Tourism

Communities Fear a Link Between Extortion and Tourism

Yesterday, elsalvador.com posted an article about gangs extorting tourists in the Jiquilisco Bay, specifically in the Bajo Lempa and San Juan del Gozo Peninsula.

The article reports that police have investigated three cases of extortion and arrested six adults and a minor. The gangs seem to be stopping tourists and delivery trucks when they slow down for speed bumps on the road through the Bajo Lempa and out the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula and charge them between $5 and 25 to continue

Gang activity has increased dramatically in the region over the past few weeks, with a greater presence in El Zamorano, La Canoa, Isla de Mendez, San Juan del Gozo, and Corral de Mulas, as well as smaller communities where they have not had much of a presence in the past. Police estimate that there are between 60-90 gang members now living in the region.

The elsalvador.com article also reports that l gangs are intimidating locals by walking around and even eating in restaurants with automatic rifles and shotguns slung over their shoulders. Police confirm that gangs have at least 3 M-16 rifles in the region.

The reports of extortion and increased gang presence are already affecting small, locally operated restaurants and hotels that serve the region’s small tourism industry. The number of Salvadorans who visit the area has already begun to drop off. As news of the arrests and extortion activities increase, traffic in the region is likely to decrease even more.

Community leaders say gangs have told residents they won’t bother them. But there are two warring gangs in the region and people are worried about getting caught in the crossfire. One NGO worker said he is not worried about the gang members from the community where he works – he knows them and their families, and they have never bothered him. He is concerned about being caught in the middle if rival gangs come looking them.

Local leaders and parents are also concerned about the influence of the gangs on their youth. Communities on the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula are economically depressed and youth often lack access to education. Sometimes access is not a question of distance, rather an issue of getting to and from school safely. Youth that have finished the sixth grade are often unable to continue studying and lack job opportunities, making them prime candidates for gang recruitment.

There have been gangs in the Bajo Lempa and San Juan del Gozo Peninsula for a while, but their numbers and activities have been limited. The rather sudden influx of gang members from other areas and their brazen show of arms have led some in the region to believe the issue goes beyond extortion of cars along the main road. Several people are concerned that those with an interest in large-scale tourism are using the gangs to destabilize the region’s growing opposition to their development plans. Others fear the gangs and extortion are an effort to drive off the small-scale, local restaurants and hotels that serve Salvadorans who visit the zone. This will make room for larger, well-financed tourism projects that will serve North Americans and Europeans.

This would not be the first time that gangs have been used to shake up a social movement or influence public opinion. In June/July 2009 alleged gang members in Cabañas killed anti-mining activist Marcelo Rivera. Other alleged gang members were involved in the murders of Ramiro Rivera, Dora Alicia Sorto, others, in Cabañas later that year.

At this point there is no way to know who is supplying the automatic weapons or whether the influx of alleged gang activities is related to tourism and an effort to destabilized organizational efforts. But residents throughout the region understand that this is certainly a possibility the have to consider.

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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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agriculture, Economy, El Salvador Government, Environment, Mining, U.S. Relations

The Debate Over Public-Private Partnership Law and MCC Funding in El Salvador

Last week Pacific Rim Mining Company announced it is seeking $315 million dollars in damages from El Salvador. It was a stark reminder that the 8-year old mining debate, which included several years of threats and violence between mining supporters and opponents, has yet to been resolved and could still result in a devastating economic blow to El Salvador.

As the mining issue continues, another debate with the potential to become just as volatile is brewing. In March the Funes Administration provided some details about its proposal for a second round of funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US aid program started by President Bush in 2004. The proposal is worth $413 million dollars, half of which will likely go towards an infrastructure project like improving the Litoral Highway that runs along El Salvador’s southern coast. The other half is likely to help finance public-private partnerships and improve human capital, which seems to mean education.

As details of the proposal emerge, opposition to a second round of MCC funding is growing. So far, opposition has opened on two fronts. The Salvadoran labor movement has been the most outspoken opponent, denouncing the proposed Law on Public Private Partnerships (P3 Law) since last year. Environmentalists and communities in the Lower Lempa region of Usulután have been less outspoken, but oppose the MCC proposal because the public-private partnerships will support tourism, which they strongly oppose. In 2011, members of the anti-mining movement also spoke out against the P3 Law fearing it would result in mining activities.

Mangrove Forests near La Tirana, a community targeted for a large tourism project
Mangrove Forests near La Tirana, a community targeted for a large tourism project

Because politicians within the FMLN are supporting the MCC, the politics of opposing the P3 Law and tourism are a little more complicated than opposition to mining was. Other than a protest outside the US Embassy in March and other small activities organized by the labor movement, opposition has remained largely behind closed doors, which may change soon.

            The Public Private Partnership Law

US Ambassador Maria Carmen Aponte said in October 2012 that approval of a second round of MCC funds relies on the passage of the P3 Law. The labor movement and their international supporters, argue that the P3 Law will privatize government operations including the airport, seaports, health care facilities, and other important services. They fear it will result in the loss of thousands of jobs, increasing the country’s already high rates of unemployment and driving wages down even further.

The labor movement and other opponents also do not want the private sector to control important resources and services like water, education, and health controlled. For example, Salvadoran civil society has fought against privatization of water for many years, making it such a toxic issue that politicians are unable to advocate for it publicly. Just like the government has not been able to privatize water, civil society organizations have not been able to pass a water law they have been promoting for over 8 years. Among other things, the law would protect water resources from privatization. Similarly, in 2002 then President Francisco Flores tried to privatize part of the health care system, but health care workers and many others took to the streets and forced the government to back off. Opponents of the P3 law fear it will make it easier for the government to accomplish what it has failed to do in the past – privatizing water and health care.

Supporters of the P3 Law, including President Funes, counter that public-private partnerships are not privatization, and the government will not privatize any important services, like health and education. They argue, instead, that public-private partnerships will result in more foreign direct investments, injecting capital into services and industries that are lagging behind.

The labor movement and other activists fear, however, that while not called privatization, the P3s are a way to accomplish the same goals. Concessions could last as long as 40 years, which means the state is essentially relinquishing control of an asset. Similarly, while capital investments are needed, the P3 Law will allow private, international investors to generate profits from basic services in El Salvador and take the profits overseas instead of re-investing in El Salvador.

Public-private partnerships are not new in El Salvador – they government has contracted out many operations to private companies over the years. One regular criticism is that these relationships prioritize profits over the well being of Salvadorans. For example, in the aftermath of the October 2011 floods, communities and organizations in the Lower Lempa blamed the CEL for washing them out. The CEL is the state-owned agency that manages the dam, generating electricity that private power companies sell for profit. The more electricity produced, the more money the companies make. In the months after the 2011 floods CEL representatives responded frankly, stating they operate the dams to make electricity and generate profits, not protect the people downstream.

FESPAD and Voices on the Borders 2012 legal interns recently published a full analysis of the P3 Law.

Tourism and other Investments

One of the public-private partnerships being proposed in the second MCC compact is tourismhotels and resorts being built along El Salvador’s Pacific coast. In December the government solicited proposals from the private sector and received 49 responses, 27 of which are tourism projects in Usulután, La Paz, and La Libertad.

Tourism is not inherently bad, but communities in the Lower Lempa of Usulután fear that building hotels and resorts in and around their important and fragile ecosystems will cause irreparable harm. One Lower Lempa community targeted for a tourism project is La Tirana, an isolated and economically poor community located at the edge of one of the most pristine mangrove forest in Central America. In addition to its immense natural beauty, the forest supports thousands of species of flora and fauna. The nearby beaches are protected as a nesting ground for several species of endangered sea turtles. Residents of La Tirana fear tourists would damage the fragile mangroves with construction of houses and resorts, jet skis and motorboats, and solid waste and sewage, while displacing local residents and their farms.

Proponents of tourism argue that resorts and hotels in places like Tirana would provide jobs and spur the local economy. They believe this to be especially important in communities, such as those in the Lower Lempa, that have had their agricultural economy diminished by free trade. But locals doubt resorts will help the local economy. They know that hotels are much more likely to hire bilingual youth from San Salvador who have degrees in hotel management than poor campesinos who barely have a sixth grade education.

Voices staff recently met with community members in La Tirana, and they are very much against outside investors building resorts in their region. Recognizing that they live in a special place, the community board is proposing that the community build a series of small, humble cabanas that would have a small ecological footprint, but provide comfortable housing for a small number of guests. They are also proposing that the community build a small community kitchen that could feed guests. The community wants to develop its own small eco-tourism industry that it can regulate and ensure does not harm the forest or turtle nesting ground. It would also mean that the money from tourism would benefit the community, and not just make wealthy investors in San Salvador or abroad even richer.

Other communities in the region are even more vulnerable than La Tirana. In El Chile and other small communities, many residents still do not have title to their land. They fear that if a private investor wants to build a hotel or resort the State could take their land and they would have no legal recourse.

Our staff also met with other communities in the Lower Lempa – Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, Amando Lopez, Nueva Esperanza – and several local organizations. They are also completely opposed to tourism projects in the region. They fear that hotels and resorts will further destroy agricultural land, use up limited water resources, and destroy local culture. The community of Octavio Ortiz even wrote in their strategic plan that they see tourism as a large threat to farming and their peaceful way of life.

While most of the public-private partnership proposals involve tourism, there are quite a few agricultural projects. According to PRESA, the government agency managing the project proposals, they received 14 requests to support production of exports in dairy, mangoes, limes, and honey. In order to be considered for a public-private partnership, investors have to have $100,000 in capital and be producing export crops. The capital requirement means local farmers will not be able to participate. And the requirement that products be grown for export means even more land will be dedicated to products that do not contribute to food sovereignty, which is a top priority for the region.

There are also civil society leaders and academics in El Salvador who oppose the MCC because they see it as the latest phase in implementing a neoliberal economic agenda in their country. They hold it in the same regard as the privatization of state assets (1990s), dollarization (1995-2001), Central American Free Trade Agreement (2006), the first MCC compact (2007-2012), and Partnership for Growth (2011). Similarly, Gilberto Garcia from Center for Labor Studies (CEAL, in Spanish) believes the

highway projects, including the northern highway funded by the first MCC compact and the Litoral Highway project planned for the second compact, are part of an effort to build a land bridge in Guatemala. The “Inter-Oceanic Corridor” will connect ports on the Pacific coasts of Guatemala and El Salvador with Caribbean or Atlantic ports in Guatemala. ODEPAL is managing the project in what they call a public-private partnership. The land bridge is located in Guatemala, but it is right on the borders with El Salvador and Honduras, giving both countries easy access.

Politics of Opposing the MCC and P3 Law

Building a strong national movement around opposition to the second MCC compact and the P3 Law may be more difficult than organizing Salvadorans against mining. While the anti-mining movement was able to reduce the debate to a single issue that all Salvadorans could understand – i.e. gold mining will destroy water resources for 60% of the country – most people believe that tourism, better highways, and other capital investments are always good. Similarly, the P3 Law is fairly abstract and difficult to reduce into a simple message that the majority of Salvadorans can relate to their everyday lives.

The politics around the MCC and P3 Law will make it more difficult to achieve the kind of nation-wide opposition that the anti-mining movement was able to garner. During the mining debate, the FMLN (leftist political party) was the opposition party and had the political freedom to take an anti-mining position. The FMLN is now in power and has to consider the economic and political interests that helped them get there. President Funes and FMLN presidential candidate Sanchez Cerén support the P3 Law and MCC compact, arguing the investments will be good for the economy. According to anonymous sources, many of the same business interests that helped Mauricio Funes with the 2009 presidential elections will benefit from the P3 Law and MCC funds. FMLN legislators have been a slower to sign on to the P3 Law. At times FMLN legislators have said it was not their top priority, and more recently they have tried to negotiate amendments to exclude certain sectors such as health and education from public-private partnerships. Officials from the conservative ARENA party have accused the FMLN legislators of not supporting the law because they want to implement a socialist economy agenda.

But the civil society organizations, communities, and labor unions that are opposed to the P3 Law and the MCC funding generally make up much of the FMLN’s base. If Sanchez Cerén and his supporters continue to embrace the P3 law and the MCC funding, while many in their base protest against it, it could exacerbate an existing split within the party in the months leading up to the February 2014 presidential elections. Many former FMLN militants and supporters, especially in the Lower Lempa, already believe the movement they once fought for no longer represents their interests and values.

Though the US and Salvadoran governments want to pass the P3 Law and sign the MCC compact before the elections, many opponents are gearing up for a long struggle. Even if the P3 Law passes, when the government wants to enter into a public-private partnership the Legislative Assembly will have to approve it. They are likely to face great scrutiny and opposition. Similarly, developers wanting to break ground on tourism projects in La Tirana and other communities are likely to face some rather significant legal and social barriers – much like Pacific Rim faced in Cabañas.

Climate Change

Royal Decameron Announces Plans to Build Resort in the Lower Lempa

Last week the Royal Decameron Hotel Group announced plans to invest $60 million in three El Salvador projects – an expansion of their high-end beach resort in Sonsonate, construction of a four-star hotel in San Salvador, and a beachfront resort in Usulután. The new Usulután facility, which will cost $12 million, will be modeled after their Sonsonate resort with 300 individual cabins, an office center, spas, and a conference room.

Royal Decameron’s announcement wasn’t completely unexpected. Investors have been working to develop tourism in the Lower Lempa for many years, and there are likely several other projects being planned. Though tourism may seem like a great boost for the local economy, it’s a complicated issue and Royal Decameron is likely to face some stiff opposition from Lower Lempa residents.

Usulután is centrally located along El Salvador’s coast. One of the local treasures is the Bay of Jiquilisco, a large inlet known for its fishing, mangrove forests, and beautiful beaches. The stretch of land between the bay and the ocean is the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula. The only things out on the peninsula right now are mangrove forests, a few fishing and crabbing villages, and a nesting ground for endangered sea turtles… and a very fancy highway.

In 2004, the Ministry of Tourism hosted an event for potential investors at the Intercontinental Hotel in San Salvador. An Argentinean architect presented plans for the Espino Resort, as well as other infrastructure development plans. His presentation included draft plans for “El Pueblo,” a high-end shopping center on the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula for tourists that included grocery stores, ATMs, and other amenities. It was all part of a 25-year plan that outlined specific stages of development – land acquisition, construction of a highway to the end of the peninsula, and a dyke that would supply water. Eight years into the plan, investors have acquired land, the highway through the peninsula is complete, and the government announced plans last year to install a water system.

Three people are reported own much of the real estate between La Tirana and Isla de Mendez. Angel Velasquez owns two sections of land totaling 2.5 miles of waterfront property. Eduard Quiroz owns 1 mile of beachfront property, and the Tesak family owns another 3 miles along the coast. CESTA, a Salvadoran nonprofit environmental organization, owns 872 feet of beachfront that they preserve. Sources also claim that ex-president Alfredo Cristiani owns property in the region, as does FMLN politician Facundo Guardado, who has a consortium of investors that includes possible FMLN VP candidate Oscar Ortiz. Royal Decameron is rumored to own 103 acres in the region though it is unclear whether this is the property they plan to develop.

Land acquisition on the peninsula has been quiet, but not free of controversy. Locals report that Quiroz and Velazquez regularly violate land-use and easement requirements. For example, environmental regulations allow landowners to own property up to 50 meters above the highest tide. Quiroz and Velazquez, however, fenced their property at the high-tide point, ignoring the 50-meter boundary. Similarly, in 2006 ISTA (the Salvadoran Land Reform Institute) distributed plots of land to landless families in La Tirana. The families moved in, but lacking roads and utilities, seven of them sold their plots to Velazquez. Ignoring ISTA regulations that require passage between the plots and access to the mangroves, Velazquez fenced off the plots and blocked access to the forests. The president of La Tirana, Nahum Diaz, has spoken out about the violations but to no end. The 23 families in La Tirana have to survive on crabbing and shellfish, while Velazquez controls access to all of the farmland, which he uses to graze his several hundred head of cattle. Residents are also upset because in addition to blocking access to agricultural fields, Velazquez cleared large areas of forest to expand his cattle operation.

As investors were starting to buy up land along the Peninsula, Gustavo Guerrero arrived in the Lower Lempa. He introduced himself as the charity manager for the Tesak family, which owns Bocadeli, a Salvadoran food company. In 2007, Guerrero created the San Juan del Gozo and Jiquilisco Bay Integral Development Association and illegally listed local community leaders as members of the board without their knowledge. The new organization published a full-page add in a Salvadoran paper listing its priorities – building a levee for irrigation, constructing a National University campus in the Lower Lempa, and other investments to build the tourism infrastructure. He is still handing out checks and has financed several projects in the region including hiring the Linares Company to repave of the road in La Canoa. In 2009, one of our local partners said “Gustavo Guerrero is the person that made it possible for the rich to buy land,” which they often did at prices far below-market value.

But land acquisition also included making room for the new highway through the Peninsula, primarily convincing landowners to allow builders to cut across their property. Linares, the company that repaved the road in La Canoa won the contract to build the road. If you’ve been in the Lower Lempa at all over the past few years you’ve seen large dump trucks tearing up and down the main road – that was Linares hauling sand and backfill for the highway.

Few people or groups are currently protesting tourism in the Lower Lempa. Many locals, however, oppose development projects that threaten their fragile environment. The community of Amando López, for example, released a statement in May 2012 stating: “This land is our life and our life is this land, we will never stop resisting any project that threatens our natural resources and our organized communities.” They also said, “we know that so-called development means more problems for poor communities, and we are not interested in the development they are offering, because in the end the only thing they develop are transnational businesses. We care about our livelihoods and our children’s lives, and we want proposals to come from our communities, that respond to our interests, to our livelihoods, our needs, and our own worldview.

While Amando López residents were specifically referring to the Millennium Challenge Corporation in their address, they assure us that these sentiments apply to a wide array of initiatives being imposed on the region, including tourism. Amando López was the only community in the region to reject funding offered by Gustavo Guerrero.

The Jiquilisco Bay is one of El Salvador’s few remaining treasures, and residents know that once it’s gone – it’s gone. The mangrove forests protect the region from flooding, which is happening with greater frequency, and the Bay provides residents with food and a livlihood. Communities are very aware of how fragile their ecosystem is and are unlikely to let outsiders exploit it.

The argument for allowing tourism is that it will provide jobs and economic growth, but local residents understand that most jobs will go to people with degrees in tourism and hotel management. They also know that profits will be distributed to investors in San Salvador and beyond and not stay local. Residents of the Lower Lempa also know better than to count on the government to enforce the environmental laws that are supposed to protect their natural resources.

But as pointed out by our friends in Amando López, there is a bigger issue at play. Many in the Lower Lempa are not interested in the kinds of development that wealthy investors from San Salvador are selling. Communities prioritize food security over tourism, and a healthy environment for their kids over a larger income for themselves. Amando López residents said “this land is ours and we will defend it with the same courage with which we won it.”

Royal Decameron says that they still have to work out some land acquisition issues, so this is a story that will likely play out over the next several years. Along the way they will likely face a healthy opposition to their ideas of development.

 

Advocacy, El Salvador Government, Hydro Electric Dams

The CEL Medical Clinic and Nuevo Amanecer Protests

Last Friday we posted about the CEL hosting a medical clinic in the Lower Lempa and a community organizing a protest about the October floods. Our staff visited both events and we have a few more details.

Thursday night of last week, the CEL (the public/private corporation that manages the country’s hydroelectric dams) arrived in La Canoa (a.k.a. Comunidad Ocatavio Ortiz) and set up tents for the medical brigade, which was held on Friday. Word of the clinic spread pretty quickly and many in the region considered it to be an attempt to pacify those who blamed the CEL for the October flooding, and generate good will in the region.

On Thursday, a team from the CEL set up tents at the Unidad de Salud in La Canoa for the Friday medical brigade

The region’s general attitude towards the clinic was best summarized by a banner that some community members hung over the road next to the clinic sometime late Thursday night or early Friday morning. The banner read:

“Ayer nos inundaron… Hoy nos endulzan con 4 pastillas…”

“Yesterday you flooded us… today you sweeten us with 4 pills…”

Banner over the road next to the Unidad de Salud in La Canoa

When the CEL arrived at the clinic on Friday morning to finish setting up, they wanted to take the banner down, but the a community representative would not allow it. According to locals, turnout was low. Even though people are in need of the services and medicines they did not want to take them from the CEL. When it became evident that turnout would be low, the CEL sent a truck around the communities advertising the clinic, but the turnout was underwhelming.

The communities’ response to the clinic was also somewhat underwhelming. As much anger and frustration among people throughout the region, the banner that hung across the road was the only form of protest at the clinic site. In fact, the community board in La Canoa approved the CEL using the clinic; some members of the board even took advantage of the clinic’s services.

Since we posted on Friday, we also learned more about the military presence in the clinic. Giving the military the benefit of doubt, the local Ombudsman for Human Rights said that the military was probably there to continue supporting people in the region. They had, after all, been an integral part of the rescue effort during the October floods.

A community member, however, approached one of the soldiers and asked why the military was there. He answered quite frankly that they were “providing security.” When pushed on who had given them orders to provide the CEL with security, the soldier seemed to realize that he had said too much and stopped answering questions. The Salvadoran constitution is clear that the military is prohibited from engaging in domestic issues unless it is a national crisis. Rescuing residents from the worst flooding in the nation’s history arguably falls into the category of national crisis, while providing protection for the CEL likely does not. The Ombudsman and other government agencies should investigate the use of the Military.

Though the banner was the only form of protest in La Canoa, sources clarified that the protest on the bridge in San Marcos de Lempa was a direct response to the medical clinic and the CEL’s apparent attempt to pacify those upset about the floods. Residents of Nuevo Amanecer took over the bridge on the main highway, shutting down the main corridor that traverses the southern coast of El Salvador to show that they could not be bought off. More than a couple protesters commented that they were disappointed that residents allowed the clinic to open in La Canoa without more protests.

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Protesters made only a couple broad demands during the two hours they had the highway closed down. They want the CEL and government to help them rebuild their lives and prevent more flooding in the future. And they wanted to send a clear signal that they would not be bought off.