Tourism

Investigators from El Salvador’s Attorney General’s Office Visit El Chile

For over a year, the small, economically depressed community of El Chile on El Salvador’s San Juan del Gozo Peninsula has been trying to stop private investors from encroaching on nearby mangrove forests and fragile beaches – area that are supposed to be protected State land. Residents got some good news last week when a team from the State Attorney General’s Office (FGR in Spanish) came to investigate, a sign that someone is finally listening.

FGR El CHile
(Photo from FGR)

Community leaders believe investors have illegally appropriated land in two areas. One investor bought a large plot on one side of the village and fenced it off all the way through a section of mangrove forest to the Bay, an apparent violation of Salvadoran law. He even posted a sign in the mangrove forest threatening legal action against trespassers. Another investor who had acquired a long stretch of beachfront property in El Chile allegedly bought the adjacent dunes and part of the beach. Like the mangrove forest, the dunes and beach are protected State land that cannot be privatized.

In recent months, Residents of El Chile have escalated their advocacy efforts, holding press conferences, calling State agencies, and engaging in a variety of other efforts to get the State to oust these investors from the public land.

Finally, last week the Attorney General’s Office (FGR, in Spanish) sent a team to El Chile to investigate allegations that investors were encroaching on State land. FGR investigators even took the time to tweet some photos from their visit, though there is little information about their time in the community. One FGR tweet says, “If [the FGR] proves the crime of usurpation of [State] land, [the owner] could face a sentance of one to five years in prison.”

It is too early to call the FGR visit a victory for the community, but it is certainly a positive development. The rule of law is weak in El Salvador and too often private investors and corporations are able to ignore laws with impunity. The visit at least demonstrates that the advocacy efforts have put the issue on the FGR’s radar. Residents of El Chile will now have to ensure that protecting these State lands remains a priority and the investigation doesn’t get lost on someone’s desk.

El Chile Cover spaEl Chile Cover Eng

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Residents of El Chile are concerned about the State land for a few reasons. They are concerned about the mangroves because they use the forests for fishing and harvesting clams – their primary sources of income. They are concerned about the beaches for more environmental reasons. Critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtles use the beach and dunes as a nesting ground, and developing the beaches will further threaten their survival.

The community has other fears as well. The mangroves, dunes, and beaches are State land that everyone should have a right to use in accordance with the law. If El Chile doesn’t protect it from developers, nothing will be left for future generations. And despite more than 20 years of trying, residents of El Chile have yet to get titles to their land. With investors buying land on all sides, they fear it is only a matter of time before developers and the State try to kick them off their land.

The struggle for land began in at least 2004 when a tourism consultant presented a plan to turn the Jiquilisco Bay into the “Cancun of Central America.” Phase One of his plan was to pave a road out the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula and acquire land. The government completed the road in 2011 and investors have bought up the most valuable properties in the region. The next steps are to attract developers and investors to the region to build hotels, resorts, marinas, wharfs, shopping centers, golf courses and other tourism facilities. The second Millennium Challenge Corporation grant, if ever released by the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, will provide seed money for tourism infrastructure projects to attract other investors, domestic and international.

El Chile is just one small community taking on investors right now. Residents of communities like La Tirana, Montecristo, El Retiro, Cieba Doblado, Las Mesitas, Isla de Mendez, San Juan del Gozo, and others are equally concerned about how tourism development will affect their environment and agrarian-based economy and culture.

Voices on the Border is currently partnering with other organizations to help build the organizational capacity of these communities to realize their own goals and priorities, and defend against unwanted development. In April of this year, we drafted a report in Spanish and English on El Chile detailing these threats (they are attached above).

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FGR Investigating Minister of Defense for Arms Trafficking and Raul Mijango for Gang Truce

The new Sanchez Cerén Administration has been in office for two weeks and is already having to manage in its first conflict between government agencies.

Attorney General Luis Martínez recently opened an investigation into Minister of Defense David Munguía Payés, in part for arms trafficking. The military was supposed to have destroyed hundreds of weapons but it seems they never got around to it. The Attorney General alleges they were instead sold to gang members.

The Minister Payés clarified this week in a conversation with La Prensa Grafica that the Attorney General “did not say that I was involved, he said that I was part of investigation.” While that might be the case, the Attorney General seems to be going after Payés pretty aggressively.

In fact, this last President Sanchez Cerén called on the Attorney General to make sure he has sufficient evidence before making accusations or filing charges, underscoring the sensitivity of the situation. The current Minister of Justice and Security, Benito Lara, also called on the Attorney General’s investigation to be thorough and objective. “This will have a big impact, because we are talking about the institution of the armed forces of this country, and that is why I say this should be a very objective and serious investigation.”

According to El Faro, Martínez has been investigating Payés since he became the Attorney General in December 2012. On May 30, 2014 just a couple days before Sanchez Cerén was inaugurated, the Attorney General’s Office tried to get records and archives from military bases concerning their arsenals, but they were denied access citing national security interests. Diario CoLatino reports that instead the Attorney General will interview the Minister of Defense on June 18 to discuss the allegations of arms trafficking.

In a related case, Attorney General Martínez is also investigating Payés and former FMLN diputado Raul Mijango for their roles in negotiating the gang truce, which was signed in March 2012. The truce, which reduced the murder rate from 70 per 100,000 own to 41, fell apart at the end of May when the homicide rate spiked to new highs.

Last week, Mr. Mijango met with the Attorney General’s Office for more than 12 hours talking about the truce and the role that he and others played in lowering El Salvador’s murder rate. The investigations are focused on alleged payments made to those who were a part of the process. Earlier in the year, members of the ARENA party said that while serving as the Minister of Justice and Security, David Munguía Payés made at least 10 payments between $2,000 and $5,000 to Mijano and others. The payments, which were allegedly made from the government coffers, would be a violation of Salvadoran law. Mr. Mijango admits that he received monthly payments of $1,500 for his role in negotiating the truce but he says the funds came from a nonprofit organization called Interpeace and not the government.

Last week when Mr. Mijango left his 12-hour interview with the Attorney General he told reporters, “I feel politically persecuted… but I’m not one of those people who pee in their pants in difficult situations.”

It is still unclear whether the investigations into Payés and Mijango are legitimate or the Attorney General is just out to inflict some political damage. Perhaps we’ll know more on June 18th when Payés goes in for his interview with the Attorney General.

El Salvador Government

Legislative Assembly Reaches Agreement on New Attorney General

It appears the Salvadoran Government will avoid another institutional crisis by selecting a new Attorney General for the three-year term that is to begin on September 19, 2012.

A conflict arose on April 25, 2012 when the outgoing Legislative Assembly chose Astor Escalante to be the next Attorney General of El Salvador. At 1:00 in the morning, Sigfredo Reyes, President of the Legislative Assembly, swore him in, even though his term would not start for another 5 months.

Members of the ARENA party objected to his appointment and filed a complaint in the Constitutional Court. In July, the Court ruled in their favor declaring Escalante’s appointment unconstitutional. The based their decision on the principal that each Legislative Assembly (which serves a three year term) has the responsibility to appoint a specific number of judges, as well as the nation’s Attorney General. In April, the outgoing Legislative Assembly, which appointed Romeo Barahona when they took office in 2009, appointed Escalante to serve for the next three years. This was their second appointment and if it stood would have essentially denied the current Assembly an appointment.

The Court handed down its decision while it was embroiled in its own crisis; many, including Escalante, said that the Court’s decision was invalid. With the summer’s crisis resolved, some feared another institutional battle over Escalante’s appointment.

According to La Prensa Grafica, the Legislative Assembly has reached a decision that will avert a new battle between the legislative and judicial branches. Yesterday stakeholders met to discuss a resolution and it appears they will void Escalante’s April appointment and start the process again so the new Attorney General can take office on September 19, 2012. They will choose from the same list of 47 candidates that were considered in April, and it is possible that Escalante may be chosen again – the fight was over the process not the person. Sigfrido Reyes clarified yesterday that the decision reached by the working group was a political compromise, and not an indication that they agreed with the Constitutional Court’s decision.

Prior to the meeting, the Catholic Church, the President and others asked that the Legislative Assembly resolve the issue before Barahona’s last day on September 18. President Funes even offered to mediate between the parties, but it appears that won’t be necessary.

The online news journal La Página had interesting political analysis back in July when they reported on the Constitutional Court’s decision. It was the ARENA block of the Legislative Assembly that objected to Escalante’s appointment, even though the ARENA supported his appointment during the Saca administration. In the months after leaving office, former President Saca was ousted from the ARENA party. The split was ugly and when Saca joined the GANA party, ARENA labeled him a traitor. Members of the ARENA objected to Escalante now because he supported Saca during the split. It will be interesting to see if Escalante will have the support of this new Legislative Assembly, which has a few more ARENA representatives than it did in April.