Advocacy, Economy, Environment

Anti-Walmart Action in Mejicanos, El Salvador

This past Thursday civil society organizations, international solidarity groups, students, and community associations came together to protest the construction of a mega Walmart store in Mejicanos, a municipality in northern San Salvador.

Protest organizers issued a statement that read,

“We are aware that transnational companies like Walmart create more precarious environmental conditions, exploit our workers, and put our lives at risk.  We demand that the Environmental Ministry, the Office on Metropolitan Planning, and the Mejicanos Mayor’s Office, release the technical information that demonstrates the viability of Walmart’s construction in the area.  The communities must be consulted, since they are the ones threatened by floods and landslides, and who have resisted the project for years.”

Photo courtesy of Georgina Salinas

According to community leaders , construction of the super-store poses a serious risk to the surrounding communities along the folds of the San Salvador volcano.  Mejicanos is already ranked as the third most vulnerable urban center in El Salvador, and 45% of the households lack at least one basic service such as water, electricity or proper shelter.[1]

Mauricio Cortéz of the Inter Communal Coordinating Committee has been demanding answers to the various risks that the municipality faces for decades.  The Picacho ravine of the volcano is unstable, and residents fear a repeat of the devastating 1934 and 1982 landslides that covered entire communities.  Intense urbanization has forced poor families off of the their land in favor of up-scale residential development and new boulevards  – projects which heavily impact watershed patterns and hill side stability.

Rene Bermudez, who has been part of the Walmart resistance movement for the past 5 years, also denounced Walmart’s demolition of an important access road along the parameter of the property.  Municipal land-use maps establish the Arenal road to provide residents of Las Marias access to their community. In order to prepare for the new Walmart, contractors bulldozed the road claiming that it was just a drainage ditch.  Las Marias residents now have to use a winding path through residential properties.

Today’s protest was in response to the new mayor’s sudden approval for the construction permits.  Prior permits had been denied due Walmart’s inability to meet environmental regulations, but within weeks of taking office, the new conservative mayor, Juanita Lemus de Pacas, announced that Walmart would be open by December of this year.

Walmart has been in Central America since 2005 and is already the region’s largest retailer. Walmart Centroamérica has 79 stores open in El Salvador; Despensa Familiar – 51; La Despensa de Don Juan -25; Walmart Supercenter – 2; and Maxi Despensa -1.

Community leaders are upset by the mayor’s eager support of the project, and have signaled that Walmart was able to cull favor with the new administration through tactics that were similar to those used in Mexico and exposed this past April.  Lemus de Pacas’ entire campaign was based on inviting large business contracts into the area, and she has continued to align the mayor’s office with private interests.  Gloria Andrade, a community leader in San Pedro, Mejicanos, said that local market women had planned on participating in the protest, but the mayor threatened to pull funds for their new market if they were to attend.


Photo courtesy of Georgina Salinas

[1] FLASCO, Mapa de Pobreza urbana y exclución social. FLASCO-MINED. 2008.