for the thousands of other women in El Salvador that are or will be in her position. Women with ectopic pregnancies, preeclampsia, lupus or other illnesses regularly die alone at home or in an over-crowded maternity ward where they are being denied life-saving treatments because doctors fear prosecution.

And every year 13, 14, and 15 year old girls are raped by a family members or local boys and have to drop out of school because they are pregnant, all but guaranteeing they will spend their lives in poverty.

There is some discussion – not enough – about El Salvador’s extremely high femicide rate – the highest in the world. But repression and violence against women comes in too many forms, and El Salvador’s extreme abortion ban is just another way that Salvadoran society represses women.

As we have stated on this blog before, the hypocrisy behind El Salvador’s abortion ban is extreme and tragic. The wealthier classes that enacted and enforce the ban and stripped any meaningful sex-education from schools, have access to the full range of health services from their private doctors, including contraception and abortion. They can also afford to travel to the U.S. or other countries where they can safely and anonymously terminate their pregnancies.

For now, the Constitutional Court and much of Salvadoran society seems to be okay with that. But the conversation will surely continue because there will undoubtedly be more brave women to come forward.